Hungary is preparing to hold a sailing race around Lake Balaton in what is billed as the biggest sailing event on a lake in Europe on July 14, 2022.
Known as the “Kékszalag,” or Blue Ribbon Regatta, the 160-kilometer race will begin from the town of Balatonfüred. The Kékszalag is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who compete, and a spectacular event for the thousands of spectators expected to gather and cheer from the shoreline.
The “blue ribbon” race is a nod to the past, with the fastest sailboats on the seas known for wearing a blue ribbon around their masts, a tradition later adopted by steamships. With the spread of sailing to European lakes, races were held in which the winner could tie a ribbon on his masthead to mark the fastest man. In 1934, the Hungária Yacht Club, which first organized the race, transferred this custom to Lake Balaton, and since then, the boat that sails the fastest around Lake Balaton has won the coveted Blue Ribbon, writes the Hungarian portal Csodalatosmagyarorszag.hu (“Amazing Hungary”).
The name of the race has now become a household word in Hungary, and the Hungarian Sailing Federation organizes it annually under the name of the Blue Ribbon.
The distance of the Blue Ribbon race is about 160 kilometers as the crow flies. Of course, the sailors do not sail in a straight line, but navigate to reach the finish line in the shortest possible time. The start and finish lines are set in front of the port of Balatonfüred. The first course marker is in a north-easterly direction, just before Balatonkenese. Leaving from this point, the boats head towards Siófok, the largest town on the south shore. From here, they sail through the Tihany Strait at the southwestern tip of Lake Balaton; the next stop is Keszthely, from where they sail back northeast, i.e., back along the length of Lake Balaton, to reach their final destination at Balatonfüred.
History of the Blue Ribbon
The race was first organized in 1934 by the Hungária Yacht Club in Balatonfüred. Their idea was that the Blue Ribbon of Lake Balaton could be won by any sailing boat that could sail the fastest clockwise around the lake.
The race took place every two years until 1942, when the Second World Warr put the race on hold for a few years, but; the tradition was revived in 1947. The race grew in popularity, and in 1955, the cruiser Nemere II, No. 75, completed the distance in 10 hours 40 minutes. This fantastic record was only broken 57 years later in 2012 by a catamaran made of high-tech materials.
Since 2001, the race has been held annually and has become Europe’s largest sailing race on a lake, with 600 or more boats competing.
For a Balaton sailor, the Kékszalag is a challenge in more ways than one. Most competitors find themselves on the water competing into a second day, which is a serious physical and psychological strain. Night sailing requires special skills that are not needed in other races.
The Blue Ribbon is a test for people who, even if they have ample experience sailing, are tested by grueling the racing conditions. On a lake the size of Lake Balaton, weather and wind conditions can vary widely over a 48-hour period, with storms, calm, rain, clouds of mosquitoes, and pitch black nights presenting special challenges even for veterans. Therefore, regardless of how a team places, completing the Blue Ribbon and finishing within 48 hours is a major sporting achievement.