OSTAR 1968

Storms and the introduction (and banning) of weather routing

The race became truly international with a total of 35 competitors from as far a field as Sweden, Germany, USA and South Africa to add to the usual British and French entries. The starters included the 1964 winner Eric Tabarly, in his revolutionary trimaran Pen Duick IV, the first woman entrant, Edith Baumann from West Germany in her sloop Koala III, and the Frenchman Joan de Kat in his sloop Yaksha. Of these three, Tabarly retired at the end of the first week; de Kat’s yacht broke up, and he was rescued after a vast air and sea search lasting three days; and Edith Baumann was rescued off the Azores.

This race that proved what a tough proposition the OSTAR can be. During the race the North Atlantic was swept by a massive depression bringing with it 60 knot, storm force winds. Many competitors hoved to, dropping all but a storm jib to sit out the terrible conditions.

Only one competitor made a significant gain by taking advantage of the rules, which had not outlawed weather routing (at that time, it was not considered viable for solo skippers). Before satellite communications, on board internet access or web-based weather sites, Geoffrey Williams racing the monohull Sir Thomas Lipton was the first to use weather routing. Via a hefty high-frequency radio, Williams would communicate with meteorologists at Bracknell who were running weather models using a very early computer and who would provide him with forecasts. Warned of the storm, Williams sailed north missing the brunt of it and gained an estimated 300 miles over his competitors in the process. Williams went on to win the race despite some controversy at the end when he sailed the wrong course – Williams missed a vital part of the skippers briefing when an amendment to the sailing instructions was issued to round the Nantucket Light Vessel on approach to finish. As the Race Committee had not published the amendment in writing, grounds for any protest were weak. In a display of great sportsmanship, no other skipper protested him. Weather routing was banned from subsequent races and the rule setters were careful to distinguish between Nantucket and the light vessel.

While one multihull had entered in 1960 (but was unable to start) and three had competed in 1964, in 1968 there were no fewer than 13 multihulls (although only five completed the course), including a 65ft (20m) “monster” (Pen Duick IV) entered by Eric Tabarly. But his trimaran lacked preparation following the social unrest of May 1968 in France, forcing him to retire. The best multihull was a proa Cheersdesigned by an as yet unknown American, Dick Newick and raced by Tom Follet who finished in third place.

This edition was a sign of a new era to come.

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