The OSTAR single-handed trans-Atlantic race has long been considered to be one of the toughest of all ocean races. Competitors have to battle 3,000 miles across the north Atlantic against prevailing winds and currents. But no one could predict the scale of devastation an unseasonal storm would wreak on the fleet this year, the 15th edition of the race since it was first run in 1960.
Of the 21 boats that left Plymouth on May 29, seven of which were two-handed entries in the double handed TWOSTAR race that ran alongside the OSTAR, a quarter would retire in the first week.
In their second week at sea four of the remaining 16 boats were lost in winds gusting 60 to 70 knots and 10-15m seas thanks to a low pressure system of 964 millibars that Canadian forecasters likened to the worst of their winter storms. Storms of this intensity are very rare in early summer, but this one was 15mb lower in pressure than the disastrous 1979 Fastnet race storm in which 15 competitors lost their lives.
Thankfully, on this occasion all the crews were successfully rescued, one lucky competitor by the Queen Mary 2 luxury cruise ship. A further five boats subsequently retired, all making port without assistance, but leaving only seven yachts to finish the race – a retirement rate far in excess of any in the race’s history.
While some readers might make initial assumptions about the seaworthiness of light weight racing yachts, the casualties included a wide variety of craft, including a 11.5 tonne displacement double ended Formosa 42 that had completed numerous previous editions of the race in the hands of owner former Royal Marine Mervyn Wheatley, who had sailed more than 100,000 miles on board.
Italian Andrea Mura took line honours in his Open 50 Vento di Sardegna, but wasn’t able to save his time on Irishman Conor Fogarty’s Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 Bam, who won the Gipsy Moth class. A second 3600, Australian Mark Hipgrave’s Mister Lucky, was third over the line and on corrected time in the same class. Only two of the slower boats in the Jester Class, are still in the race, Christian Chalandre’s French S&S 34 and Britain’s Neil Payter in his Yamaha 33 Solent One. At the time of writing both were around 300 miles from the finish.
Only two boats in the TWOSTAR division finished the race – Uwe Rottgering and Asia Pajkowska Class 40 Rote 66, and Adelie Parat and Mederic Thiot’s classic 1954 Morgan 54 Midnight Summer Dream.