Know Your Racing

The Volvo Ocean Race is an around-the-world marathon showcasing 70-foot high-tech sailing machines. Precise rules govern boat and sail design, making each boat similar. It takes the racers nine months to sail the globe, with extended stops in eight ports. The boats are sponsored by syndicates that hire the world’s finest sailors to ride these carbon-fiber, sail-powered rockets. It costs about $100 million to play that game. The winner gets a silver chalice that can easily hold a couple bottles of champagne.

    The America’s Cup is arguably the best-known sailing race in the world. It started in 1851 as a throw-down between Britain and the United States, both sailing knife-like, 12-meter yachts. In the current incarnation, 72-foot catamarans from countries far and wide will be crewed by hired-gun sailors making six-figure salaries, competing in a round-robin series of matches, with the winner earning the right to take on Team Oracle, the current America’s Cup champion, in a best-of-seven series.
    The race has recently been embroiled in legal challenges and petty billionaire backbiting, but in 2013, the America’s Cup will be hosted by the Golden Gate Yacht Club in shark-infested San Francisco Bay. The winner gets the oldest active trophy in international sport, a rather hideous-looking metal thing the size of a small child.

    The America’s Cup World Series is a tune-up for the America’s Cup, with crews from the U.S., New Zealand, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, China and Korea. They race specially designed 45-foot, carbon fiber, wing-sailed cats that can triple wind speed and hit 30-plus knots. In 2012, they will battle it out in Naples and Venice, Italy, and then Newport, Rhode Isand, from June 23 to July 1. The winner at each venue gets a large silver plate.

    The Velux 5 Oceans Race calls itself the Ultimate Solo Challenge. It covers 30,000 nautical miles, making it the longest single-handed sailing event in the world and the longest race for individuals in any sport. Every four years, a small handful of crazed challengers skipper standardized Eco 60s around the globe, starting in France with stopovers in South Africa, New Zealand, Uruguay and South Carolina. The last race was in 2010-’11. The winner received a glass trophy that looks like a little blue pancake boat.

    The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was conceived in 1995 by well-known yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and, for pay, gives amateur crew members the chance to sail around the world. The organizers put together a fleet of identical 68-foot yachts, each named for a specific place — usually a city — and provide qualified skippers to lead each 17-person team. The crews are comprised of people from all walks of life, who can either sign up for the whole race, at a cost of $68,335, or one or more legs, at $16,520 a pop.
    The Clipper race follows the prevailing currents and winds. The 40,000-mile jaunt takes 11 months, has 15 stages and stops in eight ports. The race is currently underway. The boats just left Australia, heading for New Zealand. Maybe the Volvos will catch them.

    The World Match Racing Tour is the only professional monohull series now that the America’s Cup has decided to go with the big cats. Nine World Championship events are held each year across the globe in on-the-water stadiums, following a match-race format, using one-design racing yachts that change for each event. The top point-getter receives a cool $500,000 and a silver chalice crowned with blue glass sails.

photo by Stan Schreyer

The feather-light Extreme 40s reach such high speeds they can go air-bound.

    The Extreme Sailing Series started in 2007 as part of the in-port events surrounding the Volvo Ocean Race and is now in its fifth season.
    This is the Formula 1 version of sailing, featuring Extreme 40s, feather-light, carbon multi-hulls that literally take to the air as they scream along at powerboat speeds. This is stadium sailing, taking place in harbors or along coastlines, where thousands of people can watch the flying hulls in action.
    Some of the world’s top match racers battle it out on short triangle courses that guarantee spectacular crashes, barrel-roll flips and exploding boats. Each race takes 15 to 20 minutes, and about eight are run, with VIP hot seats where you can join the four-man crew and get launched like a pro. There’s big prize money for the winners. This is probably the future of sailing.