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The Other Side of the Dock: Leg 2 from Initiatives

Ryan O'Grady recaps Leg 2 of the Atlantic Cup from Initiative__s, co-skippered by Americans Emma Creighton and Rob Windsor.

May 22, 2012
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Sailing World

Atlantic Cup Leg 2

See more of Ryan O’Grady’s photos from Leg 2 here. Ryan O’Grady

Sailing World’s_ roving big-boat correspondent Ryan O’Grady recaps Leg 2 of the Atlantic Cup, where he served as the media crewmember onboard _Initiatives.__

In life, there are the haves and the have nots. The same dichotomy exists in Atlantic Cup Class 40 sailing as well. On one side are teams like Germany’s Jörg Riechers. Jörg came to Charleston armed with the newest and most expensive Class 40, a shore team, and the resources to be able to fly in some of the world’s best crews for Leg 1 and this weekend’s inshore series. Thanks to the generous backing of his sponsor, Mare, there is funding for a Class 40, a Mini, and all of the logistics needed to make things run smoothly. It’s no surprise then that Jörg has finished first in Leg 1 and second in Leg 2 of the Atlantic Cup. He’s a fantastic sailor, and he has the luxury of not having to worry where tomorrow’s funding will come from.

On the other side of the dock are Americans Emma Creighton and Rob Windsor. At 27, Emma became only the second American woman ever to complete the grueling 4,200-mile Mini Transat Race. Prior to that, Emma got her sea legs by working as a delivery crew and captain. Yet with thousands of ocean miles under her belt, she couldn’t find any fully crewed American offshore programs to take her. “They’d take 18-year-old guys who had never been offshore before to race,” Emma says, “while I’d only be called for a delivery.” Determined to beat the boys’ club at their own game, Emma got her hands on a Mini, a 24-foot, singlehanded boat popular in France, and began racing it on the West Coast, placing third in the doublehanded Pacific Cup. She then moved to Europe to find the competition and financial backing needed to properly support a Mini campaign and more. For Emma, the Mini Transat was a huge accomplishment. She was the only female to complete the race, and one of the few mostly self-funded teams to complete the race. Gear donations from Ronstan and Samson helped, as did financial support from the Richmond Yacht Club. The French press is taking notice, too, as Emma became a bit of a media darling after the Transat. She needs that fame if she can hope to break into the world of French sponsorship. Without it, her goal of competing first in the Class 40 circuit, and later in the Barcelona World Race will be daunting. Emma was only able to compete in the Atlantic Cup by bartering for the use of Tanguy De Lamotte’s Initiatives in return for delivering it from the Solidaire du Chocolat to the start of the Quebec to St. Malo Race. “When I got the boat, it was just sitting on a mooring.,” Emma joked. “There weren’t even any dock lines, so don’t break anything!”

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Rob Windsor, of Centerport, NY, shares similar aspirations to Emma. As a sailmaker for Doyle Sails in Long Island, Rob was first exposed to Class 40 sailing when Doyle began building sails for Mike Hennessey’s Dragon. Rob soon found himself as Dragon’s part-time project manager and Mike’s co-skipper in the inaugural Atlantic Cup. With a victory in that event, Rob was able to arrange a spot with Fabrice Amedeo’s Geodis sailing team for 2012. According to Rob, that program was to have included the Quebec to St. Malo race as well as the Atlantic Cup, providing him with the global exposure needed to secure funding for his own Class 40 project. Rob’s hopes were dashed, however, when Geodis shattered a bulkhead on its delivery to Charleston after the Solidaire du Chocolat. With the boat stuck in the yard, Rob was high and dry for 2012, until a phone call from Emma a few weeks ago. ” I had met Emma in Mexico where the Class 40s were,” Rob said. “Since she was the only other person who spoke English as a first language, I thought I should go and introduce myself to her.” They hit it off and soon enough, Emma asked Rob to join her as co-skipper of Initiatives for the 2012 Atlantic Cup.

As one of the least-funded teams in the Atlantic Cup, a good result was critical to help grow their global sponsorship resumes. With a gut-wrenching 10th place finish in Leg 1, the duo was determined to break the top five in Leg 2 and prove that even with an older, underfunded boat, they could still hang with the top teams. With light air forecasted for the 221-mile leg from New York to Newport via Barnegat, NJ, redemption would require patience.

Leg 2 started with around 8 knots of downwind breeze and a good ebb tide to help push us out of the harbor. A conservative start put us in the back row, so redemption would require some smart plays in the wind shifts and currents of New York Harbor. After close crosses with Mare, Icarus, and Dragon, Rob and Emma had managed to pull to the front of the fleet by the time we reached the Verrazano Bridge. Passing Icarus, we were close enough to be able to lob a few good-natured insults back and forth. While the American teams were all close on shore, at sea it was a battle to the very end, and we hoped to put Icarus in our rearview mirror soon. Now the question was how close to shore to go for the run down the Jersey coast. Dragon and a few others opted to go as close to the beach as they could, while we chose to remain about three miles off the coast with the majority of the fleet. In the light air, positions changed with every wind shift. We must have passed Mare and Icarus three times each. By the time we all reached the turning mark at dusk, Bodacious Dream and Dragon, who had remained inshore, rounded in front of Icarus, as well as Mare and us who too rounded just in front. Icarus was so close that we could hear Tim Fetsch shouting to Ben Poucher: “OK, you’re a bow guy now. Wait, now you’re a trimmer. Hey, turn your light to red!”

