Wednesday 13 May 2009

More on Blondie Haslar

My March post about Tim McCloy and China Blue caused a slight controversy when I suggetsed the OSTAR was founded on a bet for "half a crown" (two shillings and sixpence in the old UK currency, equivalent to 12.5 pence now) between Haslar and Sir Francis Chichester.

Ewen Southby-Tailyour of the Jester Challenge kindly send me a correction, below is an extract from a letter which Ewen sent to the Royal Western Yacht Club.

"By the time Chichester entered the arena Blondie had spent two years in correspondence, with, among other organisations and individuals, the Slocum Society of America, seeking sponsorship and a starting line. It is true that Chichester, in the closing months before the race, took on much of the administration but that is a very different matter: he took no part in the conception, the drafting of the rules nor, as an individual, with the 'half-crown bet'. That this wager existed was disputed by David Lewis and still is by Val Howells and if it had existed then it was not a Chichester idea (although, in two of his own books, he implies it was). Although lost in the mists it is feasible that at some point all four of them together (Lacombe had yet to declare) declared that if no sponsor could be found they would each put in a half-crown with the winner taking all - but even this is not verified by Val Howells, the soul remaining participant."

Ewen has thoroughly researched and written a book on the subject - Blondie published by Pen and Sword 1998

In my defence, my source was The Greatest Race in the World by JLR Anderson published 1964 (and which is actually about the 1964 race). On page 23 Anderson writes: "He {Chichester} saw a note by Haslar about the race on the notice board of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and at once it fired his imagination. He got in touch with Hasler, and the two of them agreed to organise the race themselves if nobody else would - and if nobody would enter, to race each other singlehanded across the Atlantic for half-a-crown." He continues "The Haslar-Chichester partnership was undefeatable" which supports Ewen's comment that Chichester was involved with administration for the race.

It is also clear from Anderson's book that the Haslar-Chichester partnership began in 1960, equally that Haslar had been working on the idea for the race since 1956 and was engaged early on with the Solcum Society, who had written to The Guardian newspaper in 1957 promoting the idea of a race between Cowes and City Island, New York to take place in 1960. It is said that Haslar wanted the race to be run in July1958, but accepted the later date.

The idea of the race had its critics, not least on safety issues, which caused some reluctance amoung potential organisers, including the Solcum Society, and it was thanks to The Royal Western Yacht Club and The Observer that the OSTAR took place in 1960.

Given that these events took place 50 years ago, we shouldn't loose sight that all the participants and the organisers, sponsors and supporters have left yaching with a land mark legacy. I was delighted to hear from Ewen that Val Howells is still alive.

I think we can see the Chichester heritage reflected today in the likes of Ellen McArthur, Samantha Davies, Mike Golding, Alex Thompson and their peers who sail the corporate sponsored rocket ships. Equally I would suggest that the Jester Challenge represents a fine legacy to Blondie Haslar.
On a personal level I think sometimes Blondie doesn't get the recognition he deserves, which is perhaps suprising as his way of sailing has far more relevance to the vast majority of today's sailors.

For my part, I have no aspriation to offshore racing, but when Erica and I sailed from England across the Atlantic by way of West Africa, we did so in a well found, 30 year old sloop. No support organisation, no satellite communications, no watermaker, no email, just basic, reliable equipment. Of course we had GPS, our hand held set cost £90 and a set of AA batteries got us safely across the Atlantic, I thnk Blondie would have approved.

1 comment:

  1. Nice, Max. I agree that Blondie is an important figure who has had an immense ripple effect on the perception of what is possible with a small yacht and a large ocean passage. He also ignited interest in the Junk rig which is winning converts daily. I would add that the achievements and story of Michael Ritchie should not be ignored. Mike is one of the few standing survivors from this exciting and fertile period of development, and must not be ignored.



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