The 1989–90 Whitbread Round the World Race started from Southampton and was run with several classes of yacht.
Steinlager 2 skippered by Peter Blake won the race easily. For the first time since 1981–82 (when the race comprised of four legs), the victor won every leg in their division (albeit closely chased by both Grant Dalton’s Fisher & Paykel NZ and Pierre Fehlmann’s Merit entries). The vast difference in speed and capability of the many different boats involved in the 1989 to 1990 race lead to the creation of a committee to examine the commission of a Whitbread class boat for use in future races.
Many of the Maxi yachts in this year’s race were nearly twice the size (LOA) of the smallest, and carried well over twice the sail area. The net result of this was that many of the smaller boats finished the longer legs more than ten days after the leg winner. In the overall results, the last finisher was some 52 days behind Blake’s Steinlager 2 128-day aggregate time. In addition, the cost of the big yachts was becoming too expensive to fund – even for the well sponsored teams like Steinlager, Rothmans and Merit. Eventually, the new class would be called the Whitbread 60.
The race featured the first all-woman crew on Tracy Edwards’ Maiden. Although in a much smaller boat than many of their male counterparts the women fared well, claiming two leg victories in Division D. Tracy Edwards was named yachtsman of the year and appointed MBE. In 2018, a feature-length documentary was made about the team’s participation in the race.