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Storm decimates OSTAR and TwoSTAR Fleet

Aug 28, 2017
Italian sailor Andrea Mura’s boat at the dock in Newport after winning the OSTAR.

Italian sailor Andrea Mura’s boat at the dock in Newport after winning the OSTAR.

Ben White

Regaled by the blaring of air horns and cheers, Italian sailor Andrea Mura, on his flag-bedecked Open 50 Class race boat Vento di Sardegna, swept into Newport Harbor on Thursday, June 15. Being the first racer to cross the finish line of this year’s calamitous OSTAR/TwoSTAR race gave Mura both a first in line honors and the overall winner title of the OSTAR. His time was 17 days, four hours and six minutes, beating his 2013 time by seven hours.

OSTAR stands for “Original Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race,” (early runnings of the race were sponsored by the Observer newspaper in the U.K. and were called the Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race) while TwoSTAR is the Two-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race.

At least one boat sank and three had to be abandoned or scuttled during this harrowing race due to damage incurred by what Mura referred to as the stereotypical “perfect storm.” Others turned back before they were overwhelmed by the heavy seas and strong winds. Sixty-knot winds hit the rest of the fleet much harder than those that struck Mura.

A Queen Mary 2 lifeboat assisting OSTAR racer Tamarind.

E. Marcus

Once in Newport, he described sailing into the eye of the storm, where the waves were only 33 feet high versus the 50-foot waves that later hit some other racers. Mura confirmed that the wind reached 54 knots.

Mura had to make a couple of pit stops along the rocky coast of Nova Scotia to perform necessary repairs to his keel box’s hydraulic system. Mura just missed besting Giovanni Soldini’s record-setting run 21 years ago of 15 days, 18 hours and 29 minutes.

On Friday, June 9, the U.K. Meteorological Office recorded a deep depression of 964 millibars crossing the middle of the fleet — only 15 mb lower than the one that hit the 1979 Fastnet catastrophe. This was to be some of the worst weather ever seen in an OSTAR or TwoSTAR.

The fleet encountered the severe storm in the western and middle North Atlantic early that Friday morning. According to CBC News, soon after three maydays were received, two Royal Canadian Air Force planes and a helicopter stationed in Gander, Newfoundland, were en route to the vessels in distress. Around the same time, a Portuguese Air Force P-3 Orion took off from the Azores to join another aircraft from the U.K. A Canadian naval vessel and two Canadian Coast Guard ships were also dispatched from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but in the end it was several commercial vessels and a world-famous ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, that performed the rescue operations.

The rig of Tamarind through the window of Queen Mary 2.

E. Marcus

British skipper Mervyn Wheatley’s 40-foot cruising yacht Tamarind was rolled during the storm. The boat suffered heavy electrical and steering damage when a portlight was pushed out, causing its EPIRB to automatically activate. Wheatley was picked up by one of Queen Mary 2’s lifeboats. This was the 73-year-old Wheatley’s 13th OSTAR and 19th Atlantic crossing.

The next day, Wheatley took part in a standing-room only presentation with the ship’s captain about the rescue effort on the high seas. Wheatley disembarked when the ship put in to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Incredibly, his understanding wife has reportedly encouraged him to purchase a new boat for another crossing and maybe more OSTARs.

After striking a floating object, possibly a small iceberg or growler, the Bulgarian crew of Furia weren’t quite as fortunate as Wheatley. They were picked up by the OSV Thor Magni en route to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Lastly, the containership MSC Anzu and the huge oceangoing tug ALP Forward, on its way from Scotland to Mexico, came to the relief of two exhausted Dutch sailors, Wytse Bouma and Jaap Barendregt, who were in their dismasted boat Happy after it had pitchpoled. The next day witnessed Italian skipper Michele Zambelli, of the sinking Illumia 12, being airlifted from the frigid Atlantic by a Canadian helicopter.

British skippers Keith Walton on Harmonii and David Southwood on Summerbird retired from the race and headed south to the Azores. With nine OSTARs under his belt, Peter Crowther in Suomi Kudu and American Kass Schmitt, in her first OSTAR aboard her British-flagged Zest, turned back toward the U.K.

Mura all smiles with the OSTAR winner’s silverware.

Ben White

Like Andrea Mura, Schmitt also encountered 30-foot seas, but the worst of the storm was south of her. Nevertheless she was streaming her drogue while surfing down the humongous waves. With the boat’s baby stay broken, its taffrail generator torn apart and the self-steering vane knocked out of commission, Schmitt decided it was time to steer a more prudent course. She made landfall in Kinsale, Ireland.

At the awards ceremony on June 21 at the Newport Yacht Club, Andrea Mura received the club’s stunning BOC OSTAR Silver Plate award for winning line honors. This new award will be presented in perpetuity to the winner of each OSTAR. According to the Royal Western Yacht Club’s commentary, this win, combined with the one from four years ago, make Mura “one of his generation’s most accomplished single-handed yachtsmen.” The only other sailor in this league is Loick Peyron, who has also won two OSTARs. Mura also won the TwoSTAR, now run concurrently with the OSTAR since they share the same starting and finish lines. The official prize ceremony will take place at the RWYC in October.

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