The OSTAR and TWOSTAR races of 2017 have seen some of the worst weather experienced in any of the races.
A cold spring had left snow on the ground and several icebergs to the east and south of Newfoundland, and this contributed to the weather consisting of a series of lows racing across the North Atlantic bringing strong winds and heavy seas.
On June 9 the Met Office showed a low of 964, some 15mb lower than the disastrous Fastnet storm, crossing the track of the boats in the centre of the fleet. These boats were then exposed to a violent storm with winds of over 60kn and seas 10 to 15m high.
Prior to this some boats had already experienced problems. The first two days supplied a gentle introduction but by day 3 the winds had increased to over 20kt and the boat speeds picked up.
By day 4 the winds were to 20 to 30kt with rough seas. The trimaran PiR2 (Etienne Hochede & Françoise Hanss) suffered masthead damage losing their anemometer and returned to Plymouth. Breizh Cola (Christophe Dietsch) was hit by a large wave and suffered rigging damage, taking on water and decided to return to Ireland. Opole (Andrzej Kopytko) also had rigging problems and retired the following day. Another retirement but only indirectly weather related was Ricardo Diniz in Taylor 325 who had hit his head while clearing fishing gear from the hull, and then again when he was thrown by a large wave while in the cabin.
Berk Plathner and Werner Stolz suffered damage and retired their 28ft trimaran Hikari, the smallest boat in the race, heading for Portugal. This retirement saw both multihulls out of the race. The following day saw the sixth retirement, Lionel Regnier in One and All with wind pilot problems.
The leading boats moved north to avoid the oncoming lows. Andrea Mura in Vento di Sardegna went much further north than usual – just compare this race with his track in 2013.
Then, in the early hours of Friday 9th June, 60 knot winds and 15 metre seas were experienced by competitors, caused by a very low depression (967mb). These extreme conditions caused damage to many boats with 3 emergency beacons (EPIRB) triggered. The Canadian coastguard in Halifax immediately reacted to the situation sending ships and air support to all the boats in distress.
The boats affected were :
Tamarind (Mervyn Wheatley) who suffered a knock down which broke a window causing severe flooding. Mervyn was forced to abandon and sink his beloved Tamarind when he was rescued by the Queen Mary where he continued his trip to Halifax in some style.
Happy (Wytse Bouma and Jaap Barendregt) was dismasted and the crew were rescued by a Dutch tug headed for the Bahamas.
Jaap reported “Following our rescue by ALP Forward, we are now enjoying the hospitality here on board. It isn’t quite the Queen Mary, but the hospitality shown by the crew is overwhelming. They are justifiable proud of having been able to safely transfer us from SY Happy during a brief interlude in the storm, but still with 28 knot winds and 5-7m swell. It all went very smoothly. Almost a text book example, and we were very surprised to learn this was actually the first time the crew had executed such a procedure. We will ensure they get due recognition.
It is sad that we had to abandon and scupper our beloved SY Happy, but we felt we had no other realistic and safe option. I would like to point that while we were of course worried about damage to our vessel during the storm, we never had any doubt about our own safety and survival. This is due to our previous experiences, training, thorough preparation, reliable communication equipment, the efficient response from JRCC Halifax and the professional assistance by MSC Anzu and MV ALP Forward.
Wytse did suffer an 8cm long cut to his head, but it does not seem to bother or affect him, other than being worried about his good looks.
Our families have probably been more worried than we, although we stayed in regular contact at all times. So, thank you for contacting them also.
Drifting around for 24 hours in a cold and wet hull on a bumpy sea was a new experience for us, but we actually managed to eat the best of our remaining provisions (including fresh pineapple), catch some sleep in our damp clothes, and witness the tremendous response from JRCC Halifax.”
Furia (Mihail Kopanov and Dian Zaykov) struck a floating object causing severe flooding leaving it sinking. The crew were rescued by the survey vessel Thor Magna also headed to Halifax.
Other boats suffered significant damage and decided to retire :
Harmonii (Keith Walton) had mainsail and track damage and was unable to continue. Keith later reported that he had cleared the debris and damaged sails, recovered the drogue he had streamed, and was headed for the Azores under engine which then failed. He managed to set up a sail and has continued under jury rig.
Suomi Kudu (Peter Crowther) also had mainsail problems and elected to return to Plymouth.
Mark Hipgrave in Mister Lucky reported “I had lots of excitement going over the top of the deep low on Thursday night last week, but the boat behaved beautifully in what were pretty tough downwind conditions of 40+ knots. Everything since has been relatively easy.
Please give my congratulations to all those still in the race. I am also glad to learn that those who have retired are safe and well.”
While Adélie Parat and Mederic Thiout in Midnight Summer Dream reported that they had mainsail damage which had caused them to change speed and heading while they attempted repairs. They were confident they would not have to retire.
The competitors and the race committee were unanimous in their appreciation and praise for the way the Halifax Coastguard personnel, and the ships and aircraft in the area, had responded to the emergency situation. In return Coastguard commented on how well the fleet had acted, heaving to and riding out the storm.
This was not the end of the problems.
Illumia 12 had sustained keel damage and when it became worse Michele Zambelli decided to abandon and was picked up by the Royal Canadian Airforce Search and Rescue helicopter and flown to St. John’s Newfoundland. This brought the number of yachts lost to four.
The American Kass Schmitt in Zest had rigging damage but the subsequent loss of her wind pilot forced her retirement to return to Plymouth.
David Southwood in Summerbird also had sail failures, losing both foresail furlers. He was unable to fix the problems and retired to head for the Azores.
Seven yachts remain racing – Vento di Sardegna, Bam, Mister Lucky, Solent 1 and Olbia in the OSTAR, with Rote 66 and Midnight Summer Dream in the TWOSTAR.