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Trans-At race to Boston shatters records

Single-handed sailors in Transat 2004 fleet set new benchmarks for monohulls and multihulls

Single-handed sailors in Transat 2004 fleet set new benchmarks for monohulls and multihulls

The Transat 2004 proved to be the fastest yet, with race records tumbling in multihull and monohull classes.

Although the competitors in this year’s edition of the race were heading to a new finish destination in Boston, Mass., rather than Newport, R.I., the course distance from Plymouth, England, remained around 2,800 miles.

The Transat, a single-handed race across the North Atlantic, has been held every four years since 1960. It is a difficult race because the course is against prevailing winds.

Michel Desjoyeaux sailed across the finish line June 8, clinching a first place finish for the 60-foot multihull class and overall win, as well as setting a new trans-Atlantic benchmark for the race.

Racing across Boston Harbor at 25 knots, Desjoyeaux’s trimaran, Geant, completed the voyage from Plymouth in 8 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes and 55 seconds — a day earlier than Francis Joyon’s Transat voyage from Plymouth to Newport, R.I., in 2000.

Britain’s Mike Golding also set a new benchmark for the Open 60 monohull division. Golding, aboard Ecover, finished in 12 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes. In fact, seven out of the 12 finishers in the Open 60 class crossed the finish line ahead of Yves Parlier’s 1992 record of 14 days, 16 hours, 1 minute.

In the 50-foot multihull class, Trilogic averaged 8.3 knots and finished in just over 14 days — 2 days and 11 hours faster than the 1992 record set by Hervé Cleris. And both second and third, Great American II and GiFi respectively, finished well under 16 days. A day after Trilogic finished in the 50-foot multihull class, the first 50-foot monohull, Artforms, crossed the line in 15 days, 5 hours, 20 minutes taking 13 hours off Giovanni Soldini’s 1996 record.

Competitors struggled through a few low-pressure systems that brought winds up to 45 mph. Several boats abandoned the race because of equipment failures. Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm was rescued about 430 miles from Newfoundland when his yacht capsized. Stamm was picked up by an oil tanker.

Frenchman Desjoyeaux, who won the 2000-01 Vendée Globe and the 2002 Route du Rhum, says he didn’t have any problems along the voyage. A multihull racer for some two decades, Desjoyeaux says he had a good start off the southern tip of England and that, for the most part, weather was favorable. Desjoyeaux says the key to sailing multihulls is knowing when to push the boat.

“On flat water with stable conditions, you can go fast if you have a good angle at the right moment. No problem, the boat goes fast by itself,” says Desjoyeaux, after his finish. “But in big waves you have to know when to slow down. But it is knowing when you can push — that’s the problem — and you never know that before it breaks and it’s too late.”

Desjoyeaux says he was confident that he would win the race when he caught a wind shift, which pushed him ahead of second-place finisher Thomas Coville, sailing Sodebo, who finished an hour or so behind Desjoyeaux. Frank Cammas, sailing Groupama, finished third in the 60-foot multihull division.

Golding was hampered by a malfunctioning keel, when the electronic pump driving the hydraulic mechanism operating the swing keel burned out within hours of the start. Attempts to fix the pump failed so Golding used the power of the boat to drive the keel across to the other side.

His winning move came three days before the finish when he was neck and neck with competitor Mike Sanderson aboard Pindar Alphagraphics.

“There was one bit of routing that suggested we went to the south of a little depression and I realized it was possible for me to get just above it and get some better angles and that’s exactly what happened,” Golding says.

Like Desjoyeaux, Golding also is a veteran competitor. He competed in the 1998-99 Around Alone, the 2000-01 Vendée Globe, the 2001 EDS Atlantic Challenge and the 2001 Route du Rhum. Last year, he placed third in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre and won the single-handed Le Defi Atlantique.

Dominique Wavre, sailing Temenos, and Mike Sanderson, sailing Pindar, finished second and third, respectively, in the Open 60 division.

Eric Bruneel, sailing Trilogic, won first place in the 50-foot multihull class, besting Bostonian Rich Wilson in Great American II, who finished second. Dominique Demachy, sailing GiFi, placed third in that division.

In the 50-foot monohulls, Maine resident Kip Stone, aboard Artforms, won his class. Boston-area sailor Joe Harris, aboard Wells Fargo-American Pioneer, placed second.