Where did it all begin?

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Through the 1960s, ocean yacht racing grew both in its scope and ambition. The 1920s had seen the birth of classic ocean races such as the Bermuda Race and the Fastnet Race, both tough challenges of about 600 miles each. But, in 1964, Sir Francis Chichester completed a solo circumnavigation in his yacht Gipsy Moth IV with the stated object of completing the passage in the shortest possible time.

This injected a sense of competition and sport into an undertaking that had previously been counted a very daring adventure. Chichester's voyage attracted huge worldwide publicity and inspired many a young sailor to dreams of emulating his achievement.

In 1969, the London Sunday Times promoted the Golden Globe Race, a non-stop single-handed voyage around the world and a ragtag flotilla answered the call. The somewhat mystical Frenchman, Bernard Moitessier was well in the lead when he dismissed the entire idea of a race as anathema. A purist in search of perfect harmony with nature and the sea, he diverted his course to his beloved Tahiti, leaving Englishman Robin Knox-Johnston to claim the prize.

The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, held in 1968-1969, and was the first round-the-world yacht race. The race was controversial due to the failure by most competitors to finish the race and because of the suicide of one entrant; however, it ultimately led to the founding of the BOC Challenge and Vendée Globe round-the-world races, both of which continue to be successful and popular. The race was sponsored by the British Sunday Times newspaper and was designed to capitalise on a number of individual round-the-world voyages which were already being planned by various sailors; for this reason, there were no qualification requirements, and competitors were offered the opportunity to join and permitted to start at any time between 1 June and 31 October 1968. The Golden Globe trophy was offered to the first person to complete an unassisted, non-stop single-handed circumnavigation of the world via the great capes, and a separate £5,000 prize was offered for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation.

Nine sailors started the race; four retired before leaving the Atlantic Ocean. Of the five remaining, Chay Blyth, who had set off with absolutely no sailing experience, sailed past the Cape of Good Hope before retiring; Nigel Tetley sank with 1,100 nautical miles (2,000 km) to go while leading; Donald Crowhurst, who attempted to fake a round-the-world voyage, began to show signs of mental illness, and then committed suicide; and Bernard Moitessier, who rejected the philosophy behind a commercialised competition, abandoned the race while in a strong position to win and kept sailing non-stop until he reached Tahiti after circling the globe one and a half times. Robin Knox-Johnston was the only entrant to complete the race, becoming the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. He was awarded both prizes, and later donated the £5,000 to a fund supporting Crowhurst's family.

These early contests led to the creation of a "proper" race around the world in fully crewed yachts. With the Royal Naval Sailing Association in command and with sponsorship from British brewers, the Whitbread Round the World Race was born.

Photos of ENZA by Christian Fevrier

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