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Well-Traveled Route for Iconic Test

Published on October 25th, 2018

In nine months’ time, the latest edition of the world’s oldest, most respected and most challenging of oceanic races will set sail from Newport, Rhode Island, bound for the Old World, on June 25, 2019,

Organized by the Royal Yacht Squadron, New York Yacht Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Storm Trysail Club, the origins of the Transatlantic Race 2019 date back more than a century and a half.

In 1866, just 15 years after a syndicate of its members famously won what would become America’s Cup, the New York Yacht Club ran its first Transatlantic Race. Three schooners entered— Fleetwing, Vesta and Henrietta, the latter owned by New York Herald heir James Gordon Bennett Jr.— for a prize purse of $90,000 (roughly $1.34 million in today’s money).

To ensure it was a true test of seamanship, it set sail from New York in mid-December. Remarkably all three of these high-powered, inshore racers made it to the finish line off the Needles, though six hands lost their lives, washed off the deck of Fleetwing during a gale.

The most famous Transatlantic Race was in 1905. German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II put up a solid gold trophy, the Kaiser’s Cup, for the winner. This competition was intended as a forum for Germany to showcase its sea superiority at a time when Britannia ruled the waves.

In the end the Kaiser’s yacht Hamburg was beaten soundly by American Wilson Marshall’s Atlantic. Skipper Charlie Barr drove this now famous 227-foot, three-masted schooner from New York to The Lizard in just 12 days, 4 hours, 1 minute and 19 seconds, a record that would stand for 92 years.

During the 20th century, west to east transatlantic races were run sporadically until the centennial anniversary of Atlantic’s legendary crossing. Since 2011, the Transatlantic Race has been run quadrennially, starting from Newport, Rhode Island.

The 2019 edition has some modifications to its format. There will just be one start, on June 25, with a first warning signal at 1100 EDT. The course will run across the North Atlantic to a finish off the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, a course of just under 3,000 nautical miles.

However, a gate will be included off the Lizard, as the Newport-Lizard course has been established as a record course with the World Sailing Speed Record Council. The present race record time of 6d:22h:08m:02s was set by George David’s maxi Rambler 100 during the 2011 race.

While in theory the route follows the prevailing winds, typically conditions are extremely tough, from the scary shoals and fog off the New England coast and the Grand Banks to the profound cold and humidity midway, to the tricky tides around the headlands along England’s south coast. Competitors will likely meet at least one gale on the way across.

The Transatlantic Race 2019 once again will form the central part of the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series 2019. Other components of the series include the RORC Caribbean 600, Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race and a new addition, the Antigua Bermuda Race. Of these, participation in at least three, including the Transatlantic Race, is mandatory.

The Transatlantic Race is open to IRC yachts, classics, superyachts, multihulls, IMOCA 60s, Class40s and other open class yachts of with a LOA no less than 40 feet. Recent editions have attracted some of the world’s fastest multihulls and monohulls including Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD70 trimaran Phaedo 3 and Jim and Kristy Clark’s 100-foot maxi Comanche, which respectively claimed multihull and monohull line-honors in 2015.

Superyachts have taken part, including the 270-foot Maltese Falcon and Sir Peter Harrison’s 105-foot Farr ketch, Sojana. Several of the world’s most magnificent classics have competed, including Mariette of 1915, which, a century on from her first launch, finished a remarkable third overall under IRC in the last edition of the race.

“The course is a classic,” says Brian Thompson, who first competed on this course in the 2003 Daimler Chrysler Transatlantic Race and was co-skipper on the trimaran Phaedo four years ago. “It is essentially the old Atlantic schooner record course, i.e. Charlie Barr driving with a pistol in his hand! It has got a lot of history to it. It is also one of the longest, hardest races in the world that IRC boats can do.”

The race also attracts the international cream of the IRC fleet, from grand prix boats such as Bryon Ehrhart’s Reichel/Pugh 63 Lucky and German Tilmar Hansen’s canting keel Elliott 52 Outsider, winner and second overall under corrected time in 2015, respectively, to the very well-traveled and heavily campaigned Scarlet Oyster, the Lightwave 48 of Ross Applebey and former New York Yacht Club Commodore Rives Potts’ McCurdy & Rhodes 48-footer Carina.

One of the most competitive fleets will be the Class40s. Former Mini Transat winner Armel Tripon, competed on the winning Class40 Stella Nova in 2015.

“What an incredible, amazing race it was,” says Tripon. “Eleven really intensive days, always with spinnaker, with one or two reefs in the main. We had a very enthusiastic German crew, and always pushed the boat very hard. We tore some sails, but repaired them. Our Mach 40 was really fast surfing down the big North Atlantic waves.”

While the grand prix boats and sponsored programs grab the headlines, the vast majority of entries in the Transatlantic Race are more modest, crews, families, cruisers just wishing to be part of the ancient story of this most historic of ocean races.

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Source: Stuart Streuli

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