In 1956 Blondie Hasler became interested in the challenges of offshore singlehanded sailing – “one man, one boat, the ocean…”. Over the next few years he conceived of a transatlantic race against the prevailing winds and currents whose purpose was to develop the necessary seamanship, equipment and techniques.
He had interested several competitors, but was unable to find an organiser or sponsor willing to move from the familiar full-crewed or ‘cruise in company’ racing to such a dangerous sounding innovation. His press release of November 1959 proclaimed “Described by one experienced yachtsman as ‘the most sporting event of the century’ a transatlantic race for single-handed sailing boats will start from the south coast of England on Saturday 11 June 1960 and will finish off Sheepshead Bay, in the approaches to New York, at least a month later”.
Blondie and Francis Chichester agreed that should no sponsor be found they would go ahead with the race anyway and each competitor would wager half-a-crown; winner take all. But Blondie persevered and, with Francis, approached the RWYC and got a positive response from the Rear Commodore Jack Odling-Smee.
With a yacht club of repute to take on the organisation of the race, Blondie obtained the sponsorship of The Observer newspaper and so the RWYC Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race for the Observer Trophy, or OSTAR, came about.
With sponsor and organiser in place, the half crown wager was no longer required but its proposal was recognised later when the Half Crown Club was created to honour the intrepid sailors who have competed in an OSTAR.
Over a hundred declarations of intent were received by the organisers and in the end eight boats entered but only five boats crossed the start line off Plymouth, and remarkably all five reached New York on the other side of the ‘pond’.
Self-steering gear was in its most basic homemade form, roller-reefing sails were just a dream and there were no satellite navigation systems or weather routing, just hand-held compasses and sextants.
The five pioneer yachtsmen took very different options, with Blondie Hasler (Jester 25ft) opting for an extreme Northern route, Francis Chichester (Gipsy Moth III 40ft) and David Lewis (Cardinal Vertue 25ft) on the Great Circle route and Val Howells (Eira 25ft) and Jean Lacombe (Cap Horn 21.5ft) on the Azores route.
Little was heard from the competitors during the race (the boats had been provided with short-range radio transmitters but these were of little use) and fears grew for their safety but, finally, after 40 days Chichester arrived. “Every time I tried to point Gipsy Moth at New York the wind blew dead on the nose” said Chichester. “It was like trying to reach a doorway with a man in it aiming a hose at you. It was much tougher than I thought.”
Hasler reached New York in 48 days but second place was no disappointment. He had proved that his self-steering system was more than efficient to handle the 25ft Jester with a single Chinese lugsail on an unstayed mast, and claimed he had only had to take the tiller for one hour of the entire journey.
Jean Lacombe was the final skipper to arrive, in 74 days, having started 5 days after the others. His Cap Horn was the smallest boat in the race and he had been delayed in Le Havre by bad weather. With an earlier east-west single-handed transatlantic crossing (in an 18ft boat), Lacombe (a Frenchman living in New York) was possibly the most experienced oceanic competitor on the race.
Three other yachtsmen had entered but were unable to start. American yacht designer Arthur Piver sailed his trimaran (Nimble, 30ft) across but did not arrive in time. Walter Kaminski, from Berlin, suffered damage to his yacht (26ft cutter Sayonara) while being shipped to England. Mike Ellison withdrew his 34ft cutter (Blue Haze) considering it not ready for the crossing.
The second OSTAR in 1964 was the launch pad for one of the most influential figures in the history of single-handed sailing, the development of sailing as a sport in France and in offshore race boat design. In 1960 Francis Chichester had managed the crossing in 40 days, then a 32 year-old French naval lieutenant Eric Tabarly won the 1964 race taking just 27 days aboard his 44ft ketch Pen Duick II.
A total of seventeen yachtsmen entered the race. All those who sailed in the first race were back again, though only Francis Chichester and Blondie Hasler were sailing the same boats. Val Howells sailed a 35 foot steel cutter, Akka, a production yacht he was delivering to America; David Lewis switched to a catamaran Rehu Moana, one of three multihulls in the race; and Jean Lacombe had moved from the 21 foot Cap Horn to his new 22 foot glass fibre sloop Golif. Mike Ellison, who failed to start in the first race, was back in a larger boat Ilala(36 ft).
Two yachts were unable to compete: Arthur Piver was unable to deliver his trimaran from the US in time and so missed his second OSTAR; Charles McLendon, an American living in London, suffered a fire on his 48’ ketch Morna – which would have been the largest boat in the race.
