As American Sailing evolves our curriculum to offer more racing options through North U, I am attempting to learn more about sailboat racing. If you are following along with my journey to become a racer, you know that I am a neophyte when it comes to racing. I am a cruiser. I am a self-described “lazy sailor” that does not focus on trimming my sails and instead works on not dropping my chips and salsa while sailing.
You can get an idea of my journey in my last two pieces on sailing and racing:
I plan to find out more about the serious and not-so-serious side of sailboat racing. Many people, even non-sailors, know what the America’s Cup is, and may have even turned on a sports network to catch a SailGP race. But there is far more to sailing races than those two.
Here’s an overview of seven of the big races, regattas, and race series that occur regularly around the world. These are iconic events, both old and new, that shape the world of racing and have inspired sailors for generations to challenge themselves to new heights, both on and off the water.
Cowes Week is one of the oldest and most prestigious sailing regattas in the world, held every August in the Solent waters off Cowes, UK. The event has been around since 1826, and it’s known for attracting some of the best sailors from around the globe. It’s the largest sailing regatta of its kind in the world, with up to 1,000 boats and 8,000 competitors taking part in the 40 daily sailing races.
Whether you’re an Olympic or world-class pro, or just a weekend sailor, Cowes Week is an event that has something for everyone. And even if you’re not into sailing, the regatta is still a spectacle to behold – with stunning views of the coastline and plenty of festivities both on and off the water.
Once you discover the allure of racing it appears that Cowes Week might be worthy of a sailing vacation that includes either participating in a race or just being involved as a spectator. I am not there yet, but it could happen.
Next Race Date: July 29 – Aug 4, 2023
Cowes Week Website
The Ocean Race
I do know about The Ocean Race only because prior to the new owner taking over, it was the Volvo Ocean Race for twenty years and that is how they got me to buy a Volvo. I walked into the dealership and saw some mesmerizing sailboat pictures and I signed the contract and drove away. I am a sucker.
The Ocean Race is a round-the-world yacht race that occurs every three years. It’s known as one of the most challenging sailing races globally, spanning over 45,000 nautical miles. The race consists of multiple legs and lasts about nine months. The race starts in Europe and ends in Asia or Oceania. The exact route changes with each edition of the race.
Both professional sailors and amateur sailors can participate in this race. The teams are composed of eight sailors, all racing on the same boats. These boats are specially designed to be fast and robust, capable of enduring the tough conditions of the open ocean.
This race used to be known as the Whitbread Round the World Race until it was renamed the Volvo Ocean Race and now is known as The Ocean Race.
Next Race Date: Currently in progress at the time of the post!
The Ocean Race Website
My first foray into sailing racing was when Dennis Conner won the America’s Cup. I was a kid watching the news and learned about sailing through this huge event on the vessel, Stars and Stripes. Years later I took a ride on what I was told was the same boat. I was skeptical about the origin of the vessel I was on but that day I learned a lot about how much I loved the idea of sailing. A couple of years later I bought a boat.
The America’s Cup is held every few years on dates agreed between the defender and the challenger. There is no fixed schedule, but the races have generally been held every three to four years. The most recent America’s Cup match took place in March 2021.
The 37th America’s Cup Official Opening Ceremony will be held in Barcelona on 22 August 2024. The Final Preliminary Event and the Challenger Selection Series will follow, leading up to the America’s Cup Match that will start on 12 October 2024. During 2023/early 2024, there is potential for up to three preliminary events. By June 2023, all the teams will have their base set up and be training in Barcelona.
The competition takes place between teams representing different countries or yacht clubs. The event involves a series of races where high-tech racing yachts, known as America’s Cup Class boats, compete in head-to-head races that test their speed, agility, and teamwork.
The competition dates back to 1851 when a schooner called America won a race around the Isle of Wight. The trophy, now known as the America’s Cup, was donated to the New York Yacht Club and has since become one of the most prestigious prizes in sailing.
Next Race Date: October 12, 2024
The America’s Cup Website
If I was a racer I am sure that The Vendée Globe would be the race that would inspire me to go hard into this type of adventure. The Vendée Globe is a single-handed (solo) non-stop yacht race around the world without assistance. It takes place every four years and is an extreme form of sailing. It is said that more people have been into space than have finished the Vendee Globe. First held in 1989, the race starts and ends in Les Sables-d’Olonne, a small town on the west coast of France, and covers a distance of approximately 45,000 km.
Sailors must navigate their way through some of the most treacherous waters on the planet, including the Southern Ocean and the Cape Horn. Sailors must rely solely on their own skills, knowledge, and experience to complete the race. They face extreme weather conditions, sleep deprivation, and the constant threat of danger as they navigate their way around the world.
The boats are designed specifically for the event and are some of the most advanced sailing vessels in the world, capable of speeds of up to 30 knots.
Next Race Date: November 10, 2024
The Vendée Globe Website
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta
I must confess that I had a very nice t-shirt from this regatta that I purchased at the St. Maarten airport. I was leaving the country and realized that I had not bought any souvenirs so I found this shirt in the terminal and wore it like a proud sailboat racer. I was an imposter, I had never even seen any of the race and I did not know it existed.
The St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is a massive sailing event that takes place on the island of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. It’s actually the biggest regatta in the Caribbean and the largest warm water regatta in the world.
The event attracts top sailors from 37 countries, who compete in a series of races over four days. The competition draws in sailors that are both professionals and passionate amateurs who just love to sail.
Next Race Date: Feb 29 – Mar 3, 2024
St. Maarten Regatta Website
Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac)
If you live and sail in Southern California, you will hear about Transpac. I have heard about it, and I did not realize it was a race. I always figured it was a group of sailors who sailed across the Pacific to Hawaii in a large caravan, like a large flotilla, without any daily stops. I will confess that when I sailed my Catalina 27 five times a week, I had a few fantasies about tagging along in my boat and stopping over in Hawaii with the Transpac crowd. But, unfortunately, I was misguided.
The Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac) is a biennial offshore yacht race held in odd-numbered years starting off the Pt. Fermin buoy in San Pedro, California, and ending off Diamond Head in Hawaii, a distance of around 2,225 nautical miles (2,560 mi; 4,121 km). It is one of the world’s oldest major ocean races for sailing yachts. The race was first held in 1906 and made a biennial event in 1939 to alternate with the Bermuda Race.
Next Race Date: June 27, 2023
Now in its 4th season, SailGP is a newer series race held as a competition between nations on identical F50 catamarans. Currently the nations competing include Australia, New Zealand, Emirates Great Britain, France, Canada, Denmark, United States, Switzerland, and Spain. The race is held on weekends in iconic locations around the world modeled in a grand prix format similar to Formula 1 in which points accumulate throughout the season based on winnings from each race and contribute toward a championship.
The race series has a really great app you can use to follow along and watch live, or on YouTube, and they are doing wonderful work expanding the sport’s impact initiatives through their second championship leaderboard that tracks the positive actions the teams make to reduce their overall carbon footprint and help accelerate inclusivity in sailing. The coverage of this series is great to watch – it has a high production value including live mics on the sailors and post race interviews with the sailors. The commentators do a good job educating the audience as to the basics of sailboat racing as well as explaining the racing rules.
Season 4 Opening Race: June 16-17, 2023 Chicago
Sail GP Website
So which race strikes your fancy? Here’s hoping you enjoy some of these and find some new inspiration in your sailing journey!