In the spirit of the Whitbread, 14 yachts from 23 different countries set off from Cowes to compete in The Ocean Globe Race 2023-24

Hundreds of spectator boats cheered the start of the Ocean Globe Race on Sunday 10 September, as 14 iconic yachts raced through the line off Cowes, at the start of a 27,000-mile global circumnavigation in the spirit of the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race.

A flotilla of well-wishers, including Britain’s largest working steamship, Shieldhall, waved and clapped the fleet to the starting line opposite the Royal Yacht Squadron on the Isle of Wight, where Sir Chay Blyth, a fellow circumnavigator, fired the starting gun.

The race celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Whitbread Round the World Race, which means taking on the world’s toughest oceans without modern technology, using no computers, satellites, GPS, or high-tech materials for navigational aids.

The Whitbread Round the World Race started from Portsmouth in 1973 following in the route of the great Clipper ships. It was the first fully crewed global yacht race, capturing the heart of the British public, and the forerunner of the Volvo Ocean Race and the Ocean Race.

Translated 9 was previously raced as ADC Accutrac by British skipper Clare Francis, who took fifth place in the 1977 Whitbread Round the World Race. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Explorer, AU (28) was first over the line in light winds, followed by Spirit of Helsinki, FI (71) and Translated 9, IT (09). The only British entry, Maiden, GB (03) was on the other side of the line
in fourth position. This was only the start, however, and there were still 27,000 miles to go.

‘What an amazing sight to witness 14 teams recreating history, stepping back in time and setting off around the world on a grand adventure in the spirit of the original 1973 Whitbread,’ said Don McIntyre, Ocean Globe Race founder and sponsor.

Seven of the boats competing have taken part in one or more of the past Whitbread races: Maiden, Pen Duick VI, FR (14), Esprit d’Équipe, FR (85), Neptune, FR (56), Outlaw, AU, (08) and Translated 9, IT (09), formerly ADC Accutrac skippered to 5th place by Clare Francis in the 1977 Whitbread.

A wave from the crew of L’Esprit d’Equipe. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Father’s legacy

It was an emotional sight to see skipper Marie Tabarly at the helm of Pen Duick VI following the same route as her father 50 years ago on the same yacht. Pen Duick VI was dismasted twice in the 1973 Whitbread when skippered by Marie’s father, Éric Tabarly.

One of the most notable teams is the Farr 58, Maiden. In 1990, Tracy Edwards, now MBE, triumphantly brought home the first ever all-female Whitbread crew onboard Maiden to Ocean Village Marina, Southampton. At the time, it was estimated that almost 50,000 people came to witness this momentous event, which helped to turn the tide on women’s participation in sailing.

In this edition, Maiden again set sail with an all-female crew under skipper Heather Thomas, firstly to win, but also to highlight the work of the Maiden Factor Foundation, a charity started by Tracy to support communities to enable girls into education, helping them to reach their full potential and create better futures for all.

L’Esprit d’Equipe at the start of the race. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Helicopter evacuation

A week after the start, an injured crewman, Stéphane Raguenes, from the French yacht Triana (66) was evacuated by long-range helicopter in a dramatic rescue 225 miles from the island of Madeira. Stéphane had slipped on deck in heavy weather causing a severe laceration to the back of his leg.

At the time, 4m waves made a transfer to a nearby container ship impossible and skipper Jean d’Arthuys planned to continue to Madeira to seek medical treatment.

But D’Arthuys raised the alert to Code Red the following morning and requested a helicopter evacuation after Stéphane’s condition deteriorated overnight. The long-range rescue was carried out later that day and Raguenes was successfully helicoptered to hospital in Madeira.

The same day, another entrant Godspeed, (01) USA, contacted OGR race control reporting their boom had developed a six-inch crack in the middle following a few days of heavy weather. The team has now diverted to Lisbon to begin repairs.

French rivals L’Esprit d’Equipe and Evrika passing the Needles en route to Cape Town. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Crew diversity

The 218 sailors taking part in the race – 65 women and 153 men ranging from 17 to 73 years in age – come from 23 different countries and include: 96 crew from France, 31 from Finland, 18 from the UK, 18 from the US, 11 from Italy and six from South Africa. The diverse crews taking part are united by a passion to live a life less ordinary.

This OGR is dominated by the French; five of the yachts, Triana (skipper Jean d’Arthuys), Evrika (skipper Dominique Dubois), Neptune (Tanneguy Raffray), Pen Duick VI (Marie Tabarly), and former winner L’Esprit D’Equipe (Lionel Regnier) sail under the French flag.

