Transatlantic Race 2011: Joy and Pain

Newport, R.I. USA (July 8, 2011) – Breaking news from the North Atlantic is ...

Transatlantic Race 2011: Joy and Pain

July 10, 2011

Written by Chelsea Smith

Newport, R.I. USA (July 8, 2011) – Breaking news from the North Atlantic is that just over 24 hours into the Transatlantic Race 2011, at 20:20 UTC on July 4th, ICAP Leopard had a major problem onboard when the bowsprit broke off on the 100’ Maxi yacht.  None of the crew was injured and the boat is still structurally sound, but the failure will have had significant effects on the yacht’s performance over the last four days. The ICAP Leopard yacht crew is obviously in a defiant mood; they have not only stayed in the race, but also have a real chance of winning on corrected time.

Onboard the 289' Superyacht Maltese Falcon (photo credit Jeremy Smith)

Onboard the 289' Superyacht Maltese Falcon (photo credit Jeremy Smith)

After three days of fast, adrenaline-pumping, downwind sailing in Atlantic swell, the leading boats in the Transatlantic Race 2011 have started to slow down.  There is a complex weather scenario around the fleet and the front-runners are in a transition zone between two weather systems with the result that boat speeds have fallen like a stone.  This has renewed hope for the chasing pack, which is still in pressure.  These boats are catching up with the leaders in their respective classes, but they too must negotiate the tricky, tactical part of this fascinating race.  It may seem counterintuitive, but light headwinds provide some of the most grueling conditions for the crews; the myriad sail changes mean hard physical work and just about every sailor out there will be feeling the effects of fatigue compounded by poor diet and lack of sleep.

The big tactical decision, as the yachts enter the transition zone, is angle of attack.  The yachts will be aiming to cross the doldrums in the wind at its narrowest point, minimizing the drop in boat speed.  This is not straightforward, however, as the pressure system ahead of them is a moving target and getting the boat into the correct position is a complex equation, one that will be different depending on where each boat is on the racecourse.

In IRC Class One, Rambler 100, skippered by George David (Hartford, Conn.), has slowed down to under half the speed achieved in their near record-breaking run of yesterday and the true wind has clocked around to the north, barely more than five knots.  However, the apparent wind created by Rambler 100 is allowing them to achieve over 10 knots of boat speed while another effect of this apparent wind is that they are now beating into this breeze.  If Rambler 100 has a weakness, it is beating into light air and PUMA’s Mar Mostro, skippered by Ken Read (Newport, R.I.), is reeling them in.  This morning, the two yachts were almost side-by-side on the water.  Beau Geste, skippered by Karl Kwok (Hong Kong), has kept to the rhumb line and is the most northerly yacht of the entire fleet.  Before the race, tactician Gavin Brady (Annapolis, Md.) commented that Beau Geste would need a variety of conditions to have a chance to win on corrected time and it would seem those wishes are coming true; perhaps their angle of attack to the north will pay big dividends.

Sailing yacht ICAP Leopard was still 100 miles behind Rambler 100 and PUMA’s Mar Mostro, but achieving a boat speed of over 17 knots gave fresh hope to ICAP Leopard skipper Clarke Murphy (New York, N.Y.).

Below is a video from ICAP Leopard during the Transatlantic Race 2011 after the bowsprit broke off on the 100’ Maxi yacht

“We are ripping along, it’s been a great ride and it still is,” said Murphy.  “We can see that yachts are parked up in front of us and we are still going fast and we are talking through the options that we have to take advantage of that.  The next day and a half could be the most important part of the race for us and so we are pushing as hard as we can. This race just started again and we are full in the new race.”

In IRC Class Two, Jazz, the Cookson 50 skippered by Nigel King (Lymington, U.K.), has seen its lead reduced and Varuna and Shakti, the two Rogers 46s behind them, are a big threat, especially after time correction.

“They are a big worry,” confirmed King by satellite link.  “Right now, we are barely making headway and we are fighting for every ounce of boat speed.  One of our greatest motivations is to do our best for the owner of Jazz, Chris Bull.  He cannot be with us due to family commitments and doing the best we can is our way of rewarding him for the gesture of letting us carry on and do this race without him.  All of the crew on Jazz is digging deep and morale is high.”

In IRC Class Three, Zaraffa has been a contender for the overall handicap prize since the start of the race.  “Zaraffa is a great boat with an excellent crew,” said skipper Huntington Sheldon (Shelburne, Vt.) speaking via satellite phone this morning.  “And although we slowed up for about an hour today, we believe we are through the ridge of high pressure and will be back up to speed very soon.  The weather models we have been looking at, and I am sure they are similar to the ones that are on the tracker, have not always been totally accurate but all is good on board and we are enjoying a fantastic race.”

The young team on the Class 40 Concise 2 lead by Ned Collier-Wakefield (Oxford, U.K.) is finding conditions tough on board.  “We are now beating into a northeasterly wind with a following sea, which is not the most comfortable angle for a Class 40,” said navigator Luke McCarthy (Cowes, U.K.) by satellite phone.  “The crew is all pretty tired and we are looking forward to finishing this race in a few days’ time.  It looks as though we will be into better conditions soon, but for the meantime it is hard going on Concise at the moment.”

By sharp contrast to life aboard the 40’ Concise 2, with six crew living in cramped, damp and difficult conditions, the 16 crew on the 289’ Perini Navi superyacht Maltese Falcon  are working hard but enjoying far more comfortable surroundings.  Recent pictures sent back from the Maltese Falcon show fabulous fare from a galley fit for a gourmet chef, a king size bed with crisp linen bed sheets and even a steam bath.

Life aboard the 26 yachts in the Transatlantic Race 2011 varies considerably, but one thing that will be common to all is fatigue.  Even on Maltese Falcon, running systems and maintaining the yacht is an arduous task for the crew.  Over the last few days, the adrenaline levels on board the racing yachts will have been spiking.  However, now that the boats have slowed, the come down off the adrenaline high will be huge.  How the sailors cope with this fatigue will become extremely important.  Concentration levels are of the utmost importance when driving the boat and trimming the sails.  With such a change in weather scenario ever present, navigators and tacticians will need to be at the top of their game just when their eyelids are begging to close.

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