North Atlantic Odyssey

With the last yacht finished at the Lizard, we take a look back at the epic 2011 Transatlantic Race.

July 22, 2011
Transatlantic Race 2011 Billy Black

Newport, R.I. USA (July 22, 2011) – As “an extended adventurous voyage,” the odyssey that is the Transatlantic Race 2011 was a defining event in ocean racing, as well as in the lives of the sailors aboard the 26 competing yachts. The race made history with the establishment of a new record – crossing 2,975 miles of ocean from Newport, R.I. to The Lizard on the south coast of England – and was the result of a successful collaboration between the Royal Yacht Squadron (founded in 1815), the New York Yacht Club (1844), the Royal Ocean Racing Club (1925) and the Storm Trysail Club (1938).

“This race will bring together generations, to build character and to reaffirm values,” said Commodore Robert C. Towse, Jr., during the send-off celebration held at New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court clubhouse two days before the first yachts departed. “The cold North Atlantic may test that purpose, but at The Lizard finish those boats and their crews will have earned one of the hardest of sailing distinctions.”

On June 26, cannon fire from the iconic Castle Hill Lighthouse signaled the beginning of the historic ocean adventure. It was the first of three staggered starts, implemented so that yachts ranging in size from 40’ to 289’ would finish off The Lizard in close proximity to one another. And, over the three weeks the yachts were at sea, thousands of armchair sailors were captivated by the drama as it unfolded. Using state-of-the-art satellite communication systems, life onboard was beamed to a global audience as the competing yachts raced across the desolate North Atlantic. An ice gate established by the Race Committee prevented the fleet from going too far north, but sea temperatures lower than 4º Celsius were recorded during the race and sea fog obscured the sun for days on end.


Representing 10 nations, the 26 entries were crewed by world-class professionals as well as Corinthian amateurs. The youngest competitor was just 16 years of age, the oldest 80, and the yachts themselves were just as diverse. The 289’ Maltese Falcon was nearly three times the length of any other participant and the fleet included maritime creations from high performance canting keel Maxis to pocket rocket Class 40s. All 26 yachts entered were destined to finish but each has written a different story.

On June 26 the sunshine burned off the morning fog as the first start of the Transatlantic Race 2011 got underway with six of the smallest yachts beginning their journey across the Atlantic in champagne sailing conditions. With four fathers and five sons onboard, local favorite Carina got away to a great start with Rives Potts, Jr. (Essex, Conn.) at the helm. Within a few days, Carina had extended on the fleet by some by 400 miles. Later in the race, however, an area of high pressure mid-Atlantic was to be their nemesis, as well as that of many others.

There was high drama for the second start of the Transatlantic Race 2011 on June 29. With the 14 yachts on final approach and the breeze building, three boats were caught over early and were forced to turn back just as the mighty Maltese Falcon was bearing down on the line. Announcing its intentions with a bone-rattling blast of air horns, the 289’ Perini Navi set sail for the open ocean. Zaraffa made the best start as 80-year-old Huntington Sheldon (Shelburne, Vt.) held the helm, hoping to emulate his Transatlantic win of 2003. The second start was also notable for the inclusion of the Volvo 60 Ambersail, the first-ever Lithuanian yacht to compete in a Transatlantic Race. “To see our flag flying at the New York Yacht Club was very special,” said skipper Simonas Steponavicius (Vilnius, Lithuania). For the next few days the North Atlantic would fail to live up to its notorious reputation as light winds frustrated the 20 yachts taking on this North Atlantic odyssey.


“If we were looking to set an Atlantic record, we would choose to leave today,” said a smiling Peter Isler (San Diego, Calif.), navigator on Rambler 100, on the morning of July 3 as Newport was bathed in warm sunshine giving an indication he knew conditions were about to change. A low-pressure system was sweeping across the Midwest, right on cue, to give the fastest boats in the Transatlantic Race 2011 a blistering start. As if by magic, grey clouds rolled in as the Maxi fleet powered up in the starting area. Beau Geste, skippered by Karl Kwok (Hong Kong) got away well and showed a clean pair of heels to the giants of world offshore racing. It was not long, though, before the 100’ Maxis, ICAP Leopard, skippered by Clarke Murphy (New York, N.Y.), and Rambler 100, skippered by George David (Hartford, Conn.), caught up. PUMA’s Mar Mostro, helmed by Ken Read (Newport, R.I.), and the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team’s Vanquish were the two smallest yachts in the class but their crews could not be more different: Vanquish sailed by young sailors with little offshore experience, and Mar Mostro bristling with Volvo Ocean Race winners. The PUMA was on the prowl and by the end of the race the black cat had caught its prey.

The 20 yachts that had preceded the high performance fleet had a significant head start, but it wasn’t long before Rambler 100 was running them down, ripping through the Atlantic swell at speeds in excess of 25 knots with PUMA’s Mar Mostro in hot pursuit. Within three days, Rambler 100 was leading the entire fleet, but what was surprising was that ICAP Leopard was well off the pace. It was July 4 when ICAP Leopard heard a big bang which, unfortunately for them, had nothing to do with celebrating America’s birthday. The bowsprit had sheered off and the Leopard was badly wounded. The crew rallied round and mitigated the danger of the carbon fibre spear smashing into the hull, but without the sprit, the chance for a race win was effectively over just 36 hours into the race. Rambler 100 and PUMA’s Mar Mostro continued to power ahead as fast as the wind could carry them, and sometimes even faster.

