Close But No Cigar For Areté

Published on September 26th, 2018

When was the last time you saw a forecast of 40 knots gusting 50, with 20 foot waves in near freezing temperatures, and thought to yourself, “Hey, great day for a sail.” Probably never, but when it comes to the arena of breaking speed records, that’s exactly what you look for.

Rick Warner set his sights on breaking the record for the 289nm course of the Chicago to Mackinac Race in his ORMA 60 trimaran Areté. Partnering with Oakcliff Sailing, the wait for the weather window that would bring the right wind speed and direction presented itself September 22 when a squall line came through at 3am to commence their voyage under a double-reefed main and the gennaker.

All looked good as they were averaging well above 25 knots of boat speed for the first 12 hours or so. But as they got farther out into Lake Michigan, the waves grew to the height of two story buildings. The spray off the bow whipped back like a fire hose.

“That is by far the wettest boat I’ve ever been on,” said Chris Kennedy of Oakcliff Sailing, “Wetter than Waszps, Nacras, college dinghies. The spray off the bow was actually painful. I think it went right through my drysuit.”

They hit a top speed of 34.2 knots and were on track to break the record until the wind shifted North and they had to go inside of the Manitou Islands. “We knew that shift was coming so we were racing to the top of the lake so we could turn towards Mackinac Island and keep the wind abeam but we didn’t make it in time,” explained Kennedy.

At that point they had put some money in the bank and only needed to maintain an average speed of 12 knots but they couldn’t average higher than about 10 knots.

“The boat is so wide and the waves were so close together that the outer hulls would plunge into the wave crests anytime we started to gain speed,” said Kennedy.

At night the temperature plunged below 40 degrees and the whole team struggled to stay warm. When they realized they couldn’t break the record they decided to end their misery and head for Harbor Springs. Two friends of the team, Gretchen Dorian and Debbie Schoenherr, greeted them with a warm house, hot pizza, and cold beer. They couldn’t have imagined a better way to return to land.

So the current records still stand. The multihull race record is held by the late Steve Fossett on the catamaran Stars and Stripes at 18 hours, 52 minutes and 32 seconds while the monohull and outright course record was set by Peter Thornton’s Il Mostro, a Volvo 70 monohull, at 17 hours, 59 minutes and 49 seconds – an average of 16.06 knots.

Rick Warner still intends to break the record but it is unlikely that the next attempt will happen before next season.

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