Downturn of business, upturn of piracy

Blue Water Rallies Ltd has announced that it will cease trading on 30 April at the end of the current round the world rally which has, effectively, ground to halt in the Gulf of Aden, on the edge of pirate territory.

The rally’s 20 yachts are currently stuck in Salalah, Oman, following the deaths of four American sailors who left the rally and were shot by pirates. Rally skippers have taken the almost unilateral decision to ship their yachts to Turkey rather than risk sailing the next leg to Djibouti.

Blue Water Rallies had already postponed their planned ninth round the world rally, in 2011-13, with a lack of entries, due the recession and continuing fears over piracy.

The current rally was due to end in Crete next month and will now end in Marmaris, Turkey, where it is hoped, the yachts will arrive as deck cargo.

In a press statement, Chris Mounsey, Blue Water Rallies managing dirctor said: ‘Since its formation in 1997, Blue Water Rallies have organised eight world rallies and take great pride in having enabled over 200 owners and hundreds of crew members to realise their dream of a circumnavigation. The current economic downturn and a dramatic rise in piracy in the Indian Ocean (which shows little prospect of resolution), have led us to make this disappointing, but we feel realistic, decision.’

The Blue Water Rally was established in 1998, following the success of the RAF Yacht Club’s 1995 round the world Tradewinds Rally, when 38 boats left Gibraltar in November and returned in the summer of 1997. Former YM editor Geoff Pack joined the rally in Tonga in 1996, a few months before he died of cancer aged 39.

Two of the rally organisers, Peter Seymour and Tony Diment went on to set up the Blue Water Round the World Rally company, which launched in 1998. Later Yachting Monthly became a media partner with the company, reporting on the round the world rally, attending long-distance cruising seminars and covering the annual Yachting Monthly Biscay Triangle from Torquay to La Coruna in Spain and back to La Trinite, in South Brittany.

YM’s editor, Paul Gelder paid tribute to the rally’s organisational skills and friendliness. ‘The event saw a compact group of like-minded cruising yachtsmen achieving their dream of a circumnavigation in 22 months. Credit is also due for taking more than 250 yachts through the Gulf of Aden without incident. Rally organisers generously waived the rally fees in 2005-2007 so that the restored Gipsy Moth IV could make her second circumnavigation, with disadvantaged children. Despite the famous shipwreck on a reef in the Pacific she returned to Plymouth 40 years to the day of Chichester’s epic 1966-67.

Rally co-director Tony Diment told Yachting Monthly: ‘Prior to the Trade Winds Rally in 1995, GPS, autopilots and reliable reefing systems had not been common place on cruising yachts and it was still considered necessary to have crews of 4 to 5 people aboard each yacht. However, following a Yachting Monthly article asking the Trade Winds participants what was the single most difficult problem in sailing around the world, almost everyone said that it was crew compatibility. On that rally there was a`pool’ of around 50 to 60 crew that by mutual agreement moved from yacht to yacht every 3 or 4 months, giving a rally population of around 150 people.

‘After the Yachting Monthly article people thought that they had the answer to the crew problem – don’t have any crew! The effect was instantaneous: the first Blue Water Rally in 1998 had amongst its fleet 12 yachts that for the first time had only `two-up’ (husband and wife) crews. The rally population immediately plummeted to around 80 people and remained at that level for ever more.’

The Biscay Triangle was created to give yachtsmen the first taste of sailing longer distances and for many the 500 mile passage from Torquay to La Coruna in NW Spain was their first trip outside of the English Channel. In all, 14 Biscay Triangle Rallies were organised. Averaging about 15 yachts per rally this must have initiated over 200 yachts to the adventure of extended cruising. Only one rally never made it to Spain – the 2009 Rally when continual Force 7 South Westerlies plagued Biscay for over a week. (the rally diverted to South Brittany instead).

Two of BWR’s directors, Peter Seymour and Richard Bolt are helping to organize a one-off round-the-world rally in 2013 to celebrate Oyster Yachts’ 40th anniversary.

Footnote: It was Jimmy Cornell, founder of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, who launched the first of four round the world sailing events for cruising yachtsmen. First were the Europa Rallies of 1991-92 and 1994-95, followed by the Expo1998 and the Millennium Odyssey rallies.

Subscribe to Yachting Monthly magazine for all the latest sailing news and reviews.