Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005 ready to begin - can the transatlantic record stand for a century?

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May 21, 2005 The Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005 promises to be one of the greatest sailing races of all time when it gets underway tomorrow after a delayed start due to forecast dangerous weather. When the starts gun fires tomorrow, 20 entrants ranging in size from 70 to 252 feet (21.3m to 77m) will set out on a course from New York for England, recreating the Great Ocean Race of 1905. In that race, the schooner Atlantic, skippered by three-time America's Cup defender Charlie Barr, set a record that has not been broken by a monohull since. Monohull yachts have crossed the Atlantic Ocean faster, but they picked their weather. Atlantic's crossing, in 12 days, four hours, one minute and 19 seconds, survives as the oldest race record in sailing - and despite all the remarkable advances in sailing since then, it might stand for a full century!

A severe depression that will be centred off Cape Cod tomorrow -- potentially producing headwinds gusting up to 50 knots -- has caused the Race Committee to delay the start of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge. A new start time has been provisionally set for 1400EDT Sunday, May 22, 2005.

At the Captains' Briefing in the New York Yacht Club's Model Room this evening, David Tunick, Chair of the Technical & Compliance Subcommittee for the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, gave the reasons for the decision: “We looked at the weather all week. We not only monitored the National Weather Service ourselves, but we also took advice from two professional weather services. Their advice, coming to us independently this morning, was to postpone the start. The reason is that there were two lows out there that looked as if they might be merging - a double whammy. With the history of the Sydney-Hobart and the Fastnet, they considered it highly irresponsible of the New York Yacht Club to send off the race tomorrow.”

Tunick added that many of the top skippers taking part in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge had spoken to him during the day, also urging him to postpone the start. “I was pleased to hear that advice, and it was on that advice that the decision was taken.”

Mike Sanderson, racing helmsman of line honours favourite Mari-Cha IV gave his views: “If it had gone to a vote, we would have voted to go, because we think we're battle-ready. But I think it is smart what they have done. There is no point in burning out half the fleet in one fell swoop. Time will tell what the weather does in the following days. I think we will get away Sunday. Three days into it, we should get good breeze again, but on the wind.”

Mike Slade felt his water-ballasted 90-foot (29.9m) Leopard of London would have handled the conditions had the start not been postponed but was happy with the decision. “As the owner, I am quite relieved. When you hit the Gulf Stream, if there is a northeasterly coming down at you and the Gulf Stream coming from the south-southwest, you have wind against tide. And then you have a shelf, as well, over the Grand Banks - then you're asking for some serious weather.”

A start for Sunday looks promising, says Tunick. “We have been looking at the weather this afternoon and have been in touch with both our weather services. We will be looking at it again tomorrow morning. All I can say is it is not looking too bad for Sunday.”

The Rolex Transatlantic Challenge is sponsored by Rolex and also by Moran Towing Corp., Sandy Hook Pilots, P&O Ports North America, and MedLink. The race is supported by the City of New York and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Showboats International is the event's official marine publication; program sponsors include Rolex, North Fork Bank and Holland Jachtbouw. While breaking the record is certainly a goal for many of the participants, some are competing simply for the unparalleled experience of racing across 3,000 miles of open ocean in the company of some of the world's most sophisticated grand prix yachts as well as beautiful classic and performance-cruising yachts.

Hosted by the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) with the cooperation of the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS), the race is steeped in yachting history on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pre-race social events have been underway at the New York Yacht Club in New York City and aboard the aircraft carrier and museum USS Intrepid in New York Harbour, where entrants will be berthed. When the fleet arrives in England, it will be welcomed by the RYS and entertained at Cowes during England's 200th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Trafalgar. A highlight of the post-race festivities will be a race around the Isle of Wight on the same course where in 1851 the yacht America won what became the America's Cup.

If a yacht without powered winches were to break Atlantic's racing record that yacht will become the new official record holder for this race and will be recognized by the World Sailing Speed Record Council of the International Sailing Federation.

