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Race will challenge 100-year-old record

Sailors in the Rolex TransAtlantic Challenge take aim at Charlie Barr’s New York-to-England mark

Sailors in the Rolex TransAtlantic Challenge take aim at Charlie Barr’s New York-to-England mark

The New York Yacht Club has revived a trans-Atlantic race to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the New York-to-England race record set by the legendary Charlie Barr on the schooner Atlantic.

The May 21 Rolex TransAtlantic Challenge 2005 will be a battle of sailing Titans, as were the races of Barr’s time that drew wealthy yachtsmen and big schooners like the 185-foot three-master Atlantic. No boat in the Rolex will measure less than 70 feet on deck. This won’t be just an exercise in nostalgia, though. Entries will honor Barr while aiming to beat his time and succeed him as record holder.

“Atlantic’s record is the marquee record in yacht racing,” says A. Robert Towbin, organizing committee chair, in the Notice of Race. Atlantic’s time of 12 days, 4 hours, 1 minute, 19 seconds still stands as the record for a race from New York’s Sandy Hook Light to The Lizard in England. Other boats have sailed the course much faster — Steve Fossett’s 125-foot catamaran PlayStation set a new overall record of 4 days, 17 hours and change in 2001 — but none have sailed the 2,925 miles west-to-east faster than Atlantic in a scheduled race that doesn’t let a challenger pick the optimum weather window to start.

The World Sailing Speed Record Council, which certifies records, has acknowledged NYYC’s traditional role as organizer of trans-Atlantic races and designated its race the only one now in which a boat can challenge the 1905 trans-Atlantic record. The race is restricted to monohulls, and a final roster of 20 yachts was announced in March. Among them are very big, very fast, modern racers; big, fast classic designs; and an assortment of fast cruisers in the performance cruising class.

The 140-foot Mari-Cha IV, which set a west-to-east monohull trans-Atlantic record of 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes, 39 seconds in October 2003, is an entry. So is the 94-foot Sumurun, a 1914 Fife design and winner in its class of the NYYC-sponsored 1997 Atlantic Challenge, forerunner of the Rolex race. The 151-foot Windrose of Amsterdam, holder of the world sailing speed record for a two-masted schooner, and the 230-foot Stad Amsterdam, the first clipper ship built in 130 years and an entry chartered by the Storm Trysail Club, also are scheduled to make the start.

“I can’t wait to do this race again,” says Tim Laughridge, in an e-mail press release from the NYYC. Laughridge will be racing in his second NYYC trans-Atlantic as captain on the 130-foot ketch Sariyah. He thinks a record time is a distinct possibility. “In the ’97 race, the last 1,200 nautical miles were a real challenge when the wind decided not to cooperate. … Up until that point, a few of the boats looked set to break the record.”

Steeped as it is in history, the NYYC has timed the race to coincide on the far side of the Atlantic with the 200th anniversary of Admiral Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. The Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, the race’s British host, is planning the June 11 to 14 post-race events and ceremonies with a distinct Nelsonian theme. Trophies will be awarded on Britain’s first iron warship, HMS Warrior, at the Portsmouth dockyard that was home to Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory.

On June 13 the Royal Yacht Squadron will hold the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight on the same 60-mile course where in 1851 the yacht America won what became the America’s Cup. One of the trophies will be the Lord Nelson Plate, donated by the Nelson Society.

Barr, who sailed Columbia and Reliance to America’s Cup victories, skippered Atlantic for owner Wilson Marshall in the 1905 Great Ocean Race, a race from Sandy Hook to the Lizard sailed at the invitation of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. The steel-hulled Atlantic weighed 206 tons, but it carried 18,500 square feet of sail in the race and logged 341 nautical miles during one 24-hour period. Barr is said to have sent Marshall below during the height of a storm after the owner demanded he shorten sail.

“You hired me, sir, to win this race, and, by God, that’s what I am going to do,” Barr is reported to have said.