Two changes were introduced for the second race: the finish line was switched from New York to Newport, Rhode Island, so the competitors could avoid the marine traffic at New York; and a prize was awarded for fastest monohull on corrected time (using a handicap based on waterline length).
Two event occurred that were to be repeated in future races – two collisions, one with a spectator boat and another with a whale. Val Howells (Akka) was rammed by a spectator boat after the start and had to return for repairs. Five days out while contestting for second place a few miles behind Eric Tabarly, Derer Kelsall (Folatre) struck what he presumed was a whale, damaging a rudder and daggerboard. He returned to Plymouth for repairs then restarted finishing a creditable 34 days later.
Publicity from the first OSTAR turned the second race into a media circus with a number of the 15 competitors signed up by national newspapers to provide regular progress reports by radio. The crowds at the start brought about the first collision between a spectator boat and a competitor, Val Howells, who had to return for repairs.
Tabarly, the only Frenchman in the race, was the sailor’s favourite for the race with the advantage of sailing the largest boat and the only one purpose-built for the event. He had also carried out an in-depth study of the weather and physically was very fit. On a route close to the Great Circle and without the strong storms that had characterised the first edition, he reached Newport three days before Francis Chichester.
Arriving in Newport, Rhode Island he had no prior knowledge of his win – he had not used his radio during the race – and almost as a passing comment let slip that his self-steering system had only worked for the first 8 days of the 27 days it took him to complete the course.
At a depressed time in France, Tabarly became an overnight hero and for his endeavour was presented with his country’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, by President de Gaulle. France’s love affair with solo offshore racing had begun.
The race became truly international with a total of 35 competitors from as far afield 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 hove 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 routeing (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 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.
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 Cheers designed by an as yet unknown American, Dick Newick, and raced by Tom Follet who finished in an amazing third place.
This edition was a sign of a new era to come.
After 1968 a 500-mile qualification passage became obligatory. 55 boats qualified for the fourth edition of the race.
Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick IV had retired from the 1968 race, but in the intervening years prior to the 1972 OSTAR she had been tested and developed and then sold to former crewman Alain Colas, another icon of early French single-handed sailing.
In contrast to the 1968 race the North Atlantic threw up only one brief gale and it was perhaps due to the light conditions and skill of her skipper that Colas was able to steer his 67ft trimaran across the line first in the remarkable time of 20 days and 13 hours – five days faster than Geoffrey Williams’ four years earlier. In the process, Colas beat the giant monohull Jean-Yves Terlain’s 128ft Vendredi Treize by 16 hours. With Colas’ victory and other multihulls taking third, fifth and sixth places, the future of ocean-going racing catamarans and trimarans was sealed. With the exception of the 1976 race, all the subsequent single-handed transatlantic races have been won by multihulls and today they are the undisputed champions of the ocean.
Developed by the pioneering Tabarly, Pen Duick IV was a boat well ahead of her time, despite her aluminium construction and beams that appeared to have been made from scaffolding. Tabarly had been inspired to commission her after sailing on board Derek Kelsall’s trimaran Toria, winner of the first two-handed Round Britain and Ireland race in 1966. With no keel for ballast, a racing multihull’s lightweight requires less power to drive it and is therefore easier for the single-hander to manage. Rigged as a ketch, Pen Duick IV was originally fitted with rotating masts to improve the flow of air over her mainsails – a prelude to the rotating wing masts that would become standard on future trimarans.
As for Colas this same boat would take him around the world single-handed and into the history books the following year. Tragically, while competing in the first Route du Rhum in 1978, both boat and skipper were lost for reasons unknown.
Marie-Claude Fauroux (Aloa VII) was the first woman to finish the course coming 14th after nearly 33 days at sea, while her fellow colleague Anne Michailof racing PS was the last to cross the line, finishing just a few hours before the time limit of 60 days.
Even before the start, the storm was brewing. Controversy exploded around the entry of Alain Colas’ gigantic monohull Club Mediterranée that measured in at 236ft (72m). Few believed that a boat this size could be sailed safely by one man without being a risk to himself and others at sea, and many saw the race as getting out of control. A total of 125 boats crossed the start line in a shadow of sadness at the death of one of the competing skippers wives. Mike McMullen, an ex-marine commando, had bought Three Cheers from Tom Follet and had tragically witnessed his wife accidentally electrocute herself as she helped prepare the boat just days before the start. Sadly, McMullen and Three Cheers disappeared during the race.
