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.
Many had expressed a desire to take part, but several had dropped out mainly for the usual reasons of work commitments or insufficient preparation time. The remaining competitors were very experienced with several previous OSTARs (and Round Britain and Ireland races) to their credit. This was the tenth start for Peter Crowther (who lost Galway Blazer in 1996), Mervyn Wheatley’s fifth and Christian Chalandre’s third. Andrea Mura was entered for the second year in succession having won the last OSTAR as well as the last TWOSTAR. His goal this time was to beat the 50ft OSTAR record of 15days 18hrs 29min set by Giovanni Soldini in 1996. He faced stiff competition from Ricardo Diniz (the first Portuguese entrant) in his Rowsell and Morrison open 60, Taylor 325 (sponsored by Taylor’s port), that first competed in the OSTAR in 1992 as Enif. Fellow Italian Michele Zambelli in his class 950 Illumia12 also hoped to set a competitive time. The TWOSTAR fleet could also set the pace for the OSTAR boats. PiR2, the 50ft Multi50 foiler trimaran sailed by Étienne Hochedé and Françoise Hanss, first raced in the 1984 OSTAR as Lessive Saint Marc; the beautiful Morgan 56 Midnight Summer Dream (Adélie Parat and Mederic Thiout) celebrating her fiftieth anniversary; and the class 40 Rote66 (Uwe Röttgering and Asia Pajkowska – both with previous OSTAR experience) could all put in fast times.
On race day fifteen OSTAR and six TWOSTAR boats eventually started – an hour late – when fog delayed earlier ship movements in the controlled naval port. The TWOSTAR fleet, on the right of the joint start line, had a clear run out of the sound but the OSTAR boats had to tack to get around the breakwater. The fleets made good progress out to the Eddystone, unlike the 2013 race when a few competitors forgot the turning mark and lost time returning to it. This initial stage was not seen on the tracker (they had been programmed with the wrong initial reporting interval) but the boats were all visible on AIS and it became clear that Taylor 325 had stopped. Ricardo Diniz had picked up fishing lines and jumped into the water to clear them. While freeing the lines he hit his head on the hull but was able to climb onboard and eventually continued sailing.
At the pre-race weather briefing the winds had been forecast to remain below 30 knots for the first week. The weather did provide a gentle introduction to the race but then the winds picked up and by day 4 were 20 to 30 knots with rough seas. 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. 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.
PiR2 (Etienne Hochedé and Françoise Hanss) lost their masthead instruments, 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. The unfortunate Ricardo Diniz on Taylor325 was thrown by a large wave while in the cabin hitting his head again. This time the damage was clearly serious and he had to retire on medical advice.
While the faster boats were able to take advantage of the lows and tracked to the north, the main fleet stayed near the great circle route. Berk Plathner and Werner Stolz in their 28ft trimaran Hikari (the smallest boat in the races) headed further south on the Azores route but even there they suffered from the weather and decided to retire, as did Lionel Regnier (One and All) with wind-pilot failure. Hikari’s retirement saw both TWOSTAR multihulls out of the race.
After the first week Andre Mura had completed his sweep north and was headed southwest hoping to avoid the passing lows. The boats following included Conor Fogerty in Bam, who remained amazingly close to the twohanded open 40 Rote 66 (Uwe Rottgering & Asia Pajkowska) throughout the race, leading the group while Illumia 12 (Michele Zambelli) had closed up and lay third in the OSTAR.
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 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 2 where he continued his trip to Halifax in some style.
Happy (Wytse Bouma and Jaap Barendregt) was dismasted after being pitch-pole by an extreme wave 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 were full of praise for the crews of Forward and Anzu (that stood by during the rescue) as well as the JRCC at Halifax. Furia (Mihail Kopanov and Dian Zaykov) struck a floating object causing severe flooding and leaving it sinking. They took to their liferaft and 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 JRCC personnel, and the ships and aircraft in the area, had responded to the emergency situation. In return the Coast Guard commented on how well the fleet had acted, heaving to and riding out the storm. But this was not the end of the problems. Illumia 12 sustained keel damage and when it became worse Michele Zambelli decided to abandon and was picked up by helicopter and flown to Halifax. This brought the number of yachts abandoned to four. 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. He was unable to fix the problems and retired heading for 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. Shortly before the finish Andrea Mura also suffered problems and had to stop off Nova Scotia to fix his keelbox hydraulic system.
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). Without his Nova Scotia stops Andrea would have been close to the 50ft OSTAR record held by fellow Italian Giovanni Soldini of 15d 18h 29m set in 1996. Four days later Conor Fogerty finished in Bam, taking second place in OSTAR and winning the Gipsy Moth class on corrected time. Conor arrived just 4 hours after Rote 66, the Open 40 that won the TWOSTAR. The other SunFast 3600, Mister Lucky, sailed by Australian Mark Hipgrave 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.