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Transatlantic Race fleet on doorstep of start

by Sean McNeill 23 Jun 2019 18:16 PDT 25 June 2019
Transatlantic Race © Daniel Forster

The exclusion zones have been set, the weather forecasts updated and the boats stocked with most of the victuals. All that remains is to get the 2019 Transatlantic Race started and that is scheduled to happen shortly past 1100 hours on Tuesday, June 25, off Castle Hill Light at the entrance to the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

On Tuesday evening, the fleet of 14 yachts, including line honors contender SHK Scallywag (top), will be entering its first night at sea. The first of what could be seven or 17 nights away from land is predicted to be starboard tack sailing in a veering breeze.

"There's a low-pressure system developing up towards the Great Lakes and a front stretching along it," said Mike Broughton, the navigator of Aegir. "It looks like we'll have south/southeasterly winds of 12 to 17 knots at the start and then the breeze will veer to the southwest by Tuesday evening and there'll be lots of rain."

The fleet will have to beat feet on a roughly southeasterly course from the start for approximately 70 nautical miles to the first of two Nantucket Shoals limit marks. The latitude and longitude waypoints are the first of several virtual marks the fleet has to observe.

The next virtual mark is Point Charlie, a series of four waypoints prohibiting transit through the Right Whale exclusion zone.

Finally, Point Alpha is a series of five waypoints intended to keep the fleet south and east of the iceberg zone. The southern limit is similar to what it was in 2015, but the eastern edge has been pushed farther east to 38 degrees W longitude in the interest of safety.

The Transatlantic Race is an exercise in personal endurance. Organized jointly by the Royal Yacht Squadron, New York Yacht Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Storm Trysail Club, the race demands not only the finest seamanship but also pushes sailors to their limits. Can you stand the cold? Will your fingers work when the water temperature drops? Will you be able to get out of your bunk at 0200 hours when its blowing 35 knots on the nose?

One person who knows the rigors of the Transatlantic Race is Clarke Murphy, who has chartered the Simon Rogers-designed 82-footer Aegir. This will be Murphy's fourth race across the Atlantic since 2005 and he's prepared for whatever is thrown his way.

"Crossing the North Atlantic Ocean is one of the ultimate challenges. Doing it in a race ups the ante a bit," said the 56-year-old Murphy of New York, N.Y. "In the 2005 race we had two storm systems, one from the Ohio River valley and another from the Canadian Rockies, converge off the Grand Banks. We were sailing upwind in 30 to 35 knots of wind. It was an epic North Atlantic moment."

Murphy is looking forward to this year's race because he is sailing with family and friends. Included in the crew are three of his four children, daughters Devon and Caitlin and son Liam, as well as old sailing friends Ian Budgen (GBR), Abby Ehler (GBR) and Broughton.

"All of my kids said they wanted to do a Transat," Murphy said. "They've all done the Newport-Bermuda and the Caribbean 600, but they've been dying to do the Transat. They see it as a great challenge in life. And I did the 2005 race with Mike and Budgy and Abby, who've all become good friends. I'm really looking forward to doing the race with all of them together."

The fleet was reduced to 14 on Friday when Prospector, the 68-footer, withdrew from the race. Prospector was dismasted on June 9 while racing the Annapolis-Newport Race. Although captain Tery Glackin and crew worked diligently to step the spare mast, they ran out of time.

"It came down to the gooseneck and the headstay," said Glackin. "We were having trouble manufacturing a new gooseneck and were unsure about the reliability of the replacement headstay. If we had a few more days we probably could've overcome both problems, but we didn't want to get all the pieces in place without any practice sailing. So, we had to pull the plug. Everyone's quite gutted by it."

Division 3 will be the first to start on Tuesday, at 1110 hours, followed by Division 2, at 1120 hours, and Division 1, at 1130 hours.

The Notice of Race for the Transatlantic Race 2019 can be found on the race's website, along with entry information and a full archive of race documents, results, blogs, photos and videos from the 2011 and 2015 races.

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