Five low pressure systems followed each other one after the other, relentlessly generating an average wind speed of 35 knots and a raging, chaotic, short, crossed sea for over a week. The fleet were decimated with the well-chronicled retirement of Yvon Fauconnier (ITT Oceanicpreviously Vendredi Treize) and the break-up of Jean-Yves Terlain’s 70ft catamaran Kriter II. Two skippers were lost at sea in the storms – Mike Flanagan and the recently bereaved Mike McMullen. Only 73 of the 125 starters finished the race within the time limit.
Eric Tabarly racing his 73ft ketch Pen Duick VI had at one stage considered turning back when his self-steering gear failed. But the 1964 winner found new strength and crossed the finish line first in dramatic circumstances. With no sight or sound of Tabarly since the start concerns had been growing for his safety but he appeared out of the fog in Newport just as the French navy were on the verge of launching a full-scale search operation. Alain Colas’ Club Mediterranée stopped in Newfoundland for repairs to the rigging and then also had to take a penalty for accepting a tow that relegating him to 5th place overall, although he crossed the line in second. Another amazing performance came from Canadian Mike Birch on the “tiny” 31ft trimaran, The Third Turtle. He crossed the line in third but was finally awarded second place. Multihulls had staked their claim in storm-force windward conditions – there could be little to stop them now.
Under pressure from the ‘experts of the day’, and concerns of possible intervention by the Board of Trade, the organisers had imposed a restriction on length (56ft) and on the number of entries (110 boats) following the 1976 edition. The race committee chairman, Jack Odling-Smee announced that the decision had been reached for three reasons, the final one being “We have set the class limits to try to adhere to the original concept of the race, which is to defeat the ocean rather than the other competitors.”
However the use of the expensive ARGOS tracking system, primarily for safety reasons, resulted in the sponsors (the Observer and radio station Europe 1) using the regular position reports to reinforce the competitive nature of the race. A number of the new transmitters failed during the race causing some concern over the ‘missing’ yachts – a problem that continues to the present.
Many potential competitors had to be turned away and, in the event, ninety competitors started. Incidents came immediately. Most unfortunate was Florence Arthaud who lost her mast before even reaching the start. Tom Grossman (Kriter VII) collided with Garuda but after hurried repairs to a float managed to restart the following afternoon.
There was a noticeable drop (26 to 16) in French participation who, upset by the restrictions in force, favoured the new solo transatlantic race, the Route du Rhum, created by Frenchman Michael Etevenon. Only one French skipper, Daniel Gilard, appeared in the top 10 finishers; although in 14th was a new rising star Olivier de Kersauson on Kriter VI. What did dominate the top 10 finishers, were the multihulls including the unofficial entry of Marc Pajot racing Tabarly’s “futuristic” foiler Paul Ricard. Tabarly had to withdraw from the race due to a skiing injury and Pajot, unable to complete the qualification in time, raced as an unofficial entry crossing the line in fifth. In fact, the top five slots were filled with multihulls but it was, above all, the “American Multihull School” that emerged victorious with the veteran of the race, the 100% ‘Corinthian entry’ Phil Weld (Moxie) who finished in 17 days, 23 hours and 12 minutes, plus Phil Steggall (Jeans Foster) and Walter Greene (Cassettes Olympia).
Phil Weld had carried a detailed study of North Atlantic weather and, balancing this with the known abilities of Moxie, he came up with his own route: south of 45°N 35°W and through 43°N 50°W – the Weld Waypoints.
The weather conditions were ideal at the start with a northerly flow for almost ten days enabling the leaders to sail more than half the course with the wind abeam, an extremely favourable situation for the trimarans. Seventy-two boats finished and the course record dropped by six days in one go – it was fast approaching the two-week barrier.
Ninety-one boats started in a strong south-easterly and the multihullswere quickly away, but within six hours the first was out – June Clarke (Batchelors Sweet Pea) pitchpoled and was rescued by lifeboat. In the early stages of the race it was two catamarans of Patrick Morvan (Jet Services) and Gilles Gahinet (33 Export) that dominated until they were forced to retire through damage to the hull and mast problems, respectively.
The competitors had been warned of large numbers of icebergs drifting further south than usual, but it was whales that caused more problems. Class IV winner Luis Tonizzo sighted several and sailed over one that lifted his boat out of the water “I was very lucky it didn’t touch the rudder otherwise it would have broken off”. Not so lucky was Henk van de Weg whose boat Tjisje sank and David Duncombe who retired after hitting whales.
