The Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race was devised by ‘Blondie’ Hasler in 1957 as a sporting event to encourage the development of equipment and techniques for shorthanded oceanic sailing that would benefit the wider sailing community. The course, across the North Atlantic against the prevailing winds and currents, sets a significant test of seamanship.
The first race was run in 1960 after Hasler had finally obtained sponsorship from the Observer Newspaper and interested the Royal Western Yacht Club in organising the event which became known as the OSTAR. Five competitors started and remarkably five finished! The race was won by Francis Chichester in Gipsy Moth III, the largest boat in the fleet at 40 feet.
The second race in 1964 attracted 15 starters and was won by Eric Tabarly in the 44ft Pen Duick II. For his achievement he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by President de Gaulle. France’s love affair with short-handed oceanic racing and the OSTAR (or Transat Anglaise) was established.
By 1976 the number of competitors had grown to 125 and the largest boat was Alain Colas’ 236ft Club Mediterranée. The growth of the race attracted the disapproval of the “establishment” and the RWYC came under pressure to restrict both boat size and the number of boats in the fleet.
But with the popularity of the race ever growing, the 1980 race had over twice as many applicants as could be accepted. The decision was made in 1978 to run a second race to accommodate the overflow. However, as a further gesture to the critics (as well as satisfying a demand from further competitors), this race would be for boats sailed by a crew of two – the Twohanded Transatlantic Race or TWOSTAR – raced in 1981.
The OSTAR continued to grow in popularity particularly with the ‘professional’ 50 and 60 ft boat skippers for whom the OSTAR was a points-scoring event on their racing calendar and a qualifier for the round-the-world events. While winning was essential for the heavily sponsored skippers, the less ‘professional’ participants entered for the challenge of crossing the North Atlantic often competing in small family cruisers.
By 2000 the ‘Grand Prix’ boats made up half the fleet and their accompanying media circus dominated the race, little attention was paid to the smaller less- (or un-) sponsored boats. The Club took the decision to split the race and have a commercially-run ‘Grand Prix’ event for the large classes while continuing ownership of, and the running, of the classic or ‘Corinthian’ OSTAR.
The return of the OSTAR (the O standing for Original) to the Corinthian ideals of Blondie Hasler was welcome and many experienced OSTAR skippers entered the 2005 edition. The race continued successfully, without a break, to the present.
The Club’s original transatlantic shorthanded races, the OSTAR and TWOSTAR, raised the interest in shorthanded sailing in France and worldwide. There have been many copies, transatlantic and round-the-world, but most have come and gone and the remainder are commercially run events. The OSTAR remains a unique Corinthian race against the prevailing winds and currents of the North Atlantic that is open to all, amateur and professional, and run by a Yacht Club.
The sixteenth OSTAR will now be sailed in conjunction with the seventh TWOSTAR in the 2020 Transatlantic Event celebrating 60 years of shorthanded oceanic racing at the Royal Western Yacht Club and the 60th anniversary of the start of it all – the first and Original Singlehanded TransAtlantic Race.
For the history of the race go to OSTAR History