"The Ship Would Not Travel Due West."

The Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race 1960-2000

From the late 1800s until the 1960s, the development of the modern sailing yacht was an evolutionary process, occasionally interrupted by a flash of insight. Racing and cruising yachts were little more than refinements of the last sail-driven fishing schooners. In the first half of the 20th century , measurement rules and conservative owners were slow to accept the Bermudian rig or the fin keel, despite their proven efficiency. That conservative attitude finally began to change forty years ago when five daring pioneers set out from the southwest of England on an adventure that would forever change the face of yachting.

In June, 1960, with no fanfare, five sailors left Millbay Docks, Plymouth to race across the North Atlantic in the first Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race. At that time, the voyage they were embarking on was viewed by many in the yachting community as not just challenging, but practically impossible. The gale-swept ocean with its prevailing westerly winds was seen as an overwhelming force that no small yacht could prevail against for 3,000 miles, let alone a singlehander.

Most of the technologies we take for granted had yet to marketed. Dacron had just been introduced, wood was still the accepted material for hulls and spars. . . . . . . and gentlemen sailed to windward as little as possible. A 25 footer like the Folkboat (with 4’8" of headroom) was universally considered the ideal size for a solo ocean crossing, although this itself was viewed as a somewhat eccentric pursuit. Self-steering was a matter of lashing the tiller and hoping for the best, so solo ocean racing was simply inconceivable, a pipedream that would result in disaster and bring disrepute on the whole yachting community.

If the critics had made the effort to learn anything about the two men who were behind the race, they might have realized that this was no publicity stunt. H.G. "Blondie" Hasler and Francis Chichester knew exactly what they were getting into. When all five entrants completed the course, conventional wisdom on sailing and seamanship had been turned on its head, and the sport had entered a new era. Within a few years, Hasler’s self-steering and junk rig would become an accepted part of the cruising scene, and thanks to Chichester, sponsored record breaking and radio reports would bring the adventure to the homes of millions.

SIDEBAR: Blondie Hasler—Soldier, Yachtsman and Inventor

Lt.Colonel H.G. Hasler DSO, MBE began his adventures on the water not in a yacht but in a kayak during World War II. In December 1942, he led a ten-man team of Royal Marines in a daring attack on the occupied harbor of Bordeaux in western France. They launched five folding kayaks at the mouth of the Gironde from the deck of submarine and paddled 75 miles upriver under cover of night. Only two kayaks reached their goal, a loading dock, where they attached limpet mines to four German merchant ships. When the charges went off, the ships sank at the dock, blocking access for many months.

The Germans might never have found out how this bold attack had been carried out, but the British submarine was unable to remain in the area to pick up the marines, so they were forced to find their own way across occupied France. Eight of them were never seen again. Hasler was the only one who spoke French and he and a Private named Billy Sparks managed to return to Britain via Spain with the help of the Resistance. Although still in uniform, the other eight men were shot as spies aH

on direct orders from Berlin. (This cowardly act was later mentioned at the Nuremberg trials and is said to have ended the "gentleman’s agreement" between the English and German high commands.)

These gallant men became familiar to everyone in post-war Britain as the "Cockleshell Heroes," the name of a book and a film about the raid. After the war ended, Hasler took up sailing, first in Petula, his gaff yawl built by William Fife in 1899. His innate curiosity then led him in a completely different direction, and he purchased a Thirty Square Meter named Tre Sang. Although it was designed for racing in sheltered waters in Scandinavia, Hasler entered the boat in some RORC races in the late 1940s and proved this low, light needle of a hull was capable of fast passages in the right conditions.

To test more radical ideas, he had another Scandinavian design, the Folkboat, built in the early 1950s. He had to patiently explain to the builders that he didn’t want any form of cockpit—the whole boat was to be decked over, with just two small circular hatches in the cabin top. This was to be his floating laboratory and he called it Jester "because it was such a bloody joke." Perhaps because of wartime experience, Hasler was no dilletante, he was totally committed to making his ideas work. So unlike most nautical inventors, he rejected anything that wasn’t absolutely seaworthy.

In the following years, he cruised around the Channel with different kinds of self-steering vanes on the Jester’s stern and an unstayed wooden mast carrying variations on the Ljungstrom (lapwing) rig. This consisted of twin Bermudian mainsails set on a single luff. While closehauled, the two sails acted as one, but downwind the twin booms were goosewinged out giving port and starboard mainsails.

