Peter Crowther in 1972

Devon yachtsman to return to historic sailing vessel for first time in 45 years

A Devon-based yachtsman who took 88 days to cross the Atlantic in a single-handed race — arriving 68 days behind the winner — is to sail the boat he used in the competition for the first time in 45 years.

 Peter Crowther still holds the record for the slowest-ever crossing in the Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) set in 1972 when he left Plymouth for Rhode Island USA on the historic gaff-cutter ‘Golden Vanity.’

This May the 74-year-old pub landlord will set sail on his 10th and last OSTAR, this time on a more modern Swan 38. Two weeks before the event he will be taking his family out for a nostalgic voyage along the south Devon coast on the boat he used for the original crossing.

At 29 the then yachting magazine journalist decided to take part in the race, despite having no interest in finishing first. Golden Vanity was built as a pleasure boat, rather than a racing vessel, and Peter just wanted to have the experience of taking part. On his journey — which saw him come last out of 55 entrants — he was joined by his cat Gypsy and her 6 kittens, each of which named after JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings characters.

Peter said: “I ran out of cat food quite quickly and then they had all my meat, so I was pretty hungry.”

Golden Vanity, built in 1908, was owned by Peter at the time and as came over the horizon the other competitors had long since gone home. It was a gruelling crossing and during the race the yachtsman had to replace the rigging three times and re-sew one of his sails.  At one point a hurricane warning message, stuffed in to a bottle, was thrown on board by a passing fishing vessel while he was below deck. The race was his first OSTAR, though he had already undertaken two transatlantic crossings in 1970 and 1971.

It was far from the end of interesting and dramatic OSTAR crossings for Peter. In 1996 he did not even finish and made the headlines when his yacht Galway Blazer — which he owned for 23 years after he sold Golden Vanity — sank 500 miles south west of Ireland. He was dramatically rescued by a passing container ship after letting off a flare from a cold and wet emergency life raft.

Golden Vanity was sold by Peter when he decided he wanted to get a bit more competitive with the racing. He also felt he was pushing the historic vessel too hard as she was not designed for competitive sports.

“I think I had abused her a bit too much and had outgrown her, I think around then I had a change in attitude to sailing,” said Peter.

Aesthetically ‘Vanity’ looks a little different today. In Peter’s days she had a fireplace in the bulkhead between the saloon and the fore cabin — as well as an orange and yellow hull.

The upcoming OSTAR will mean Peter has to take time out from running his Stoke Fleming pub, The Green Dragon, where he has been landlord for 24 years. Regulars are used to his disappearances; they know by now that he’ll be back in two or three month’s time. In the meanwhile, wife Alix will take station at the pumps and keep their loyal customers fed. This he will be competing on Suomi Kudu, a Swan 38 owned by Peter’s brother in law.

Golden Vanity, which is now owned and operated by the Trinity Sailing Foundation, also has an interesting history. She was built for the marine artist Arthur Briscoe by J Sanders & Co, at Galmpton, on the River Dart. Her name was taken from a ship in the sea shanty ‘The Golden Vanity’, which dated from the seventeenth century.

As a marine artist Briscoe used her to follow the fishing fleets which he sketched and painted, helping to record the last working days of sail. One of the friends who sailed with him was Erskine Childers – who had already written his famous yachting spy novel ‘Riddle of the Sands’. Before the First World War they sailed Golden Vanity extensively in the southern North Sea, regularly visiting Holland and Belgium.

In 1999 the vessel became part of the Trinity Sailing Foundation, where she remains today, offering cruising holidays, RYA courses, and Duke of Edinburgh Residentials and Expeditions. For more information on sailing Golden Vanity visit www.trinitysailing.org