Stadium sailing is not how you do it

Published on October 17th, 2017

Sailboat racing is for racers, and if people like what the racers are doing, then an audience is born. Try as we might to create events for the audience, there are variables that can’t be manufactured. Andrew Hurst, editor of Seahorse Magazine, offers his take in the October 2017 edition.

It’s reassuring that the biggest sailing event in the world in terms of public interest is the Vendée Globe. Biggest by some considerable distance.

Yes, most of those one million-plus fans who attend the start in person and the hundreds of thousands who then follow the race closely are predominantly French (though the 750,000 who play the Virtual Vendée are an international mix). But they are astonishing numbers that any other sailing event would kill for.

Those one million spectators who block the roads for miles around Les Sables d’Olonne with their camper vans would have filled every hotel room in Bermuda several hundred times over. They would completely overwhelm the organisers of the Olympic regatta – in fact, the Olympic Games as a whole.

Singlehanded ocean racing connects with the public more than any other form of the sport. It is aspirational, romantic and dangerous. At one level a supreme test of competitive ability, at the other an enormous personal achievement. The backstories shade those of the most interesting Olympian or America’s Cupper.

I fail to understand the surprise among the racing community at the success of next year’s Golden Globe Race, sold out at its first edition. Let alone the fact that race organiser – and experienced round-the-world competitor – Don McIntyre is confident enough to have already commissioned 10 new one-design Joshua replicas for a second class at the next event in 2022.

The boats are very slow by modern standards but that misses the point. McIntyre now makes a living running adventure expeditions. He gets the draw of man versus the elements – especially in its pure form. So do plenty of sailors and the countless thousands of non-sailing public who would like to become sailors – especially ocean sailors. Restores your faith in humanity.

Note: Seahorse, the dominant international magazine for anyone serious about their racing, is available by magazine subscription or iPad download:

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