The idea showed promise and Hasler spent a couple of seasons thinking he had a workable, offshore system. But he reluctantly concluded that the risk of the booms flying out of control in strong winds was too great, and there were also two mainsails to reef. The Jester was living up to its name. He ditched the project and adopted an even more obscure rig, the Chinese junk sail.

Hasler soon proved to himself that the Chinese rig was a marvel of engineering. The fully-battened lugsail could be raised, lowered or reefed in any weather without leaving his circular main hatch, which was protected in bad weather by a small pram hood. He knew instinctively that his search was at an end—he had found a rig that could stand up to his ultimate test—a solo passage across the North Atlantic without leaving the cabin. Thus began the modern junk rig movement!

With the rig questioned solved, he now was free to tinker with his self-steering vane and dream of his next goal. "It seemed that a race is always the best inducement for developing anything, and if I was to get people aiming at ease of handling and comfort, it would have to be a demanding race," he recalled in later years. "Going to windward across the North Atlantic seemed the most demanding thing to do!"

He defined the prospective race as follows: "A sporting event to encourage the development of boats, gear, supplies and technique for single-handed passages under sail." There was a dramatic lack of rules—no handicaps, no compulsory equipment, no marks to round. When asked about safety and the need to carry a radio transmitter, Hasler merely replied "It would be more seemly to drown like a gentleman."

1956 The Challenge is Issued

It was 1956 when Hasler’s astonishing challenge surfaced. His first taker was another adventurer who had turned to yachting in his later years. Francis Chichester was a pioneer aviator who had flown solo to Australia in the 1920s. He had opened a map-publishing business and was racing the second of his Gipsy Moths (named after the tiny single-engine bi-plane he had flown).

Britain was still in the dreary post-war state that lasted until the Beatles arrived on the scene in 1962. Hasler was unable to find a sponsor or generate any interest. By the end of 1959, when it seemed like no club would accept the risk of organizing the race, the two men vowed to have a private race the next year if all else failed. The wager would be "half a crown"--a bet that would become part of sailing mythology.

Finally, the Observer newspaper was persuaded to provide a trophy and the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth to host the start. The race was on, and over fifty sailors sent letters of intent. From them, three more entrants were signed up. They were Dr David Lewis in a 25’ Vertue, Welsman Valentine Howells in a standard Folkboat and Jean Lacombe in a 21’ plywood centerboarder Cap Horn. , and Chcichester in his new Gipsy Moth, a rather orthodox 40 footer designed by Robert Clark. The dye was cast.

OSTAR 1960

When the gun fired, the four English entrants crossed the line to begin this great adventure. (Lacombe was late arriving from France.) Hasler made the best use of his protected steering position by taking the northern route to avoid the center of the Gulf Stream and find cold northers blowing off the Greenland icecap. Chichester went straight along the great circle. He was determined to prove that even at the age of 58, he could race a 40 footer, with no alterations to rigging or sails. Not trusting plywood vanes, he had scaled up the self-steering system used on model yachts into a small, rotating mizzen mast acting directly on the tiller.

It wasn’t long before the race’s code of self-sufficiency was came in useful. David Lewis was still within site of land when his mast broke. He was able to sail back to Plymouth under reduced sail with only 12’ of mast standing, found a shipwright to scarf a new piece in the break, and started off again. Far ahead, Chichester’s gamble paid off handsomely. He logged 43 headsail changes and 47 mainsail changes, which indicates his competitive approach, and reached the Ambrose Lightship in 40 days and 12 hours. So began his rise to fame as "the most famous British sailor since Sir Francis Drake."

Hasler came in 8 days later, followed by Lewis in 56 days, who may be the only racer to have broken his mast and still finished in the top three! The experience probably changed all of their lives. The five finishers would return four years later to make faster crossings—In the meantime, Hasler re-designed and perfected his vane with the addition of the servo-pendulum paddle, Lewis built the 40’ catamaran Rehu Moana and sailed to Iceland, Chichester decided to re-rig his boat with an aluminum spar as a masthead sloop.

More than anyone else, it was Chichester who would push the limits and take solo racing into the modern age. Two years later, at the age of 60, he left Plymouth again, in a private race against his own time. He lowered his record by six days and successfully radioed daily reports back to the Observer, the first time this had ever been tried. With this triumph, he began dreaming of a far tougher challenge, a solo voyage around the world to Australia and back, in the wake of the clipper ships.

