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Milestones in Ocean Racing
globe ROUND the WORLD Geo Files
The Volvo Ocean Race 2001-2002
Geo Files
1968-69: First Solo Globe-Circling Race

The Sunday Times of London sponsors the Golden Globe, the first single-handed, nonstop race around the world.

On June 14, 1968, Robin Knox-Johnston, 29, one of nine starters, sets out from Falmouth, England. Almost ten months later, Johnston returns to Falmouth as the winner—and the lone finisher.

1972-73: The Golden Globe’s Offspring

Inspired by the Golden Globe, England’s Whitbread corporation and the British Royal Naval Sailing Association establish the Whitbread Round the World Race.

The first Whitbread will cover some 27,000 nautical miles (31,070 miles/50,000 kilometers) in four legs. On September 8, 1973, 17 crewed yachts begin the race. Nine months later 14 boats cross the finish line. Three racers have been lost at sea.

1979: The Fastnet Turns Deadly

This year Britain’s Fastnet Race—the largest ocean race yet, with 303 entries—proves disastrous as 17 people die and 24 boats sink when the fleet is hit by a squall along the course’s southern route. At the conclusion of the race, the committee devises new regulations to improve the safety and seaworthiness of oceangoing yachts, an idea that extends to the around-the-world races.

1982: A New Breed of Ocean Racer

The British Oxygen Corporation (BOC) sponsors a solo around-the-world race called the BOC Challenge. The course includes three stops —Cape Town, South Africa; Sydney, Australia; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—and begins and ends in Newport, Rhode Island.

The boats for the first BOC Challenge are designed with automated winches, autopilot helms, and other automated aids. French diver Philippe Jeantot, in Credit Agricole, a 56-foot (17-meter) sloop, wins the race in 159 days, 2 hours, and 26 minutes—11 days ahead of his closest competitor. It is the fastest solo circumnavigation yet. Jeantot’s boat was lighter, faster, and easier to handle than his competitors’.

1989: One Man, One Boat, First Home

Philippe Jeantot, the winner of the first BOC Challenge, develops the Vendée Globe race. Its motto: “One man, one boat, first home.” On November 26, 13 boats start the nonstop race from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. Frenchman Titouan Lamazou returns in 109 days, 8 hours, and 49 minutes later.

2001: Going the Distance—Faster

Britain’s Ellen MacArthur becomes the fastest woman to sail around the world, completing the Vendée Globe course in 94 days and 3 hours. In October, American Steve Fossett, racing only against the clock, breaks the trans-Atlantic sailing record on his 125-foot (38-meter) catamaran, Play Station—smashing the previous record by almost 44 hours.

On September 23, eight boats begin the first Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race) in Southhampton, England.

—Katie McDowell

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Yachts jockey for position off Auckland, New Zealand, in the Whitbread Round the World Race. Photograph from Frank Lane Picture Agency/CORBIS
Amer Sports One departs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the start of Leg 5 of the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race. Photograph by Carlo Borlenghi/SEA&SEE
Yachts race off Phuket, Thailand. Photograph by Jodi Cobb
In the first Americ’s Cup to be held outside the U.S. since 1870, a yacht races off Fremantle, Australia. Photograph by Roger Garwood and Trish Ainslíe/CORBIS