My preparations for the Atlantic Cup had me feeling like this would be just like any other distance race. A week before the event, I pulled out my gear, and started to check the weather forecasts online. I dug out my lifejacket and replaced the CO2 cylinder and strobe after manually inflating it and letting it sit overnight to ensure there were no pinhole leaks. I was ready for this, or so I thought. By Thursday, I had made it to Charleston for media briefings and finally had a chance to meet my sailing team, and from there on, the Atlantic Cup became an event unlike any other.
For the media crewmembers, competing in the Atlantic Cup is kind of like camping out in a museum for a few days. There’s lots of cool stuff all around you, but you’re not allowed to touch it. Media crews can only document the action; assisting in the sailing and preparation of the boat is strictly prohibited. So, unlike every other distance race, there were no last minute work lists or trips to West Marine. All I can do is make sure my camera batteries are charged. I’ve even given up on checking the weather because every time I look at the forecast it gets lighter!
The gradient breeze is pretty nonexistent since a weather front moved through the area two days ago. Fortunately, the 6 p.m. start has been timed so that we get some current to help push us out of the Charleston Jetty. From there, the first big decision of the race is whether to head offshore to find the Gulf Stream, or stay close to shore and try to take advantage of thermal breezes. Both options have risks. The Gulf Stream will provide a constant push towards New York at up to 3 knots, but the Stream is currently about 55 miles offshore. Getting to it will mean sailing out of the evening sea breeze and potentially into a windless zone. If we choose to stay close to shore, we risk being caught in adverse current coming down the coast as the sea breeze dies off after 10 p.m. The other factor to consider is that when the new gradient does fill in on Sunday, it will likely be from the east before going south and building. Since typical wisdom is to sail to the new breeze, and with the added benefit of the Gulf Stream, my guess is that we will be going east tonight.
The next major decision in the race will come after we leave the Gulf Stream and make the final push to New York. By then, we could have a nice southerly breeze in the 15-knot range, the perfect conditions for a Class 40. If the breeze comes in, we can sail the rhumb line right from the Gulf Stream into New York. If the predicted breeze doesn’t materialize, we face the option of short tacking up the Jersey Shore to take advantage of the thermal breezes along the beach.
The final challenge will be finishing in New York Harbor. The finish line will be set off of North Cove Marina behind the World Financial Center. To cross it, we will have to navigate through the busy commercial shipping lanes, and fight the often strong currents in the lower Hudson. There is a very good chance that the race will be won or lost in the final few miles to the finish.
For those of you watching us from home, the Atlantic Cup will have near real time tracking. Unlike the Volvo Ocean Race, the Atlantic Cup tracker will update every 2 minutes, and each boat will have a dashboard showing our course, speed, and windspeed. As a media crewmember, I’ll be sending commentary and images to the race office live from Mare. Our content will then be posted online, as well as on the Atlantic Cup Facebook page and on Twitter (@atlanticcup). This should be an amazing race to watch. The best Class 40 sailors from around the world are here, there are a ton of tactical decisions to make, and the onboard coverage will be revolutionary. Pick your favorite team and come join us in the Atlantic Cup!