Englands Whitbread company and the British Royal Naval Sailing Association agree to sponsor a globe-circling regatta, which would be called the Whitbread Round the World Race (later renamed the Volvo Ocean Race).
1973-74: First Whitbread
In September, 17 yachts of various sizes and shapes sail from Portsmouth, England, inaugurating the first Whitbread Round the World Race. They will cover some 27,000 nautical miles (31,070 statute miles/50,000 kilometers) in four legsif theyre lucky.
In separate incidences three sailors are swept overboard, never to be seen again. The lucky majority14 boatscross the finish line, also in Portsmouth, some nine months after the starting shot was fired.
1977-78: Stiffening Safety Measures
In reaction to the previous races three fatalities, the race committee steps up safety precautions, mandating a minimum boat length of 50 feet (15.2 meters). All 15 entries complete the race, and no one is lost at sea.
1981-82: Storm-Blasted but Still Going
The third Whitbread is also devoid of casualties, unless you count the boats. Of the 29 competing yachts, 21 arrive storm-damaged at the second race port, Cape Town, South Africaone having been seized by an Angolan gunboat and its crew detained for a week under suspicion of spying.
Twenty boats eventually complete the race.
1985-86: Success Amid Recession
The 1985-86 field15 boatsis down from 29 entrants in 1981-82, perhaps due to the global economic downturn; the teams are already largely corporate sponsored.
All 15 entries finish the race.
1989-90: Adding Legs and Length
The race committee adds two legsand 5,000 nautical miles (5,750 statute miles/9,260 kilometers)to the already grueling course, largely due to anti-apartheid pressure to avoid South Africa.
On the course, which now begins and ends in Southampton, England, calamity abounds. Six boatsof 23 competingsee crewmembers thrown overboard during Leg 2; all are rescued. In Leg 3 a sailor is washed into the sea and retrieved an hour later but cant be revived. In Leg 4 a yacht loses its keel and capsizes; its crew survives.
The Whitbread begins to attract worldwide publicity, thanks in no small part to its first all-female crew, skippered by Tracy Edwards.
1993-94: A New Class of Competitor
Before the 1993-94 race, the organizers, working with sailors and designers, draw up specifications for a new class of boat intended specifically for the Whitbread: the Whitbread 60 (today called the Volvo Ocean 60).
Allowing for variations in hull and keel designs, the new class is intended to increase safety and make scoring easier without stifling competitionbut first it will have to prove itself in a mixed field.
Of the 1993-94 races 15 entries, 10 are Whitbread 60-class boats. The Whitbread 60s prove comparatively sluggish in slight winds but speedy in the strongest gales and hard-wearing in the wickedest seas.
1997-98: Leveling the Playing Field
The seventh Whitbread is the first to limit entry to a single class of boat, the Whitbread 60 (W60). The new regulations help raise the average team-sponsorship outlay to around ten million U.S. dollars. Perhaps as a result, the race draws ten boats, the smallest Whitbread field up to this point.
The lower number of yachts and more even playing field result in no less excitementand the most media coverage yet.
Added to the television coverage is a near-constant Internet presence. Equipped with satellite technology, each crew sends regular e-mails, audio, and video to the official race Web site, allowing fans to follow the action as it happens. GPS (global positioning system) tracking reports the boats whereabouts with unprecedented accuracy and frequency.
2001-02: A Race Rechristened
This time the contestnow called the Volvo Ocean Race, after new sponsor Volvo Car Corporationmay be tougher than ever. Every leg is now weighted evenly, so crews will have to be equally at home in the high-stakes sprints as in the marathon stretches.
With the estimated cost of fielding a team running upwards of ten million U.S. dollars, the 2001-02 field of eight boats is the narrowest yet.
As in previous races theyll blast off from Southampton, England. This time, however, theyll finish in Kiel, Germany, after stopovers in La Rochelle, France, and Göteborg, SwedenGermany, France, and Sweden being the Volvos three biggest car markets in Europe.