The New York Yacht Club is allocating four of its most significant trophies to serve as symbols for the overall transatlantic-race record and for the elapsed "line honors" times for each of the three divisions: classic, performance cruising and grand-prix.

The Commodore's Cup, left, donated by Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry in 1892, will symbolize the west-to-east transatlantic race record for monohull yachts on the traditional course between Ambrose Tower and Lizard Point. This will be the first time this trophy has been placed in competition since 1892. The Commodore's Cup stands 28 inches in height and is a classic ewer with a maiden sitting beneath the pouring spout. It was crafted by the silversmiths of the Whiting Co. for Commodore Gerry.

Commodore James Gordon Bennett Jr. donated three magnificent silver trophies to the club in 1872. The trophy selected as the elapsed time (line-honors) trophy for the Classic Division from New York to the Needles is the Commodore's Challenge Cup for Schooners. This trophy is approximately two feet in height and, along with its two companions, was crafted by Tiffany's in New York. It is an amphora crowned with a sea nymph holding the reins of two wild horses emerging from a roiled sea. The handles of the amphora - see left below -- are coiled sea monsters. The names of winners of the Challenge Cup are recorded on silver plates affixed to the base. The most recent winner was A. Robert Towbin's Sumurun in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup, this race's predecessor, hosted by the NYYC. A. Robert Towbin is the chairman of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005.

It is fitting that three of these trophies come from Commodore Bennett. Late one evening in 1866, three young New York Yacht Club members fell to boasting about the relative merits of their yachts. Pierre Lorillard had a new centerboard schooner, the 105-foot Vesta; Charles Osgood had his deep and narrow 106-foot Fleetwing, and James Gordon Bennett Jr., the 21-year-old son of the publisher of the influential New York Herald newspaper, had his 107-foot Henrietta. Thus began the world's first transatlantic race. Each owner anted up $30,000 -- winner would take all.

The Herald had recently exhorted "our smooth water gentry" to "trip anchors and start out on a cruise on blue water. Get off your soundings, trust your sea legs for a while, reciprocate the visits of your English cousins, visit your own coast, go to South America, try Europe, call on the Sultan; or if you have got the pluck, circumnavigate the world, then come home and write a book. It will perpetuate your memory, reflect luster on your deeds, and redound to the honor of your country."

In that wild-winter race in 1866, which finished on Christmas Day, Henrietta decisively won the inaugural transatlantic race. James Gordon Bennett Jr. was the only owner to be aboard. The next year he took over the newspaper from his father. Bennett had been the youngest member of the NYYC, named at age 16, would be its youngest commodore when age 30 and its only two-term commodore.

The second Bennett trophy, the Brenton Reef Challenge Cup - left -- is the elapsed-time trophy for the Performance Cruising Division. The latest winner of this trophy, which shows a statue of Columbus standing beside a globe, was George Lindemann's schooner Adela in the Spirit of Tradition Division of the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup.

The third Bennett trophy, the Cape May Challenge Cup, last photo, is the elapsed-time trophy for the Grand Prix Division. This piece is a striking example of a more modern design concept at the threshold of American artistic experimentation in the 1870s. Tiffany & Co. has cited the Cape May Challenge Cup as a groundbreaking example of its silver work during this time. This trophy was last won by J. Craig Venter's Sorcerer in the Contemporary Division in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup.

These trophies and other perpetual trophies from the club's collection, including the Sayre Cup, awarded to the yacht to set the Fastest Elapsed time from New York to the Needles, will be presented at a prize-giving on the Royal Yacht Squadron grounds following the race. The winners' names and yachts will be suitably engraved on the perpetual trophies, and they will be on permanent display in the New York Yacht Club.

The winners will receive Rolex timepieces as well as keeper trophies that will represent the perpetual trophies on display.

