Sailing World’s_ roving big-boat correspondent Ryan O’Grady previews Leg 2 of the Atlantic Cup.___
Leg 2 of the Atlantic Cup begins on Saturday at 11 a.m. just off North Cove Marina in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower. From there, the fleet will battle out of New York Harbor and down the Jersey Shore to a turning mark off of Barnegat, N.J. After rounding that mark to port, the fleet can point their bows towards the finish in Newport, RI. I’ll be sailing again on Jörg Riechers Mare as the media crewmember to bring you the action. Leg 1 co-skipper Ryan Breymaier has to be sailing in Barcelona this weekend, so Charles Euverte, who also functions as shore crew, will join Jörg. Ryan provided valuable local knowledge of the Gulf Stream and New Jersey winds on Leg 1, so Charles has some big shoes to full in this upcoming leg, where tactics and local knowledge will be paramount.
Leg 2 can be broken up into five tactical segments: exiting New York Harbor, the coastal run to the turning mark, the open ocean leg towards Block Island Sound, Block Island Sound, and the finish in Newport. Each has its own particular set of challenges. Let’s have a look at each.
New York Harbor: The race will start on the bottom half of an outgoing tide, which will help everyone get out of the harbor. Right now, the weather models for Saturday are in opposition. The GFS model is showing painfully light winds from the south, while the NAM model is showing much better winds from the northeast at around 12 knots. I really, really hope the NAM is correct on this one; otherwise, the fleet may be anchoring once the tide turns at 2 p.m. Even with good breeze, New York Harbor is filled with commercial shipping and shallow spots, so there will be plenty of jibing to keep the crew busy. Traffic management and boathandling skill will be the keys to making it under the Verrazano Bridge first.
The Jersey Shore: Once free of the confines of New York, the crews will be able to breathe a bit easier, and the race will shift into boatspeed mode. I expect all teams to stay pretty close to the shore. If the NAM model is correct, the sailing should be fantastic with northeast winds in the 15-20 knot range. That would allow the big kites to be set, and everyone will make good pace down the coast. We’ll be heading for open ocean before dark. If the GFS is correct, we will be faced with easterly breezes of less than 10 knots. Adding insult to injury, the temperatures will only be in the mid 60s, so it is unlikely that a sea breeze will be around to add some thermal velocity. If the sea breeze does kick in, the wind should veer more to the south, meaning the code zero gets traded for a jib. Either way, in GFS predicted winds, the trip down the Jersey coast will be a slow 10-13 hours.
Atlantic Ocean to Block Island Sound: This leg of the course will be sailed Saturday night through most of the day Sunday. Both weather models have the wind from the east and dying as the evening progresses. The most pressure will be well offshore, so expect teams to round the mark and head upwind on starboard tack. By Sunday afternoon, pressure should increase to the 10-knot range, but it will still be upwind. This leg of the course will be long, frustrating close-hauled sailing for 120 miles or so. The tactical challenge will come Sunday afternoon as teams choose whether to stay offshore or sail to the south shore of Long Island looking for sea breeze or current relief. I don’t expect to see much of a sea breeze right now, but current will be a big factor here, especially if the winds are light. Countercurrents can run near the Long Island shore, so a boat hitting the beach can get pulled east, while another boat five miles offshore may be in adverse current up to a knot. It’s hard to predict when we will be getting there now, but the time to check into the race and watch closely will be here as this will be the first real opportunity for boats to split into different camps.
Block Island Sound: The race will be won or lost here. Anyone familiar with sailing a Vineyard Race or Block Island Race knows that the area between Montauk and Block Island can be a tidal hell. Currents can run well over 2 knots here, with strongest tides in the water between Montauk and Block Island. A boat that chooses to sail to the Long Island coast can literally get sucked in here, so teams going inshore that lose breeze, slow down, and get stuck on the wrong side of the tide will get hammered. Block Island is not a mark of the course, so teams will need to be very good at predicting their time of approach to this area. In a foul current, the safe move is to leave Block Island to port, but in times of tide transition, big gains can be made here. As we saw in Leg 1, some foreign teams misjudged the power of the Gulf Stream and paid dearly. Any team that doesn’t do their tide homework here will fail. This presents a huge advantage for the boats with local knowledge, so there is great opportunity for the American boats to jump to the lead in this part of the course.
The Finish: Once past Block Island Sound, the approach to Newport is pretty straightforward. But as we saw in Leg 1, there will likely be boats right on each other’s heels. Once again, the most rested, most adept boathandling crews will be able to make small gains, and one bad jibe can give the race away again. Don’t expect anything to be over until the boats cross the line in Newport.
This will be a long leg. Don’t expect to see us home until Monday morning. For all of you viewing from home, though, it will be even more exciting Class 40 racing. The race tracker updates every two minutes at www.atlanticcup.org, and once again, embedded media crewmembers will be providing commentary on the action. Don’t make any weekend plans; the Atlantic Cup will trump them all!