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Transatlantic Race 2019 updates, Olympic sailing selection process

by David Schmidt 9 Jul 08:00 PDT July 9, 2019
Scallywag takes line honours in the Transatlantic Race 2019 © Rick Tomlinson / www.rick-tomlinson.com

As the saying goes that in sailboat racing, if you don't like the conditions, wait a little bit and odds are excellent that they will change. This wisdom proved correct in the Transatlantic Race 2019, which was organized and run by the Royal Yacht Squadron, the New York Yacht Club, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Storm Trysail Club, and which saw the frontrunners cross the finishing line off of Cowes, U.K. this weekend after sailing a distance of some 2,970 miles from the start off of Newport, Rhode Island.

While the race, which kicked off on Tuesday, June 25, started off slow, it featured all sorts of conditions, including wind speeds north of 40 knots that challenged frontrunners including SHK Scallywag, the 100-foot Andy Dovell-drawn supermaxi that was skippered by David Witt (AUS), which earned line honors with a relatively slow elapsed time of 10 days, 2 hours, 13 minutes and 19 seconds.

SHK Scallywag was followed across the finishing line by Wizard (nee Groupama 4), the Volvo Open 70 owned by the brothers David and Peter Askew and skippered by Volvo Ocean Race veteran Charlie Enright, which posted an elapsed time of 10 days, 9 hours, 1 minute and 42 seconds. As of this writing, Wizard is in good standing to win the race on corrected time, however with multiple teams still racing, this honor has yet to be fully determined.

"It has been good for us," said Witt of the Transatlantic Race 2019. "The biggest problem with a 100-footer is reliability. The 70 [footers] have been around the world. The longest race 100-footers typically do is the Sydney to Hobart, which is 600 miles."

Interestingly, SHK Scallywag's race almost turned south in a hurry when they got caught in 42 knots of air and 6 to 9 foot seas off of the southeastern tip of the Point Alpha ice-exclusion zone and couldn't tuck a third reef into their massive mainsail thanks to a bolt that partially worked its way out of position.

"A $3 bolt almost destroyed a $3 million mainsail," said Witt, adding that the race's ice-exclusion-zone rules prevented the team from running downhill with the big breeze. "We were on the ice gate, it was like being pinned to a lee shore."

Fortunately, the team managed the situation well, the sail held together, and collectively the Hong Kong-flagged vessel and her intrepid crew claimed line-honors victory in a race that navigator Miles Seddon described as lengthy.

"It is very nice to be here," said Seddon in an official Transatlantic Race 2019 release; for comparison, Seddon sailed this same course in 2015 aboard the MOD70 trimaran Phaedo in just over seven days. "It felt like it went on for longer than eternity! We tried to throw it away a few times. It was beautiful sailing conditions to begin with, heinous survival mode in the middle and playing catch up again. It was certainly a long one."

Determining the race's other prizes will depend on the finishing times and orders of the remaining racers, of course, however Enright and company have their fingers crossed that their corrected-time results do not change as additional boats cross the finishing line.

"Of course, it would mean a lot to all of us — David and Peter really bought into this — if we won overall honors," said Enright, in an official race statement, after finishing. "We probably sailed at 90 to 95 percent of our potential. There's really not a lot that we left on the table. Huge credit goes to navigator Will Oxley, who did a fantastic job, especially picking our way through the Gulf Stream, and to Chris Maxted, our boat captain. We had few technical issues in this race."

Stay tuned for more from the Transatlantic Race 2019 as it unfurls, and - for distance-racing fans - also be sure to stay tuned for the start of this week's Transpacific Race, which will take the fleet from Los Angeles to Hawaii.

Meanwhile, in Olympic sailing news, selection for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team began last week with the start of the 2019 ILCA Laser Standard Men's World Championship (July 4-9), which are taking place on the waters off of Sakaiminato City, Japan.

As previously discussed, U.S. Olympic hopefuls face a three-tier selection process (early, middle and late selections), however U.S. sailors will automatically earn a berth to the Tokyo Olympics 2020 if they earn a top-three result that yields a cumulative result of seven points or less at a World Championship regatta, or at either the 2019 Olympic Test Event or the 2020 Hempel World Cup Series Enoshima, and if they are the only U.S.-flagged boat to achieve these results.

As of this writing, Charlie Buckingham (USA) was sitting in fourth place with a score of 53 points, which is just one point astern of France's Jean-Baptiste Bernaz. This is by far the best result by an American sailor, however Buckingham's cumulative score means that he will not escape the middle (and possibly the late) selection process.

Racing begins on July 17 for the 2019 ILCA Laser Radial Women's World Championship (July 17-24) and will also take place on the waters off of Sakaiminato City, Japan.

Sail-World wishes all North American sailors the best of luck as they prepare for the 2020 Games, and we also wish a safe journey home to all sailors still contesting the Transatlantic Race 2019.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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