What is Blue Ribbon round-the-Lake Balaton Race (Kékszalag)? It is a unique sailing and media event held in every July at Lake Balaton. I will never forget the moment when we moved into our house. Our 70-years-old neighbor was gazing the Lake with a telescope on the roof of his house. We didn’t have the slightest idea of what he was doing.
The Blue Ribbon (Kékszalag) of the Lake Balaton is the oldest existing round-a-lake competition in Europe. The first race was in 1934. The Blue Ribbon’s course is the longest among the main European round-the-lake events, and it also has the largest fleet competing.
Held once in two years (except 1944 and 1946 because of the World War II) and yearly since 2001, the sailing course has remained more or less the same.
The number of participants has been steadily growing: so nowadays more than 600 boats register annually, which means over 3000 competitors.
The start and finish lines are located in Balatonfüred, and there is an approximately 100 miles (170 km) long distance course in between without stopover. Therefore the boats travel around the lake touching both the eastern and western basins of the Lake Balaton.
Why Blue? The old tradition has it that the fastest ship had the privilege to wear a blue ribbon on its mast. The name (Kékszalag) means Blue Ribbon, and so the race follows this tradition.
Kékszalag is traditionally sailed in July on a weekend close to the full moon, because it offers some light to navigate during the night. The race starts Friday morning, and the time limit to accomplish the course is 48 hours.
The winner is the fastest boat, but different class winners are awarded. The race depends on the wind, the strategy and the preparedness of teams, so the final results are unpredictable.
Twenty-one boats started in the first ever Kékszalag round the lake race in 1934. The Rabonbán 30 sqm Skerry Cruiser came in first, therefore ensuring an eternal place in the Kékszalag Hall of Fame.
The race was won by a woman twice: the skipper of „Tramontana” 8R yacht was Mrs. Kultsár Evelyn Gordon. The boat was the fastest in 1940 and 1942. To honour this extraordinary accomplishment, the best female team wins the Gordon Evelyn challenge-cup each year.
The course record is 7 hours 13 minutes (Fifty Fifty, 2014). The previous record was 10 hours 34 minutes. Fifty fifty could achieve this fantastic record due to the almost perfect wind conditions. Even 4-5 hours could be enough to finish the race, but it seems highly unlikely to see such a record anytime soon.
The ‘slowest winner boat prize’ could have been awarded to 75 sqm Skerry Cruiser Nemere II. in 1953, because due to the extremely weak wind above the Lake, it took over 40 hours for the winner to complete the race.
Finally, Kékszalag is a big media event. Hence if you are a big fan of sailing, you can follow the race on TV. For the same reason, you should also consider visiting Balatonfüred this weekend. The city is full of celebrating sailors on Saturday evening, since the medal ceremony takes place on Vitorlás Square.