Celebrating Forty Years – Whitbread Race Winner Recalls the Past

Sayula II
Sayula II

Forty years ago, Mexican businessman Ramón Carlin won the first Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race (1973-74) with his Swan 65 Sayula II, crossing the finish line on April 9, 1974. The production Swan 65 Sayula II took 152 days to sail 32,500 nautical miles.

Not many people associate competitive sailing with Mexico. In the mid 1970s, a group of enthusiastic sailors got together to create a series of races that would give Mexican sailors a new opportunity to compete against yachts from the States, Canada and Europe in Mexican waters: MEXORC, Mexican Ocean Racing Circuits.

This year’s MEXORC regatta, which took place from March 23-29 in Puerto Vallarta, holds a special significance for Mexico’s yachting community: the Mexican Sailing Federation together with the Acapulco Yacht Club presented Mr. Carlin with a recognition for his victory in the 1973-74 Whitbread Round the World Race.

Going back in time to September 8th, 1973, Mr. Carlin set out with Sayula II from Portsmouth, England, with a crew of 12 including family, friends and professional sailors, alongside 16 other yachts, on a brand new yachting contest.

That first Whitbread Round the World Race had four legs: Portsmouth to Cape Town, where Sayula II came second on handicap; Cape Town to Sydney, the hardest of the entire race, where Mr. Carlin’s Swan won on corrected time after being bashed by violent storms, 40-knot winds and wild seas – two yachts abandoned the race and Sayula II capsized, her cabin filled with water and most of her crew were swept overboard, but fortunately sustained only minor injuries. In the third leg, from Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, Sayula II came second and then placed fourth on handicap in the final leg across the Atlantic back to Portsmouth.

ClubSwan talked to Mr. Carlin about his memorable experience: “It was an honour to be in that race. More than a normal race it was an adventure, and I’ve always liked adventures in my life. I was so pleased with it,” commented Mr. Carlin, whose Swan Sayula II was named after the Mexican town where his wife was born.

How does Mr. Carlin see today’s Volvo Ocean Race? “It’s completely different than what it was at my time. Now it’s more like a regular regatta, and not so much an adventure any more.”

Undoubtedly Mr. Carlin had his fair share of excitement as he recalls his 1973-74 wild ride on Sayula II: “The capsize we had in the second leg to Sydney was the reason that we won the race. We were sailing in the roaring 40s and everyone’s nerves were a bit shaken,” recalls Mr. Carlin, who took his chance as skipper to turn a calamity into an advantage. “I decided to break the rule that said that watch captains decided what sails to use and which course to follow,” he commented.

“One sunny afternoon we were all up on deck because we were trying to dry the cushions on which we slept, and I said ‘let’s put the storm spinnaker up’; one of the watch captains came to me and said ‘Ramón, the wind is not so heavy, but the ocean is so terrible that I think we won’t be able to hold the spinnaker up’”.

It takes a lot of courage and determination to race around the world on a sailing yacht, and Mr. Carlin was adamant: “We had the whole crew up on the deck, so if we couldn’t control the sail, we would take it down. I was not the best helmsman on the boat, he (the watch captain) was one of the best, so he asked me if I would like him to take the wheel, and I said No! So up came the storm spinnaker and we were able to head straight to the Southeast corner of Australia.” Of course a little bit of luck is always helpful: “We found the Southern wind that took us down to Sydney and that made us win the race,” added Mr. Carlin.

For Mr. Carlin, comfort and good home-style meals were very important for the well being of his crew: Sayula II was one of the few yachts to have a freezer and full-time cook on board. “We loved racing on Sayula, we had a lot of comforts, including a big freezer… we could dine every day on fresh meat. That was very nice,” indeed, recalls Mr. Carlin about that great adventure.

Nowadays Sayula II is in Puerto Vallarta and belongs to Mr. Carlin’s son Enrique, who participated with his father in that first Whitbread Round the World Race as an 18 year old watch captain. “He loves sailing. He still goes and takes a ride on Sayula every time he can,” concluded Mr. Carlin.

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