The 77-year-old frontiersman is a living legend - and he's back for the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre


I can’t believe it. Just when you think he surely must be enjoying a well-deserved retirement from ocean racing, the amazing Mike Birch launches into yet another epic. This time it’s the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in November.

This man is absolutely a sailing legend – though he’d be far, far too modest to claim such a title himself.

Where to start with any kind of worthy potted biog? Well for a start, this seemingly indestructible pioneer is 77 years old. I’m using the term pioneer advisedly, because Mike is genuinely a modern frontiersman. He was born in Canada, worked as a gold miner and a cowboy and sailed away to see the world.

His travels took him to England; more specifically to Dartmouth, where he worked as a delivery skipper and began an incredible, long history of cutting edge ocean racing. He finished 2nd in the 1976 OSTAR in the 32ft tri Third Turtle, not far behind Eric Tabarly’s 73ft Pen Duick VI. He won the first Route du Rhum in the 30ft tri Olympus Photo in 1978.

It was Birch who built the ground-breaking Formule TAG (later ENZA and now Tony Bullimore’s Doha), then the largest ever pre-preg structure ever made, the progenitor of all today’s record-breaking maxi multihulls. He went on to sail 516 miles in 24 hours in the Quebec-St Malo race – and don’t forget this was 25 years ago. The ultra-modest Birch started a revolution. He was the firestarter.

Vital; Fujichrome; Biscuits La Trinitaine; Open 60s: Birch has had his finger on the pulse all along – and still does. This year he’s back, sailing with American Rich Wilson, another former multihull sailor, on Great American III, the Open 60 formerly known as Thierry Dubois’s Solidaires.

Well, I could go on and on about the fantastic Mike Birch, but I will save it for the magazine. Suffice it to say that he cannot be compared with today’s glossy and well-remunerated pro sailors and that we not see the likes of Birch, or his do-or-die OSTAR generation, again.

His race in November will be yet more history in the making. Don’t miss it.

1 comment:

I met Mike Birch in 1977 when he delivered my tri Aqua Blue back from La Corunna after an abortive Azores trip. He devoured the “Black Bun” we had on board as our sole “sponsorship”. I followed his career ever since and was even able to give him some more Black bun on Formula Tag in Plymouth before one race in the eighties. He has always appeared so youthful and calm and I agree that to be still racing at 77 he is an example to us all.David