Rolex Transatlantic 2005: First Retirements

Headwinds make it tough going for the entire fleet.

NEW YORK-After a high-mileage Tuesday, the pace has slowed for race leaders Mari-Cha IV and Maximus as they negotiate a warm front that will see the wind filling in from the east. Both boats are heading just south of due east and making a more modest 10 knots compared to the high 20s they were seeing yesterday. "Picking our way through some pretty rotten weather out here," commented Mike Sanderson from on board Robert Miller's 140-foot schooner Mari-Cha IV. "We've got some really light airs this morning, and so lost a bunch to Maximus…we'll have to fight to get those precious miles back." This morning at 0800 GMT, Charles Brown and Bill Buckley's 100-foot sloop Maximus was just 32 miles astern, a fine performance against Mari-Cha IV. "We are pootling along, no problems," reported Maximus' veteran navigator Mike Quilter, in a jovial mood. "We are leaving the low pressure, which we've been having a lot of fun with, and we are heading off across the squeeze between the high off of Newfoundland and the low pressure over by America. We are just cracked off. Expecting a reasonable amount of wind tonight, nearly upwind, 25-30 knots for 12 hours or so, and then we get over into the high pressure by Newfoundland, and it will be holiday time!" This is the first major test of the New Zealand maxi, which has a state-of-the-art rotating wing mast and a retractable canting keel. "It is a brand new boat, and there have been an endless number of small issues on board, but we have overcome them all," said Quilter. "We have a good 'Mr. Fix-it' on board in Jeff Scott, so we are in reasonable shape." The third yacht in the class--Carrera, owned by Joe Dockery of Stamford, Conn.--has retired from the race, citing in an email from captain Simon Davidson "catastrophic mainsail failure while beating upwind in 40 knots of wind and very large seas in the Gulf Stream." The yacht is heading back to Newport, R.I., and does "not require outside assistance." Continued the email: "Carrera's crew has made the unfortunate decision that it would not be prudent to head farther into the North Atlantic with a mainsail that was so badly damaged in the first storm." At the front of the Performance Cruising class 2, Mike Slade's Leopard is having a close battle on the water against fellow countryman and former British America's Cup challenger head Peter Harrison on Sojana, the two boats just one mile apart in terms of distance to finish at the noon position update. "We're doing okay," commented Sojana's skipper Marc Fitzgerald. "We're hammering along at 12 knots right on course, right down the great circle at 075 degrees true. There are quite a few small issues on board. Some of the electronics aren't working as well as they used to, but we are reasonably happy. We haven't seen much of Leopard, but we have never been far from them. They went to the south of us first and then went off to the north of us." Yesterday afternoon, Sojana was ahead of Leopard on the water, but this morning they are just behind, but Fitzgerald says they are still easily ahead on handicap. The average speed of boats in the rest of the fleet has picked up since yesterday, most boats averaging between five and seven knots. However, this is just not fast enough for some. The race is also over for the biggest boat in the fleet, the Storm Trysail Club-chartered 250-foot clipper ship Stad Amsterdam. A delayed start and a prolonged period without wind has forced the captain to turn on the engine. "This night we have taken the decision to retire. That is because we came into an area with not much wind and our charter will end on 8 June in Cowes," explained Captain Pieter Brantjes. "To be there in time, we have to use the engine. At 0130 GMT we started the engine, and we are under power heading towards Cowes. It is a bitter disappointment as you would imagine, but we have no choice. There have been too many lulls and not enough wind for the vessel. This vessel needs wind and if we have no wind or headwinds, it is difficult for us." On the water at present, Stay Calm continues to hold a decisive lead in Performance Cruising Class 2, while Nordwind is just six miles ahead of Sumurun among the Classics. 100 years ago on board the schooner Atlantic, Frederick Hoyt wrote: "At 5 p.m. another steamer was made out ahead, which later proved to be the Minnetonka. She also acknowledged our number and in answer to our inquiry said she had seen no ice, but had thick fog, giving the latitude and longitude where it was encountered. Towards sunset the southwest began to look black and as the wind was all letting go we were afraid that there would be some disagreeable weather before long. We were not disappointed for at 9 o'clock as pretty a little squall as one often sees came whirling out of the south and backed to west. It blew hard enough to take in both spanker and mainsail but the worst was over in half an hour and by 11 the sails were again hoisted and the ship on her course. Just at the end of the squall a large White Star Line steamer passed close ahead. We exchanged signals and she gave us three blasts of the whistle."