Rolex Transatlantic 2005: Light Start to Long Race

After a 24-hour delay, the 20-boat fleet gets underway in light conditions.

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Carlo Borlenghi/rolex

At 19 hours into the Rolex Transatlantic Race, Sariyah is about 67 miles away from the starting line. Not exactly a record-setting pace. We've had a few shots of breeze up to about 15 knots, but for the most part we've seen light and variable winds. As of 9:30 a.m. today we're sailing under a light genoa, full main, and mizzen staysail with clear blue skies above and next to zero visibility with fog on the water. Earlier this morning we had a run-in with a motor vessel of some kind which came close enough for us to feel the vibration from its engines and hear its bow wave. The unseen vessel never replied to our hails on VHF cannel 16, and since we were at zero knots of boatspeed and sailing in circles, there wasn't a whole lot we could do except peer anxiously into the fog and sound our foghorn. We've seen the first position reports and aren't all that unhappy with where we are relative to the rest of the fleet, especially in regard to the boat we regard as our chief competition, Whisper. The latest forecast tells us that there's a strong low developing off the coast tomorrow, so we're aiming for a spot that we hope will put us in a place where we'll get big breeze, but in a friendly direction. We're also making a play for some favorable current in the Gulf Stream. If it all comes together, we'll be a lot further down the pike by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Everybody onboard has been settling into the rhythm of sailing offshore. We have 17 crew aboard, so we're working a three-watch system; three hours on, six off, with the watch coming off acting as the stand-by watch. Sariyah is a ketch, so there are many sail combinations and I have to say that we've been through quite a few of them so far. All our spinnakers are in socks, which makes handling the large sails relatively easy, but getting the dynamics of the power winches down has taken some practice, which we're getting in spades. We've seen some wildlife around us, a whale surfacing 30 feet off the quarter, some dolphins showing off their speed while we wallowed, and the haunting call of a loon. We're also starting to see some Sargasso weed, a hint that we're getting close to the Gulf Stream. It's been cold, and damp, and we're looking forward to getting to the warmer water, however briefly. The race committee postponed our start until Saturday because of a strong low, which gave our crew an opportunity to have dinner at the New York YC. Most of us had never been there, so we must have looked like a bunch of rubes as we oohed and aahed at the hundreds of half hulls and ship models, including most of the yachts that had raced in the America's Cup, the giant New Zealand sloop KZ-1 and Dennis Conner's catamaran from the 1988 America's Cup among them. We made a special point of touching the wooden case of the schooner Atlantic, whose ghost we're racing against, for good luck. The next morning, the postponement flag went down and we finally left the dock and took part in the parade of sail down the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty on our way to the starting line off Ambrose. In addition to a few dozen-spectator boats following us, a New York City fireboat sent cascades of water into the air as we went by. I don't think that I was the only one who started realizing then that we were doing something special. As you've probably seen from the pictures of the start on the New York YC website, the start wasn't exactly high-paced excitement. We hit the line almost dead perfect, thanks to Kevin Burnham, who appears to be as skilled sailing megayachts as he is sailing Olympic dinghies. The light air was especially painful for one boat in our class, Tempest, which was over early and took nearly 20 minutes to get back to the line and re-start. Perhaps the most interesting sights was that of the square rigger Stad Amsterdam, which started with what looked like every sail in the inventory, some 27 in all. As I close this report, we're making 3.6 knots in the right direction, which seems like a victory with a windspeed at the top of the rig of 2.2 knots. Our foghorn is sounding, we've got Whisper in our sights, and the smells coming up from the galley promise great meals ahead.