With so much emphasis on youth – invigorating though it is, we do live in an ageing society. There are many sailors who will warm to surgeon Tanneguy Raffray’s initiative for including Bertrand Delhom among his crew.

Delhom has had many medical misfortunes throughout his life, including a partial amputation of his foot which has left chronic residual pain. He is no stranger to depression. Raffray describes Delhom’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease as ‘the last knife’. Delhom volunteers as an instructor for other disabled sailors and asked Raffray to accept him on board Neptune to give hope to others. They have worked together on a programme of physical and psychological exercises to strengthen Delhom for the voyage and have also made various modifications to Neptune to provide additional hand holds.

Raffray will write about the experience for both the medical and popular press when they return.

The oldest OGR entrant, Campbell Mackie, 73, mentoring Spirit of Adelaide’s youngest crew member, India Syms, 18. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Strong British contingent

Though Maiden is the UK’s only entrant, there are other British sailors scattered through the fleet.

Some have signed up to sail a single leg, others are ‘rounders’. Simon Curwen, who took line honours in the recent Golden Globe Race, is sailing the first two legs on board the Italian yacht Translated 9. He sounds slightly surprised to be there and agrees that this is a significant departure from his usual solo racing.

The invitation to join Translated 9 came so soon after the GGR last year that Curwen had turned it down. His wife Clare encouraged him to think again. He is sailing with Vittorio Malingri, whose father and uncle have both done the race, and who is joined by his son Nico. Owner Marco Trombetti is the co-skipper, and his wife and business partner, Isabelle Audrieu, will sail with them for a leg.

A hive of activity and excitement aboard Pen Duick VI as the crew get her off to a good start with Marie Tabarly at the helm. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Jill Comber, sailing the whole race on the Australian yacht Explorer, has a hunch that her skills as a CEO of a successful company will prove transferable to challenges of life on board. She took up sailing as a single mother looking for something she and her nine-year-old son could do together. He’s now an adult, seeking his own adventures.

Since selling her company Jill has done as much ocean sailing as she can and sees the OGR as a way to accelerate her learning about herself. ‘It feels like throwing my life up into the air and wondering where it will come down.’ Her role on board is crew co-ordinator, something very necessary as Explorer has crew joining and leaving at every stage. Some they haven’t even met yet.

Terry Kavanagh, the sole Irishman in the OGR, sailing on Explorer as first mate, agrees with Jill about business skills being transferable. He’s still part way through a slow circumnavigation with his wife Jac and is an unexpected convert to racing. This January they took part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. However, Terry was inspired by Don McIntyre’s concept of the OGR and, as Jac had already raced round the world via the Clipper fleet, they agreed to leave their yacht in the West Indies and sign on. While Terry sails this race with skipper Mark ‘Captain Coconut’ Sinclair, Jac has joined the shore-based team, managing PR.

Maiden’s all-female crew range in age from age 18 to 42, with skipper, Heather Thomas, 26 (fifth from left), at the helm for the OGR. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Good to see the Brits

Tom Napper, first mate on Pen Duick VI, has found that the best way to have a career in sailing is to be at the right place and jump on opportunities. He’s a sailor and rigger from Cornwall who started his career afloat when he was two. His mother, a single parent and district midwife, often needed people to look after her hyperactive child and was relieved to discover that the motion of a boat helped him sleep.

He first met skipper Marie Tabarly when racing in Monaco and kept in touch until a message arrived last year, ‘We need to go and drink coffee.’ Tom joined Pen Duick VI in November and has found his French crewmates welcoming – though Sir Chay Blyth muttered that it was ‘Good to see a Brit on board,’ Aurora Sillars (23) is the youngest member on board the South African entry Sterna. This is owned by a new adventure sailing company, Allspice Yachting, which hopes to use the race to gain recognition and also undertake environmentally useful projects.

Her owner, Dr Gerrit Louw, is a former academic specialising in geo-informatics, and the boat’s main sponsor is Inclusive Carbon Standard, which aims to reduce the cost of carbon credits and supply food and trees for Africa. Aurora’s personal project is plankton collection. Sterna was the first yacht in the fleet to achieve the Green Card for passing all safety checks. She also has the lowest handicap.

Maiden’s all-female crew are likely to maintain resilience. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Lucy Frost on the Australian yacht Outlaw is clear about her motivation – ‘Sailing puts a smile on my face.’ She began sailing when IVF failed and it was clear that she could never have children. ‘You can do anything now,’ her sister told her. Fast forward to the OGR 23 and Lucy was one of the initial five investors in Outlaw, a cooperatively owned yacht.

