A finish gun fired from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria at 1:29 PM today signaled a new sailing record from New York City to Melbourne (subject to ratification by the WSSRC).
The 53-foot trimaran Great American II completed the 15,000-mile voyage to Australia in 68 days 10 hours 7 minutes 52 seconds, breaking a record that had stood for 146 years.
American adventurers Rich Wilson, from Rockport, Massachusetts, and his co-skipper Bill Biewenga, from Newport, Rhode Island, waved to supporters and well wishers as they crossed a finish line in Hobson's Bay, off the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
They had broken the record of 69 days, 14 hours, set by the American extreme clipper ship Mandarin as she carried prospectors to the Australian Gold Rush in the winter of 1855-56.
The two sailors departed New York City on September 19, just eight days after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, and have been at sea ever since then.
In a similar feat eight years ago the two men sailed the same boat around Cape Horn, from San Francisco to Boston, breaking the record of the clipper ship Northern Light and setting a new mark of 69 days 20 hours.
Wilson said today that he has asked the World Speed Sailing Record Council in Great Britain to ratify the new passage time for its record books.
After her long ocean voyage, Great American II entered relatively sheltered waters through the notorious Rip at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay soon after dawn this morning. The southwesterly breeze that allowed the two sailors to maintain a steady ten knot average speed for the past few days began dying as they sailed up the Bay towards Melbourne.
When news helicopters and a boat carrying media and supporters found them just after 11:00 AM today, they were sailing slowly under mainsail and genoa. The two men took turns standing on the outriggers and talking to friends, family and media on the nearby media boat.
Before they left New York, Wilson was optimistic that they could complete the voyage through the North and South Atlantic Oceans, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the southernmost regions of the India Ocean in about 60 days.
However, after being slowed by light headwinds after leaving New York and again as the neared Australia, Wilson expressed doubt that they would be able to match the clipper ship's time.
"It is going to be a nailbiter!" he said one week before the finish. "If we can't get good breezes for the remainder of the voyage, this record will remain for another attempt."
At the finish today, Great American II picked up a fresh breeze and sped across the finish line off the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, doing 15 knots in a flurry of spray and leaving the supporters boat far behind.
The first people aboard were Wilson's wife, Lesley Maxwell, and Biewenga's fiancée Carolyn Nguyen. They presented the two sailors with floral leis and champage.
Commodore Bob McGregor of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria welcomed the two adventurers, noting that the club, the oldest in Victoria, had been established three years before the arrival of the Mandarin but there was no record of her stay in Melbourne. "They didn't run up any bar bills," McGregor joked.
Bill Biewenga reminded those present that the main goal of the project was the education program. "I not only write for a lot of sailing magazines around the world but I also sail quite a bit. But, this is the only project that I participate in that has intrinsic value, that gives something back to the community, to encourage kids to learn about a diversity of subjects."
Wilson said that his vessel had carried some cargo on the long voyage from America and the customs officer who inspected the vessel said it was the first time he had inspected 100 per cent of a ship's cargo. The item was a silver presentation Ames shovel, provided by the same Massachusetts company that made picks and shovels for the Australian Gold Rush explorers 150 years ago. Wilson presented it to the club for its support of the Gold Rush voyage project.
The website tracking the voyage of Great American II is http://www.sitesALIVE.com The Ocean Challenge voyage is one of nine educational programs bringing real-life interactive learning experiences to school children through the World Wide Web.