Favourite for the race is the 140-foot (42.7m) carbon-fibre canting-keel Mari-Cha IV, skippered by Robert Miller, of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes. In October 2003, when the boat was brand new, it set the west-to-east transatlantic passage record in six days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds.

During this record-breaking crossing, Robert Miller and his crew also shattered the 24-hour distance record by sailing 525.7 nautical miles. Writing about these two feats, the Wall Street Journal headlined its article: "Bob Miller Wanted the World's Fastest Sailboat -- And He May Have It."

The entered yachts, from largest to smallest, are:

o Stad Amsterdam, 252 feet (77m) three-masted clipper ship, chartered by members of the Storm Trysail Club, designed by Gerard Dijkstra & Partners, launched in 2000 as the first clipper ship built in 130 years; Stad Amsterdam is pictured in the main photo on this page.

o Tiara, 178-foot (54.3m) sloop, skippered by Jonathan Leitersdorf, designed by Ed Dubois;

o Windrose of Amsterdam, 151-foot (46m) schooner, skippered by Chris Gongriep, designed by Gerard Dijkstra & Partners, holds the WSSRC Performance Certificate for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a two-masted schooner;

o Whirlaway, 140-foot (42.7m) sloop, owned by Randall Pittman, designed by Ed Dubois;

o Mari-Cha IV, 141-foot (43m) canting keel two-masted schooner, skippered by Robert Miller, designed by Clay Oliver, Greg Elliot, Philippe Briand, Mike Sanderson and Jef d'Etiveaud, holds the WSSRC-ratified passage record for the fastest transatlantic crossing by a monohull yacht;

o Sariyah, 131-foot (39.9m) ketch, chartered by Cortright Wetherill Jr. with Tim Laughridge as skipper, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, finished second in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup (this race's predecessor);

o Whisper, 116-foot (35.4m) sloop, skippered by Hap Fauth, designed by Ted Fontaine;

o Sojana, 115-foot (35m) ketch, skippered by Peter Harrison, designed by Bruce Farr;

o Anemos, 112-foot (34.1m) Swan sloop, skippered by Stephan A. Frank, designed by German Frers;

o Maximus, 100-foot (30.5m) carbon fiber super-maxi, skippered by Charles St. Clair Brown and Bill Buckley, designed by Clay Oliver and Greg Elliot, launched February 2005, features a retractable canting keel and a rotating wing mast;

o Leopard, 98-foot (29.9m) sloop, skippered by Mike Slade, designed by Reichel Pugh;

o Sumurun, 94-foot (28.7m) ketch, skippered by A. Robert Towbin, Fife design built in 1914; won its class in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup;

o Nordwind, 88-foot (26.8m) composite ketch, skippered by Dr. Hans Albrecht, A. Gruber design built in 1938, set the course record in the Fastnet Race (88 hours and 23 minutes) that stood for two decades;

o Carrera, 81-foot (24.7m) sloop, skippered by Joe Dockery, designed by Reichel Pugh, most recently set a course record in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, first yacht to finish the 2004 Newport to Bermuda Race;

o Mariella, 80-foot (24.4m) ketch, skippered by Carlo Falcone, Alfred Milne design built by Fife in 1939; o Seleni, 80-foot (24.4m) Swan sloop, skippered by Eaton Sail, a collaborative design of Nautor's Swan and German Frers;

o Ocean Phoenix, 77-foot (23.6m) sloop, skippered by Jose Aguinaga, designed by Rob Humphries;

o Palawan, 75-foot (22.9m) sloop, skippered by Joe Hoopes, designed by Ted Hood, won its class and line honors in the Newport to Bermuda Race in 2002;

o Telefonica MoviStar, 70-foot (21.3m) sloop, skippered by Bouwe Bekking - the Spanish entry in the 2005 Volvo Ocean Race;

o Stay Calm, 70-foot (21.3m) Swan sloop, skippered by Clarke Murphy, designed by German Frers.

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