With less than a month to go until the start of the OSTAR, the Royal Western Yacht Club's PR machine has swung into action, and the local newspaper articles are coming thick and fast. One headline declares the competitors "ready for the sea challenge of a lifetime," and I have to laugh. I can't imagine more than a handful of skippers would describe themselves as ready. "Frantically readying" or "preparing in a panic" perhaps, but "ready?" Not a chance.
One skipper pictured in the article, Jerry Freeman, is so far from ready that he has withdrawn his entry. Jerry had hoped to find a more suitable boat than his J/105 , a boat originally conceived for fast coastal sailing, rather than crossing oceans. As time ran out he decided to go with what he had, but 60 miles on the Round the Isle of Wight Solo race was enough to convince him he didn't have time to make the major improvements needed to make the boat viable for the OSTAR.
It is a huge disappointment, not just for Jerry, but many of the rookie OSTAR skippers, like myself, who he has supported and encouraged. Jerry has completed the race three times, and probably done more than anyone to foster a sense of community among amateur shorthanded racers in the UK.
An email list links this year's race hopefuls with veterans of previous races, allowing us to share worries and tips about everything from alarm clocks to insurance to satellite phones to U.S. visas. It is immensely helpful and comforting to be able to draw on this resource, and I am so grateful to Jerry for the part he has played in nurturing it.
In addition to the conversations on the email list, it's comforting and instructive to keep abreast of other OSTAR skippers via social media. Watching Jonathan Green, the only other American in this year's race, battle his way across from Newport to Plymouth made me feel very fortunate to be based in the UK.
Meanwhile, back in the boatyard, work on Zest continues, and the pace is accelerating. The old teak/plywood cockpit sole has been rebuilt in marine ply and epoxy, ready for painting with non-skid. The new rudder bearing is ready to be installed, the toerails have been attached, the anti-foul has been applied.
We have booked the hoist to put Zest back in the water on Friday. Even then, we are likely to spend the weekend attaching and installing new bits of deck gear and electronics that continue to arrive. At some point my new sails will turn up and shortly after will be the moment of truth: the post-refit test sail.