Canadian ocean racer Mike Birch passed at age 90, on October 26, 2022 in Brittany, France. Birch is famous on the ocean racing circuit for winning the first Route du Rhum Race in 1978 from Saint Malo to Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe aboard the 30-foot Walter Greene-designed trimaran, Olympus Photo.
Birch became well known as an ocean racer but didn’t start out that way. He was born in Vancouver B.C. and was a gold miner, then on oil driller and even a cowboy. He didn’t start sailing seriously until he was 44 years old. After work as a delivery skipper he entered the 1976 OSTAR race between Plymouth, England and Newport, RI. He raced on a 32-foot trimaran called Third Turtle. Amazingly, for his first race, he finished second, close on the heels of Eric Tabarly who took first on the 73-foot ketch Pen Duick VI.
His next big race was the first Route du Rhum in 1978. After thousands of miles of racing, Birch was in the lead as he approached the finish. Only a few boat lengths behind, however, was Michel Malinovsky aboard the 68-foot monohull Kriter V. The two skippers battled to the finish and Birch beat Malinovsky by 98 seconds.
Birch raced in the Route du Rhum for every running until age 71. He finished 9th in his final outing in 2002, 3rd in 1982 and 4th twice, in 1986 and 1990.
He later raced Nigel Irens designs, beginning with the 50-foot Vital and then Formula Tag. Birch sailed the latter, an 80-foot cat, to first place in the Monaco to New York Race in 1985.
The Canadian continued racing, sailing in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in 2007 at age 77, with American co-skipper Rich Wilson on the Open 60 Great American III. At age 81 he raced in the 2012 TWOstar race with Franco-American sailor Etienne Giroire on a 60-foot trimaran Eure-et-Loir.
Peter de Savary
British yachtsman, sailboat racer and businessman Peter de Savary died on October 30, 2022 in the Chelsea section of London. He was 78. A serious yachtsman, de Savary reportedly owned more than 30 boats during his life, including a 98-foot river barge named Savvy; the yacht Kalizma, once owned by film stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; and the Herreshoff-designed sailing yacht Vagrant.
De Savary led a British challenge for the America’s Cup by Royal Burnham Yacht Club in 1983, but was defeated in the challenger series by Alan Bond, who went on to win the cup sailing the wing-keeled Australia II. De Savary was also a frequent participant on the regatta circuit competing in the Newport Bucket and the St. Barths Bucket. He also founded the Pendennis Shipyard in Falmouth, U.K.
Sailor, racer and Maine boatyard owner Merle Hallet passed on December 13, 2022 in Vero Beach, Florida. He was 94. Hallet was born in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland, Maine and learned to sail as a child by paying 25 cents an hour to rent a small sailboat. He learned well. In 1972 Hallet won the National Ensign Championship. He wasn’t just a small boat sailor, he also finished first in class in the Newport to Bermuda Race and also in the Transpac Race. He won numerous offshore races including the Monhegan Race, the Yarmouth Cup and a first in Block Island Race Week and the PHRF New England Championship. He also raced in regattas in Europe aboard the Maxi boat Kialoa. Hallet’s biggest move, however, was in 1969 when he bought Handy Boat boatyard in Falmouth, Maine. He developed the boatyard into a boating complex and destination that included a restaurant, a chandlery, a repair yard, a sail loft and a 300-boat mooring field.
Hallet co-founded a fund raising effort called the MS Regatta in Portland Harbor that raised more than $3 million for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Trailblazing race official Mary Savage passed on December 13, 2022 at age 86. Savage was a longtime US Sailing judge and umpire who didn’t grow up sailing but started as an adult. She learned to sail in 1960 in a beginning sailing class for women at the Larchmont Yacht Club, and was soon teaching the class. By 1979 she had won the Women’s Championship of Long Island Sound. She raced for many years in several classes, most often in the 210.
Savage was one of the first women to become a US Sailing judge in 1979, less than a year after the program started. She later was certified as an International Judge in 1990. She officiated at events from youth regattas to world championships and was a regular at Key West and Block Island Race Weeks.
In 2007 Savage was awarded the Harman Hawkins Trophy for her contributions to race administration, and in 2015 she received the Nathanael G. Herreshoff Trophy, US Sailing’s highest award, for her outstanding contributions to the sport. ν
Dave M. Sinclair
An offshore sailor and racer and longstanding member of the Cruising Club of America, Dave Sinclair passed on December 15, 2022 in Darien, Connecticut, at 94 years old. At a young age he learned to sail on Pocono Lake in Pennsylvania. He later was a young member of the brain trust aboard the yacht Niña owned by DeCoursey Fales. Sinclair sailed in 11 Newport to Bermuda Races and a variety of Vineyard, Annapolis, and Block Island Races as part of Niña’s crew. He also sailed on Walter Hanson’s Recluta, and on his brother-in-law Tony Widmann’s boat Freebooter. Sinclair reportedly considered himself lucky to have raced once on the fabled yacht Ticonderoga, when that boat finished first in the 1947 Halifax Race.
Sinclair, teamed with his wife Susan, was also an avid small boat racer, competing in the Lightning, Tempest, J/24, and Sonar classes for 40 years at the Noroton Yacht Club in Connecticut. Sinclair was also the co-founder of the Darien Jr. Sailing Program, chairman of the Jr. Sailing Association of Long Island Sound, and commodore of the Noroton Yacht Club. He was a certified US Sailing Judge and Senior Race Officer, a member of the US Sailing Appeals Committee of Long Island Sound, and chairman of the US Sailing Area B Jr. Championships.