David Lewis—Sailor, Explorer and Scholar

After the 1964 race, Dr David Lewis sailed south toward Cape Horn, on a

round-the-world voyage with his wife and two young children. From the Straits of Magellan, Priscilla Cairns became the celestial navigator while Lewis attempted to locate their destination in Polynesia by traditional, native means. Many stops were made in the South Pacific while Lewis inquired if there were still people who knew the old ways of navigating. He learned enough to convince him he should return to mount a full-scale research expedition.

After sailing back to England, Lewis obtained a grant, bought an old motor sailer, and returned to the Pacific with his grown son. In Satawal in Micronesia, he located one of the last traditional masters who agreed to pass on the dying art of navigating without instruments using rules passed down by word of mouth for centuries.

Lewis covered over 5,000 miles using the wind, sea, birds, clouds and the stars as his guide and published his findings in "We, the Navigators." His scientific papers overturned the racist, western view dating from Captain Cook that the South Pacific islanders sailed by luck and judgement and that all migration was accidental. This monumental work has brought about a revival of traditional values including long-distance voyaging in replica craft between the islands of Polynesia.

Lewis was also fascinated by the high latitudes. In 1976, he was the first

singlehander to set foot on the Antarctic continent in a voyage which was supported by National Geographic. He began in Australia with a sturdy, steel sloop, the Ice Bird, which was capsized and dismasted in the deep south. Facing enormous hardships and freezing temperatures, Lewis worked his was into the Antarctic Peninsula under jury rig to one of the research stations, where he was able to recover.

He returned to the ice-bound continent three more times in larger sailing vessels with his partner Mimi George, finally wintering over in 1982-84 with a small crew who became less and less cooperative as the long, dark winter dragged on (Icebound in Antarctica). Their focus then shifted to the Arctic, where they spent three years studying the seafaring techniques of Russian and American Inuit, including an entire year on the Siberian side. Forty years after the first OSTAR, Lewis is still sailing, occasionally alone, and living in the Pacific islands.

In case you wondered, here’s the nonsense rhyme where David Lewis found the title for his first book:

But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,

And the Bellman perplexed and distressed,

Said he HAD hoped at least, when the wind blew due east,

That the ship would NOT travel due west!

Lewis Carroll

OSTAR 1964

By 1964, word had spread about the English and their crazy race. A French naval officer named Eric Tabarly had been given leave to enter and show the world what French sailors could do. This time there were twelve yachts moored in Millbay Docks during the week before the race, a few curious onlookers, and even the occasional journalist. Chichester, it transpired, was avoiding the public by staying at Mashford’s yard across the Tamar estuary.

At this point I must admit that I was one of that small band of spectators. I was a youth of 16 who had skipped school for the week and hitch-hiked down from London. Looking back, I’m completely unable to explain what I expected to accomplish on this strange quest. I had no connections with seafaring aside from living in Greenwich. It was David Lewis’ book (The Ship Would Not Travel Due West) and Chichester’s 1992 crossing that had fired my imagination. I had barely learned to sail a dinghy that spring in a youth hostel program. Yet I had no doubt that something of life-changing importance was going on and I needed to be a part of it. I remember telling my bewildered mother: "I can’t explain it, I just HAVE to go, Mom." VEH

I spent the night at the Plymouth youth hostel then had two whole days to do nothing but stand and stare. There were no diversions--Millbay Dock was a grim industrial waterway surrounded by a Front Street dating back to the days of sailing ships. I acquired one of the modest printed sheets that served as the race program and was able to identify all the boats and skippers. There were two multihulls present: Misty Miller, a fin-keeled, ballasted catamaran with a masthead float and Folatre, a flush-decked, ketch-rigged 35’ Piver trimaran. These boats certainly looked fast, but they paled in comparison with Tabarly’s 44’ plywood, hard-chine ketch Pen Duick II.

With its black topsides, transparent dome and mysterious, gyroscopic self-steering vane, the French boat looked fast standing still. It was the first to be designed and built specifically for the race--and was also roundly condemned by the yachting press as being impossibly large for one man to handle. (It was twenty years before the media finally settled down and realized this race was always won by someone who refused to accept "conventional wisdom.")

The next day I caught the ancient ferry across the Tamar on a hunch and found Chichester and his wife Sheila on Gipsy Moth, making final preparations. A local TV crew showed up and proceeded to interview the great man while I eavesdropped on their conversation. (How could I have guessed that I would be doing the same thing myself thirty years later.) On Saturday morning I was up early to watch the start from Plymouth Hoe, the esplanade where tradition holds Francis Drake was playing bowls when the Spanish Armada was sighted.

