On April 26, the Royal Yacht Squadron, New York Yacht Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Storm Trysail Club, organizers of the Transatlantic Race 2011, will host a TR2011 Panel Discussion at the Manhattan headquarters of race sponsor Thomson Reuters. Gary Jobson will moderate the discussion, which will focus on the history of transatlantic racing, the challenge and appeal of transoceanic racing, as well as the upcoming TR2011 and its entries.
Panelists will include George David, owner/skipper of Rambler 100; Chris Gartner, captain of Maltese Falcon; Larry Huntington, owner/captain of Snow Lion; Bob Towbin, owner/captain of Sumurun and representing the Royal Yacht Squadron; Rives Potts, Rear Commodore of NYYC and owner/captain of Carina; and sailing historian and author John Rousmaniere. An audio feed of the program will be available live at 5:30 PM EDT (2230 Universal Time)
Transatlantic Race Press Conference at Thomson Reuters
Transcripts of Interviews conducted by Gary Jobson
April 26, 2011
So George, why do the Transatlantic Race? What's the incentive for you to do this race?
We've done two before. Loved them both. One was North Atlantic to Hamburg in '07 and one was South Atlantic from Cape Town to Salvador, Brazil. These were 11 day races. Lots of fun. Did those in the 90 footer and it just seems like perspective changes. I raced for a long time on boats in the 40 to 50 foot size class and their day races are nice and you come home and you're warm and dry. Distance races are not so much fun in 50 footer but they are a lot of fun in boat of this size and speed because they get there in a hurry. They're bigger, more stable platforms. They're wonderful things to be in the ocean.
This is the biggest boat that you've raced?
How does it feel? It is intimidating or exhilarating?
We are still learning this boat. I would say that this boat is the first one in my life that actually...I use the word intimidating about it. If you're not careful with this boat you can do some bad things. Things will break and we hope never, ever an injury but the boat has so much power in it that you need to be really quite careful. Even the 90 footer, which is a very powerful boat, it doesn't quite feel like this one.
How do you divide between pushing hard and throttling back because throttling back has to be part of the equation.
It does. We're going to find that out. I've sailed the 90 footer. I've sailed that boat for four years. We had very tough conditions, wind speeds 50, 60 knots for extended periods in the Atlantic Ocean, also in the Mediterranean and the Middle Sea Race. A boat like that you know how hard you can push it. We had that thing throttled well back in the Atlantic Ocean. I think this boat will throttle back even more. The real hazard is that these boats are faster than the wave train when you're off the wind. And, of course, their big enough and quick enough that you can look at the weather patterns and typically get yourself in the south or southeast corner, the low pressure zone going across the Atlantic Ocean. That's where you want to be. If you get down there and you are faster than the wave train, you've got to slow the boat down because you cannot come off these waves in a boat that fast going a good deal faster than the wave train and the wave just falls away beneath you.
03:48:27 Jobson With 22 crew on the boat how many different people get to steer?
We'll probably have 8 drivers in total but I think we'll throttle back to four people or so unless it gets to be really nasty.
You know when you read about Atlantic and Wilson Marshall, the owner that was concerned about his guests and scared to death half the time. A little bit different today where the owner is actually skippering the boat.
It is different. I've been racing sailboats for 35 years. Of course they've gotten progressively bigger boats of this size class for the last five years and they are intimidating, although what happens, like everything else in sailing, is that the boats get smaller the more time you spend on them. So you get more and more comfortable. I'm very comfortable in a 90 footer. This one I'm still feeling my way about.
How important is it for you to finish first?
Everyone wants line honors. We will see. This race has got several boats that I think, in my opinion, could easily take line honors. We've got a boat with a 286 foot overall length, Maltese Falcon. You've got a Volvo 70 brand new with a world class crew being tested for the second time around the Atlantic, around the world race starting in October in Valencia. You've got Leopard, again that is pretty close to Ramble 100 in size and characteristics. You've got a bunch of boats that could go out there and do fast things.
Of course you've got a dual role here. You're skippering your boat but you're also Chairman of the Race. Does that put added pressure on you?
