Renowned Whitbread Round the World sailor Conny van Rietschoten died on Tuesday in Portugal. He was 87 years old.
Long regarded as one of the hard men of world sailing, and Round the World racing in particular, van Rietschoten won the 1978 and 1982 renditions of the then four stop race.
Van Rietschoten is reported to have struggled for some time with poor health and died of a stroke.
He began sailing at the age of three on his father’s yachts and after World War II, he studied and worked in England. After contacting tuberculosis in the early 1960’s, he spent a year in a Swiss sanatorium.
He then moved into the family electro-engineering business of the family, Van Rietschoten and Houwens, which he sold at the age of 45, retired, and then focused on Round the World racing. .He built and campaigned two round the world racers under the name of Flyer and Flyer II.
Born in 1926 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, van Rietschoten was largely an unknown before embarking on his Round the World campaigns.
He is credited with bringing the professional approach to Round the World sailing, that was picked up by others in the 1982 race onwards.
Known for undertaking extensive trialing and crew training before the race, he identified and gave several then-young sailors their first major break into professional sailing, including Erle Williams, Grant Dalton, Joe Allen all of whom went on to long careers in the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Races, America’s Cup and other professional events.
The first Flyer was a 65ft upgrade of the original race winner Sayula II (Ramon Carlin, Mexico) which was drawn by Olin and Rod Stephens and built in aluminum by Royal Huisman Shipyard. They had a close race with Kings Legend (Skip Novak), being first home on two of the four legs and holding a sufficient time advantage to be able to win the final leg by just staying in contact with Kings Legend.
He commissioned a new German Frers designed Flyer II for the 1981/82 Whitbread Race competing against a 29 boat fleet.
The event devolved into a match race between Peter Blake’s 68ft Farr design Ceramco and the 72ft Flyer II. Although Ceramco was dismasted on the first leg and could not hope to win on a time basis, their rivalry nevertheless continued for the remaining three legs. Below decks on Flyer II van Rietschoten had pasted a photo of Ceramco on the bulkhead and written the caption 'Know your Enemy'.
Van Rietschoten showed the extreme hardness of his character when he suffered a heart attack deep in the Southern Ocean on Leg 2 of the Race from Cape Town to Auckland. He would not permit a phone call to be made to Dr Trevor Agnew, a specialist cardiologist aboard rival Ceramco, for fear the Kiwis would exploit the situation and push even harder.
Instead took to his bunk down below. 'The nearest port was 10 days away and the critical period is always the first 24-36 hours,' he recalled later. 'Ceramco was already breathing down our necks. If they had known that I had a health problem, they would have pushed their boat even harder. When you die at sea, you are buried over the side. Perhaps those Ceramco boys might then have spotted me drifting by. And that I was determined would be the only thing they would see or hear from Flyer on the matter!'
Flyer II went on to win the 1981/82 Whitbread and became the first crew to win both line and rating honours in the Race. They also set two world records – fastest Noon to Noon run of 327 miles, and the fastest circumnavigation of 120 days
Van Rietschoten is still the only skipper to win two editions of the race, a record he holds to this day, and the first to win on both elapsed and corrected time. He is also the only Dutch skipper to have won the race.
'The Flyer crew are saddened to hear of the passing of our great friend Conny,' commented Grant Dalton, one of his crew on Flyer II and now Managing Director of Emirates Team New Zealand.
'Nearly all of us can track our careers to Conny. We were all young, restless, most of us totally unproven and yet Conny took a chance on us. He allowed us to be ourselves, sometimes guiding us, sometimes coming down hard on us. He taught us how it was going to be done in the future and he introduced a professional business approach to offshore sailing. He was indeed a pioneer.
'In losing him today we have lost a person that, to a man, we looked up to with respect and thanks,' added Dalton, a winner of the Whitbread himself. 'His picture hangs alongside Peter Blake on my wall, it always will. Goodbye Conny, gone but never forgotten, thank you for taking a chance.'
'Winning two Whitbreads in a row was the result of Conny’s planning, decision making and leadership skills which were outstanding,' said Flyer II watch captain Erle Williams (the aged just 22yrs and on his first Round the World Race). 'Conny was a wonderful man to sail for. He trusted and encouraged his crew to race Flyer hard and at the same time knew when to back us off.'
Since 1982 in the Netherlands, the Conny Rietschoten Trophy has been awarded annually to the Yachtsman of the Year. Volvo Ocean Race competitor and America’s Cup winner Simeon Tienpont was the 2013 recipient.
'The Netherlands are very fond of the race and that’s all because of Van Rietschoten,' said Tienpont. 'He brought the event to an entirely new level. His campaigns have had an effect on how we are growing as a professional sport right now.'
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8:42 AM Wed 18 Dec 2013GMT
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