1972 OBSERVER STAR
After 1968 a 500-mile qualification passage became obligatory, 55 boats qualified for the fourth edition of the race.
Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick IV had retired from the 1968 race, but in the intervening years prior to the 1972 OSTAR she had been tested and developed and then sold to former crewman Alain Colas, another icon of early French single-handed sailing.
In contrast to the 1968 race the North Atlantic threw up only one brief gale and it was perhaps due to the light conditions and skill of her skipper that Colas was able to steer his 67ft trimaran across the line first in the remarkable time of 20 days and 13 hours – five days faster than Geoffrey Williams’ four years earlier. In the process, Colas beat the giant monohull Jean-Yves Terlain’s 128ft Vendredi Treize by 16 hours. With Colas’ victory and other multihulls taking third, fifth and sixth places, the future of ocean-going racing catamarans and trimarans was sealed. With the exception of the 1976 race, all the subsequent single-handed transatlantic races have been won by multihulls and today they are the undisputed champions of the ocean.
Developed by the pioneering Tabarly, Pen Duick IV was a boat well ahead of her time, despite her aluminium construction and beams that appeared to have been made from scaffolding. Tabarly had been inspired to commission her after sailing on board Derek Kelsall’s trimaran Toria, winner of the first two-handed Round Britain and Ireland race in 1966. With no keel for ballast, a racing multihull’s lightweight requires less power to drive it and is therefore easier for the single-hander to manage. Rigged as a ketch, Pen Duick IV was originally fitted with rotating masts to improve the flow of air over her mainsails – a prelude to the rotating wing masts that would become standard on future trimarans.
As for Colas this same boat would take him around the world single-handed and into the history books the following year. Tragically, while competing in the first Route du Rhum in 1978, both boat and skipper were lost for reasons unknown.
Marie-Claude Fauroux (Aloa VII) was the first woman to finish the course coming 14th after nearly 33 days at sea, while her fellow colleague Anne Michailof racing PS was the last to cross the line, finishing just a few hours before the time limit of 60 days.
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