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Top Sailing Yacht Racing Events in the World

  1. Cowes Week (more than 1000 yachts, 8000 competitors, since 1826)
  2. Volvo Ocean Race (the premiere offshore event, formerly the Whitbread)
  3. America ’s Cup (gets mainstream TV coverage and may actually be worth watching this year)
  4. Vendee Globe (single handed, open 60s, non-stop, no assistance: EXTREME!)
  5. Newport to Bermuda/Marion to Bermuda (racer's race vs cruiser's race tie for equal billing)
  6. Sydney to Hobart (more than 60 years, about 100 yachts, legendary Boxing Day start, 4000 boat spectator fleet)
  7. Fastnet (about 250 yachts of all types from all over the world)
  8. Chicago to Mackinac Race (100th in 2008, 462 entries, 2011 they expect 375 yachts. It starts off at the Chicago skyline often under spinnaker)
  9. Antigua Classic Regatta
  10. Antigua Sailing Week (200 yachts, 1500 participants, 5000 spectators)
  11. Key West Race Week (300 entries in the land of Papa and cheeseburgers in paradise)

We did something really tough here. We made one list for all the racing events, whether ocean, coastal or lake - whether around the buoys or around the world. It remains to be seen whether this works. It may be necessary to have two (or more) lists in the future, but here it is for now. Since our mission is to get more people out sailing, our criteria for choosing the races included how much positive publicity an event generates and how many entries over time it entices. In this case, Google-ing sailboat racing (or yacht racing or sailing race or any combination thereof) did not generate many sensible responses. Even doing searches of Rolex yacht races proved inconsistent. So we had to go with gut instinct. And since Alex has a semi-colon, we may be only half right.

The top two races to choose were fairly easy. Cowes Week is one of the oldest and certainly the largest racing event in sailing. It is also open to competitors in every imaginable class and skill level. That's a hard act to beat. The Volvo Ocean Race was selected as number two because we think that this year's event, with the high profile entries and combination of in-port races and round-the-world distance competition will do more for sailing than any previous sailing event, securing news coverage from traditional media and making sailing a desirable activity. Of course, the Open 70 as a class remains to be proven. Ditto for America's Cup - we are happy to embrace the fresh approach!

Vendee Globe is extreme. Period.

The other races are regionally representational events with large enough scale to warrent inclusion. We'll probably hear about the Newport vs Marion deal, but that's okay. Whether the ranking is valid remains to be seen when popular opinion starts to register. Let us know what you think. We are open to re-interpretation. (Hey, you have to start somewhere, right?) There are so many other worthy contenders, please let us know which you think we should include and why.

Races to watch include the new double-handed round the world entry in Open 60s from Ellen MacArthur et al, which we think could make our list in its first year out. Gee, the largest fleet of available performance distance vessels being sailed double handed to demonstrate teamwork, self-reliance and comaraderie, what's not to like? If I was 20 years younger, I'd have signed up yesterday.

The Velux Five Oceans Race, formerly Around Alone, has fewer stops than before and consequently fewer opportunities for promotional exposure for sponsors of individual boats, although Sir Robin just announced Velux as the global sponsor for the event. Wait and see is the deal here (Sir Robin, why the change of name? Around Alone was so graphic.)

The Olympics, if they ever figure out how to work them (hey, that match racing thing sounds promising), will have to prove themselves. So far, it's been more confusing than enlightening to the general public (including us cruisers).

Did we mention that the racers have a big job to do from now on? They get the high profile exposure so their job is to improve the image of the sport for all the rest of us who are out there for the joy of it. In fact, it's their job to make it look like fun so we get more people out sailing, right? We're all looking forward to it.

For current speed records, visit the World Sailing Speed Record Council.

For more on ocean racing, visit this site.

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