Quicker than the Clipper

The promise of gold and glory once drew ships from New York to San Francisco. Over 150 years later, a Volvo 70 takes on the epic route in search of a world record.

Sailing World
Maserati
Michele Sighel

When California gold was discovered in 1848, a sailing voyage from the East Coast to San Francisco, via Cape Horn, could take from five to eight months. But sailors and shipbuilders have a way of speeding things up when there is profit or glory (or both) at stake. In 1851, the clipper ship Flying Cloud clocked in from New York at 89 days and 21 hours. In 1854 she took another 13 hours off that world-famous record.

That was then. In February, Italian sailing legend Giovanni Soldini and a multinational crew of eight, aboard the turboed Volvo 70 Maserati (ex-Ericsson III), shaved the record for the aptly-named Golden Route, arriving in San Francisco after just 47 days, a time that would have had Flying Cloud's captain, Josiah Creesy, choking on his whiskey. Still, his clipper-era record survived until 1989, when Warren Luhrs and Hunter's Child sailed through the Golden Gate after 80 days and 20 hours. Isabelle Autissier and Yves Parlier have since claimed bragging rights—although these records weren't ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council—leaving Soldini with Parlier's 1998 benchmark of 57 days and 3 hours to obliterate.

New York-San Francisco is America’s greatest (and most historic) sailing passage, and arguably one of the most compelling speed sailing challenges on the planet. At 13,225 miles, it is longer than any other popular record route, save the Jules Verne. And it tests sailors with multiple weather zones, two equator crossings, and an always treacherous westward rounding of Cape Horn. Luhr’s epic summation was: “Wouldn’t do anything different; wouldn’t do it again.”

For their effort, Maserati's crew got a shout-out from the Italian consulate, and were honored with the Manhattan Sailing Club's Clipper Challenge Cup. More important, perhaps, was the experience of an historic route well-sailed, with the ghost of the Flying Cloud over the horizon. "My bucket list of records has always included the New York-San Francisco, as it was something I read about as a kid and always dreamed of doing," says Ryan Breymaier, the only American aboard Maserati. "I am very happy that it went so well."