The toughest around-the-world yacht races

30th April 2021 Jack O'Rourke

There’s something about circumnavigating the globe that inspires sailors and drives them to push through the varied and challenging conditions they’re sure to encounter along the way.

These are five great races that provide sailors with the opportunity to take on the world.

The Ocean Race

This race was known in its early days as the Whitbread Round the World Race, and in its previous iteration was the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Ocean Race is set to run again in 2022-23, sailors will race on foiling IMOCA 60s and one-design VO65s, stopping in at a range of ports and competing for individual leg wins and an overall point score.

 Crews face incredible physical pressures, and in recent years rules have been introduced to provide an incentive to having women sailors on board.

Vendée Globe

A solo, non-stop around-the-world race, the Vendée Globe is often considered the ultimate challenge. Sailing powerful Open 60s, the sailors race through hazardous southern waters under the great capes.

An extraordinary feat of endurance, the race has produced incredible stories like Pete Goss’s Southern Ocean rescue of a fellow competitor from his upturned yacht and Yves Parlier’s unbelievable effort to singlehandedly repair and re-step his own mast.

Barcelona World Race

The Barcelona World Race is a double-handed around-the-world race undertaken in legs, much like The Ocean Race. Solo sailing is often assumed to be tougher but rather than taking some of the burden off, having a second crew forces the sailors to push themselves and the boats even harder.  

Clipper Round the World Race

This race is as much an adventure as it is a competition, and many participants have no previous sailing experience before signing up. Like the Volvo and Barcelona races, the Clipper Round the World Race is comprised of a series of individual legs.  

The race organisers supply identical 70ft yachts, levelling the playing field and ensuring that competitive ability sits squarely on the shoulders of the newly-trained sailors.

Golden Globe Race

This retro around-the-world race was revived in 2018 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. It created a storm of excitement amongst sailors who yearned for the so-called “golden years” of sailing.

The race replicated and celebrated the original Golden Globe race that saw Sir Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail solo, non-stop around-the-world in 1968.   

The adventure-style race saw sailors turn their backs on modern technology and sleek yacht designs to sail boats similar to Robin’s 32ft Suhaili. Except for safety equipment, no modern technology was allowed. The race was won by veteran French sailor Jean-Luc Van Den Heede.

The 2022 race has so far attracted 22 entrants from 12 countries.