But it was the capsizing of Philippe Jeantot (Credit Agricole) in the middle of the Atlantic that was the talk of the town posing a problem at the finish. Philippe Poupon (Fleury Michon) was first to finish in Newport in a record 16 days, 11 hours and 55 minutes (which was increased by 30 minutes for his start line penalty), but Yvon Fauconnier (Umupro Jardin) was declared the winner after standing-by Jeantot for 16 hours. His finish time of 16 days, 22 hours and 25 minutes were reduced by 16 hours to 16 days, 6 hours and 25 minutes. Philippe Poupon on hearing the news during the middle of his victory press conference, could not disguise his immense disappointment and broke down in tears. At the prize giving Fauconnier received the overall winner prize and Poupon was awarded a special Line Honours prize.
Two other boats, Alan Wynne Thomas (Jemima Nicholas) and Bertus Buys (Sea-Beryl), received time allowances for assisting other casualties.
The first 11 boats finished within 24 hours of each other and of the 10 only two skippers were not French and only the 10th placed boat was not a multihull. 13 skippers beat the record time of 17 days 23 hours set by Phil Weld in the previous race.
The French were back and the race was fast becoming a transatlantic multihull sprint.
With 95 entries, the trend was towards on board electronics, weather files and automatic pilots. It was no longer enough for the solo sailor to be an excellent mariner and a tough racer, he also had to be a computer wizard and manage his tactical and strategic options on board.
1988 proved to be a record-breaking race as multihull designer Nigel Irens stated: “The record is bound to be broken. The evolution in multihull design is taking place at a phenomenal rate. Today’s 60ft trimarans have 25% speed advantage over boats raced four years ago.” Philippe Poupon’s (Fleury Michon) demonstration was exemplary with exceptional conditions on the Atlantic allowing the Breton to virtually sail a direct route the whole way. Mike Birch (Fujicolor) and Olivier Moussy (Laiterie St Michel) were sailing similar Nigel Irens-designed trimarans. But, unfortunately, Birch hit a whale, while Olivier Moussy had problems caused by a late launch. Philippe Poupon set a stunning new record of 10 days, 9 hours and 15 minutes or the equivalent along the Great Circle route of 11 knots average speed. Florence Arthaud (Groupe Pierre 1er) became the fastest woman finishing in 13 days 10hr 58m.
Nic Bailey (MTC) set a phenomenal Class 4 record for the course, finishing 12th in 16 days 17 hours – faster than all of Classes 2 and 3.
An exceptional disaster befell skipper David Sellings on board his monohull Hyccup. A pod of whales, up to 50 or 60 at one point, had surrounded his boat for three days and finally attacked, holing the boat. Sellings only had time to grab a few belongings and inflate his liferaft before Hyccup sank.
Another loss was that of Jester. On her eighth OSTAR, having competed in every race, she was knocked down in heavy weather and lost her starboard hatch. Mike Richey was unable to stem the flow and was taken off. Jester was taken in tow but had to be abandoned.
Sixty-seven boats started the Europe 1 STAR. Loïck Peyron (Fujicolor II) was just one of the many favourites with the French now completely dominating this side of the sport. Amongst them Florence Arthaud (Groupe Pierre 1er) fresh from her victory in the Route du Rhum, Philippe Poupon (Fleury Michon) the title and record holder, Laurent Bourgnon (Primagaz) the rising star, Philippe Monnet back from his single-handed sail round the world, Paul Vatine (Haute Normandie) on the 1988 winning trimaran, Francis Joyon (Banque Populaire), Jean Maurel and Hervé Laurent.
Weather conditions were unpredictable and not very favourable and the fleet quickly scattered across the Atlantic – Joyon headed north, Vatine south and Bourgnon and Peyron took the middle course. It took almost a week to sort out the lead. Bourgnon, in the lead, broke his mainsheet track, Arthaud capsized off Newfoundland and Poupon had long dropped out because of a broken daggerboard. There remained just one, Peyron, lying in wait for half the distance. He put his foot down near the finish and came in with more than a 24-hour lead over the second boat. He said on his arrival that he could have sailed much faster, but was not very familiar with the boat (he had taken over as skipper of Fujicolor from Canadian Mike Birch).
The new generation 60ft monohulls specifically designed for the Vendee Globe surprised all with their performances. Yves Parlier (Aquitaine-Innovations) flirted with the 14-day barrier for crossing the Atlantic.
