A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE VELUX 5 OCEANS
The year was 1979 when solo sailor David White dreamt up a yacht race which would become famous all round the globe and give rise to some of the world's best sailors. White had built a 56ft racing yacht but had not finished it in time for the 1980 Original Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR). Always looking for a bigger, longer and tougher adventure, White issued a challenge to other sailors to race him solo around the world. Three years later, in the autumn of 1982, seventeen men set sail from Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island, for the inaugural BOC Challenge, named so after title sponsor the British Oxygen Corporation.
The race was split into four legs, with stops in Cape Town, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro before finishing in back in Newport. During the race speed sailing records were smashed, incredible feats of endurance undertaken and the world's attention drawn to ocean racing. It also created a legend in the form of French deep sea oil rig diver turned sailor Philippe Jeantot who not only won the race but each individual leg too.
It was not a race without drama – French sailor Jacques de Roux's yacht was leading the class two fleet when it capsized, dismasted and started to sink on leg three. De Roux bailed out his boat for 59 hours non stop before being rescued by Brit Richard Broadhead.
Class two was eventually won by Japanese taxi driver Yukoh Tada. After oversleeping, fellow Brit Desmond Hampton could only watch as his yacht ploughed into rocks off the coast of Australia and sank.
Four years later, Jeantot returned to the race to defend his title, up against 24 skippers from every corner of the globe. Jeantot once again proved his dominance winning class one as well as setting a new solo speed sailing record for monohull yachts of 134 days, five hours and 24 minutes. Fellow Frenchman Jacques de Roux was also back, but for him it was to be an entirely different race with fatal consequences. De Roux was lost at sea, his yacht Skoiern IV found helplessly drifting just days from Sydney. The Frenchman became the first loss of the race – but not the last. Only 16 of the 25 starters finished, a stark reminder of the gruelling reality of the race. Race founder David White was one of the finishers, fulfilling a seven-year-dream.
Philippe Jeantot once again set sail in the BOC Challenge in search of a third win – but it was not to be. Jeantot's yacht was outclassed by a new breed of ocean racing racing – the Open 60. Jeantot was also forced to give way to youth in the form of up and coming French solo sailors Christophe Auguin and Alan Gautier. Auguin went on to win class one and smash the existing race record by 14 days. The race also gave rise to a legend in Frenchwoman Isabelle Autissier. Sadness tinged the race though after people's hero Yukoh Tada, the winner of class two in the inaugural race eight years previously, took his own life during the Sydney stopover.
Isabelle Autissier, now a household name, continued to amaze the world when she arrived at the first stopover five days and 1,200 miles ahead of her nearest rival. However fortune was not to be on her side and during leg two her yacht Ecureuil Poitu-Charentes 2 was dismasted in the Southern Ocean. Never willing to give in, Autissier set up a jury rig and headed for land but was again rolled and her yacht destroyed. She was eventually rescued by an Australian navy frigate. Meanwhile in class two, Aussie David Adams (2010 VELUX 5 OCEANS race director), back for his second BOC Challenge, took the title winning all but one of the legs. BOC Challenge elder statesman Harry Mitchell was sadly lost at sea trying to fulfil his dream of conquering Cape Horn.
A name change to Around Alone and a new hero – this time Italian Giovanni Soldini. Not only was Soldini the eventual winner setting a new race record of 116 days but he also performed a heroic mid sea rescue of Isabelle Autissier, again rolled in the Southern Ocean. Brit entries Mike Golding and Josh Hall looked promising but were struck with the same fate as Autissier, race leader Golding running aground on leg two and Hall dismasting on leg three. Class two was won by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Mouligne with the UK's Mike Garside in second and Brad Van Liew from the USA in third. Russian sailor Viktor Yazikov developed an excruciating infection in his elbow after injuring it on the first leg. In an amazing display of skill and composure, Yazikov performed open surgery on the infected wound, stopping the infection and ultimately saving his arm. He carried on racing and even beat some of the fellow competitors into port.
Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm stamped his mark on this edition of the race winning class one. Brit Emma Richards became the youngest competitor ever to finish the race aged just 27. Canadian sailor Derek Hatfield, in the Open 40 class, suffered a dramatic dismasting around Cape Horn but continued to finish the race, some weeks after the leaders, securing third in class two. American Brad Van Liew, back for his second race, won every leg in class two to take first place.
Another name change to the VELUX 5 OCEANS and another dramatic race, with events this time centring on British sailors and bitter rivals Mike Golding and Alex Thomson. The pair were neck and neck behind leader Bernard Stamm in the Southern Ocean when Thomson's keel failed causing severe structural damage to his yacht Hugo Boss. Golding then performed a daring ocean rescue before continuing his race with Thomson onboard, only to be dismasted hours later. Stamm went on to win his second title while race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston made history yet again becoming at 67 the oldest person to complete a solo round the world race.