"And thence we came forth to see again the stars": worldwide regattas not to be missed in 2019

Sailing dates back to the dawn of human civilisation. In the writings of the Greek historian Pausanias, he described the first regattas and sailing competitions surrounded by music and swimming competitions, organised in honour of Dionysus in the second century BC at the Temple of Aphrodite in Ermioni.

The history of modern regattas has its roots in the fight against seafaring piracy. During the 17th century, pirates infested the routes of the East Indies, Africa and the Americas and Dutch ships, which moved valuable goods between the Netherlands and their colonies. To respond to this threat, the Dutch crafted agile and fast sailing ships called jachtschips - from the Dutch jacht, which means to search, to hunt - with the task of chasing and capturing pirate vessels. As they were also extremely fun to sail, these boats were also widely used for sporting purposes.

A passion born from the navy
At the end of this century, King Charles II Stuart of England, who had been exiled to the Netherlands, discovered jachtschips and, on his return to England, brought one of them with him, facilitating the spread of sailing as a sport throughout the British Empire. The king was so passionate that he helped to design his own yacht, named Jamie, which was completed in 1662. That same year, he personally led his yacht to victory against a Dutch yacht owned by the Duke of York, on a route from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. This was the first regatta on board sails operated by non-professional helmsmen. In the meantime, the Dutch word jacht was anglicised into the term yacht, which is now widely used to refer to sailing boats and more.
From the Grand Canal to open sea regattas
The creation of racing yacht clubs had still some more years to wait. Indeed, in the late seventeenth and late eighteenth century, the most important activities of the yacht clubs were still the parades, which imitated those of rowing boats on the Thames of London and the Grand Canal of Venice. The first sailing club meant for regattas, the Water Club of the Cork Harbour, was founded in Ireland in 1720. At least initially, however, its members did not engage in regattas in the true sense of the word, but carried out naval manoeuvres by obeying the orders of an admiral, transmitted with the reports of flag-wavers, as a military fleet. For a proper regattas yacht club, we still had to wait until 1812, when the Royal Yacht Squadron was founded, which had about fifty boats stationed in Cowes.

The most prestigious regattas in the world

What are the regattas that still dominate the sailing scene? Let's discover together which regattas, born decades if not centuries ago, still survive today, and which have remained at the centre of the world of sailing.

Cumberland Regatta

The first of the modern regattas was the Cumberland Regatta, which opened in 1715 and still takes place in Cowes. The event became more prominent in 1826, when the Royal Yacht Squadron held the Cowes Week, a nautical gathering that was an important event on the social calendar and attended by British and foreign monarchs.
An invaluable photo taken from the Henley race, a competition that still takes place near London today

America's Cup

The first regatta of international importance was the famous Hundred Guineas Cup, later known as America's Cup, founded in 1852 and still today among the most famous trophy in the world of regattas. These regattas, in addition to the sporting glory for the winning team, have a very important economic impact for the area that hosts them. Apparently, in fact, as some claim, it is the world competition that provides the highest revenue, especially in terms of sponsorships, after the Olympic Games and the World Football Cup.
Luna Rossa is one of the most competitive Challengers
The 2017 edition was held in Bermuda and saw the victory of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. The next edition will be held in 2021 and in New Zealand; the holders of the famous silver cup will challenge the winner of the former Louis Vuitton Cup, now Prada Cup. The latter will start in January 2021 in Auckland and will see the Challengers compete in the Round Robins to determine the team that will challenge the defender, Emirates Team New Zealand. The real kick off though, the first opportunity for all the teams to compare their new boats in the water, will be in Italy, next October, in Cagliari.

Volvo Ocean Race

The second most important race in the world is the Volvo Ocean Race, which lasts nine months and runs along a route in stages. This sporting event, which began in 1973, was initially called the Whitbread Round the World Race and is now held every three years.
One of the most competitive regattas in the world
The last of the Volvo's regattas began in Alicante and ended in The Hague: the victory went to the Chinese boat Dongfeng Racing Team - skippered by Charles Caudrelier - after passing the coasts of Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Auckland, Itajaì, Newport, Cardiff and Gothenburg. The worst weather conditions are usually found in the Antarctic Ocean, where the waves can exceed thirty metres in height and the wind can reach 110 km/h.

In 2017-2018, the race covered a distance of 45,000 nautical miles - the longest in the history of the event.

Golden Globe Race

Another transoceanic competition, but where you sail alone and without any stopovers, is the Golden Globe Race. First held in 1968 by the Sunday Times, it didn't have a real departure date: any sailor interested in taking part would have to leave with his own boat from any English port on any day by October 31st - the last date to avoid arriving at Cape Horn in the middle of the southern winter.

It was expected that the navigation would have lasted between nine months and a year. The almost obligatory route, due to the direction of the winds, was to leave the English coast and head towards the Cape of Good Hope, cross Australia and to round Cape Horn, then climb up the Atlantic to the finish line.

A regatta drenched in history and passion for the sea
They started in nine, including Donald Crowhurst, whose race is etched in the memory of this competition, and Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the first man to complete the trip, achieving this feat in 312 days. Last July, fifty years later, the race was re-launched: a few weeks ago, 73-year-old Jean-Luc Van Den Heede won it, after 211 days of non-stop sailing.

Vendeé Globe

The Vendée Globe, nicknamed the "Everest" of regattas by many sailors, follows a very similar format – a lone wolf challenge without external aid, sailing across every ocean. Founded by Philippe Jeantot in 1989, it has been held regularly every four years since 1992. In the last edition, held in 2017, Armel Le Cleac'h triumphed by setting the record with 74 days and three hours.
Getting to the top of the Everest of regattas

Rolex Fastnet Race

Established in 1925, the Rolex Fastnet Race is the largest offshore race in the world. It is held every two years and has become an essential event on the oceanic racing circuit. The 605-nautical-mile course, characterised by insidious tides and unpredictable weather conditions, puts the tactical skills of the crews to the test. The fleet departs from the harbour of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes and heads for the Solent before crossing the Celtic Sea. Once at the Fastnet Rock, the race returns on the same route, passing south of the island of Scilly, to arrive at Plymouth.
Between tradition, passion and technology
The first of these offshore regattas was won by the British boat Jolie Brise in 1925. This year, however, during the 48th edition, the crews will once again try to beat the record for monohulls - set in 2011 - of 42 hours and 39 minutes, as well as the record for multihulls of 32 hours and 48 minutes - also recorded in the same year.

That said, we have not even mentioned the regattas that take place in the Mediterranean, certainly no less important, such as the Italian Barcolana or the Giraglia Rolex Cup that starts from the picturesque Saint-Tropez, regattas that we have already talked about at length or that we will mention in the next editorials.

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