Mike Birch and David Scully were using the event to match race their two new Irensdesigned 40ft trimarans. The plan was to make a class of 40ft trimarans, a stepping stone into the 60ft multihull class, which would fill the void left by the demise of Formula 40s in the late 1980s. But it was Fort Lauderdale-based Etienne Giroire who took 11 hours off Nic Bailey’s Class 4 record, again beating all the Class 2 and 3 entries. Despite claiming sustained speeds of 21 knots in 12 knots of wind, Birch finished over a day and a half later, having taken the southerly Azores route.
A replica Jester, after the original was lost in 1988, was sailed keeping up the tradition of sailing in every race.
By now multihulls no longer hit the headlines and the Europe 1 STAR had turned into a French battle, at least for overall victory. There were no new trimarans except for Banque Populaire. The 60ft IMOCA monohulls shunned the event to concentrate on the Vendee Globe. Amateurs took advantage to come back in force in the smaller classes while observers already knew that the podium would be a contest between Peyron, Bourgnon, Vatine and Joyon. But it was the latter who created the surprise by choosing a route not used by anyone since Blondie Hasler in 1960, the Northern route. Joyon went far to the North passing over the top of the centres of the depressions that were slowing his adversaries on the direct route. He had more than a 300-mile lead by the time he had reached the Newfoundland Banks and nothing seemed capable of stopping him from breaking the record for the crossing. But it was without counting on the unstable breezes that knocked him down just over 400 miles from the finish. A similar fate befell Laurent Bourgnon.
Loïck Peyron was able to savour a second successive victory, with a time very close to Philippe Poupon’s 1988 record in spite of significantly less favourable weather conditions. Paul Vatine came in just four hours behind the winner.
Devon pub landlord Peter Crowther was rescued when, on his fifth race, his junk-rigged Galway Blazer hit an object and sank.
While seven 60ft trimarans engaged in the 2000 Europe 1 New Man STAR, the more remarkable fleet was that of the Open 60s of which a phenomenal 24 were entered. The reason for this incredible growth was because many were using the event as both a shakedown and a qualifier for the Vendee Globe the following November.
In the end the race produced two surprise winners. First trimaran was Francis Joyon’s Eure et Loir. Joyon had been leading the 1996 race until it came to a premature end following the pitch pole of his trimaran. Come 1999, the burly French man had lost his sponsorship from Banque Populaire who had passed the reins over to Lalou Roucayrol and were building a new boat especially for the 2000 race.
Coming into the 2000 race, Joyon was the least favourite of the six trimarans to win, having just scraped together enough sponsorship to charter his old boat back. Pre-race he worked on his boat tied up to a mooring as the heavily sponsored, high profile boats with their full shore teams enjoyed the convenience of the marina. However, it was with some irony that Joyon went on to win the race, while once again the Banque Populaire trimaran experienced a capsize.
In the Open 60 fleet, picking a pre-race favourite was hard with a line-up including solo sailing heavy weights such as Thomas Coville, Michel Desjoyeaux, Yves Parlier, Mike Golding, Roland Jourdain and Dominique Wavre. Who would win? In the event it was none of them. Sailing a brand new boat in its maiden race, few were betting on a 23-year-old English girl. However, on day nine of the race Ellen MacArthur monitoring the weather like a hawk, spotted a lull ahead and by taking an unfavourable tack north neatly sidestepped it putting 75 miles on her competition that she would hold until the finish. This result was a defining moment in MacArthur’s career, the first occasion when the sailing world realised that she was not out there simply to take part, but despite her tender years she had the ability to win.
By coincidence both Joyon and MacArthur went on to take up single-handed record breaking, Joyon setting an extraordinary new record time for sailing solo non-stop around the world then eclipsed by MacArthur.
Following the decision by the Royal Western Yacht Club to split the OSTAR into two races, the ‘Corinthian’ race for yachts up to 50 ft was held in 2005 continuing the OSTAR name and traditions.
The return to the Corinthian spirit of the original singlehanded transatlantic race brought out an entry of 42 (32 monohulls and 10 multihulls). Many of the skippers were experienced OSTAR competitors back for more; including Peter Crowther sailing his seventh OSTAR, Bertus Buys on his fifth, and Franco Manzoli for his fourth trip. This race also saw the reintroduction of handicaps with the classes determined by IRC/MOCRA ratings with separate classes for Open 40 and 50 yachts.
