The Jester Challenge – A Personal View

The Jester Challenge is a curious phenomenon. Although notionally a transatlantic ‘race’ based on Blondie Hasler’s outline for a Transatlantic Single-handed race Series Two, it is at the same time a lot less than that, and a lot more.

It is a lot less in the sense that it is not really a race in the accepted sense of the term. It is simply an opportunity for like-minded skippers to cross the Atlantic, starting at the same time. Skippers time themselves in and, quite frankly, nobody gives a hoot who gets there first. It is a lot less too in the sense that it is not really an ‘event’ at all. There is no organising committee, no rules to speak of (even the notional maximum thirty-foot length overall rule is happily broken), no entry fee, no inspections. The Jester Challenge exists, that is for sure, but in a resolutely indefinable form.

It is this indefinability, in fact, that gives the Jester Challenge its strength. The Jester Challenge is more than anything an idea, a concept. Each individual is therefore free to interpret it as he or she likes, and to take from it what they will.

Although the leaping off point for the Jester Challenge was the disenfranchisement of yachts under thirty feet from the OSTAR, it is about much more than boat length. The Jester Challenge is a rallying point for those who despair of the creeping regulation and the over-commercialisation that now pervades our sport. It is a focal point for those who want to see responsibility back in the hands of individual skippers, rather than committees. It is a symbol of defiance against nannies and rule-freaks.

I am sure that it is these symbolic aspects of the Jester Challenge that has touched a real vein of feeling in much of the yachting community. It is not simply a challenge between ‘competing’ skippers, but a challenge to the status quo. It shows that things can be done differently, at a more relaxed, intimate, human level. It shows that there is a valid place for something other than the mad, corporate-driven, Formula-One type frenzy of modern ocean racing. It brings it all back to one dedicated skipper and his or her relatively straightforward and inexpensive yacht. The yachts are self-funded, lovingly nurtured and, in contrast to those of the modern ocean racing fleets, not in any sense expendable.

The first Jester Challenge has been, inevitably, a relatively modest affair. Expressions of interest from potential participants were at a very high level. About sixteen skippers formally entered (not that there are any formalities apart from a statement of intention), and ten yachts started. However it is a beginning. I am convinced that the next Challenges, to the Azores in 2008, and to Newport, Rhode Island in 2010, will have many more starters.

At Plymouth we had a regular flow of visitors and well-wishers to our assembly point. Many were yacht owners already thinking of entering future events. It was very clear from the interest shown and the comments made that the Jester Challenge had touched a chord with the ordinary sailor. The general consensus was that it was a ‘great idea’. One chap, Colin, drove all the way from the Scottish borders to lend a hand in whatever way he could. John, an Australian yacht owner, flew over from Geneva to act as unofficial photographer. At least two local skippers gave me their contact details and urged me to get in touch if there was anything I needed – even if it was just a lift to the local supermarket.

All that brings me back to the real appeal of the Jester Challenge. It is about simple human endeavour on an approachable human scale. The Jester Challengers are not demi-gods piloting impossibly sophisticated leviathans at keel-breaking speeds, just ordinary everyday sailors who want to go that little bit further. The Jester Challenge is for Everyman, and that is to be treasured.

July 2006

Reproduced with the kind permission of Roger D Taylor

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