Ramón Carlín, first Whitbread champion, dies aged 92

Ramón Carlín, the ‘weekend sailor’ who upset the odds to become the winner of the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74, has died in Mexico City at the age of 92.

Carlín was a complete unknown in the sport when he entered the event, which later became the Volvo Ocean Race, having made his fortune manufacturing washing machines and other white goods in his native Mexico after starting his career as a door-to-door salesman selling cutlery, pots and pans and other household goods.

By 1973, he was seeking new challenges. He assembled a crew of good, but unheralded sailors, before upsetting some of the era’s leading names of offshore sailing, such as Britain’s Chay Blyth, by winning with his Swan 65, Sayula II.

He didn’t insure Sayula II for the race, but saved on the premium to cover necessary repairs. The crew only discovered this as they approached the finish with only 14 of the 19 strands of the forestay still intact.

After the race, in which three rival sailors died in the 19-strong fleet, Carlín returned home to a presidential reception in Acapulco and became Mexico’s most famous yachtsman.

Right to the end of his long life, Carlín delighted in recounting his triumph, which was commemorated in a successful movie last year, ‘The Weekend Sailor’, directed by his countryman, Bernardo Arsuaga.

Carlín told how his team were mocked in the English media prior to the start in September 1973, portrayed as lazy Mexicans with big sombreros and completely unprepared for the huge round-the world challenge ahead.

“The winning difference was my boat and that crew,” Carlín recounted later. “We had no time to train. My plan was to get to know the crew and teach them how to manage the boat during the first leg, but all of them turned out to be very good.

“What hooked me was that it was an adventure, no one knew which way to go. It was the first time anyone had gone round the world with a full crew and the competition was real.”

Two years ago, Arsuaga and Carlín, staged a 40th anniversary reunion of the crew, many of whom were meeting for the first time since their inaugural Whitbread victory.

One of the crew, Briton Butch Dalrymple-Smith, had no doubt that it was Carlín's exceptional skills of leadership that transformed a crew of friends, family members – his wife was the cook for the first leg – plus an assortment of international sailors, into world beaters.

“We won because of our skipper. We exceeded our own ability because Ramón Carlín trusted us,” Dalrymple-Smith said in an interview with www.volvooceanrace.com.

“Ramón was as close to a perfect captain that I have ever experienced,” added American Bob Martin, another of the crew. “He was enthusiastic, he did everything in a first class way. He cared about us, we had the best food and the boat was beautifully equipped.”

“He was a perfect skipper really,” said Dalrymple-Smith.

“He identified the things that were necessary to win the race and he took care of it. He let the best sailors sail the boat, and the best navigator do the navigation.”

The Mexican businessman managed his team smartly, and humbly, even in the toughest Southern Ocean conditions.

“He was very, very considerate,” added Dalrymple-Smith.

“If someone was sick, he would take his night watch. He would dry our wet gear if we forgot to do it. Others would scream. He just wasn’t like that.

“Everything that made the difference between success and failure can be traced back to Ramón.”

– VOR Media

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