34 yachts came to the start but a collision with Chivas 3 forced Jacques Dewez to retire Blue Shadow from his third OSTAR attempt. Hannah White made a good start in her Open 40 Spirit of Canada, setting a challenge to Lia Ditton and Anne Caseneuve for youngest finisher and first female honours. There was interest also in the seven strong Open 40 class – how would the new Class 40s perform against the unlimited 40s of the experienced Ronnie Nollet and Michel Kleinjans – and whether the North Atlantic weather would favour the smaller boats.
The light conditions favoured the smaller boats on the first day but the wind then increased on the nose and the first retirements soon came. Anne Caseneuve was leading the fleet when her dream of breaking the 50ft record was shattered by a fall which badly damaged her knee. Roger Langevin in the remaining Open 50 (Branec IV) became favourite, but Pierre Antoine in the 43ft Spirit and Franco Manzoli in his 40ft Cotonella would prove strong contenders for the multihull honours.
Over the next few days six of the Open 40s retired with a variety of failures leaving just Nico Budel to win the class. Hanna White’s retirement due to autopilot failure left Lia Ditton in the small 34ft tri Shockwave as the sole female competitor. Two storms later, when halfway across the Atlantic, damage forced Michel Jaheny (Chivas 3) to become the last of the 16 retirements from the 34 starters.
The race settled down as predicted with Branec just leading Spirit and Cotonella, and the 50ft Olympian Challenger well ahead of Atlantix Express and Hayai. At the finish Langevin and Antoine went south but Franco Manzoli held course to the north and passed the other two to take line honours. Olympian Challenger came fourth to be the first monohull finisher. Lia Ditton crossed the line in eleventh place to become the youngest female finisher. Mervyn Wheatley (Tamarind) led the Eira class, the only class not to have any retirements.
Quest II’s arrival in sixteenth place was greeted warmly. Gerry Hughes is profoundly deaf and overcame many problems to finish (including the loss of electrical power which restricted his ability to text his position).
Cees Groot completed the arrivals finishing just before the time limit some 41 days after he started.
They say the major achievement of any OSTAR competitor is to get to the start. There were 67 potential competitors for OSTAR 2009 but in the end just 31 boats crossed the line on the 25th May. This was during the worst financial recession for a generation when sponsors and money were almost impossible to raise. Younger skippers found it difficult to take such a long break from their jobs. One even resigned his job when refused leave and faced an uncertain future after the race. Skippers had to complete a 500 nm qualifier. Some only achieved this after more than one attempt. Among the starters was a Class 50 trimaran and a junk rigged monohull which were expected to be first and last to Newport.
At 1130 UT on 25th May HRH ordered the two Vendèe skippers Mike Golding and Dee Caffari to fire the start guns and the OSTAR fleet was off. After 24 hours the Class 50 trimaran was in the lead and the junk was, as expected, at the back. Gale force winds then came as the fleet entered the Atlantic as a result of which the two trimarans suffered damage forcing retirement together with two monohulls and the junk. Pip Hildesley put into Southern Ireland for rigging repairs and Jacques Bouchacourt took up the lead in his Futura 50 but later turned round and headed back to France for reasons unknown. Pip bravely rejoined the race and started her own campaign to overhaul the back markers one by one. She overtook seven yachts before arriving in Newport.
Unusually, in this race there were strong easterly winds for about a week as the fleet sailed north of a depression resulting in some fast and exhilarating surf sailing. Records were for the taking. As the fleet approached Nova Scotia there was a deep depression resulting in severe gale force winds and big seas. Ice was further south than usual and many competitors found themselves being squeezed between the depression to the south and ice to the north. As usual, most competitors had to contend with calms which are more difficult to bear than gales.
In heavy seas 300nm south east of Halifax Gianfranco Tortolani’s boat rolled 360 degrees. He had been hand steering for a week. The mast broke but the boat righted itself although it was awash. His EPIRB had been set off automatically some hours earlier by a big wave so the coastguard in Rome and the race office were alerted. The EPIRB had been left on so when he requested help his position was known from both it and his tracker. A C130 aircraft found the boat and was able to divert a US container ship, Maersk Missouri, bound for Newark, New Jersey which rescued Gianfranco at midday Newport time. His Adventure Open 30 Città di Salerno was abandoned. It subsequently created some alarm when it was found by a fishing boat who mistakenly reported it giving Huib Swet’s identification number – he was by then sailing home via the Azores but was eventually able to confirm he was safe.
Some great results were achieved:
Oscar Mead in King of Shaves, aged only 18 years, became the youngest person ever to finish the race.
