Six inspiring voyages across the Atlantic -- solo

You don't have to be a sailor to sail across the Atlantic. American Challenge (PBS, various dates in March, check local listings or request airing from your local PBS stationm) takes you on six transatlantic solo journeys with six Americans who entered the 3000-mile OSTAR (Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race) from Plymouth, England, to Newport, R.I. It is a dangerous, thrilling, yet inspiring journey, filled with the challenge of man against the elements in a contest for survival . . . and victory.

Producer-director Christopher Knight of the New Film Company in Boston installed camera and sound equipment that could be controlled by the individual entrants in several of the sailboats in the 1980 race. Then, after recording the joys and sorrows of winners and losers alike, the thousands of feet of film was edited down to a tight, tense, lonely, but exhilarating record.

The crosscutting from the victory celebration of the veteran (68-year-old) winner to the anguish of a mastless loser makes for poignant television in the midst of all the excitement.

''American Challenge'' suffers occasionally from imperfect sound (sometimes subtitles would have helped) and other technical difficulties, but it never lacks the spirit of perseverance and the exhilaration of the triumph of the human spirit.

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