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  Friday, 1 June, 2001, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Sailing's growing mass appeal
1970: Blyth set off on his epic round the world adventure in British Steel
1970: Blyth sets off on his epic circumnavigation
Sailing is no longer an elitist sport, British yachting pioneer Sir Chay Blyth tells BBC Sport Online's Claire Stocks.

When Chay Blyth docked his yacht British Steel after becoming the first man to sail solo "the wrong way" around the world, he was met by a host of British dignitaries.

The year was 1971 and Prince Charles, Prince Philip and Ted Heath, Prime Minister of the day, turned out on the quayside of the River Hamble to salute his acheivement.

"That was some reception!," says Blyth.

It was a key moment in sailing's transformation from niche sport to one with mass appeal.

Blyth's round-the-world journey was dubbed "the impossible voyage" because it was against the prevailing winds and currents.

Knox-Johnston: First man to sail solo and nonstop around the world
Knox-Johnston: First man to sail solo and nonstop around the world
It fuelled an interest sparked the previous decade by two other British adventurers, Robin Knox-Johnston and the founding father of endurance sailing, Sir Francis Chichester.

Chichester began it all when he successfully completed the first single-handed circumnavigaton in 1967 in his tiny yacht, Gipsy Moth IV.

Knox-Johnston went one better two years later when he did it without stopping in his yacht Suhaili.

Lifetime opportunity

"In those days it was seen as an elitist sport and the masses only really got interested when it was a major race, an achievement," said Blyth.

"That has changed now."

Sailing now has mass appeal, says Sir Chay Blyth
Mass market: "People have more money and more leisure time"
One reason it changed was the determination of the likes of Blyth and Knox-Johnston to broaden its appeal.

Between them, both men now run some of the best known amateur round-the-world events in world sailing.

They have both been knighted for their services to the sport.

Sir Blyth set the ball rolling back in 1989 when he helped found the first round-the-world race of its kind, the British Steel Global Challenge.

"We gave ordinary people with no sailing experience the chance to sign up and sail away for the adventure of a lifetime."

The race, now sponsored by British Telecom and known as the BT Global Challenge, has a turnover approaching 30m and is virtually full through to the year 2004.

Blyth's company, Challenge Business, also runs an event for amateur rowers who want to skull their way across the Atlantic.

"If that's what they want to do...One of my favourite sayings in life is that 'if we were all the same, there'd be no assorted biscuits'."

First past the post

Knox-Johnston, meanwhile, through his company Clipper Ventures, runs the Times Clipper race, currently on-going, and Around Alone.

Sailing has also had to adapt in order to compete with other sports in the public eye in making itself easier for laymen to understand.

"In the past, racing was quite complicated because you had different classes racing against each other," said Blyth.

"That meant boats were handicapped so someone could come home fifth geographically but be declared the winner once the handicapping had been worked out."

Chay Blyth welcomes competitors to South Africa during a leg of the 1996 BT Global Challenge
Blyth: "We give ordinary people the adventure of a lifetime"
There are still handicapped events but the highest-profile races are now "one-design", which means only one class of boat is allowed to enter, and the first past the post is the winner.

The other problem, says Blyth, was that it fell to the yacht clubs, run by part-time - albeit enthusiastic - experts, to organise races.

"People like myself are helping to change that, although the clubs still have a role to play.

"For instance, we are organising the EDS Atlantic Challenge in July but we will be asking the Royal Ocean Racing Club to oversee the race rules.

"It is quite a technical area and one they are very skilled at."

Disposable income

British sailing entered something of a lull in the 1980s and 1990s.

Then there was only Mike Golding, who in 1994 broke Blyth's record for an east-west circumnavigation of the globe, making headlines on the international scene.

More recently Pete Goss and Tony Bullimore became household names, in this country at least, but more for their spectacular failures than challenging for honours.

Britain's Olympic record stands up to scrutiny but it was not until last year's five-star performance in Sydney that the general public were impressed too.

On the professional scene, Ellen MacArthur's arrival has given them something to cheer about in the international arena.

As a result, according to Royal Yachting Association figures, more people than ever are getting involved in yachting.

"People have more money and more leisure time.

"But at the end of the day what sailing really needs is for television to get involved but they only seem interested in sports with balls in them.

"The thing is about sailing people, they do not jump up and down and make noises. They are sensible, mature people who like to have fun in the open air."

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