No, I wouldn't say that. We're just going to go out there and...frankly with a race like this at this distance and a boat like this of this sophistication, you need to have lots of preparation. You do need to anticipate that bad things that will happen because things will break, things will happen on this race. It's a lot about preparation. It's a lot about organization, teamwork, skill sets of the people. Unlike Wilson Marshall and the Atlantic in 1905, unlike that, this is a race where you really cannot take excess people. This is not a race for guests at all. This is going to be just plain hard work. Very, very tough conditions. One of the things to pay attention to, and I know this is a first for this boat, is that the speed through the water is fast enough that actually apparent water velocity coming at you. When we think about apparent wind and we've grown up with that in sailing for years, in this boat apparent water velocity is important. You've got water that can match you at 30 knots or so and in large quantities and the issue is crew protection and making sure that everybody actually stays on the boat safe and sound.
So safety harnesses are essential?
So you'll wear them all the time at that kind of speed.
We've got a race rule that requires harnesses tethered to the boat at night with wind speeds over 25 knots. I think we'll be in the harnesses faster than that. If you've got wind speeds of 25 knots this boat is going 30. We will be into harnesses with a lot of care. We will end up being what you might call short handed on deck. I won't be surprised in nasty conditions if the deck crew is limited to four or five people because this boat is all hydraulic. Has immense power in it. Unlike a pedestal boat where you need 10 grinders to move the sails around, this one you don't. You just push a button. So we'll be down I think to probably four or five people on deck when it's nasty.
I think Charlie Barr would have liked the buttons on Atlantic.
Yes he would.
Even before the race starts it's a huge success. 32 boats is a record. Is that correct?
I don't even know that. There've been more than 30 Transatlantic Races since 1856. Of course that's the famous one with Jimmy Bennett on a boat called Henrietta. There been races like 1905 and lots of them. The 1905 race was 11. The races before that in the 19th century were not more than two or three boats. I just don't know. I don't think there's been a race with 32 boats in it.
32 boats is pretty impressive. While we have some big boats, we've got 40 footers?
We've got several 40 footers. My hat is off to the people in the 40 footers. That could be a rough ride for a long time.
What's the incentive to do it on a small boat like that?
Why do people climb mountains? Same thing. Yes, it's just a challenge.
Commodore, what keeps bringing you back to doing long distance racing, particularly Transatlantic?
Well Gary some of us never grow up. I love it. It's a wonderful change of pace from life on shore. The ocean is a very healthy place to think and to dream and to have fun.
How much preparation goes into preparing for this race?
A great deal because the boat needs...every little thing has to be worked and reworked and re-bedded and all of the machinery has to be perfect so I've been working on this since last fall.
Of course you've been across the Atlantic several times before. Do you think this will be any different?
Well who knows? They're all different. The weather is always different. The crew is a little bit different although in this case with the crew of 10, seven of us have gone across twice before on the same boat. A lot of miles there. The weather changes every hour and the result is you're always improvising, you're always doing learning new things.
There's an old saying that you should never race in a boat longer than your age. I'm assuming that you're over 50 and your boat is 50 foot. Is there an age limit in this race?
I don't know. I'm 76 and I'm looking forward to it.
That's quite an achievement.
For me it's been such pleasure that the age never really worried me much.
When you get other there and start sailing, how much of it is luck, how much of it is skill? How would you balance that out?
I don't know how to put percentages on it. The weather, obviously, is a huge amount of luck. But these days we sail with a weather router so that takes some of the guess work out. The computer and the internet changes the information flow dramatically so you can squeeze a lot of the luck away but the fact is if you get 500 miles from England and the wind dies, the wind's died. There you are.
But the guess work has been eliminated a little bit I think with weather routing. Is that a fair comment?
Yes. Diminished. You still have to get it right.
How do you square up your watch system on your boat?
We do five on a watch and there are 10 of us so we go watch and watch.
And then if something dramatic comes you just get everybody up.
Absolutely. If a sail change is needed, need more hands, you go down below and get the winch handle out and wake them up.
Have you been working out and preparing for this race?