I wondered if any of the waterfront strollers knew what they were witnessing as the thirteen competitors were towed or motored out into the sound. The wind was already picking up and they all looked very small and fragile. Standing out from everyone else was Jester with its unmistakeable rig, Hasler’s head just visible in the hatch. I can still recall seeing an elderly man (Tabarly’s father) sculling a small dinghy away from Tabarly’s boat at the last minute with a practiced hand.

Soon after crossing the line, the Frenchman gave clear notice that he was going to teach the English a lesson! He hoisted a brilliant red spinnaker and his lightweight boat rapidly pulled into the lead. An hour later I was on my way home, filled with a youthful certainty that some day I’d have a boat of my own! That was the first and last time I ever saw the Observer Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race--a modest, little event on the sailing calendar that was destined to become the most famous ocean race in the world.

Through the following weeks, I became an avid reader of the high-brow Guardian (daily) and Observer (Sunday) papers, in order to read the race reports from Lewis and Chichester. Two more newspapers had also signed up contestants, making this the first "virtual" race. Chichester was in good spirits, going faster than ever, but I suspected the real issue was could anyone catch the flying Frenchman?

Derek Kelsall had the off-wind speed on his plywood trimaran to pass everyone, , but he ran into some flotsam and broke his rudder about 1,000 miles out, turned back to make repairs, then cruised across in just over a month. There was no news of Tabarly until he appeared off Newport R.I. after a 27-day crossing, even though his self steering failed a few days out. Chichester finished three days behind and soon turned his attention to his round-the-world yacht, which looked suspiciously like Pen Duick above the waterline. Val Howells came in third after a collision at the start forced him to return for repairs.

What followed was unprecedented. Not since the liberation of Paris had the French celebrated such a victory! Tabarly became a national hero overnight. He was given a ticker tape welcome through Paris and awarded the Legion of Honor by General de Gaulle. His voyage started a sailing craze in France that became a national passion. Through trial and error over the next twenty years, French sailors would learn how to raise more money, build better boats and outsail the rest of the world!

With a little luck and a lot of persistence, I met up with Derek Kelsall again in a trimaran-building venture in Cornwall the next year and had a minor role in the building of Toria, the first trimaran to win an open ocean event--the first Round Britain Race in 1966. After the start, I sailed back up the Channel from Plymouth with Mike Butterfield on Misty Miller. He had just brought the boat back from the US. I remember that he enjoyed telling the tale of cutting the keels off his boat in Newport and finding it sailed much better. (Butterfield had less luck in a subsequent Round Britain, when he capsized his 50’ Apache cruising catamaran in gusting winds while fighting for the lead on the last leg.)

That was as close as I came to the real world of Atlantic singlehanding until I interviewed Mike Plant for Northwest Yachting in 1992. But an important connection was made that winter when Eric Tabarly sailed the Toria from Cornwall to London with Derek Kelsall. Derek would become the first successful designer and builder of custom foam-sandwich yachts, while Tabarly made a stunning technological leap with his next boat, the 67’ aluminum trimaran Pen Duick IV.

OSTAR 1968

"This fearsome tin trimaran…………her crossbeams look like the innards of an oil refinery," said Yachting World of the new Pen Duick. With two wing masts, floats as sharp as toothpicks, and crossarms composed of vast lengths of tubing, Tabarly once again showed he was not afraid to take a gamble. More to everyone’s liking was the elegant 40’ American proa Cheers, based on the Pacific islanders’ concept of sailing in either direction. Of the 35 boats in Millbay Docks, thirteen were multihulls, many of which looked decidedly home-made.

But it was two very functional keelboats that dueled all the way to Newport, after the "tin tri" collided with a ship the first night out. The winner, Geoffrey Williams, was probably the first person ever to make use of a weather routier onshore. His 57’ ketch was built in foam and glass by Derek Kelsall and used an aluminum space frame to carry the rigging loads. He didn’t have a mainsail reefing system, preferring to drop the big sail quickly when he was overpowered and hoist an oversized trisail in its place.

Williams finished a stormy race in just under 26 days, South African Bruce Dalling was close behind in the 50’ ultralight Voortrekker, while Tom Follet piloted the Cheers along the longer southern route, through the Azores in 27 days. This was the first of four successive races in which American designer Dick Newick’s deceptively fast, minimal multihulls placed in the top three. In just eight years, Hasler’s race had pushed yacht design further than it had gone in the previous eighty! "

In January ’69, Newick sent me a letter about the proa concept, saying "Cheers was probably as successful as a radical new craft built on a moderate budget, could expect to be. The idea deserves further refinement."

