The ‘perfect storm’

The sixth edition of the Twohanded Transatlantic Race, the TWOSTAR, 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 RWYC’s shorthanded oceanic racing – their ”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 all experienced with several previous TWOSTARs, OSTARs and Round Britain and Ireland races to their credit. The TWOSTAR fleet were expected to 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. The 28ft trimaran Hikari, the smallest boat in the combined fleet, was sailed by Berk Plathner and Werner Stolz – they had raced in the previous RB&I.

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 to the envy of the OSTAR boats that had to tack to get around the breakwater.

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. At the pre-race weather briefing the winds had been forecast to remain below 30 knots for the first week and the first two days provided a gentle introduction to the race then the winds picked up and by day 4 were 20 to 30 knots with rough 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.

The trimaran PiR2 (Etienne Hochede and Françoise Hanss) suffered masthead damage losing their anemometer and returned to Plymouth. Berk Plathner and Werner Stolz suffered damage and retired their 28ft trimaran Hikari, the smallest boat in the race, heading for Portugal. This retirement saw both multihulls out of the race.

Watching the weather forecasts the leaders were able to track to the north and avoided much of the weather experienced by those further south. Rote 66 followed the OSTAR leader, Vento di Sardegna, with Happy and Midnight Summer Dream in the main group just behind.

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.

The OSTAR entrant Tamarind (Mervyn Wheatley) was damaged forcing Mervyn 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 Dutch 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.

Bulgarians Mihail Kopanov and Dian Zaykov sailing Furia 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. 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.

After the storm, seven yachts remained racing – Rote 66 and Midnight Summer Dream in the TWOSTAR and Vento di Sardegna, Bam, Mister Lucky, Olbia and Solent 1 in the OSTAR. Asia and Uwe in Rote66 continued their battle with Conor Fogerty in his SunFast3600 Bam who had remained close through the race.

On 19 June Uwe Röttgering and Asia Pajkowska in Rote66 crossed the Castle Hill finish line in Newport, Rhode Island, at 6:43 local time to take line honours in the 2017 TWOSTAR. They crossed in an elapsed time of 20d 22h 43m.

Adélie Parat and Mederic Thiout finished in Midnight Summer Dream seven days later still suffering from the sail damage caused in the storm.

The 2017 TWOSTAR was sailed in what was probably the worst weather experienced in the races. Six boats started, two finished, two retired and two were lost with their skippers rescued under the control of the Canadian joint rescue services.

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