Round the world the old way

We look at the progress with the Corinthian Challenge and speak to its most enthusiastic entries

Tuesday November 2nd 2004, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected
World Cruising Club, part of the Challenge Business empire, at London Boat Show earlier this year announced another new round the world race, the Corinthian Challenge. The idea of this race, as it was pitched by Sir Chay Blyth, is to re-enact the first Whitbread, in terms of the course, the type of boats taking part and the spirit of the crews. The race will start in September 2006 and run on the traditional round the world course with stops including Perth and also the Caribbean. The idea of seeing 50 tonnes of maxi boat lead mine charging through the Southern Ocean at maximum warp factor again appeals to us greatly.

Unfortunately the take up for the event has been slow with at present only two entries showing themselves, one an army entry on one of Challenge Business' 67 footers. Is this slow take up due to the event being under-marketed, or is its formula incorrect? Are the potential boats that might do it too old and in no fit state to sail around the world without vast amounts of money being spent on them? Whatever ever happened to all the Swan 65s and Ocean 80s? Bishop hopes there might be some private owners out there who might be keen to do it, but are any in a position or prepared to take a year off work to do the race?

A couple for whom the Corinthian Challenge has tickled exactly the right spot are Peter Hopps and Hilary Cook.

"When we heard about the race we thought 'that sounds interesting - we’d really like to do it'," recalls Hopps, a lawyer turned professional skipper and sailing instructor. "I suppose when we were 16 or 17 and getting into sailing and there were the first two or three editions of the Whitbread we always thought ‘we’d do that sometime’. But as things happened with work and careers and time we never got a chance to do it and the race kind of moved away from us as well.

"So when the Corinthian Challenge was announced we felt it suited us and if we didn't do it soon it was going to be too late. So the race holds a lot of attractions for us."

Having made the decision to compete in Corinthian Challenge they set out looking for a boat. Given the boat limitations for the race of IRC TCC 1.140-1.450 and 58ft LOA or more, Hopps and Cook decided they wanted to be at the top of the rating limit. "We were after a boat where we could get to the bar early and see the places," says Hopps. "So we decided on a first or second generation Whitbread 60. They're good strong boats and designed for going around the world and you get a lot of boat for your money."

In April they ended up buying from a Swedish owner, Knut Frostad's former Innovation Kvaerner, now simply called Innovation, still with some of its electric lime green paintwork. The boat has been on the south coast this summer competing in RORC races culminating the race to Cascais and most recently the Rolex Middle Sea Race. In this final event their performance on handicap was nothing to write home about but they finished on elapsed time in the middle of the fleet. Having polled most of the top boats we believe they may have seen the highest top speed of any boat in this race too.

For the races they have done so far the crew on board has been made up largely of members of the London Corinthian Sailing Club who pay their way.

"We are really fortunate at the Corinthinan Sailing Club that we have a pool of people who are experienced sailors but who don’t have the time to own their own boat and will pay to sail on someone else’s," says Hilary Cook who works for the investment division of Barclays Bank and is also a regular commentator on investments on TV, radio and in the press. "So they will pay towards our expenses and that does help enormously. So this pool are already queueing up and for the Fastnet next year we are already overbooked."

Hopps says he is immensely enjoying seeing a group of amateurs sailing a full-on race boat that they would otherwise never get the opportunity to sail. "What was fun here [at the Rolex Middle Sea Race] was that we had a boat full of genuine amateurs - they are all stockbrokers, surveyors, engineers, etc - sailing a boat designed to be sailed by professional sailors and these guys managed to get the thing around the course. So the crew can take a huge degree of pride in that. We can make these races accessible to anyone which is a worthwhile challenge to me. Look at the crew - they are absolutely buzzing."

While buying a Whitbread 60 might be good value, it is still at a relatively hi-tech 64ft racing yacht that can incur impressively high running costs and having paying crew only takes this so far. Next year Cook says they hope to run more corporate events with the boat. There is also the opportunity to join forces with the two other Whitbread 60s in the UK. She has also tasked herself with finding some sponsorship.

For the Corinthian Challenge Cook reckons they will have to look beyond the membership of their club. "You have got to find people who can take a year off work, pay towards the expenses and who do need to be good sailors, so we’ll need to spread our net wider. But we shouldn’t have a problem - there is demand out there to do it."

Obviously a Whitbread 60, even one racing without a Code Zero, is a potentially lethal piece of equipment in inexperienced hands and Hopps and Cook both realise that aside from the qualifiers for the Corinthian Challenge they will have to spend much of the 2006 and 2005 training their crew up.

One suspects that even if the Corinthian Challenge doesn't reach critical mass, they will probably take the boat around the world anyway.

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