Their skipper, Campbell Mackie (73) is the oldest person in the race and, like Tapio Lehtinen, still feels inspired by the legacy of the tea clippers and grain racers. Lucy has sailed on Maiden and believes that there are still many ways in which women in sailing are at a significant disadvantage. She welcomes the OGR quota system.

Pen Duick VI under way. Photo: Studio Borlenghi/Luca Butto

Multi-skilled crews

Emma Walker is the sole British woman on the US veterans’ yacht Godspeed. She’s an inveterate adventurer who has spent much of her life backpacking but has also served in both the Royal Navy (as an engineer) and RAF (as a photographer). She has little sailing experience but discovered that her talent for logistics is valuable when getting the all-veteran crew motivated and jobs completed. She will also use her experience as a photographer to document the trip.

Godspeed is owned by Skeleton Crew Adventures, a charity founded by skipper Taylor Grieger. Grieger suffered from PTSD after his military service and has already made a fundraising film, Hell or High Seas, (available on Amazon) about his attempt to round Cape Horn. They still have fundraising to do in order to complete this race. Emma says her experience so far is like being back in the service family; ‘We’ve got each other’s backs.’

Galiana WithSecure testing how many sails you can hoist at once

The Swan 57 White Shadow is the single Spanish entry, also skippered by a French sailor, Jean-Claude Petit, who will be joined by some of his family members.

The Finns have two boats, Spirit of Helsinki (formerly Whitbread racer Fazer Finland) skippered by Jussi Paarvoseppa, and Tapio Lentinen’s Galiana WithSecure. Their crews have trained hard and there is a good deal of national pride urging them on. And whatever one’s allegiance it will be hard not to wish Tapio, in particular, every good fortune after the gooseneck barnacle attack in the GGR18, the loss of Asteria in GGR22, and Galiana WithSecure’s dismasting in the recent Fastnet.

When asked how he personally recovered from such setbacks, Tapio spoke of the deeper values which sustained him, and also the realisation that being able to sail ‘is a fantastic gift. One shouldn’t spoil it by crying over spilt milk.’ With that in mind, Tapio will also be flying the Ukrainian flag.

The crews are expected to finish between the 1 and 10 April 2024.

The Ocean Globe Race route

The eight-month adventure follows the original Clipper route and is split into four legs, sailing around the three great Capes: Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, and South America’s notorious Cape Horn. Stopovers include: Cape Town, Auckland and Punta del Este.

The first leg: 6,650 miles, Southampton to Cape Town. The first boats are expected to finish between 9-21 October.
The second leg: 6,650 miles, Cape Town to Auckland, New Zealand. It starts on 5 November and is expected to finish between 14-23 December.
The third leg: 8,370 miles, Auckland, New Zealand to Punta del Este, Uruguay. It starts on 14 January 2024. The first boats are expected to finish between 9-18 February 2024.
The fourth leg: 5,430 miles, Punta del Este, Uruguay to Southampton. The first boats to cross the finish line are expected 1-10 April 2024.

The entrants

The yachts are split into three classes: the Adventure Class 46-55ft; Sayula Class 56-65ft; and Flyer Class, comprising ex-Whitbread yachts from the first three editions.

Adventure Class (47-55ft/ 14-17m)

Galiana WithSecure (Tapio Lehtinen), FIN, Swan 55; Triana (Jean D’Arthuys) FRA, Swan 53; Outlaw (Campbell Mackie), AUS, Baltic 55; Sterna (Allspice Yachting, Rufus Brand) ZAF, Swan 53; Godspeed (Skeleton Crew Sailing, Taylor Grieger), USA, Swan 51.

Sayula Class (56-66 ft /17-20m)

Evrika (Dominique Dubois), FRA, Swan 65; Explorer (Mark Sinclair), AUS, Swan 57; Spirit of Helsinki (Jussi Paavoseppä), FIN, Swan 651; White Shadow (Jean-Christophe Petite), ESP, Swan 57

Flyer Class (Former 1973, 1977 or 1981 Whitbread race boats)

L’Esprit d’Equipe (Lionel Regniér), FRA, Whitbread 1981; Translated 9 (Vittorio Malingri), ITA, Whitbread 1977, Pen Duick VI (Marie Tabarly), FRA, Whitbread 1973; Neptune (Tanneguy Raffray), FRA, Whitbread 1977; Maiden (Heather Thomas), GBR, Whitbread 1989.

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