1. Like the Olympics the TRANSAT is held every four years.
2. Skippers may choose their route; the shortest distance means more fog and ice, the easiest risks poor winds, the best winds are on the longest track – it is a calculated gamble.
3. It is a ‘solo’ race – one individual against the North Atlantic; this was thought incredible and even impossible in 1960.
4. It was created by men who did not know the word ‘impossible’; Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler and Francis Chichester. Hasler was a former Royal Marine who conceived and led the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ raid of WW2; Chichester was a pilot and navigator who literally wrote the RAF’s manual of solo air navigation enabling Allied air superiority over Europe. Both competed in 1960; Chichester won. Hasler innovated the self-steering gear used across the world today.
5. The routes vary from 5200 to 7780 km; Chichester took 40 days 12 hrs 30 mins to cross; Ellen Macarthur in 2000 took 14 days 23 hrs and 1 minute. The very fast multihull boats have completed it in just over 8 days.
6. The Race began as a bet – wagering half a crown (12½ pence!) each, with the winner taking the pot.
7. The Five Skippers in 1960 were Francis Chichester, Blondie Hasler, David Lewis, Jean Lacombe and Val Howells. The Five boats were Gipsy Moth III, Jester, Cardinal Vertue, Cap Horn and EIRA. They were small – from just 21 to 39 feet.
8. Hasler coined the iconic phrase used today to describe the Race – ‘’ONE MAN, ONE BOAT, THE OCEAN’’.
9. The 1st Race was won by Chichester in Gypsy Moth III in 40 days 12 hrs 30 mins. Hasler was 2nd in Jester. All came home, Jean Lacombe arriving last in 74 days – but he did start three days late!
10. OSTAR introduced many innovations, such as Hasler’s wind-vane self-steering gear. Perhaps the greatest change it brought was that single-handed sailing was NOT impossible.
11. Chichester described his race to new York as being like ‘trying to reach a doorway while a man in it aims a hose at you’!
12. There are four classes for the 2016 Race – 40s, MULTI 50s, IMOCA 60s and ULTIMES. Following tradition, the numbers relate to maximum length in feet (not metres as one might expect). 40 is the more traditional monohull, smaller and so less expensive, allowing participation by the ‘amateur’ sailor who sits at the heart of the event’s history. MULTI 50 allows the multihulls at a size which again may be reached by the amateur. IMOCA 60 (International Monohull Open Class Association) are the large professional class monohulls that most non-sailors are likely to bring to mind – elegant and beamy, rugged and hi-tech.
13. ULTIMES are the biggest, fastest and most dangerous ‘Giants’ – and also the most expensive. They can sail at up to 50 knots…!
14. There is an over-riding ethos to the TRANSAT – that of the ‘Corinthian’ sailor. This began with the Gentleman Sailor of Victorian/Edwardian times ‘doing it himself’ i.e. without a crew (which must have been quite a thing in the days of large houses full of servants) and also sailing courageously, always helping a fellow sailor, hand-shakes being preferable to head-shakes, no matter who wins.
15. It will be a rare crossing that does not see one skipper helping another at some point – and indeed some have given up their race to save another from disaster. ‘Corinthian Spirit’ is what TRANSAT is all about.
Photos Courtesy of Sutton Harbour Holdings Plc, by Mike Kinsey Photography