OSTAR 2020

The Royal Western Yacht Club of England in Plymouth will run its major transatlantic races, the Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) and the Two-handed Transatlantic Race (TWOSTAR), again in 2020.

The start of the OSTAR has been brought in one year (it normally runs every four years) to mark the 60th anniversary of the first race run in 1960, and to form part of the Mayflower 400 commemoration year.

Before 1960, there was no single-handed offshore racing in the world – something that yachtsman Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler, with the help of Plymouth-based Royal Western Yacht Club (RWYC), set out to change.

His aim was to create a challenging transatlantic race for sailors, testing their seamanship, equipment and techniques. He was unable to find an organiser or sponsor willing to support such a dangerous sounding event, but agreed with sailor Sir Francis Chichester that if no sponsor was found, they would go ahead with the race anyway and each competitor would wager half-a-crown, with the winner taking all. Fortunately with support from RWYC, Blondie was able to obtain sponsorship from The Observer newspaper.

It’s now been nearly 60 years since the first single-handed transatlantic race took place, and the OSTAR (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) is still going strong.

Starting in Plymouth, sailors cross the Atlantic via a route of their own choosing. Decisions are made based on the ocean currents and wind direction which are generally against them, which is what makes the OSTAR such a tough race to complete. The very first race finished in New York City but since 1964 the end point has been Newport Rhode Island.

Despite receiving more than 100 declarations of intent, the first race saw just five participants – including Blondie - take to the sea and was won by Sir Francis Chichester, who finished in 40 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes on his 40 foot Gipsy Moth III.

With sponsorship from The Observer, the half crown wager wasn’t required, but the suggestion eventually led to the creation of the ‘Half Crown Club’. Every sailor who makes it to the start line of the race receives a special commemorative half crown, recognising the efforts involved in simply making it to the start of the race.

Typically the OSTAR takes place every four years with the most recent race in 2017, but the 17th edition has been moved forward a year to 2020 in order to mark the diamond anniversary. 

In 2004 the OSTAR was split into 2 separately run races, with the 'grand prix' style racers entering the TRANSAT run by a separate organisation. The RWYC retained the original OSTAR concept for the 'non pro' sailors who are generally self-funded without professional support groups – as was the original intention of Blondie’s inaugural race – and also the TWOSTAR, the two-handed version of the race.

The OSTAR is proudly maintaining its historic roots within Plymouth. In 2020 it will be a key aspect of the Mayflower Ocean Festival, a celebration of Plymouth’s status of Britain’s Ocean City and a part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations.

Mayflower 400 marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims sailing from Plymouth to the USA, and the symmetry between their journey and the race entrants will be even more significant during this special commemorative year.

Boats will be based in Queen Anne Battery in Plymouth before the race start on 10 May 2020. Visitors are welcome to visit the skippers and their yachts making their final preparations, before they start in Plymouth Sound around midday. Come and wave off the intrepid sailors from the shore or be afloat for a close up view from the Sound. Less people have raced across the North Atlantic east to west than have climbed Everest, so they all deserve an enthusiastic send off!

Entries are climbing for the 2020 race with an international field including sailors from Poland, USA, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK.

Two famous sailors from Newton Ferrers and Dartmouth in Devon, both of whom have competed in a number of OSTAR races, will return to compete again. 2020 will also see more women compete than ever before and it’s likely that the TWOSTAR will see its first all-female crew on the start line.

Find out more about the OSTAR and TWOSTAR at https://rwyc.org/

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