Polish yacht Copernicus, the smallest yacht to complete the very first Whitbread Round the World Race (the forerunner of the Volvo Ocean Race) in 1973-74 will join Great Britain II/Whitbread Heritage on the start line of the Volvo Ocean Race Legends, the first official reunion and regatta to be held in Alicante next year and celebrating the first 10 races held over 37 years.
The 45’ Copernicus was built especially for the first Whitbread by the Gdanska Stocznia Jachtowa ‘Stogi’ boatyard in Poland, with a lot of help from the members of the Yacht Klub Stal Gdynia on the Baltic Sea coast, who have owned her ever since. She is their pride and joy and the club keeps her in good condition and tries not to interfere with the history of her construction or to alter her lines. The participation of Copernicus in the Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta will bring the club back to the world of ocean racing.
'We have to be there,' says Marek ‘Goly’ Galkiewicz, the project manager for the yacht club. 'We are cultivating a tradition and thinking of the future,' he says, while confirming that Delphia Yachts, the biggest Polish producer of sailing yachts and powerboats, supports Yacht Klub Stal Gdynia and Copernicus in their participation in Legends Regatta.
Copernicus raced the whole way around the world without drama or incident, except perhaps on the final leg. Nothing had been heard of the yacht since the start in Rio de Janeiro some weeks earlier and the Race Committee, who suspected her radio was out of action, put out a request to all shipping to report any sighting. One month after the start from Rio, the little yacht and her crew were reported to be in excellent condition and still racing. Fourteen boats completed the course and Copernicus finished the grueling 27,000 nautical miles in 11th place. Her skipper was Olympic yachtsman, Zygfryd ‘Zyga’ Perlicki.
She is constructed on an oak frame with mahogany planking with a plywood deck covered with teak and was the smallest boat to complete the race. Concorde, a French Contessa 32, although smaller, only sailed in leg two.
‘Stal’ – means steel and, in the pioneering early days, people really had to be made of steel to organise a campaign like this: to take part and then to finish the round the world race. The Polish were people with dreams which came true although they lived in a country behind the Iron Curtain, with modest maritime traditions.
After finishing the race in 1974, Copernicus was used for training, cruising and expeditions and still regularly sails across the Baltic and North Sea. In 2006 she was awarded The Cruise of the Year trophy in Poland for a circumnavigation of Iceland. Lots of people who had worked on her over the years were able to sail her and feel that their hard work was worthwhile.
Times have changed since Copernicus raced around the world, and the people of Poland have changed too, but, even though there are now proper budgets, space-age materials, lots of electronics and mass global media coverage, the Volvo Ocean Race still remains the most difficult and toughest fully-crewed race around the world there is today.
For more information, please go to: www.volvooceanrace.com