In the world of high-level open-ocean adventure sailing/racing, there’s one type of boat that reigns supreme: the Open 60.
There’s no boat that blends unbridled power and durability with flat-out sexiness like an Open 60. They are designed, ultimately, to be sailed by one sailor; to carry him or her at high speeds into any conditions that an untamed ocean can deliver. Made of carbon fiber, Open 60s thrive in 40- and 50-knot winds.
With their flat bottoms and 14-foot keels, they welcome 15-foot seas and are crafted expressly to surf them all the way around the world. They are true thoroughbreds, made of muscle, designed to sail around the planet fast.
In contrast to this image of a purebred racer powering through a 12-foot wave at 22 knots, is a newly arrived Open 60 sitting on thin, iron stilts high above the cement of Windward Boatyard in Marina del Rey. No less impressive out of the water, O Canada calls attention to itself both for its modern aesthetics and for what it represents.
Like most Open 60s, this boat has seen its share of trying circumstances. Well-known Canadian solo sailor Derek Hatfield, who is currently sailing around the world in the Velux 5 Oceans Challenge, built the boat in 2004 to sail the Vendee Globe. The Vendee is considered the most arduous, challenging and dangerous sailboat race in existence – a non-stop solo race around the world via the Southern Ocean.
The boat was christened Spirit of Canada and was originally adorned with hundreds of signatures from people who donated money to sponsor Hatfield’s quest. Throughout the course of the campaign, Hatfield had a difficult time procuring money for the project but made it to the Vendee start line nonetheless.
In the end, the boat lost two of its top spreaders in a storm that was apparently packing around 57 knots of wind off the coast of Tasmania and was forced to retire. Now, the current owners are looking to sail the boat to line honors at the next Transpac race [Long Beach to Hawaii].
A Canadian corporation bought Spirit of Canada in New Zealand where it was refit, renamed O Canada, then sailed for a year by a Canadian team. Now, in Los Angeles, another team of Canadians will be sailing some local races leading up to the ocean-crossing Transpac contest. The company plans on documenting the racing and then producing films about these sailing adventures.
“We start practicing in February,” Project Manager John Curtis said. “The full race team will be in town Feb. 10 and we’ll do seven days of practice, and the first race will be in March.”
As far as actually sailing on the Open 60, Curtis, an Olympic sailor in the Tornado class, says it’s a ride like you’ve never experienced.
“It’s an amazing ride,” he said. “The power is just unbelievable. It’s got a long stretch of bow in front of the mast and you’re really thankful for that when you bury the front [in a wave]. It’s quite an experience, that’s for sure.”
Down below, O Canada has hardly been modified since Hatfield sailed into the Southern Ocean alone. Since the boat was designed for one sailor to carry supplies for months on end, there’s ample room for a full crew on a 10-to-15-day sail.
“It’s pretty sparse,” Curtis said of the accommodations. “There’s still no toilet, no running waterŠbasically we added pipe-berths where there were storage shelves.”
After O Canada completes the Transpac, Curtis is unclear what will become of the boat. He said it’s possible they could continue on to another adventure or possibly put the boat up for sale where it could fetch somewhere in the vicinity of $2 million on the used market.
Curtis is ultimately looking to promote the sport of sailing in Canada. His hope is that through the power of exciting footage shot from the exhilarating perspective of an Open 60 deck, combined with stories rooted in adventure, viewers will start to see sailing in a more fascinating light.
“Our thinking was, after seeing the intensity with which the French and a lot of the Europeans follow the Vendee Globe, we needed to bring that to North America,” he said.