1976 Royal Western / Observer STAR
Even before the start, the storm was brewing. Controversy exploded around the entry of Alain Colas’ gigantic monohull Club Mediterranee that measured in at 236ft (72m). Few believed that a boat this size could be sailed safely by one man without being a risk to himself and others at sea, and many saw the race as getting out of control. A total of 125 boats crossed the start line in a shadow of sadness at the death of one of the competing skippers wives. Mike McMullen, an ex-marine commando, had bought Three Cheers from Tom Follet and had tragically witnessed his wife accidentally electrocute herself as she helped prepare the boat just days before the start. Sadly, McMullen and Three Cheers disappeared during the race.
Five low pressure systems followed each other one after the other, relentlessly generating an average wind speed of 35 knots and a raging, chaotic, short, crossed sea for over a week. The fleet were decimated with the well-chronicled retirement of Yvon Fauconnier (ITT Oceanic previously Vendredi Treize) and the break-up of Jean-Yves Terlain’s 70ft catamaran Kriter II. Two skippers were lost at sea in the storms – Mike Flanagan and the recently bereaved Mike McMullen. Only 73 of the 125 starters finished the race within the time limit.
Eric Tabarly racing his 73ft ketch Pen Duick VI had at one stage considered turning back when his self-steering gear failed. But the 1964 winner found new strength and crossed the finish line first in dramatic circumstances; with no sight nor sound of Tabarly since the start, concerns were growing for his safety. But Tabarly appeared out of the fog in Newport just as the French navy were on the verge of launching a full-scale search operation. Alain Colas’ Club Mediterranee stopped in Newfoundland for repairs to the rigging and then also had to take a penalty for accepting a tow that relegating him to 5th place overall, although he crossed the line in second. Another amazing performance came from Canadian Mike Birch on the “tiny” 31ft trimaran, The Third Turtle. He crossed the line in third but was finally awarded second place. Multihulls had staked their claim in storm-force windward conditions – there could be little to stop them now.
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