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 the Club Patron, the Duke of Edinburgh, 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.