Although it has become commonplace these days, racing across the Atlantic is an endeavour not to be taken lightly. That’s a lesson that several competitors in the singlehanded OSTAR and doublehanded TWOSTAR races learned the hard way this June when they fell foul of a vicious mid-Atlantic storm.
These shorthanded races are organised by the British Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth. The OSTAR dates back to 1960 when British yachtsman Blondie Hasler first came up with the daring idea of racing solo across the Atlantic. That first race was won by Britain’s Francis Chichester on Gipsy Moth III against four other competitors.
Eric Tabarly’s subsequent victory aboard Pen Duick II in the second OSTAR in 1964 earned the Frenchman a citation from President De Gaulle. His win made him a national hero at home and reputedly began France’s still enduring obsession with solo offshore racing.
The doublehanded TWOSTAR race was introduced in 1981 and ran on an opposite four year cycle to the OSTAR until the two were combined for the first time this year.
A total of 21 boats set off from Plymouth for Newport, Rhode Island at the end of May. All was going as well as could be expected in the opening week until 60 knot winds and 15 metre seas struck, wreaking havoc across the fleet of 27 to 60 foot boats.
Soon after the storm hit the Canadian coastguard in Halifax received EPIRB distress signals from three boats and immediately began to coordinate rescue operations using commercial shipping in the area.
The Dutch Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 ‘Happy’ was dismasted and her two skippers subsequently had to be rescued by the crew of the ocean-going tug ‘APL Forward’. At the same time the pair of Bulgarian sailors on the Luffe 37.09 ‘Furia’ were rescued from their sinking yacht by the survey vessel ‘Thor Magna’.
Meanwhile, Mervyn Wheatley – an experienced British solo skipper with more than 250,000 nautical sailing miles under his keel – reported serious damage to the hull of his cherished Formosa 42 ‘Tamarind’ and called for help. Fortunately for the 73-year-old Wheatley, the Cunard Line luxury ocean liner ‘Queen Mary 2’ was close by en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia and carried out the rescue.
The following day the Italian skipper of the Classe 950 ‘Illumia’ had to be airlifted off his rapidly sinking boat after his keel slammed into a semi-submerged object. Two other boats also sustained damage in the storm but were able to make their way to land without external assistance.
Despite all the drama and destruction caused by the storm, not everyone got caught out by its arrival. The eventual race winner, Andrew Mura on the Open 50 ‘Spirit of Sardegna’, took a huge loop to the north to avoid the depression.
Despite sailing hundreds of miles out of his way – at one point he was on the same latitude as the Scottish city of Inverness – Mura dodged the bad weather almost entirely and was able to romp into Newport several days in front of the fleet.
Justin Chisholm – Sailracing Magazine