"The Cheers project will stand as a perfect example of the sort of thing the OSTAR was designed to encourage. I don’t which to admire most: the extreme unorthodoxy of the boat’s conception; or the strength and simplicity of her construction; or perhaps her wild good looks; or Tom Follett’s impeccable seamanship," Hasler wrote about the American boat which still stands above all others as the epitome of seaworthiness and ingenuity.

"Carry substantial liability insurance with you when you take Cheers out for a sail. This goes for anything like her at the present stage of the design," wrote Follett the next winter. His words are just as true today, for none of the designs that tried to capitalize on Newick’s concept over the next twenty years ever succeeded. In fact, Port Townsend boatbuilder Russell Brown is, as far as I know, the only man in the western world who cruises on a proa.

OSTAR 1972

"Where will it all end," moaned the critics. How about a 128’, three-masted schooner! The unbelievable Vendredi 13 (Friday the 13th) gave the media plenty to talk about in June 1972. Terlain had no trouble handling his huge boat, but the tin tri was back, in the hands of Alain Colas, and this time made no mistakes with a 20 day crossing that silenced the doubters. The multihull movement was learning--altogether, there were four trimarans in the first six places including Newick’s wing-decked, ketch-rigged Three Cheers.

Among the fifty-five entries were the first female sailors, two French women who both completed the course. The smallest boat ever to enter, the 19’ Willing Griffin finished in 52 days, and the slowest crossing ever, 88 days, was recorded by the gaff cutter Golden Vanity. This was also the first time the organizers made the modest demand that all entrants complete a 500-mile solo qualifying cruise.

OSTAR 1976

1976 was the year the race nearly collapsed under the weight of its no-holds-barred philosophy. Alain Colas was back with a sailing ship--the 236’ Club Mediterranee! 125 boats entered, the wind howled and 50 retired. Five depressions raked across the Atlantic, producing an average wind speed for the month of 35 knots. The wily Breton, Eric Tabarly, had also arrived with the biggest boat he thought he could handle, his 73’ maxi Pen Duick VI, normally sailed with a crew of 18! Once again he went most of the way without self steering and finished in 23 days 20 hours.

The fight for second place was a David and Goliath duel between the incredible Club Mediterranee and the 31’ Third Turtle, a modest Newick center-cockpit trimaran.

On Club Med, Colas had closed-circuit TV cameras to view the foresails and one of the earliest satnavs, the size of a chest of drawers. But his halyards all broke at the splices, he was forced into Halifax for repairs, and penalized for accepting help. Canadian Mike Birch sailed a southern route, moved up from third to second, and went on to a brilliant career in France. There were two fatalities in ’76, Mike Flanagan fell overboard and Mike McMullen’s trimaran was never seen again.

OSTAR 1980

This was the year that Dick Newick trimarans took the race by storm and monohulls were shut out—forever! Most notable was the winner, 65-year old New England publisher Phil Weld, who had raced a series of tris on both sides of the Atlantic. His last boat, Moxie, was custom built to the new race limit of 56’ o.a.. Newick’s laminated wood boats were relatively low-tech and very reliable, and New England boatbuilder Walter Greene was the first to understand how to make them stiff enough to support a modern rig. Meanwhile, the new generation of French multis were still having teething troubles.

The popular Weld caught a north wind that blew for ten days. He set a new record of 18 days, using his "geriatric rig," roller furling on main and foresail, to good effect. He was followed six hours later by Nick Keig in Three Legs of Mann III, a home-made, fast cruising tri designed by Kelsall and built in foam-fiberglass sandwich. Three women raced keelboats this time around, Judith Lawson, Naomi James and Florence Arthaud.

Eric Tabarly, who had injured his arm in a skiing accident in the spring, had Marc Pajot substitute as skipper on his experimental foiler Paul Ricard. But Tabarly had the last word when he sailed back to France, breaking the mythic 12-day record set by the schooner Atlantic in 1905 by a huge two days. Like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, this proved that no record was unbeatable and paved the way for the modern era of speed sailing that has put 100’+ catamarans on the water in the year 2000.

The fearsome pace of the new boats and the frenetic nature of the race, led to a desire among some monohull sailors for a much longer race where one tactical mistake would not mean an end to one’s chances. The BOC round-the-world race was created to fill that need. Twenty years later, that too is considered a "sprint!"

