Something we all tend to forget is just how well J boats rate. They also tend to sail well, but perhaps more importantly they seem to outsail their ratings. I cannot count the number of races, where we considered we had sailed well and were biting our nails about a j boat close on our heels, wondering if we would have saved time against the competition.

The Swans, a Sparkman & Stephens staple in the seventies. We have forgotten how dominate these designs were. “Noremya” a Swan 48 was the first foreign yacht to win the Bermuda Race in 1972. I sailed this boat in her next life as “Weald” and was so impressed that we could power away from “Carina” often.

Skip Novak’s remarks demonstrate how captivating the anecdotes of life can be. Todays boats are so fast, there is little time for those little stories. Sitting on the rail is now so critical to a yacht’s performance; so life on a boat is now pretty much eating, sleeping or sitting on the rail. Not much time for shenanigans.

Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011, currently underway, is organized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Approximately 30 boats are still racing and 39 boats have finished as of 18.30 CEST. 

After racing over 600 miles, the J/122 Artie crossed the finish line at 15.22 CEST, eight minutes in front of Jaru Team EC, a J/133, and, in doing so, was the first Maltese boat home. That finish also put the local entry, co-skippered by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard, ahead of Rán (GBR) as overall handicap leader.

However, the crew of Artie will have to cool their heels on the Royal Malta Yacht Club terrace as they wait to see if any boat still racing might be able to beat them on handicap. A formal announcement of the overall winner will be made tomorrow at 1200 CEST at the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

Owner Lee Satariano was clearly relieved to beat his local rivals home and said, ‘It was very achievable because we worked very hard. The crew has been preparing the boat for the past several months, we even have a new sail wardrobe. Being the first Maltese boat gives us a big satisfaction because the local competition is very, very big.’ As for the possibility of an overall victory, he was more cautious and said, ‘The competition is growing every year. In the past we’ve had two second place finishes; we hope this third time is even better.’

Christian Ripard, co-skipper said, ‘It’s a great feeling. We ended up doing most of the race alongside or crossing tacks with Jaru; it’s nearly a rerun of last year, though this time we managed to beat them.

King’s Legend Joins Legends Fleet
Kings Legend in 1977. Click on image to enlarge.

VOR LegendsAlicante, Spain: King’s Legend, the boat that finished second in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1977-78 with Skip Novak as her navigator, has become the latest entry to the Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta and Reunion in Alicante, Spain in November after securing sponsorship from The Jalousie Enclave, an exclusive property development in a UNESCO World Heritage site, Val des Pitons on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

In 1977-78, owned by English gentleman Nick Ratcliff, flying the British ensign and drawing on the talent of a multinational professional crew, King’s Legend — a sloop rigged Swan 65 built by Nautor in Finland — came second behind Flyer.

“On King’s Legend we had a real boat race on our hands as the pre-race favourite, Flyer, had exactly the same handicap rating,” Novak, one of the Legends Ambassadors, recalled. “The wealthy Dutchman, Cornelius van Rietschoten beat us into Cape Town by only two hours after a hard-fought upwind battle in the South Atlantic. But the most poignant moment for me was seeing Table Mountain on the horizon from 50 miles out, having navigated there with ‘a sextant and a time piece’.

“The next crew drama was when a leak was discovered at the rudderpost, which was opening and closing in the huge waves. We made contact with the crew of Adventure, Great Britain II (both yachts will attend the reunion), and Heath’s Condor, all of whom agreed to listen out for King’s Legend via the radio every six hours.”

After two days of worry, the crew was able to bring the leak under control. However the event was a stark reminder that these are desolate oceans populated only by albatross, whales and ice, with no shipping within thousands of miles.

After a massive broach while stampeding towards Cape Horn, water from the heads found its way into the SSB radio, which immediately ceased to function. “It may seem strange today,” says Novak, “but no-one was in the least alarmed that we were completely cut off from the outside world.”

By being one degree of latitude too far south, King’s Legend lost Flyer on the scorecard forever, and trailed her across the finish line to take second overall.


Skip is an old friend. I would not dare to compare myself to Skip and his accomplishments. We are however part of a sailing generation that, as you will read, remember the sport in a different light. There was still humor and diversity.

23 May 2011Share |
Novak latest Legends Ambassador

Skip Novak, skipper of Whitbread 1985-86 entry, Drum (famously owned by British rock star Simon Le Bon), is now an Ambassador to the Volvo Ocean Race Legends.

“My genre of deep water sailor men, and I do mean ‘men’ as this was before women joined in earnest with Maiden in 1989, were generally characters of the first degree. Vagabonds, misfits, rebels without cause and pub test-pilots manned the sheets.”
The American has completed four races, his first time finishing second as navigator with King’s Legend at the age of 25 in 1977-78. Novak is the fourth Ambassador to the event, joining Lady Pippa Blake, Magnus Olsson and Sir Chay Blyth CBE, BEM.

“I admit to becoming an ‘addict’ back in the early Whitbread era when, for the best part of 15 years, my life by-and-large revolved around four circumnavigations between the second instalment of the Whitbread until after the 1989-90 race,” says Novak.

“Very few people back then made a living out of the Whitbread race; rather a living was made in between the races with a view to be in a position to do the next one. This meant full time employment with commitment was an anathema, and the possibility of not getting a berth was an emotional crisis.

“My genre of deep water sailor men, and I do mean ‘men’ as this was before women joined in earnest with Maiden in 1989, were generally characters of the first degree. Vagabonds, misfits, rebels without cause and pub test-pilots manned the sheets. They were not the top racing technicians of the day (who looked upon the likes of us as having a screw loose), but instead were generally good seamen offshore, looking for an adventure and a bit of fun onshore and the Whitbread race provided all of that and more.

“Alas, there is no room in today’s fleet for the likes of that lot and certainly not their hi-jinks, some of which still cannot be printed nor repeated in mixed company!

“For a variety of reasons I have never enjoyed a fully-funded completely professional campaign. Instead, my Whitbread history has revolved around eleventh-hour, marginal entries that were less about making a boat go fast and more about crisis management. Because they were newsworthy in themselves they have, however, helped to shape the Volvo Ocean Race we see today.

“Although there were no victories on my score sheets, I have a collection of memories that would be hard to beat. It is true that nostalgia has no place in today’s Volvo Ocean Race, but those of us who were there can still enjoy turning the clocks back, and that is what the Legends Regatta and Reunion is all about. I am proud to be a part of it.”

About Skip Novak:

Born: USA 1952 (58)
1977-78 King’s Legend
1981-82 Alaska Eagle
1985-86 Drum
1989-90 Fazisi

In 2001 he co-skippered the 33-metre French catamaran Innovation Explorer with Loïck Peyron to second place in the millennium non-stop, no limits circumnavigation

Novak is the author of One Watch at a Time (account of Drum’s race around the world in 1985-86) and Fazisi – The Joint Venture(1989-90)

Novak is a mountaineer and expedition leader, spending most of his time in the Antarctic waters onboard his two expedition yachts, Pelagic and Pelagic Australis, leading climbing and filming projects

Novak’s home is now South Africa

This article first appeared in issue 37 of Life at the Extreme Magazine.

Skip is interviewed in this week’s Volvo Sailing Podcast. Listen to it here.