Today at the London Boat Show 2002, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston unveiled the new-look Around Alone Race, including a stopover in Torbay

Today at the London Boat Show 2002, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Chairman of race owners Clipper Ventures, unveiled the new-look Around Alone Race at a celebration of the race’s 20th anniversary. Clipper Ventures bought the race in 2001 (in Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s words, “I liked the race so much, I convinced them (the board) to go out and buy it”) and promised to take the race into a new era. “We think the Around Alone has the potential to become the ocean race in the world,” said Sir Robin, pictured right.

The next Around Alone, 2002-2003, has so far attracted 21 solid entries (11 Open 60s, six Open 50s and four Open 40s) and a further eight borderline entries, yet to declare officially. All boats will race under the newly-adopted IMOCA rules and all will be grand prix race boats, picking up the pace at the tail end of the fleet.

The principle change is the route. In previous editions, the first leg would take the fleet from Charleston, North Carolina on America’s East Coast, to Cape Town, but Sir Robin was of a different mind. “I’ve always felt that what the Around Alone lacked was a European stopover,” said the first man truly to sail Around Alone. The race will now start from its spiritual home, Newport, Rhode Island, and its first stop will be Torbay. From there, the race will head for Cape Town, then a stop somewhere as yet undecided in New Zealand before setting sail for Salvador in Brazil where the final leg, back to Newport, will start.

The changes announced are intended to make the race more media-friendly and to prevent the top sailors having to spend too long at stopovers kicking their heels while the smaller boats in the fleet finish the leg. Instead of the usual mix of Corinthian and professional entries, three classes will race: Open 60, Open 50 and Open 40. Although the entrants themselves will still embody the Corinthian spirit, their boats will be faster and so the front runners will not have so much time to kill between legs. There will be individual trophies for each class and the prize for the Open 40s remembers one of the race’s great characters, Harry Mitchell. He disappeared while competing in the 1994-95 edition of the Around Alone.

With the likes of Switzerland’s Bernard Stamm, Britain’s Alex Bennett and Mike Golding, and New Zealand’s Graham Dalton (brother of Grant), there will be no shortage of top class talent at the front of the field. This is almost certain to be a more exciting race than the 1998-99 edition in which Giovanni Soldini’s Fila was the only Open 60 to complete the course without serious damage and dominated the event after Golding’s untimely sandbank encounter off New Zealand.