1964 – Racing a 35′ Trimaran in the OSTAR by Derek Kelsall

How a 35′ Piver Trimaran Almost won the 1964 OSTAR – by Derek Kelsall

On 16th March, 50 years ago, while in the Bahamas, I made the spur of the moment decision to enter OSTAR, the second single handed trans Atlantic race from Plymouth, UK to Newport R.I. I ordered three hulls from a builder in UK and two days later I visited a boat builder in N. Kent. With the help of Clare chasing everything needed and an apprentice, I put the 35 ft. tri together.

Derek and Claire Kelsall on the deck of the 35' Piver trimaran before the race start.

Derek and Claire Kelsall on the deck of the 35′ Piver trimaran before the race start.

Two months after leaving the Bahamas, I led the fleet of 17 out of Plymouth Sound on the first non-ballasted yacht to complete the race. Two cats were in the race but both with deep keels and lead ballast. Five days out, with only Eric Tabarly, the eventual winner, ahead by just a few miles, I was sitting on deck with a broken rudder and a broken dagger board. I had hit and ridden over something at 10 knots.

A restart after repairs back in Plymouth and the crossing took 34 days, with lots of very slow days. Only 3 men had sailed faster. These were the times when we had no two way radios. The total cost was what I had saved in a two year contract in the Sahara desert 3 years earlier.

Derek Kelsall's 35' trimaran was the fastest boat in the OSTAR, but had to return to Plymouth to repair a broken rudder.

Derek Kelsall’s 35′ trimaran was the fastest boat in the OSTAR, but had to return to Plymouth to repair a broken rudder.

Obviously, I occasionally think of what might have been. What if there had been no collision. What if I had continued west instead of returning for repairs?What if I had spent the extra money on a spinnaker? That win made Eric Tabarly a national hero, awarded the Legion d’ Honneur by Charles de Gaule.

One very interesting detail of my trimaran Folatre was the ketch rig. The crude self steering I had put together myself was useless., but with fine adjustment to the to the rudder and sheeting of the three sails, which often took 15-20 minutes, she steered herself for hours at a time. With so little to do, this was an easy crossing compared to my two previous Atlantic voyages.

Although beautiful Clare was waiting for me, all of the time while making good progress in the right direction, I enjoyed the routine of navigating, eating and sleeping, without ever feeling anxious to arrive. Alone at sea, without means of communication, had a certain fascination, akin to driving thro the desert, but one I cannot explain. Today, the solo sailors spend lots of time talking to people on land. Later, trimarans came to dominate OSTAR and all ocean racing. However, the performance of the top tris today is far beyond our wildest dreams 50 years ago, when maintaining 10 knots was unheard of.

Toria, the first modern trimaran, which I helped to build during my college vacation in 1966.

Toria, the first modern trimaran, which I helped to build during my college vacation in 1966.

Two years later, I entered the first Round Britain race on Toria–my first design, the first trimaran to win a major ocean race, and the first foam sandwich boat of note. It was 2000 miles, two handed with four 48 hour stops along the way. A great concept, and like the OSTAR, another Blondie Hasler event promoted by the Royal Western YC in Plymouth. Of course every race is a great race when every other yacht is behind you. We won and set the style of arrangement and materials for all who followed. To design, build, skipper and win is, I believe, unique is yacht racing.

Eric Tabarly was my crew from North Cornwall into Earls Court in London for the Jan 1967 boat show. It was Eric’s introduction to multihull sailing. Back in France he built Pen Duick 1V. At that point every young French sailor wanted to go racing. The explosion of interest led to the French domination of both the races and boat building. When I look back at Tabarly’s 72′ tri with multiple aluminum tubes and compare it to the work we were doing at that time in foam sandwich, I see another what might have been! How I would have loved to have got my hands on that project…..

My involvement with OSTAR continued. My foam sandwich experience brought me the contract to build the beautiful 58 ft. Robert Clark design, Sir Thomas Lipton, for Geoffrey Williams. A strange reversal of interests to go to building monos after winning on multis. He who won in 1968, but spent more on electronics than my whole campaign cost in 1964.

Of course, I continued to design and build multis. Further involvement included more entries and trophies for clients in both the RBR and OSTAR as well as joining the race committees. Building Sir Thomas, led on to building a 78 ft. Alan Gurney design GB11 for Chay Blyth (First to finish in the first Whitbread around the world. This went on to building trimarans, GB 111 and GB 1V for Blyth and a few more trophies. But that would cover another chapter at least.

My interest in expanding the multihull field and improving foam construction methods became the adventure. These topics keep me as busy and dedicated as ever. Catamarans in particular have expanded into almost all sectors of boating and our build technique KSS brings us contracts from countries around the world.

(I am posting this story not just because it significant in the evolution of yacht racing, but because I attended this event as a 16-year old spectator, briefly met Derek, ran some errands for him, and began a connection that has lasted until today! P.Marsh 4 Dec. 2014)


About seamarsh

Still trying to find the answers to life's nautical questions.
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