History of the Blue Ribbon Regatta on Lake Balaton

In Hungary, sailing was considered an aristocratic luxury initially. At the end of the 1700s, György Festetics was the first to invite his royal guests to sail to Lake Balaton on his sailing boat called Phönix. Later, in 1866, thanks to the tabloid news that Elisabeth of Austria would spend the summer in Balatonfüred, the desire to sail revived. The magnates brought sailboats to Lake Balaton and renewed the infrastructure around the lake to provide the queen with entertainment.

Balatonfüred kikötője

Harbour of Balatonfüred – Balatoni Múzeum CC BY-NC-ND

02_239437.jpgThe first Hungarian sailing club, the Balaton-Füred Yacht Association, was formed, the members of which were mostly from noble families such as Károlyi, Széchenyi, Batthyányi, Festetics. After Elisabeth did not come to Lake Balaton, the desire to sail waned. In the 1880s, there were only about seventy yachts on the lake.

Between the two World Wars

05_39858.jpgThe Hungária Yacht Club was founded in 1933, which came up with the idea of a non-stop, speed sailing competition. Once, the blue ribbon was worn on the mast by the fastest sailing ship in the seas, and sport sailing of Lake Balaton also established this tradition, when the first Blue Ribbon Regatta was held in 1934.

06_25202.jpgThe Balaton Blue Ribbon is one of the four longest and oldest round-the-lake races in Europe. The race distance is 155 km, which the competitors initially had to complete without time limit, now it has to be completed in 48 hours. The route is Balatonfüred - Balatonkenese - Siófok - Keszthely - Balatonfüred. The fastest one, who sails around Lake Balaton in clockwise direction, is the winner.

07_141518.jpgThe time of the race is always adjusted to the Moon. It is held on a July weekend that is the closest to the full moon. There is a practical reason for this. The start is 9 a.m., but many only finish late in the evening or at night, so the full moon helps them navigate.

Successes and records

08_28292.jpgThe most successful sailing boat was the wooden Tramontana that won the race seven times between 1940 and 1989. The very first winning female helmsman, Evelyn Gordon, also won the race with Tramontana in 1940. On the 10th Blue Ribbon in 1955, István Németh and his crew set a new speed record time with the 75-ft cruiser Nemere. Their time of 10 hours 40 minutes could not be broken for 57 years. The most successful skipper in the history of the Blue Ribbon is Farkas Litkey, who has won the Blue Ribbon thirteen times so far.

Since 2014, both monohull and multi-hull (catamaran, trimaran) ships can compete. Thanks to the development of modern technology and new materials, so-called Foiler yachts also compete and break speed records in a row. And in 2001, the record for the number of participants was broken as more than 660 boats entered the sporting event.

Popular water-sport

11_141491.jpgOf course, the Blue Ribbon Regatta is not the only sailing race on Lake Balaton. Sailing began to become more and more popular among young Hungarians in the 1980s. They could apply to state associations also from the poorer social classes and thus they had the possibility to learn how to drive a boat without having own boats. Several films, which have now become iconic, were made during this time, starring the famous Hungarian actor and sailor István Bujtor (1942-2009), who promoted sailing on Lake Balaton. For almost three decades he was the helmsman of the famous cruiser Rabonbán, the first version of which won the first Balaton Blue Ribbon Regatta in 1934. This year's Blue Ribbon will start on 22 July from Balatonfüred. If you can, come and see it from Fonyód or Tihany, as it is a stunning sight of hundreds of white sails stretching against the wind on the sparkling blue water.

Tihany, Panoráma

Panorama of the Tihany peninsula – Balatoni Múzeum CC BY-NC-ND

Zita Aknai




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