Atlantic Cup Day 3
Sailing World’s_ roving big-boat correspondent Ryan O’Grady sailed in Leg 1 of the Atlantic Cup as the media crewmember onboard Jörg Reicher’s Class 40 Mare with co-skipper Ryan Braymaier._
All good things must come to an end, and that was certainly the case when we tried to exit the Gulf Stream and pursue a warm eddy off Georges Bank that we thought would propel us home. The Gulf Stream produces a lot of energy, and with that energy comes unique micro-weather systems that don’t show up on any grib file. For us that meant going from sailing straight at New York at 12 knots to wallowing around with the sails slatting for an hour as we transitioned from the Stream proper to the eddy current. For Jörg and Ryan, the atmospheric instability meant a new sail change every 10 minutes or so, draining much of their physical stamina. In addition, the mental burden of knowing that we were stopped while our competitors were making up valuable ground was causing ample frustration. As darkness descended, we were finally able to re-hoist the big kite and again make decent progress to New York. It’s times like this that being a media crewmember sucks. My job means that I cannot help or hinder the crew, so as they are toiling away, I’m forced to just sit there and watch. After years of racing, my gut instinct is to do something, anything, to make their lives easier, but the only thing I can do is to try to be invisible.
Determined to regain the miles we lost, Jörg and Ryan worked straight through the night, yet by 5 a.m. Monday morning, the image of Bodacious Dream was back on the horizon.
At this point, we are fully out of the Gulf Stream and the weather has turned cold and grey, aptly matching the mood onboard. With only 100 or so miles to go to New York, the mission is to extend our tenuous lead back to the point where we had it the night before. Throughout the morning, we were stuck in a bubble of high pressure and were lucky to manage eight knots of speed towards the finish. By 11 a.m., we were finally close enough to shore to gybe onto starboard and wait for the Jersey Shore to heat up enough to give us some sea breeze to help us along. Our main competitors seem to have stayed offshore, so this move needs to be the right one, otherwise we not have any more passing lanes for the rest of the race.
Fortunately for us, the pressure and angle favored our inshore position, and we started chewing up miles to New York. There was a lot of leverage between us and Campagne, who was way out to the east along with Bodacious Dream. They had to come back, and when they did, the angle appeared to be just behind us. Sure enough, a few hours later the green and orange mainsail of Campagne appeared behind us, and amazingly, they sailed right down to our line before gybing back. With their leverage now gone, the race should be in the bag, right?
No race is ever sailed perfectly; it is won by minimizing mistakes. In doublehanded racing, mistakes happen when teams don’t sleep for nearly three and a half days. Ryan and Jörg were lucky to get maybe 10 hours, and none in the last 22 hours of the race. That fatigue led to a short layline call near Sandy Hook that opened the door for Campagne to take the lead. They got some current relief and better pressure, and our two-mile lead was gone. After 700 miles of racing, we were down to a jibing duel to the finish, right up until Campagne wrapped their kite in a jibe. One mistake in 700 miles was the difference between first and second place.
New York at night is a fantastic place to finish a race. With the reflection of the new Freedom Tower glancing off the water at the finish, our adventure came to an end at 1:30 on Tuesday morning with a victory. Jörg Reicher’s Mare is still undefeated in ocean races, after first winning this winter’s Solidaire du Chocolat. After docking, Jörg and Ryan were surrounded by media before finally being freed to get much deserved sleep. For me, it’s off to Penn Station and a return to real life. Maybe I’ll get some sleep too.