Katie Miller in bluQube, aged 22 years, became the youngest woman ever to finish the race.
Hannah White in Pure Solo had a great sail and nearly broke the 35 foot record set by Mary Falk in QII in 1996 of 19 days 22 hours and 57 minutes. She missed it by 1 hour and 25 minutes.
JanKees Lampe in his Open 40 La Promesse broke the 40 foot record set by Simon Van Hagen in Seatalk in 1992 of 19 days 11 hours and 19 minutes with a fantastic time of 17 days 17 hours and 40 minutes becoming the first Dutchman to win the OSTAR.
In early January there were doubts about whether OSTAR 2013 could go ahead. There was no sponsor and only five possible entries. The Race Director had resigned. The core of the OSTAR 2009 Committee stepped in and convinced the Royal Western Yacht Club Board to proceed. Luckily, there was considerable financial and other vital support from the Mayor and City of Newport without which we have struggled.
In the end we received 25 potential entries of which 21 became confirmed. Charlie Storr came through very bad weather on his qualifier off Sicily and withdrew. Maarten Ruuschen was half way from Holland to Plymouth days before the start when he was recalled to his office. Kass Schmitt and her boyfriend Rupert worked extremely hard to prepare Zest but conceded defeat when Rupert injured himself. Kass gallantly sailed down from Southampton to Plymouth to join us for the start.
So, on 27th May there were 18 boats on the start line.
Olbia and Vento di Sardegna, sailed by Christian Chalandre and Andrea Mura, came flying around the start frigate HMS Somerset’s stern on starboard tack to find Peter Crowther’s Suomi Kudu static on the start line. Olbia went upwind but there was a minor collision between Vento and Suomi. Fortunately, both yachts still managed to reach Newport without repair.
It appeared that Asia’s Pajkowska’s catamaran Cabrio 2 had gone aground in Jennycliffe Bay. In fact her steering system had failed due to loss of hydraulic fluid. She was towed back to Plymouth and restarted later.
When the Race Officer shouted “Gun” there was total silence for 20 seconds. HMS Somerset’s ashen faced Gunnery Officer reported that his salute gun crew had suffered two misfires. Nonetheless, no yacht had crossed the line early.
James Taylor had struggled to get Anarchy ready for the race and made a very mature decision to retire. Subsequently, he completed a Jester race to Ireland.
Three boats went inside the Eddystone Lighthouse, which was a mark of the course, but all returned to round it eventually. AIS tracks proved they had.
Keith Walton in Harmonii suffered a torn mainsail and returned to Plymouth. He set off again only to tear the replacement sail and retire. Jonathan Snodgrass’s junk rig Lexia broke a mast off the Lizard. It is of much credit to him that he got into Falmouth without assistance. He did restart weeks later only to retire due to sea sickness.
Christian Chalandre had a great race in 2009 but sadly was forced to retire back home to France with a wind generator problem. Ralph Villiger in Ntombifuti put into Brest to fix a defective bilge pump. He restarted a few days later and completed the course.
In 2009 the fleet enjoyed a week of easterlies. Not so in 2013. Boats remaining in the race had to fight all the way across the Atlantic against contrary winds, several times up to gale force.
By tradition the OSTAR winner is the first boat to Newport. Therefore, the primary interest was to see if Roger Langevin’s 50’ multi Branec VI could get there before Andrea Mura’s 50’ mono Vento di Sardegna while the three classes raced against each other on handicap. Roger took a more northerly route while Andrea went further south as he was suffering from the boat’s motion as she pounded through rough sea. In the end the mono got to the finish line in 17 days, one day ahead of the multi. Andrea thereby added the OSTAR to his TwoSTAR win in 2012. Roger beat his previous OSTAR by one hour. Nico Budel, at the grand age of 74, came in third finishing three days later in sec.Hayai beating his previous OSTAR time by one day.
Within two of the classes there was keen competition. Luckily for Geoff Alcorn, the other boats in Eira retired one by one leaving him to battle with the Atlantic for 58 days as he struggled to finish by the deadline. Asia on her third Atlantic crossing this year in her catamaran Cabrio got across in 26 days. She became the first Polish woman to complete two OSTARs.
In the Gipsy Moth Class Spirit, the smallest boat in the race sailed by the tallest skipper, Jac Sandberg, had a close race with Richard Lett in Pathways to Children coming in only 14 hours behind. Spirit’s time was only one day outside the record for a 30’ boat.
