Single-handed Transat slays a slew of records

The 12th running of the single-handed Transat finished in late June at Rowes Wharf, in front of the Boston Harbor Hotel, after 37 skippers completed what is arguably one of the toughest ocean courses in the world.

Marked by two dismastings; a capsized sailor without a keel; three sea rescues; near misses with whales, icebergs, sea junk, tree trunks and passing tankers, the Transat is a race of extremes. On the 2,800-mile course from Plymouth, England, to Boston, Mass., speed records were broken by many of the 37 skippers, from the ORMA 60 trimarans to the 50-foot monohulls.

The legendary French sailor Michel Desjoyeaux, who won the Vendée Globe in 2001, the Route du Rhum in 2002 and his first Transat in 1992, gave the host city of Boston one of the most spectacular finishes in the history of the Transat when he came screaming up the inner harbor sailing at 25 knots at sunset, stunning the uninitiated Boston public, to achieve a record time of 8 days 8 hours 29 minutes 55 seconds aboard his ORMA 60 tri, Géant. In the end, the top three ORMA 60 boats — Géant, Sodebo and Groupama — finished well ahead of Francis Joyon’s 2000 finish time of 9 days 23 hours 21 minutes.

Three Americans participated in the Transat this year, including Maine resident Kip Stone, who sailed a remarkable race for his first professional effort. Aboard his new Open 50, Artforms, designed by Merfyn Owen in New Zealand and sailed by Stone from that country to the starting line in Plymouth, Stone crossed the finish line in a record time of 15 days 5 hours 20 minutes 27 seconds.

“After sailing this boat literally the entire way from New Zealand to the starting line in Plymouth, England, and then spending 15 days racing across the North Atlantic, it was not until I rounded Cape Sable and got into the Gulf of Maine and then saw the Boston skyline that it all started to sink in,” Stone said.

In the early stages of the race, Stone fought for the lead with fellow New Englander Joe Harris onboard his Wells Fargo-American Pioneer. At times, the two boats could see each other on the course, but at a critical point, Harris took a more southerly route, while Stone headed north. Harris lost his wind and momentum, while Stone stormed through the bitter-cold Labrador Current near Newfoundland to win his division.

Bernard Stamm of Switzerland was working his way to the top of the fleet when his keel broke loose and the boat rolled over.

“I think the worst moment of this race was when Bernard called me from his boat and simply said, ‘I have lost my keel, and I am capsizing,’” said event organizer Mark Turner of Offshore Challenges Events. “We had no word from Bernard for two very long hours.”

Ultimately, Stamm was not only rescued but was able to retrieve the hull of his Open 60 Cheminées Poujoulat-Armor Lux and will begin repairing it in time for the Vendée Globe.

As Rich Wilson added, “While I was on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, I began to wonder how did the dory fishermen of Gloucester ever survive out here, as it is a place not fit for man or beast.”

By Ocean Navigator