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We needed to get away from these guys just to get some peace and quiet. Ahead of us was about 180 miles of upwind sailing. The question was to tack to starboard and head for the Long Island shoreline or continue on port out to sea. Our pre-race routing suggested that if the wind was greater than 10 knots, more wind would be offshore, and the breeze at the time was 9.8 knots. That seemed close enough to 10 for Rob and Emma, so offshore we went. In our camp were Bodacious Dream, Mare, and Icarus. Dragon, Campagne de France, and a number of others chose to head for shore. The first big roll of the dice had been played. In a day we would know who was right.

Throughout the night the wind slowly rose into the high teens. Along with the wind, the sea state had continued to build too, and by dawn, teams that headed offshore were beginning to decide whether or not to reef. Onboard Initiatives, we chose to keep full ballast and a full main, but Icarus, who was again right next to us, peeled down to a reef. After nearly 150 miles of racing, Icarus was close enough to shout to, and Mare was nearby someplace. Spirits were high on Initiatives. We had an awesome battle going on with the overall race leader. Something good must be happening, and the position reports soon told us that we were all fighting for the lead. The boats that went inshore suffered through less breeze at an unfavorable angle. Every update showed us gaining on the outside, and we were loving every minute of it! The big question was going to be when to go back. Mare was the first of the group to tack away, leaving Icarus, _Bodacious Dream, _and us as the furthest boats east. For Rob and Emma, choosing the side of Block Island to pass would dictate our layline call and when to tack. Based on our data, and Rob’s experience winning this leg last year, it was decided to pass between Montauk and Block Island, given that we’d be in the Montauk area with the current favorable enough to pull us in, then change and push us towards Newport. Thus, Mont

auk became our weather mark, and we did our best to call a layline from 50 miles away. Of the 3 boats left going east, we tacked away first. Icarus tacked after gaining a few miles of leverage, and no one knew where Bodacious Dream was. In hindsight, we should have been paying more attention to them.

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As it turns out, the further east a boat went, the better. There was better pressure and angle towards Newport for every degree of longitude east. Bodacious Dream was willing to go farthest east, and was rewarded with an almost commanding lead by the time we all approached Block Island. Similarly, Icarus _was now in second, due to being further east. We were in third, with _Mare and Campagne de France in fourth and fifth. We could see Icarus, and we were convinced that we could get them and take second place.

Converging on Block Island was awesome. Two of the oldest boats in the fleet were beating the perennial global-class favorites. Who needs a big budget when you have local knowledge, right? All we needed to do now was hold them off. The first cross with Mare and Campagne had us a mile or so ahead. Unfortunately, we weren’t laying Montauk, so a mid-ocean tacking duel was going to begin with four boats. With Icarus‘ eastern position, they didn’t need to tack as often as us, putting them at an advantage. Every tack we had, we seemed to lose a bit. Mare and Campange were getting bigger on every cross, but we were still ahead, and they looked committed to going east of Block Island. We could still do this, right? Right?

When everyone had made their choice on which side to pass Block Island, we were a mile or so behind Icarus, but still appeared to be ahead of Mare and Campagne. Block Island would determine the fate of second through fifth. Bodacious Dream appeared to be out of reach. On our side, the tide was doing exactly what we wanted it to do, and we were sailing faster than Icarus. A second or third would be huge for this team, and the desire to beat the best Class 40 sailors in the world was at its peak. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t slept in nearly a day; Rob and Emma were constantly moving the stack and trimming to get every advantage. There would be no excuses left out here.

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As we converged into Newport, reality set in. The boats that went east had gained. They had a much better wind angle with more pressure and likely sailed four miles less than those of us on the west side of Block. Crushed, but not defeated, Rob and Emma now looked at the rest of the race to preserve their fifth and try to pass Icarus for fourth. The miles to the finish at Fort Adams were agonizing, as the wind shut off, and the current out of Narragansett Bay was running at full ebb. At times, we were tacking through nearly 180 degrees, and we felt like we’d never make it home. Finally, we crossed the line at 2:44 a.m. on Monday morning in a well-deserved fifth place. Rob and Emma gave this leg their all and can be very proud of the job they did to hang with the top boats in the world. Given the proper resources, this pair can take on and beat anyone in the Class 40. All they need is a sponsor to believe in them. As many an American sailor has learned, the race to the top of a class like the Class 40 lies not only in talent and ability, but the ability to raise funds too.

You can follow Emma online at www.emmacreighton.net.

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