I jog. That keeps me somewhat fit. I chop wood and that takes care of the upper body.
There's a lot of history in racing Transatlantic all the way back to 1866 when the Henrietta went across. There's been 20 races or so over the years. Do you have that legacy in your mind being one more boat doing this race like some of these others have done in the past?
I don't think of it so much in historical terms. I think of it as a great opportunity for me. Great pleasure. I love the competition. I like the sense of camaraderie on the boat. The sense of being against the elements with just yourself and nobody else to rely on. It's great.
How about winning?
That's the whole game. That's what you go for.
So it seems to me that with Snow Lion you have a good chance here.
We have a very good boat and a very good crew so if the nut behind the wheel doesn't mess it up we'll be alright.
Do you do a lot of steering yourself?
I do my share, sure. I don't hog the wheel but everybody steers, everybody cooks.
There's something for everybody.
Something for everybody.
Well Rives after your spectacular victory in the Bermuda Race, did that inspire you to take on a Transatlantic?
Of course, you're not the oldest boat in the race.
Not by 50 or 60 years I think.
Are your boys going with you?
One of them is and my nephew is. We actually have four fathers and five sons going on the race.
That's kind of a nice statement there.
I like to do that. Good bonding opportunity for all of us.
You've got a long legacy with your boat and there's a lot of legacy in the Transatlantic Race, how important is that to you? Are you aware of what has happened years ago in this race?
Yes I am. I've ready a lot about the Transatlantic Race and also about Carina, she won the race to Barcelona in 1972. Some of my good friends sailed on the boat they've been regaling me with stories and say we have an unbeaten record in the Transatlantic that I've got to uphold. We've got a lot on our shoulders. There's Rich duMoulin, he's going with us and his two sons.
I guess Father's Day is before you leave the race though.
It's interesting, on the Bermuda Race, it always during Father's Day or Father's Day is during that. Even when my sons were in Iraq they gave me calls and wish me happy Father's Day. But not this year.
Based on how well you did in Bermuda do you think you can achieve that level of success in the Transatlantic?
It's 90% luck I think. If we have great winds and we're in the right spot at the right time, hopefully we'll do okay. We'll be starting on June 26 and guys like Rambler and Leopard and all will be giving us a seven day start. If they don't pass us too quickly we might do okay. I'm looking forward to it. We're just looking for the experience and have a good time.
We'll there's got to be a little element of luck. Weather systems a week apart can be dramatically different.
Absolutely. I think the big boats, the ones that go 15 and 20 knots can pick their weather systems. We have to pretty much take what we're given.
Have you crossed the ocean before?
So what do you anticipate it's going to be like this time?
Well if you listen to the experts on weather we've got 50% or 60% of the time we're expecting winds behind the beam, somewhere around 10 to 15 knots with probably a storm coming in every once in a while to keep us on our toes.
So that should be good for your boat.
I hope so. We're not a rocket ship like these other guys but we hold our own. We look forward to it.
How do you split up the watches?
We have two fathers and three sons on each watch. We have a young lady going with us also to keep things civil onboard.
Just one female?
Just one female.
She's very good. She's very good. She's the daughter of my best friend. She's the great organizer also from Fishing Bay.
How much time have you spent preparing for this race?
More than I like to think. Probably several hours a day for the last six months. As of 1:00 this morning we were still putting down tracks on deck.
Well it's coming soon. Two months away.
We're really looking forward to it.
Well Chris describe what it's like to sail on Maltese Falcon?
The experience is incredible. Since there is no other boat in the world like it, it's really a one off. Every time I go sailing on her and we get her wound up, I'm almost in awe just looking up at the rigs watching everything invert, looks like things might come tumbling down but they never do. Just the speeds we get out of her. She really feels like a sailboat although 289 feet long.
What kind of speeds do you get out of the boat?
Top speed we've ever seen is 24.9 knots and that was in the Gulf of Lion in about 60 knots of puff and we were running really really deep and we only had 3 sails up. We do see 21s. We frequently see anywhere between 16 and 20 fairly often.
How many crew are going to be on the boat?
