The course goes from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, at the entrance of New York's Lower Bay, Great Britain.
The Rolex Transatlantic Challenge celebrates the centennial anniversary of the Great Ocean Race of 1905. The original event came about when Kaiser WILHELM II of Germany issued a challenge to anyone willing to race his 158-foot (48.1m) yacht Hamburg across the North Atlantic.
While transatlantic races had been held before then, the 1905 event was significant for drawing a large number of entries, eleven in total, and is remembered principally for the record time set by the race winner, Atlantic.
Owners who competed in the 1905 race included (newspaper heir-The Herald) James GORDON BENNETT, Jr., (financier) J.P. MORGAN, (railroad heir) Cornelius VANDERBILT, and (meatpacking heir) Allison VINCENT ARMOUR.
A contemporary counterpart is Robert MILLER, the duty-free shop billionaire who owns Mari-Cha IV. Crewing for MILLER will be Crown Prince PAVLOS of Greece. On the other end of the spectrum, ten husband-and-wife teams will compete aboard Stad Amsterdam.
Yachts will race much the same course as in the race 100 years ago: departing from New York, bound for the Lizard and then continuing on to Cowes, Isle of Wight.
The expanse of the North Atlantic is three times the size of the USA, and the yachts must choose the fastest course to beat Atlantic's race record
For safety, race organizers plan to include a way point in the mid-Atlantic to keep the yachts clear of icebergs.
Breaking the transatlantic race record or winning line honours is not the sole reason for competitors to take part in the 2005 Rolex Transatlantic Challenge. Between the 21 boats leaving on the New York-Lizard-Cowes course on 21 May, there will be races within the overall race. Of these, few will be harder fought than between the three classic yachts: Hans ALBRECHT's 88-foot (26.8m) ketch Nordwind from Germany, Mariella, the 80-foot (24.4m) yawl of Carlo FALCONE from Antigua - both launched in 1938 - and the 94-foot (28.7m) ketch Sumurun, first commissioned in 1914.
Racing classics across the North Atlantic is not for the faint hearted. Built for Lord SACKVILLE of Kent, Sumurun originally was conceived as a Solent day sailer, not to compete in a gruelling 3,000 nautical mile trans-oceanic yacht race.
'The personal comforts are much less,' states A. Robert TOWBIN of the ride he will experience on board Sumurun compared to the modern, larger performance cruisers. 'You get very wet on classic boats. So even in modest weather you have to have oilskins on, and you never get dry, and the boat is never totally watertight. If you get a bad wave, even with covers on the hatches, water comes through.'
When she was launched, Sumurun was considered state-of-the-art fitted with one of the first marine ice coolers as well as her own tender with an early gasoline/petrol-driven engine. Since then, technology has leaped ahead: 'You don't have modern air conditioning or heat or any of those things. And of course the galleys are much nicer in the newer boats. You can have a decent meal in comfortable surroundings. On Sumurun, everyone sits on the floor and eats out of a bowl,' continues TOWBIN.
As with old cars or old houses, the maintenance of classic yachts is also much higher than it is for the newer vessels. Twenty-five years ago when TOWBIN purchased Sumurun on the Cote d'Azur, the boat was used little. 'I started to sail her somewhat intensively, and obviously as I did various things broke, and I had to fix them,' he recounts. 'At one point when I owned her, maybe 85% of the boat was original. I would guess today, there is still probably 45-50% that is original.'
The extensive replacement list has included 38 of 48 oak deck beams, all of her floorboards and, this winter, her deck. Then there is the complex decision over using modern materials or to keep her 'original' when making these changes. TOWBIN says his policy has been a mixture of the two approaches, using modern gear provided it does not interfere with the aesthetics of his yacht.
Despite the difficulties of owning and sailing classic boats, when it comes to beauty and elegance, classic yachts such as Sumurun are hard to beat. TOWBIN also relishes the notion that racing Sumurun in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge is about as close as he can come to what Charlie BARR and the crew of Atlantic experienced when they won the Kaiser's Cup in record time in 1905. 'One of the things I love about the race is that it's like reading a history book, but you're living it, too. You really have the same feelings people had 100 years ago when they were racing big boats.'
Looking at the form for this Classic Division in the race, TOWBIN and his eleven strong crew are at an advantage having raced Sumurun extensively. Already they have achieved success on the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge racecourse by winning the Classic Division of the Atlantic Challenge Cup, this race's predecessor, in 1997.
During the 1997 event, TOWBIN says they played it safe: 'We were somewhat cautious. There was a lot more wind farther north, and several boats broke a lot of things. We broke our wooden toilet seat when it disintegrated, so we were very, very fortunate. I could have imagined all sorts of things.'
Sumurun's crew also holds the psychological advantage of having beaten Nordwind and Mariella two weeks ago at the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. That was round-the-buoys under the Caribbean sun. Racing the width of the chilly North Atlantic will be a very different proposition.