Ocean passage record setting is all about the big three: the Jules Verne (around the world, non-stop), the West-East Transatlantic (from Ambrose Light to the Lizard), and the 24-hour distance record. I have no argument with that. Those are intense, risky, and sometimes brutal sailing challenges. And it is fascinating to watch skill and technology inexorably raise the bar. You would have been laughed out of the bar if 15 years ago you had suggested that a Jules Verne passage of 45 days and 13 hours was possible, or that the North Atlantic could be conquered in 3 days and 15 hours, or that a sailboat could traverse 908 miles of ocean in 24 hours.
But there are lots of record routes beyond the Big Three that are well worth our attention. Marseilles-Carthage. Newport-Bermuda. Cadiz-San Salvador (one of my favorites because, for a brief time, courtesy of Steve Fossett and PlayStation, I was part of a crew which held the record.
One of the most interesting, for both historical and sailing reasons, is New York-San Francisco, the great clipper ship Gold Rush route. This was arguably the most intensely competitive clipper ship passage of the mid-19th century, as ships raced supplies and people back and forth between the East Coast and the California gold fields. The 89-day record set by Flying Cloud in 1854, which stood for more than a century, was one of the most famous sailing records of all time (and a precursor of our modern record obssession).
It is a very long and difficult passage, some 13,000-plus miles which take a boat through multiple weather zones, from the Doldrums (twice) to the westerly gales of Cape Horn. So it is perhaps not surprising that Flying Cloud‘s record lasted until 1989, when Thursday’s Child made the passage in 80 days. Since then, the monohull record has been reduced to 62 days, and then, in 1998, to 57 days 3 hours by Yves Parlier on Aquitaine Innovations. [The outright record is 43 days, set by Lionel Lemonchois on the multihull Gitana 13 in 2008.]
Now there is a new bid underway on the New York-San Francisco record, courtesy of Italian sailor Giovanni Soldini, and a crew of eight, sailing aboard a VO70 called Maserati_ (ex-_Ericsson 3). Maserati is a little over a week into the bid, and approaching the Equator after blasting south at high speed on the strong winds of a cold front (which helped them get about 800 miles ahead of Aquitaine Innovations‘ pace). Here’s Maserati‘s start:
American sailor Ryan Breymaier is part of the crew and is posting regular updates to his website. (You can also follow what is happening on the record bid website and on Soldini’s Facebook page.) I checked in with Breymaier to find out a bit more about the voyage.
Q: Why New York-San Francisco?
RB: The New York-San Francisco is a very difficult record and very historic clipper ship route. Giovanni has set up a world tour, taking in a lot of these routes and going for the record on each one. This particular record has been a very popular one with European skippers, there were many attempts by the French in the 1980s and ’90s … I think it is not more popular because it is quite long, and at the end you are a very long way from Europe!
Q: What are the main challenges and pleasures of the route?
RB: The main challenge is definitely going to be Cape Horn and calculating it right to get the best possible rounding since we are going the wrong way. It can easily make or break a 50-day trip. If we are met by a gale and forced to shelter in the lee of South America, we could wait up to a week, all the time with the clock ticking.
For me the big pleasures of the route are the fact that we left from New York and that we will be arriving in San Francisco–two awesome cities. It’s been a long time since I have sailed in SF Bay, and it’s going to be a great experience going back. The other challenge and pleasure is the international crew. We all need to speak more than one language to talk to all of the crew, and we all have to make a big effort to respect each others’ cultural differences. There are lots of sailing styles which can make an interesting mix, though we are getting to know each other better now. Six nationalities out of eight guys is a huge mix, but it’s working well.
Q: What is it like to sail with Giovanni Soldini?
RB: Giovanni is great. He has a huge amount of experience, and he knows what he wants. I have learned a lot from the way he sails, and when he has time, he tells some hilarious stories of past sailing races. He is one of the legends of our sport, someone who I read about when I first started sailing, (and so is the New York-San Francisco record as a matter of fact), and it is very cool to have the opportunity to sail with him and to do this record which made me dream big when I was younger.
So far we have had a great ride, we averaged 20 knots or so for the first three days out of New York and are presently enjoying warm sunny, unfortunately not windy weather as we break through a high pressure ridge into the NE trades … sort of a mini practice for the doldrums.
Here’s wishing them luck and an interesting voyage. This is one worth keeping an eye on.