That's a good question. Normally we run with 16 crew so we don't really need that many people unless we do suffer a torn sail. We have to take that down and bend a new one on. Never done that at sea so we're not really sure if it's going to work.
So this is a real first for Maltese Falcon.
Yes. Ocean passages we've done many and we've sailed across the Atlantic couple of different times without ever starting up the engines but to race the boat and to push her, yes, it's a first.
Have you read about some of the history, Atlantic, for example?
Sure. The first time I did the Transatlantic Race was on Mariette and that was in '97 so we were all reading up on the book and the ghost of Charlie Barr. Exciting stuff. Hopefully we won't have to lock anybody up in one of our cabins.
I have to think with your long waterline that you could have a good chance here?
Yes, based on that, yes we have a chance. It's hit or miss with the weather. If we get good pressure coming up behind us and we stay with it, yes we could finish this race nicely.
I'm intrigued that you call your sails by the traditional names, the gallants, the royals.
We are a square rigged ship. That's what they base it all on. We're a little bit more efficient than the old square riggers but yes all that is still the same.
How fast do you think it will take you to get across?
If we do 500 mile days then its four days, four and a half days. But if we do it less than 12, I would be very happy just based on the different conditions. I'm hoping for 11 days.
Tom Perkins, the former owner, going to be watching this racing closely you think?
Absolutely. He's been invited by the owner of the boat right now to come and sail with us. Unfortunately he says he has other things happening in his life and he's going to watch it via the internet. He'll be watching closely.
Michael, what inspired you to do the Transatlantic Race?
I've always wanted to do it. I've been sailing since I was a child. My Dad taught me how to sail in his Rhodes designed 33 footer out in San Francisco Bay. I'm sure this is something he would have loved to have done and I'm doing it for Dad.
Have you ever done a Transatlantic before?
And you're on a 40 footer?
I am. Class 40.
So you've got good competition with three other boats to go against.
Yes, we're looking forward to it. We've got great boats. Every time we do a race...even last year's Newport to Bermuda Race we were well paced. Everyone ends up very tightly packed and so a very tactical race.
So how many crew will you have on the boat?
I'm going double handed.
Just you and another guy?
Just me and one other guy.
You've got your work cut out for you.
Less people to get along with.
So when you race double handed, how much time do you spend basically singlehanded and how much are both of you on the deck at the same time?
We'll be on the deck at the same time for sail changes but otherwise it's typically two hours on, two hours off.
How much time have you spent preparing for this race?
The boat was pretty well prepared. The boat is designed for offshore, short handed sailing so it's built to Cat 1 standards and equipped that way. So we didn't have a huge list to get through but we still had about 150 items to push through this winter and she's well prepared and when we start racing a couple weeks from now we can shake her out and be ready.
How long do you anticipate it will take to do?
The Class 40 just did Ambrose to the Lizzard in 11 days and 11 hours. Left about four weeks ago or so. Eric Defert was his name. So that sort of sets the benchmark at the bottom end of the range. He was able to pick his weather system. I would be happy, I would be thrilled with anything less than 12 days. I'm realistically expecting 13 to 14 days and upper end who knows. The weather gods.
Are you nervous?
Not at all.
It will be a great achievement when you cross that finish line.
I wish you well. I think having the other boats to go against, will you spend a lot of time looking at them and where they are and trying to figure out what they're thinking as far as the routing is concerned?
I think we're going with the second start on June 29 which I believe is a pretty large start. We'll be pacing ourselves off Maltese Falcon, of course. Just kidding. I think three of the other Class 40s will absolutely be conscious of where they are because they are our pace horses if you will. For the rest of the class, I think it really depends on how the IRC spread looks. We'll definitely plot them and give ourselves something to race with and against. Class 40 is where I'm going to keep my eye.
Do you have many people on shore that are going to be watching, cheering?
I sure hope so. We're going to make full use of social media. We're going to have Facebook, a twitter account, post some video along the way. We've got ourselves set up with some Hi Def video and hopefully we'll keep people entertained.
I look forward to seeing it.
We always have some good mishaps to keep people interested.