Single-handed Sailors - Notable Milestones - The Beginnings of Modern Racing

The Beginnings of Modern Racing

Organised single-handed yacht racing was pioneered by Britons "Blondie" Hasler and Francis Chichester, who conceived the idea of a single-handed race across the Atlantic Ocean. This was a revolutionary concept at the time, as the idea was thought to be extremely impractical, particularly in the adverse conditions of their proposed route—a westward crossing of the north Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, their original half-crown bet on first place developed into the first single-handed transatlantic yacht race, the OSTAR, which was held in 1960. The race was a success, and was won in 40 days by Chichester, then aged 58, in Gipsy Moth III; Hasler finished second, in 48 days, sailing the junk-rigged Jester. Hasler's wind-vane self-steering gear revolutionised short-handed sailing, and his other major innovation—using a junk rig for safer and more manageable shorthanded sailing—influenced many subsequent sailors. Chichester placed second in the second running of the race four years later. The winner on that occasion, Eric Tabarly, sailed in the first ever boat specifically designed for single-handed ocean racing, the 44-foot (13 m) ketch Pen Duick II.

Not content with his achievements, Chichester set his sights on the next logical goal—a racing-style circumnavigation of the world. In 1966 he set off in Gipsy Moth IV, a yacht custom-built for a speed attempt, in order to set the fastest possible time for a round-the-world trip—in effect, the first speed record for a single-handed circumnavigation. He followed the clipper route from Plymouth, United Kingdom, to Sydney, Australia, where he stopped over for 48 days, then continued south of Cape Horn back to Plymouth. In the process he became the first single-handed sailor to circumnavigate west-to-east, by the clipper route, with just one stop (of 48 days) in 274 days overall, with a sailing time of 226 days, twice as fast as the previous record for a small vessel. At the age of 65, Chichester had once again revolutionised single-handed sailing. The first single-handed round-the-world yacht race—and actually the first round-the-world yacht race in any format—was the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, starting between June 1 and October 31 (the skippers set off at different times) in 1968. Of the nine boats which started:

  • four retired before leaving the Atlantic
  • Chay Blyth, who had never sailed a boat before, made it to East London in South Africa, past Cape Agulhas
  • Nigel Tetley's boat sank after crossing his outbound track, while in the clear lead for the speed record
  • Donald Crowhurst attempted to fake a circumnavigation, went insane, and committed suicide
  • Bernard Moitessier completed a circumnavigation, rejected the race's (and society's) inherent materialism, and despite being the fastest racer (on elapsed time) and hot favourite to win, decided to keep sailing, and completed another half-circumnavigation before finishing in Tahiti
  • Robin Knox-Johnston was the only person to complete the race, becoming (in 1969) the first person to sail single-handed, unassisted, and non-stop around the world.

The first woman to sail from Los Angeles to Hawaii was Sharon Sites Adams, in 1965 with a 25 foot Danish folkboat. She added to this feat in 1969 by sailing a Sea Sharp II fiberglass Mariner 31 from Yokosuka, Japan to San Diego, CA in 1969. These feats have been documented and described in her book "Pacific Lady."

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