By July 8, however, most of the fleet could not ride the weather system and soon would be languishing in the vacuum and turbulent waters left behind. Using guile and no less amount of skill, several yachts managed to escape the windless zone, including Zaraffa and Jazz, skippered by Nigel King (Lymington, U.K.). Phaedo, the Gunboat 66 owned by Lloyd Thornburg (St. Barthelemy), managed to escape the clutches of the 1100-ton Maltese Falcon in the light air. But it was a short-lived freedom as all, bar the leading boats, were entangled in the eerie calm that spread across the mid-Atlantic.


Meanwhile, Rambler and PUMA’s Mar Mostro were experiencing their defining moments of the race. The wind was dying and the big decision was how to hook into another weather system which was slowly moving in from the north. The problem was how to get to it, judging where to cross the windless zone and to get onto the new pressure at the right angle. It was like trying to jump onto a merry-go-round, and while Rambler 100 did a good job, PUMA was even better.

On Sunday, 10 July, at 16h 08m UTC, Rambler 100 was the first yacht to cross the finish line of the Transatlantic Race 2011. The elapsed time for Rambler 100 was six days, 22 hours, eight minutes and two seconds. which established a new record for the 2,975 nautical mile course from Newport, R.I., to Lizard Point, South Cornwall, U.K.

“For the first 80 hours of this race we were ripping along,” said David at the finish. “Towards the end we hit a few holes in the wind but we feel very happy about the time. Crossing the Atlantic in under seven days is pretty exhilarating. Kenny Read is about 100 miles behind us with his PUMA Team. The odds are he is probably going to win the race on corrected time.”


David’s hunch was right. PUMA’s Mar Mostro crossed the finish line at The Lizard at 05:40 UTC on July 11, and once calculations proved that none of the 24 yachts still racing could beat them on handicap, PUMA’s Mar Mostro was declared winner of IRC Class One and IRC Overall for the Transatlantic Race 2011. And, even with a four-day head start, it would be more than 24 hours before another yacht would cross the finish line. In time, Zaraffa, Phaedo and Jazz finished to claim well-deserved victory in their respective classes.

On July 15, more than a dozen yachts completed the race, providing some dramatic close encounters in a dash to the finish. From IRC Class One, which took the final start of the Transatlantic Race 2011 on July 3, Beau Geste was followed eight minutes later by the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team’s Vanquish, and 13 minutes later, Sojana, the grand ketch skippered by Peter Harrison (Reigate, U.K.) had completed the race as well.

In IRC Class Two, Christoph Avenarius and Gorm Gondesen’s Shakti and Jens Kellinghausen’s Varuna had enjoyed a match race across the ocean. The two Simon Rogers 46-footers, both based in Hamburg, Germany, had barely been out of sight of each other for 16 days. Varuna was first to cross the line, with a mere three-minute lead, but Shakti won the duel on corrected time to claim second in class. Prodigy, owned by Chris Frost (Durban, South Africa), was to finish less than an hour later to take fourth place overall.

In IRC Class Three, Ambersail became the second yacht to finish the race followed by Scho-ka-kola, skippered by Uwe Lubens (Hamburg, Germany), however, neither yacht was to make the class podium on corrected time. The youth team on Norddeutsche Vermogen Hamburg had put in a stellar performance in the second half of the race, as did Snow Lion, skippered by former NYYC Commodore Lawrence Huntington (New York, N.Y.), to claim second and third, respectively, in the division. Ourson Rapide skippered by Paolo Roasenda (Vedano al Lambro, Italy) finished just before dawn to complete the race.

Tony Lawson’s Class 40 Concise 2, skippered by Ned Collier-Wakefield (Oxford, U.K.), had one of the best performances of any yacht in the early part of the race, putting an impressive 300-mile lead on their class rival, Dragon, skippered by Mike Hennessy (Mystic, Conn). However, the mid-Atlantic doldrums wiped out their advantage as Dragon, sailing double-handed, not only caught Concise 2 but also passed the six-strong British youth team. In a fight to the finish, Concise 2 managed to get ahead and take the line by less than half an hour.

All of the yachts in IRC Class Four finished the race on July 15. Class line honors went to the oldest yacht in the race, Nordwind, the 86’ yawl skippered by Hans Albrecht (Germany). Carina and British Soldier, crewed by members of the British Army, were engaged in a battle royal. While Carina was well ahead on corrected time, it did not stop the two yachts having a close-reaching duel through the night — within touching distance of each other. British Soldier won the race to the line by less than a minute, an astounding finish after nearly three weeks at sea, and while Carina looked likely to win Class IRC Four on corrected time, their hopes were about to be dashed. Before the day was out, Dawn Star, co-skippered by Bill Hubbard and his son Will Hubbard (both New York, N.Y.), finished The Transatlantic Race to claim the class victory by less than an hour. Jacqueline IV, the McCurdy & Rhodes 42′ skippered by Robert Forman (Bay Shore, N.Y.), finished the following day to beat British Soldier on corrected time and claim third in class.

As the last yacht to finish, Sasha, skippered by Albrecht and Erika Peters (Munich, Germany), experienced the roughest weather conditions of any yacht in the race. As they approached The Lizard a storm took hold in the Western Approaches with very high waves with overhanging crests, large patches of foam turning the sea white with rage, and large amounts of airborne spray, which dramatically reduced visibility.

After 22 days at sea, Sasha came screaming through the finish line in a dramatic conclusion to the Transatlantic Race 2011. With all yachts and sailors safe in port, there is now time to reflect: on the incredible record set by Rambler 100; the bonds forged while racing across the North Atlantic; and the lessons of dedication and courage that every valiant soul that completed the challenge will value forever.


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