4,000 MILES TO WINDWARD
The idea of this race was Blondie Hasler's. Colonel Hasler is the cockleshell hero who commanded some canoes during the war and went up the Gironde River to Bordeaux and fixed limpet mines to steamers there and sank them. Two years ago Blondie had the idea of a solo race across the Atlantic.
His purpose was to stimulate the development of simpler boats and rigs for offshore sailing. He argued that yachting is in the state that automobile driving would be if every time the terrain changed you had to stop, jack up the back axle and change the wheels for smaller ones in order to get up the hill. He thought that competitors sailing alone for such distances would be forced to devise ways of simplifying their tackle.
Five boats were entered: Blondie's Jester, equipped with only one sail, a kind of Chinese lugsail, that rolled down like a blind; Dr. David Lewis' Cardinal Vertue and Valentine Howell's Folkboat, Eira, both 25-footers; and Jean Lacombe's Cap Horn, the smallest boat in the race but bigger than the 18-footer in which Jean once sailed from France to Puerto Rico.
My own Gipsy Moth, the biggest boat in the race, I normally raced in British waters with a crew of six. She is nearly 40 feet long. The mast is 55 feet from step to truck. Gipsy Moth was big for singlehanded sailing, actually too big. The sails and booms were too big to handle in rough weather.
All the boats had self-steering devices. Mine I designed myself and called Miranda, after the heroine of The Tempest. Miranda is rather like a mizzen, with 45 square feet of sail, divided into a small spanker and a tiny topsail, and a 14-foot rotating mast. The sail weathercocks with the wind, and the mast moves with it. At the foot of the mast are two arms which can be clamped in any position. From these arms lines lead to the tiller, so that if there is any change in the direction of the wind, the sail, as it moves, also moves the tiller to bring the boat back to its former heading.
Before starting, I carried out what we used to call in the air force "dry swims." From the U.S. hydro-graphic charts I took the average winds which have been observed over the past 30 or 40 years and worked out what would be my best sailing speed for each of these winds. I tried many routes this way, even the old windjammer route of going down to the trade winds, along the trade wind belt and back up to New York.
I found from these calculations that the Great Circle Route should be fastest. I risked storms, ice and bad weather, particularly fog, but I reckoned I could heave to in fog for periods of 12 hours each, if necessary, and still make better time than if I followed one of the longer, more solitary routes. Unfortunately, none of my calculations forewarned me of 1,600 miles of fog and winds which made most of my voyage, in effect, one long beat to windward.
I kept a diary. When I had come through the night and was feeling rather optimistic, with the next night some time off, I settled down after breakfast, got out my blue book and wrote, imagining I was talking to some friend. Then I usually wrote again, later in the day, with a glass of whisky in hand. I used to look forward to starting my little prattle and wrote in all more than 50,000 words.
The Royal Western Yacht Club organized the start, and the race card read: "Leave the Melampus buoy [a buoy close to the starting line at Plymouth] to starboard, and thence by any route to Ambrose light vessel, New York." I began writing soon after.