Well, as a certain former president of the United States might have said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
It sure does, and for that matter it also depends on the meaning of "sailing" and "race" and "toughest". I think we can probably all agree on the definition of "world" can't we?
Let's take the easiest one first. What is "sailing"? For example, there was recently a major dispute going on about whether kitesurfers are eligible for the world sailing speed record. Are kitesurfers sailors? In any case, do kitesurfers race? Anyway let's leave them out.
But what about windsurfers? Did you see them at the Olympics "air rowing" themselves around the race course? If that's a sailing race then arguably it is the most physically demanding type of sailing race there is. Maybe some windsurfing race is deserving of the title "Toughest Sailing Race in the World"?
But what do we mean by "toughest"? Is it the race that is most difficult to win, against the toughest competition? Or is it the one that demands the highest level of skill from the crew? Or do we mean the race that is the most physically demanding?
I've no idea which sailing race or event is the most difficult to win because of the standard of competition. Would it be the America's Cup? But you could argue that that is more of a battle of designers (and lawyers) and always has been. Anyway how can it be the toughest to win when you only have to beat one other boat?
Or is the Olympics the pinnacle of our sport? Does the regatta for one of the Olympic disciplines count as the most difficult to win? Maybe. But you have to take into account that each country can enter only one boat in each Olympic discipline. So what if the top five sailors in a particular class all come from the same country? Wouldn't it then be harder to win the Olympic trials in that country than to win the Olympic regatta itself?
So perhaps the hardest race to win is the World Championship for some class? But what class? What is the most competitive class in the world? We will never agree on that.
And is it harder to be a world champion in a single-handed class like the Finn or the Laser where the sailor has to manage every aspect of the race... strategy, tactics, boatspeed, sail trim, steering etc. etc. ... by himself? Or is it harder to put together a champion crew of sailors on a larger boat, and train and motivate them to work as a team?
And is the size of the fleet a factor? Could the toughest world championship to win possibly be in a fleet of, say, twenty boats, all top class competitors? Or does Ed Baird's feat of winning the 1980 Laser World Championship in a fleet of 350 Laserites rank as the all-time toughest sailing race win?
And what class of boat requires the most skill to sail well. Foiling Moths? I don't know.
On the other hand, if "toughest" means "physically demanding" then surely ocean races, and especially the Round-the-World races, must be in the running for the title. Racing non-stop week after week in wet, cold, uncomfortable conditions must be tougher than what any of the Olympic or America's Cup or One Design World Champion sailors go through. The latter go back to a nice warm shower and a comfortable dry bed every night.
So if we are considering Round-the-World Races, once again we have to choose between fully crewed boats and single-handed racers. My vote would be that racing single-handed around the world is tougher then being part of a crew, but what do I know?
Then we have the meaning of "race". Do we mean fleet racing or team racing or match racing? Which one is toughest?
And last but not least we have to agree on the meaning of "is" or perhaps "what". When we are asked to choose the toughest sailing race in the world are we talking about a race or regatta that is run annually, or at least on a regular basis, such as "The America's Cup" or "The Vendee Globe"? Or do we mean one particular occurrence of such an event like "The 1979 Fastnet" or "The 1998 Sydney to Hobart"? When boats sink and racers die, things are pretty tough by anyone's definition.
So where does that leave us?
Speaking just for myself I would have to answer the question as follows...
- Racing round the world must be the toughest kind of sailing race
- Doing it single-handed is tougher than doing it on a fully crewed boat
- Doing it non-stop single-handed when nobody in the history of the world has ever completed that feat, never mind done it in a race before, must rank as the toughest race of all time.
So my vote for title of "Toughest Sailing Race in the World" goes to the Golden Globe of 1968-69 won by the only finisher Robin Knox-Johnston.
But what do you think? What is the Toughest Sailing Race in the World?