1/OSTAR 1984

This was the year of the double winners. Former Tabarly crewman Philippe Poupon, sailing the 56’ Shuttleworth trimaran Fleury Michon VI arrived in Newport first in 16 days 12 hours and 25 minutes. He went to sleep safe in the knowledge that he was the victor. When he woke, he learned that Yvon Fauconnier had arrived 10 hours later and been awarded a 16-hour time allowance for standing by the capsized catamaran Credit Agricol and skipper Philippe Jeantot. Fauconnier’s wooden tri was designed by Brit Phil Morrison, more recently responsible for the Laser 4000 and 5000.

Poupon broke down in tears when he learned of the decision, but went on to great success with other boats named Fleury Michon. Frenchwoman Florence Arthaud had problems with her first trimaran, but also went on to greater things. (Fauconnier’s daughter just won the French AG2R two-handed trans-Atlantic race this spring.)

And despite his dunking, Jeantot would go on to introduce a very successful line of cruising cats.

Top monohull was Thursday’s Child, designed by Lars Bergstrom, built by Paul Lindenberg and sailed by Warren Luhrs, CEO of Hunter Marine. This was the first OSTAR boat with water ballast, and the single, pendulum rudder is still a Luhrs original. "Thursday’s Child was really the first purpose-built monohull to show up for singlehanded racing. When the French got a look at what we had done, it didn’t take them long to start designing their own, " Luhrs recalled.

CSTAR 1988

In 1985, two English designers, Nigel Irens and Adrian Thompson launched 60’ ultralight trimarans. Paragon and Apricot easily beat the French 85’ cats and a sailing new arms race began. So Nigel Irens had three, brand-new, no-expense-spared 60 footers in the ’88 race. Philippe Poupon came back with a vengeance sailing the new Fleury Michon IX. With a high pressure system parked over the Grand Banks providing superb reaching conditions, the leaders were halfway across in just four days. Poupon dropped his own mark from 16 days to 10, a time that withstood the onslaught of the new super 60s for 12 years.

Mary Falk, a 42-year old English solicitor (lawyer) began her remarkable record in a 35’ custom cruiser named QII. In her first attempt she finished in 27 days—as fast as Tabarly in 1964! The gallant Jester, which had competed in every race, had 600 miles to go when it suffered a knockdown, losing the starboard hatch. The 70-year old captain, Michael Richey head of the Royal Institute of Navigation, was unable to stem the inflow and set off his EPIRB. He was picked up but his famous Folkboat was lost. Happily a trust fund was established and another Jester built in time for the next race.

ISTAR 1992

By this time, the Open 60 trimarans had reached their current proportions, over 50’ wide, wingmast 100’ high, displacement 6 tons. In five knots of apparent wind they easily exceed wind speed, in a 10-knot breeze their speed is in the 20s. Anything more and they can fly the main hull! Loick Peyron proved the master of his boat and the conditions, finishing in a time of 11 days 1 hour.

Etienne Giroire, a French resident of Florida, pushed his 40’ tri Up My Sleeve equally hard, set a record for his class and finished seventh overall, only beaten by 60 footers. His time of 16 days 6 hours showed that a low-budget entry could still triumph in the smaller classes. Mary Falk cut her time to 21 days. Yves Parlier, in the fastest Open 60 mono built to date, cut the crossing time down to 14 days 16 hours.

1 STAR 1996

Four new tris and two older ones lined for the ’96 race. They were balanced by eight new Open 60 monohulls, tuning up for the Vendee Globe non-stop round-the-world race in the fall. The racing was not for the faint of heart—two tris capsized in mid-ocean, leaving Peyron to pick up a second win. For the first time since 1960, someone chose the north route. And this wasn’t some flight of fancy, it was top-seeded Francis Joyon in a 60’ tri. He dropped south and came across the Grand Banks with a 300-mile lead, then watched it evaporate when the wind dropped.

Of course, further down the entry list, most of the competitors were happy just to survive this gruelling test. Of the 32 boats 40’ long or less, only five carried sponsors’ names, and the skippers’ professions included detective, truck dealer, policeman and ranch owner. The oldest was Michael Richey at 79, and many are in their late 50s. The top Frenchmen tended to be in their 30s. Mary Falk, now 50, set a new record in Class Five (30-35’) of 19 days 22 hours—an amazing achievement.

The continuing lack of sponsored American boats reflects the culture of conformity that characterises corporate marketing in the US. A few American amateurs continue to enter, but the difficulty of leaving a boat in England over the winter, or crossing the pond in May in time for the June start, will always limit the appeal. In recent times, the 25,000-mile Around Alone race, which has always started on the US east coast, has attracted almost as many entries from American sailors as the 1STAR.

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