Some 89 solo sailors are to go transatlantic in the Jester Challenge...on the quiet
One of the biggest solo ocean races ever is under two weeks away. You might not have heard about it.
And that’s not surprising because it is – deliberately – a low key affair relished by the kind of sailors who love a personal challenge and couldn’t care less about publicity.
I’m referring to the Jester Challenge, a four-yearly race solo across the Atlantic. It has a start time (23 May), a port of departure (Plymouth) and a destination (Newport) but not much else.
There is no notice of race, no race organisation, no safety inspection and no fees, and it is limited to yachts of 20-30ft. The emphasis is entirely on self-reliance.
In this day and age it is a cult event, strictly for those single-minded sailors whose greatest desire is to be left alone to get on with it in their own way.
But don’t imagine for a minute that it’s a small scale thing. There are no less than 89 entries this year.
Well, I say entries, but it’s not exactly that formal. When I talked to Ewen Southby-Tailyour, one of the moving spirits behind the Jester Challenge and taking part himself in his gaff cutter, he gave a short laugh and said since there was no firm commitment it was hard to tell how many would turn up.
“But I would be surprised if there are less than 60,” he says.
Those who do set off are true Blondie Hasler-style cockleshell heroes. I urge you to have a look at the website and entry list here and you’ll see an exotic assortment of mainly ageing production cruisers: Corribee 21s, an Albin Vega, Albin Ballad, Folkboats, a Twister.
The group includes a replica of Jester, the junk-rigged Folkboat built for Blondie Hasler and subsequently owned by the late Mike Richey. Pictured above, she is being raced by Trevor Leek.
These aren’t just little boats; most are designs over 30 years old to be found on brokerage lists for a few thousand pounds. The entry list is a flat contradiction of the idea that gadgets and technology, modern design and, most importantly, a lot of money are in any way pre-requisites of seamanship and adventure.
What’s remarkable about the Jester Challenge is that it’s at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum to almost every race we read about today, and flourishing without a jot of the publicity we are told is so vital to the popularity of sailing.
It just goes to show.