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Milestones in Ocean Racing
globe ROUND the WORLD Geo Files
The Volvo Ocean Race 2001-2002
Geo Files

Pioneered in the Netherlands in the 17th century, competitive yachting (from the Dutch jacht—short for hunting ship) took a turn for the audacious in the 19th century, when sailors began racing from continent to continent in earnest. Since then the sport has charted a course to perhaps the ultimate ocean challenge: the round-the-world race.

1866: First Trans-Atlantic Race

The Great Ocean Race, as the newspapers call it, begins off New Jersey’s Sandy Hook point in New York Harbor. James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, helms Henrietta to victory as she reaches Lizard Point, England, in 13 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes.

1925: Britain’s Entrance Into Ocean Racing

After witnessing a 1924 Rhode Island-to-Bermuda race, a young Englishman, Weston Martyr, was so impressed with the concept of long-distance racing that he wrote a letter to an English yachting magazine. “It is,” he wrote, “without question, the very finest sport a man can possibly engage in, for to play this game at all it is necessary to possess, in the very highest degree, those hallmarks of a true sportsman: skill, courage, and endurance.”

The following year, the first Fastnet Challenge Cup, spearheaded by Martyr, is held. The 615-mile (990-kilometer) course starts at the Isle of Wight, sails around Fastnet Rock, and on to Plymouth, England. Seven boats compete, only four finish.

1960: First Trans-Atlantic Solo Regatta

In Gypsy Moth III, a 39-foot (12-meter) sloop, Briton Francis Chichester sets out from Plymouth, England, for the first Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR). He completes the passage in 40 days.

1966-67: Solo Circumnavigation

Francis Chichester begins his single-handed circumnavigation in Gipsy Moth IV, a 53-foot (16-meter) ketch, leaving from Plymouth, England. Nine months later he returns, becoming the first person to sail solo around the world with just one stop (in Sydney, Australia).

Chichester’s feat later becomes the inspiration for such races as the Golden Globe, the Whitbread Round the World Race (later renamed the Volvo Ocean Race), and the Vendée Globe.

NEXT: Daring—and deadly—experiments >>

Early racing yachts. Photograph from Mystic Seaport Museum
Ocean racers line the deck of yacht Endeavour in 1934. Photograph from Mystic Seaport Museum
The yacht Atlantic set a long-standing New York-to-England crossing record in 1905: 12 days, 4 hours, and 1 minute. Photograph from Bettmann/CORBIS
After the yacht America (pictured) won the Hundred Guineas Cup off England in 1881, the race was renamed in honor of the boat—the America’s Cup. Photograph from Bettmann/CORBIS