Transatlantic Race: highs, lows and a record

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The 2011 Transatlantic Race had it all. First it was fast. Then it was slow. And in the end there was a monster storm that tested the mettle of two couples who were still at sea on a vintage 42-footer. And to top it off, Rambler 100, the odds-on favorite to win the 2,975-mile race from Newport, R.I., to Lizard Point off the southwestern coast of England on elapsed time, set a course record: 6 days and 22 hours.

Mar Mostro, Puma Ocean Racing's Volvo Open 70, was the overall winner on corrected time.

There were three start dates for the dash across the pond: June 26 and 29 and July 3. The overall winner on corrected time in the 26-boat fleet was Mar Mostro, the new Volvo Open 70 of the Puma Ocean Racing Team, which used the July race as a tuneup for the Volvo Ocean Race, a 39,000-mile round-the-world event that starts in early November in Alicante, Spain.

“We entered the race with zero expectations, just like the other IRC handicap racing we’ve done this year,” says Puma skipper Ken Read of Newport. “We wanted to learn the boat and the crew. Now here we are … winning a race that we didn’t expect to win. We are pleasantly shocked.”

Read and his crew clocked a top speed of 30 knots in the early going and covered 551 miles in their fastest 24-hour run. That was eclipsed only by Rambler, which is 30 feet longer and covered 582 miles in a 24-hour period. “Puma made it through the windless zone better than us,” says Rambler skipper George David of Hartford, Conn. “For the first 80 hours of this race we were ripping along. Toward the end, we hit a few holes in the wind, but the net speed average was 15.7 knots across the Atlantic. Our time was the fastest average speed that any monohull has ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and we have got to be very happy with that.”
In the open class, Phaedo, a bright orange 66-foot Gunboat catamaran described on its website as the “world’s fastest cruising cat with a pizza oven,” handsomely beat the 289-foot three-masted Maltese Falcon, a square-rigged Perini Navi luxury yacht that impressed with nimble sailing despite its size. IRC Class 3 was won by Huntington Sheldon, 80, a doctor from Shelburne, Vt., and the oldest competitor in the race. Sheldon chartered Zaraffa, his former yacht, which he had donated to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., only to experience déjà vu all over again. Zaraffa had carried him to victory in the Daimler Chrysler North Atlantic Challenge in 2003, a race from Newport to Hamburg, Germany.
For the slower boats, there were actually two races within the race, as a big calm that stretched across the entire course bunched up and reshuffled the fleet in the middle of the Atlantic. Leaders lost. Stragglers caught up. And when the wind resurfaced it was a restart for the 16 boats that were caught up in it.
In IRC Class 4, Carina, a McCurdy & Rhodes 48 skippered by Rives Potts, who runs Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, Conn., was a favorite, but it lost valuable ground on the “parking lot” and got nabbed on corrected time by the slightly smaller Dawn Star. Carina won the Newport Bermuda Race earlier this year and carried a father-and-son crew that included Dirk Johnson Jr., at 16 the youngest participant in the race.
Other notables were the fifth-place finish by the U.S. Merchant Marine’s Vanquish in IRC 1 and the close second-place finish in the Open 40 Class by Dragon, with skipper Mike Hennessy of Mystic, Conn., and navigator Rob Windsor, the only double-handed team in the race. On elapsed time, they finished only half an hour behind Concise, another Class 40, from the U.K., that sailed with a full complement of crew.
Perhaps the seamanship award should go to Albrecht and Erika Peters of Germany, who raced Sasha, their beautifully varnished 42-foot Sparkman & Stephens from 1970, with a couple from New Zealand. After an agonizingly slow passage, they had to weather a nasty storm on the approach to the finish after 22 days at sea.
“We had over 55 knots of wind and 40-foot breaking waves,” Albrecht Peters reports. “At times, we were hit at 90 degrees by these waves, and it was a case of survival.”
Despite having her reefed down to the max, Peters says, the boat still surfed along at 14 knots. “We had also broken the goose-neck fitting between the boom and the mast, and we were taking on water, possibly through the keel bolts. But the boat is fine and so is the crew.”
Information and complete results are available at www.transatlanticrace.org.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.