The way things are going in the OSTAR transatlantic race from Plymouth, England, to Newport, Rhode Island, there will be more retired boats than finishers by the end of the 2,800-mile passage. Two weeks in, the EIRA class for small monohulls was the only class fully intact. Fourteen boats had retired and 17 were still headed west for Newport. The breakdowns include:

Patrice Carpentier sailed back to France after discovering cracks on the inside of the hull of his new Pogo 40, a production-built Open 40.

French offshore veteran Anne Caseneuve took a bad spill on her Open 50 trimaran, while sailing in high winds, and badly damaged her knee. She was leading the race at the time.

Spirited entry Bart Boosman lost a shroud on his home-built 30-footer.

1992 OSTAR class winner Etienne Giroire, sailing Up My Sleeve, turned back for Ireland after suffering a breakdown.

Josh Adams reports from the OSTAR start

Plymouth, England

Val Howells is smiling. Okay, not in this picture, but most of the time. The 79-year-old is the only surviving participant of the original OSTAR singlehanded race from Plymouth, England, to Newport, Rhode Island. He returned to Plymouth on Sunday to start the 2005 edition of the race that launched singlehanded offshore racing 45 years ago. “It’s hard to turn back the clock,” said Howells, surveying the fleet docked at Queen Anne’s Battery. “Look at these boats. Oh, my.”

Much has changed in sailing technology since Howells’ first experienced the OSTAR in a 25-foot wooden folkboat. Consider this year’s motley fleet: a production Open 40 monohull, a 40 with a free-standing cat rig, a number of backyard-built passagemakers, a cut-down Open 60 trimaran, and a converted Formula 40 tri. Though much about the race has remained the same. The Faraday Mill OSTAR was reconfigured this year—the O stands for original, meaning amateur—to return to its Corinthian roots, and the race managers at the Royal Western Yacht Club got what they wanted in a group of sailors driven by their spirit of ocean adventure, not money or publicity.

The start on Plymouth Sound came as a relief to a number of skippers, who had scrambled for days making last-minute changes and repairs to their boats. Working on their own or in some cases with the assistance of another competitor, they were up masts (American Phil Rubright), patching together structurally damaged hulls (Florida’s Etienne Giroire), resolving electronics failures, and waiting on valuable mail deliveries, including mandatory sat phones and EPIRBS. As Giroire once remarked about starting a distance race, “You work for days on your to-do list, then at the start toss the list over board.”

Howells pointed out the contrast between this year’s amateur affair with past races, when pros were still part of the OSTAR (now they have their own all-pro Transat Race). “The sailors didn’t even have to prepare their boats,” said Howells. “It was a different world.”

The multihulls departed at high noon Sunday, local time, in a building southwest sea breeze, which set up a port-tack fetch to the breakwater outside Plymouth Sound. The monos, which are scored in class (some) and overall under IRC, followed 15 minutes later. Punctuation to the day was provided by 1960 OSTAR racer Gypsy Moth III, now owned by Brit Rolie Machin. Moth’s brightwork shined as she powered to weather under full sail, tacked at the breakwater, and pointed the way toward Newport—before turning about and heading back to Plymouth.

A deaf man, a conceptual artist, an American with unfinished business, an American in a mid-life crisis, a pub owner, a 21-year-old rookie, and a corporate honcho—this is your OSTAR fleet. To be sure there are sailors who want to win the race. But the majority would like to survive the North Atlantic and get to Newport safely. The only records that will be challenged will be personal ones.

Philip Rubright: Back for his third OSTAR, Rubright has some unfinished business. The Michigan sailor finished third in his class in 1996, but in the 2000 race he cracked four ribs and dislocated his right knee during a knockdown. “I was one second from getting my nav-station belt on,” he said. He abandoned his Frers 45, and now he’s back with a different Frers 45, Echo Zulu. “Singlehanded sailing isn’t something you do, it’s something you are.”

Etienne Giroire: You may have seen Giroire before at an American boat show. He runs ATN and can often be seen hanging from one of his patented mast climbers or selling an ATN spinnaker sock. In his other life Etienne is an accomplished offshore racer. He not only won the 40-foot multihull class in 1992 sailing Up My Sleeve, he beat most of they 50-footers and set a time for 40-footers that hasn’t been broken. Twice he’s brought his boat back from near death. The first time he and designer Walter Greene had to toughen up the boat for offshore sailing. It was originally a Formula 40. Then, a few years ago, he found the boat in Melbourne, Florida, about to be sawed in pieces and bought it for $500. The reconstruction project has been ongoing. With 24 hours to go, Giroire and his helping hands were finishing a major structural repair.

Michel Kleinjans: The easy-going Belgian sailor is happy to be taking “the proper way to travel to the States.” Kleinjans is a veteran of the 1985 Whitbread and two transatlantic races. He is one of the few disappointed with the new format. “I liked having the big boats, he said. It gave you something to aim for.” He intends to win his class with his Open 40 Roaring Forty and hopes never to repeat the experience he had the last time he was in the Atlantic, when he and a crew were rescued by a cargo ship after abandoning their boat during an eastbound transat race.

Bart Boosman: At 19, Boosman designed a boat that would accommodate his 6’6″ body, provide necessary comforts for living aboard year-round in Holland, and be sturdy enough to handle the rigors of offshore racing. The engineer has lived aboard De Franschman for eight years, often clearing ice of his decks in the dead of winter. His boat is heavy, wide, and tall above the waterline. “I’m hoping for gales.”

Lia Ditton: She thinks of things in terms of “projects”. And once the 24-year-old completes her first oceanic passage on her 34-foot Shockwave, she will embark on one of her most anticipated art projects in years. A conceptual artist by trade, she plans to paint the boat in a special paint made by Blakes Hempels that will change colors with temperature changes. The touch of a hand, for example, will alter the hull color. The boat will be displayed at the Tate Britain Museum. The race should proved to be quite a project for one of the fleet’s least experienced sailors. She’s running a low-budget program and learning on the fly. “I started with nothing, and people seem to be jumping in at the last minute.”

Peter Keig: You won’t find Keig in a rush across the Atlantic. He built his 10.5-ton double-chine steel racer in 1985. He holds three slightly obscure world records with his 38-footer, including solo non-stop roundings of Ireland and Ireland and Great Britain. Twice he’s circumnavigated, taking the same route each time. Liverpool to Sydney; Sydney to Liverpool. “As a kid I always wanted to sail under the Sydney Harbour bridge, and now I’ve done it twice.” This race? “It’s a bit of a sojourn.”

Patrice Carpentier: Carpentier is a sailing journalist who makes the rest of us look like sailing hacks. The Course Au Large writer won his class in the OSTAR in 1984 in 21.5 days on a Beneteau 456. This time he’s sailing Yellow Basket, hull number one of the new Pogo 40 open class.

There’s more:
Hannah White is a 21-year-old Brit racing an Open 40, which she bought from Canadian Derek Hatfield. She passed up a spot in law school to go sailing.

Glasgow’s Gerry Hughes is profoundly deaf. In 1981 he became the first deaf sailor to round the British Isles.

Dutch sailor Bertus Buys is back for his fifth OSTAR. Before the 1984 race he bet a Dutch journalist he could finish the race in 28 days, but his fastest crossing is 29 days. Apparently the bet is still on. Said Buys, “That is why I’m here.”

Stephen Gratton is sailing a Contessa 32 that he commissioned last year. The modern classic is tricked out for long-distance sailing, including a fuel cell for powering his systems. Eventually he and his wife, Debbie, will set off around the world. First Gratton wants to prove he can sail the Atlantic alone.

That’s the spirit.






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