When the 2014 Volvo Ocean Race begins in October, sailors will try to grab some off-watch sleep in their narrow pipe-berths. Thirty-plus years ago, the crew of Flyer, winners of the 1978 Whitbread Round the World Race, slept in solid purpose-built bunks. Skipper Cornelius van Rieschoten thought that a well-rested crew would be more competitive during the gruelling nine month race, and results proved him right—twice. (Read Eight Bells: Cornelis van Rietschoten.)
Three decades later, Conny's bunks are still in use. Since 1982, the boat (renamed Alaska Eagle) has been the flagship of the Orange Coast School of Sailing and Seamanship. 3,000 people sailed aboard her over the years, logging over 300,000 miles to a variety of remote destinations around the globe.
And now at the ripe old age of 36, Alaska Eagle is returning to her Dutch homeland and her old name, Flyer.
Brad Avery, the director of the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship, reminds us in his touching farewell post that this boat has built friendships that lasted long after the specific voyage was over. Most of the students who sailed on Alaska Eagle signed up to sail an ocean voyage on a boat they'd never seen with a dozen people they'd never met before. "Fortunately," Brad explains, "Long distance sailing tends to bring out the best in people, and goodwill at sea is contagious."
After winning a race around the world and 300,000 accident-free miles that created lifelong memories, no one would begrudge this boat a comfortable retirement. Instead she's heading out on another ocean crossing to return to her first home in Rotterdam—though this time as deck cargo, rather than on her own keel.
The new owners will return her to her original configuration as a dark blue ketch. "They plan to have her on the start line of the Volvo this fall, to salute the boats off around the world," Brad said. "Cool stuff!" (Better not let the Volvo sailors see the sleeping arrangements.)
I doubt that in 2050 we will still be talking about the this year's winning Volvo Ocean 65. But maybe, if the new owners look after her as well as Brad's team has, we will still be talking about Flyer.
For a closer look at this fine ocean-going vessel, watch Alaska Eagle: Video of Legendary Ocean Racer on YachtWorld.
For more information about the Volvo Ocean 65s, read Volvo Ocean 65: One Design for Ocean Racing on YachtWorld.
Learn more about the Orange Coast School of Sailing and Seamanship.