Jester Class comprised the cruising boats. Peter Crowther completed his 9th OSTAR in a graceful 30 days. Charles Emmett in British Beagle and Mervyn Wheatley in Tamarind both had equipment failures which required putting into Halifax thereby incurring 24 hour penalties. Krystian Szypka managed to finish in 28 days.
However, Jester Class was led all the way by Jonathan Green in Jeroboam. Jonathan had a tough Atlantic crossing from Newport to start the race but had a faultless passage back again in 23 days. He became the OSTAR 2013 IRC Overall Winner. Richard Lett came 2nd in this class.
The fifteenth edition of the Original Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, the OSTAR, was unique in several respects. For the first time the Royal Western Yacht Club ran both its transatlantic races in the same year, with the singlehanded OSTAR and the doublehanded TWOSTAR starting together. Then both fleets were hit by one of the worst storms experienced in the long history of the OSTAR – the OSTAR’s ”Perfect Storm”. From a combined start of twenty-one boats ten retired, four were abandoned and only seven finished the race.
After a few days the weather built up with a series of lows bringing strong winds and heavy seas. But, as veteran OSTAR competitor Mervyn Wheatley commented, it was nothing unusual for the OSTAR. However even this was too much for some boats and failures, usually of rigging, mounted. Breizh Cola (Christophe Dietsch) was hit by a large wave and suffered rigging damage, taking on water, Opole (Andrzej Kopytko) also had rigging problems and retired. Ricardo Diniz on Taylor 325 was thrown by a large wave hitting his head again and had to retire on medical advice. Lionel Regnier (One and All) also retired with wind-pilot failure.
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 – 15mb lower than the terrible Fastnet storm). 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.
Tamarind (Mervyn Wheatley) suffered a knock down and flooding and was forced to abandon and sink his beloved Tamarind when he was rescued by the Queen Mary 2. The TWOSTAR boats Happy (Wytse Bouma and Jaap Barendregt) was dismasted and Furia (Mihail Kopanov and Dian Zaykov) struck a floating object causing severe flooding and leaving it sinking. Their crews were also rescued by nearby ships. Illumia 12 had sustained keel damage and when it became worse Michele Zambelli decided to abandon and was picked up by helicopter from Halifax. This brought the number of yachts abandoned to four.
Other boats suffered significant damage and decided to retire. Harmonii (Keith Walton) had mainsail and track damage and headed for the Azores. When his engine failed managed to set up a sail and continued under jury rig. Suomi Kudu (Peter Crowther) also had mainsail problems and elected to return to Plymouth. The American, Kass Schmitt, in Zest had rigging damage but the subsequent loss of her wind pilot forced her retirement. David Southwood in Summerbird also had sail failures, losing both foresail furlers, and damage to his forestay and retired to the Azores.
Seven yachts remained racing – Vento di Sardegna, Bam, Mister Lucky, Olbia and Solent 1 in the OSTAR, with Rote 66 and Midnight Summer Dream in the TWOSTAR. The competitors and the race committee were unanimous in their appreciation and praise for the way the Halifax JRCC personnel, and the ships and aircraft in the area, had responded to the emergency situation. The Coast Guard commented on how well the fleet had acted, heaving to and riding out the storm.
Shortly before the finish Andrea Mura also suffered problems and had to stop off Nova Scotia to fix his keelbox hydraulic system. This eliminated his chance of beating the OSTAR 50ft record held by fellow Italian Giovanni Soldini.
On 15 June Andrea Mura in Vento di Sardegna crossed the Castle Hill finish line in Newport, Rhode Island, at 12:06 local time to take line honours in the 2017 OSTAR. He crossed in an elapsed time of 17d 4h 6m, and a corrected time of 24d 05h 28m 50s, beating his previous elapsed time by 7 minutes. Andrea’s success following his win in the 2013 OSTAR makes him only the second competitor to win successive OSTARs, the first being Loïck Peyron (1992 and 1996.
Four days later Conor Fogerty finished in Bam, taking second place in OSTAR and winning the Gipsy Moth class on corrected time. Australian Mark Hipgrave sailing the other SunFast 3600, Mister Lucky, finished in third place 3 days behind Bam.
The other two OSTAR finishers were in the smaller Jester class – Christian Chalandre coming first in Olbia (in his third OSTAR) ahead of Neil Payter in Solent 1.
The 2017 OSTAR was sailed in what was probably the worst weather since the 1976 race. Fifteen boats started, five finished, eight retired and two were lost with their skippers rescued under the control of the Canadian joint rescue services.