x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Steaks, a butler and books: early round the world yacht races were less intense

In the race's 38-year history, sailors have gone from luxury accommodations to spartan conditions. The only consistency is the treacherous sea, which has claimed five lives during the race.

Today's Volvo Ocean Race crews can only dream of eating freshly cooked steaks every night instead of freeze dried food.

In the race's 38-year history, sailors have gone from luxury accommodations to spartan conditions. The only consistency is the treacherous sea, which has claimed five lives during the race.

The event began as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973. Four years after man walked on the moon, two sailing journalists, Guy Pearce and Anthony Churchill, came up with the idea for teams to race around the world following the British clipper ships' routes.

They approached the British Royal Naval Sailing Association. "They decided it was a good idea and then spoke to Whitbread Brewery. They gave the money and waited to see what happened," said Lizzie Ward, the manager of Volvo Ocean Race Legends and editor of the official race magazine, Life at the Extreme.

There was no size limit for the yachts and some of the crews dined on steak cooked on-board by chefs. Some crews also had private cabins, music and books.

Most of the 17 yachts in that first race were privately owned. They left Portsmouth on September 8, 1973 and created what is now dubbed "the Everest of sailing".

Ward can remember the boats disappearing over the horizon. "This was the best thing that ever happened. Everyone wanted to do it," she said. "You were not going to finish your life until you did it."

The first race was won by Ramon Carlin, a Mexican washing machine millionaire who had his butler on board as well as a freezer full of meat.

"It was just a little bit more professional in 1977. They took it a little more seriously," Ward said.

As the race grew, among the more interesting teams to enter was one assembled by Duran Duran singer Simon le Bon, who crewed Drum in 1985/86. An all-female crew entered the 1989/90 race sailing a yacht called Maiden.

In 1993/94, the Whitbread 60 yacht was introduced, which saw the demise of the maxi yachts. The new specifications kept costs down and cut faster through the water; they also attracted professional yachtsmen from all classes including Americas Cup racers.

The event became the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy in 1997/98 when the Swedish car manufacturer came on board. In 2005/06, Volvo took over the running and main sponsorship of the event.

The boats raced today, Volvo 70s, were introduced in the 2005/06 race. A media member was added to the crew, to help keep fans informed during the race.

eharnan@thenational.ae


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