On June 6, the day before the start of the 1980 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, or OSTAR, 65-year-old Phil Weld made a typically direct and puckish prediction from the stern of his 51-foot trimaran, Moxie, as she sat docked in the crowded harbor of Plymouth, England. "The winner," said Weld, "will make it to Newport in 425 hours...." He paused, narrowed his eyes and glanced skyward for counsel, his enormous ears billowing from his head like spinnakers. Then he amended: "Plus or minus two hours."
Satisfied, Weld turned his attention to the soft drink in his hand, a 32-ounce bottle of diet Moxie, bottled in New Bedford, Mass. Corporate sponsorships are an important part of singlehanded ocean racing these days, though the Moxie company had not invested so much as a phone call in Weld's venture. The wealthy retired newspaper publisher from Gloucester, Mass. had named his boat after that obscure New England tonic in order to wryly parody the French sailors—who had won three of the previous four OSTARs and whose entries this year included boats sponsored by a cordial (Miss Dubonnet), an imitation absinthe (Paul Ricard), and a sparkling wine (Kriter VI). "This is the only bottle of Moxie in Europe," Weld said, holding it aloft, ignoring the short-skirted girls on the dock passing out samples of Dubonnet Blanc beneath a red-and-white sunshade. "I'd be honored if you'd join me in a glass."
Weld then read aloud from the original label that Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine had affixed to bottles-of Moxie back in 1876: "Contains not a drop of Medicine, Poison, Stimulant or Alcohol...and has proved itself to be the only harmless nerve food known that can recover brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness."
Further, Weld explained, the soft drink had a nifty theme song and he proceeded to sing in a voice most charitably described as willing:
Just make it Moxie for mine
For the strenuous life it is fine,
It's the drink that they serve which will build up your nerve,
So just make it Moxie for mine.
Anne Weld, Phil's wife of 44 years, poked her head out of the cabin where she was unpacking grocery bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables and told him to hush.
Undaunted, Weld invited another of the race favorites, Englishman Nick Keig, whose 53-foot trimaran, Three Legs of Mann III, was tied alongside Moxie, over to join him. Keig arrived, greatly excited, and Weld poured out several small glasses of the soft drink and several large glasses of water as chasers. Everyone sipped. Keig winced horribly and said, "That has to be good for you. I have some rum in the car. Do you think that might improve it?"
"It makes you want to brush your teeth, doesn't it?" Anne noted delicately.
"Actually, it recovers lost manhood," said Weld.
At two o'clock the next afternoon, Weld, Keig and 87 other competitors sailed out of Plymouth and headed for Newport, R.I. Sixty miles out, passing the famous Eddystone Light, Weld was one of a pack of leaders, along with Keig, Mike Birch of Canada, Marc Pajot on the Paul Ricard, two other Frenchmen, Eric Loizeau and Eugene Riguidel, Walter Greene of Yarmouth, Maine and Philip Steggall, a New Zealander now living in Marble-head, Mass. All were sailing trimarans, which, reaching in a steady north wind, pulled quickly away from the slower monohulls. Weld was the oldest sailor in the fleet. He had never won a major single-handed race; his nickname was "Third Place" Weld, because he'd finished in that position in his last four such races, three times in the Round Britain Race and once in the Route du Rhum from France to Guadeloupe.