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The start of the Classic - Class 4 of the Transatlantic Race on Sunday, May 22. Left to right: Stad Amsterdam, Storm Trysail Club, Nordwind, Dr. Hans Albrecht, Germany, Bayerischer YC, and Mariella, Carlo Falcone, Antigua YC.

One hundred years ago aboard the schooner Atlantic, Frederick Hoyt wrote, "After sunrise we kept looking up all the time and by 8 a.m. were heading east by standard compass of N 80deg E true and with large jibtopsail and two staysails on we were doing between 11-12 knots. At 1000 a schooner was made out on the leebeam which later proved to be Hamburg, and when at noon she bore two points abaft the beam the faces of the watch on deck wore an expression of delight. The gods were good to us, for at noon, the sun broke through long enough for us to get a latitude sight. Although it did not clear entirely, the sun would show himself once in a while and give us an afternoon sight much to our relief." What a difference 100 years makes. On Sunday afternoon, 20 of the world's largest yachts set sail from Ambrose Light to begin the 3,000 mile Rolex Transatlantic Challenge across the North Atlantic to England's Lizard point in southern Cornwall and ultimately the Needles, Isle of Wight. And while the starting line and finish point are the same, much has changed in yachting over the last century. Yachts racing for the Kaiser's Cup were far wetter than their modern day counterparts. In 1905 crews endured hours on deck relying on woolen undergarments, oiled or waxed protective outers (hence the word "oilskin"), rubber boots, felt hats and sou'westers to keep them warm and dry. This gear was far from waterproof and none of it would be warm if it got wet. Mobil communications have made their mark on our modern sailing challenges, but back in 1905, navigators relied on a sextant in taking sun sights and from this could work out their position to within a few miles - assuming there was no cloud cover as described in the quote by Hoyt above. Today, yachts still carry a sextant, but use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to know the exact position of their yacht to meter accuracy via a $200 device that fits into the palm of one's hand. Only one yacht racing for the Kaiser's Cup was fitted with a Marconi radio and according to Scott Cookman's book on that event, Atlantic - the last great race of princes, "the gear filled a stateroom, required a skilled operator to use and maintain and even then was notoriously unreliable." In 2005, reliable voice communication is readily available via satellite through an Irridium phone, and most boats on the Rolex Transatlantic Race will have access to the Internet to send and receive email and download weather forecasts. There was a basic understanding of weather systems in 1905, but forecasting tended to be carried out solely on the experience of the crew looking at cloud formations, sea state and barometric pressure - a falling glass meant bad weather ahead and would send the crew to set up oil bags on the bow (at the time it was widely believed that pumping oil out helped flatten the sea). Today's weather forecasts generated from supercomputers, while not 100 percent accurate, give a crew the ability to anticipate severe weather so they can take countermeasures.

There was one similarity between the Great Race of 1905 and the Rolex Transatlantic. In 1905 the race was delayed one day due to fog, while this year there was a one-day delay due to a forecast of potential gale-force winds. Sunday dawned cloudy and rainy, but that did not dampen the spirits of the crowds that caught rides on spectator boats, or for those who sailed in New York Harbor to watch the Parade of Boats led by Maximus, the brand-new super maxi designed by Clay Oliver and Greg Elliot, and owned by Charles St. Clair Brown. The fleet paraded down the Hudson River, past the wall-to-wall skyscrapers of Manhattan's financial district and the site of Ground Zero, to the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and onto the entrance of New York Harbor, motoring 15 miles out to Ambrose Light. Just as the fleet arrived at the starting line, the sun broke through the clouds to provide a spectacular backdrop for the yachts waiting for the starting gun. There was a price to pay for the beautiful sunshine. Though, as fluky winds of 3-5 knots shifted between east and southeast. The wind was so light that at one point there was discussion that the Race Committee might delay the start. The wind was so light that Maximus, the New Zealand entry, and Mari-Cha IV, Great Britain, hoisted crew up the mast to check for any sign of breeze up the course. But the Race Committee sent off Grand Prix Class 1 right on time at 2:10 p.m. Mari-Cha IV, 140 feet, Maximus, 100 feet, and Carrera, 81 feet, all crossed the line on starboard tack, favored in the southwest wind. Carrera is owned by Joseph Dockery from Cos Cob, CT and is hoping for a handicap win in this class and has on board with him America's Cup skipper Ken Read (Newport, RI) and Volvo Ocean racer Chris Larson (Annapolis, MD). The most tense start was between the giants in Performance Cruising Class 2. Mike Slade's Leopard of London hit the line perfectly at the Ambrose Light end, while there was near contact at the committee boat end, with Peter Harrison's Sojana squeezing inside the Swan 112 Anemos and the massive Tiara. In the Performance Cruising Class 3, Tempest, a classic 80-foot S & S yacht, was over the line early, and received a penalty (30 minutes), but to everyone's surprise, she returned to the starting line but didn't clear it on their second attempt, and was forced to cross it a third time. The best start of this class was by Clarke Murphy on Stay Calm, a 70-foot German Frers designed Swan. The final class to cross the starting line was the Classic - Class 4. Stad Amsterdam, chartered by the Storm Trysail Club a 252-foot clipper ship launched in 2002, provided a stunning image as she started this historic challenge with her entire spread of canvas. Aboard the Stad Amsterdam are 40 Storm Trysail Club members including eight husband-and-wife teams who will work side-by-side with the 28 permanent crew.

By late in the afternoon, Mari-Cha IV led overall. After 24 hours, there is some breeze for the Grand Prix class while those astern continue to wallow in light air, making five knots or less. There is concern about the weather ahead, as there is a main storm system coming off the Virginia coast that will turn into a major gale, giving the fleet a rough two days. To see if the record set by the Atlantic can be broken after 100 years, go to www.transatlanticchallenge.org.

Now for some local news: The 58th Annual Port Washington Yacht Club Day Race was held on May 22. Conditions were a 5-12 kt NE Breeze with periods of rain. Three divisions competed over a 14.8 nautical mile course starting north of Execution Rocks Light and running east to Matinecock Point then north to Scotch Caps and west to Hart Island before turning south to the finish line between Hewlett Point and Barker Point at Manhasset Bay. Top boats in Division I: 1. Avalanche, Al Albrecht, Port Washington YC, 2. Deviation, Iris Vogel, Huguenot YC, and 3. Promise Kept, Sandy Lindenbaum, North Shore YC. In Division II: 1. Out of Reach, Louie Nees, Port Washington YC, 2. Wooly Bully, Richard Furie, Port Washington YC, and 3. Exuberance, Jeffrey Ohstrom, City Island YC. In Division III (non-spinnaker): 1. Sundance, Joel Ziev, North Shore YC, 2. Chieftain, New York AC YC and 3. Aquila, Keith Dorman, North Shore YC.


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