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27 May 2005, 10:59 am
Transatlantic Match Races
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Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005

Over the last 36 hours, the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge's two leaders, Robert MILLER's Mari-Cha IV and Charles BROWN and Bill BUCKLEY's Maximus, have finally moved in front of the virtual position of the 1905 transatlantic race winner Atlantic. Two reports from MILLER detailed the trying conditions they have been experiencing.

'It has been a testing day and a half for us here on Mari Cha IV,' reported MILLER. 'Around 36 hours ago in very tough conditions, we launched off a gigantic wave and as the boat came crashing down we broke the headboard car and so were forced to drop the mainsail which meant, at one stage, we were down to just a storm jib and trysail. Since then we have been sailing at around 80% with just the #4 jib, a trysail and a triple reefed mizzen but because of the considerable extra force put on the mizzen, we have now also damaged the mizzen luff track. This means that we're back to the #4 jib and a trysail only.'

'Our plan is to continue racing as hard as possible with the sails that we have and, as soon as the weather allows, we will start affecting repairs in the hope that we will be able to get the boat back to full strength as soon as possible.'

'This has been a tough time for the crew, but we have an enormous breadth of talent and the team has worked hard to minimise the damage and ensure that this [will not affect] morale on board.'

'This is a historic race with a long way still to go and we won't be giving up until we're safely moored in Cowes.'

In a second report sent this morning MILLER sounded far more optimistic, 'Just a quick update on our progress - we spent the day basically not racing, but focusing on fixing the boat. You should have seen it here - we had two guys up each mast for hours at a time, and to keep it smooth enough for them we had to run downwind away from the finish. So to be only 45 miles behind Maximus now is very exciting. We are now back at full pace - everything is not permanantly fixed, but we are able too sail at pretty much 100% and certainly will be able to when it comes reaching and running.'

'We are now set for challenging Maximus all the way to the finish.'

Mari-Cha IV and leaders Maximus have now turned north, having had a difficult Wednesday night of big winds and lumpy seas.

'This race so far seems to have been all about no wind or too much,' reported Mari-Cha IV's racing helmsman Mike SANDERSON on Wednesday night. 'Over the past eight hours, we have got back to the stage of having to slow the boat down to try and make sure that we don't break anything major that will stop us racing the boat. It is easy to forget, at times, that there are still 2,300 miles or so to go in this transatlantic race. We are happy to give up some of our lead to Maximus just so that we can be sure to be there when the reaching and running conditions start in a few days time.' At the time, the 140-foot schooner was sailing in 37 knots in 'survival conditions.'

Meanwhile, Maximus has split from her larger rival and in terms of distance to finish (DTF), has taken the lead and is now almost 100 miles ahead.

The British match race for the on-the-water lead in Performance Cruising class 1 also continues, with just ten miles DTF separating Mike SLADE's Leopard from Peter HARRISON's Sojana. Leopard, too, has split on the course with Sojana and is sailing to the northwest.

In a third match race between what are now the two largest boats in the fleet (following Stad Amsterdam's retirement), the 170-foot ketch Drumbeat is now around 40 miles ahead of her sloop-rigged near-sistership Tiara. 'Earlier this [Thursday} morning we had 40 knots of wind, and we have just broke the head of the staysail,' recounted Tiara's captain Pascal PELLAT-FINET. 'It is nothing dramatic, but we have had to slow down quite a bit. We will wait for nicer weather to pull out a bigger sail.'

Alexis LOMBARD, on Tiara, described their race so far. 'The strategy for the last three days was to go south back to 38 degrees north to avoid the worst of the storm. We had little wind Sunday and Monday, and since then the wind and the sea have been getting stronger and stronger, and we still have the southeast wind. We were going very well for 24 hours at an average of 13-14 knots, so everything was quite fine - a lot of rain, a lot of wind and then the staysail broke. Everything, otherwise, is perfect on the boat. We are having fun. We are having rough conditions, but this is the Atlantic and we were looking for that.'

Steve FRANK, owner of the Swan 112 Anemos, said they had generally been suffering from a lack of wind but had a glorious sail yesterday in 35 knots. 'From 1100 until 2000 it was bright sunshine, fetching, which is what we wanted to do. The steering and sailing was magnificent. It was absolutely her seaway. I haven't had that much sunshine and that much breeze in 40 years. It was well worth it.'

However in the process, they got too far north, and when they gybed back, they ran out of wind. 'Since then, they've kind of turned off the fan,' continued FRANK, who is sailing his first transatlantic race.

While the conditions have been extremely trying for the first four days of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, this should soon change, said Ken CAMPBELL of Commanders Weather, which is advising 16 of the boats competing. 'This is the last day of the storm system that we were concerned about pre-start and that we have been sailing with for a couple of days now, which has produced totally screwy conditions. There are two lows. The western low is about 100-150 miles south southwest of Nantucket. The eastern low is located in the western third of the fleet, 200 miles southeast of Nantucket, and they are rotating counterclockwise. The low that is in the middle of the fleet is going to head towards Nantucket today, and they will all congregate this evening 50-100 miles southeast of Nantucket, and they'll start to move northeast like weather systems are supposed to move.'

At present, the leaders and northerly boats are in easterlies, while those to the south and east are transitioning from easterlies to southerlies as they get out of the clutches of the depression. The depression is set to move across the Atlantic, and from the weekend on, all the boats in the fleet should enjoy a prolonged period of favourable westerly or southerly winds.

Elsewhere in the fleet on Thursday evening, Clarke MURPHY's Swan 70 Stay Calm continued to lead Performance Cruising class 2, while Carlo FALCONE's Mariella had moved ahead among the Classics.

100 years ago on day four of his transatlantic race on board the schooner Atlantic, Frederick HOYT wrote:

'The breeze kept dropping during the afternoon and by sundown we were not doing more than three or four knots. A heavy southwesterly swell on the quarter did not help matters either for it rolled us about so that with the light breeze all the booms had to be gotten onboard to save the sails and gear. The squaresail and raffee were the only sails which did any work.'

'Much to the disgust of everyone the breeze continued to drop and all the evening the ship hardly had steerage way. It was a beautiful night for lovers and steamers but as a racing proposition it might have been improved upon.'

Event Media. Image, The last couple of days have been a rough ride for Mari-Cha:© Event Media
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