Scuttlebutt News Center: Rolex Thansatlantic Challenge
By G. Bruce Knecht, winning crewman on Mari-Cha IV
|Photo by Thierry Martinez
(June 2, 2005) Shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday (U.K. time, Wednesday), Mari-Cha IV crossed a line
near the start of the English Channel to break Charlie Barr's
100-year-old trans-Atlantic racing record of 12 days, four hours, one
minute and 19 seconds. We completed the almost 3,000-mile course as part
of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005 in nine days, 15 hours, 55
minutes and 23 seconds, shaving more than two days from Barr's legendary
The crew of the Mari-Cha IV, the world's fastest yacht, struggled with
the sails, battled against nature and tolerated bad food. But it was
worth it. The vessel beat a 100-year record and won the Rolex
It was not easy. During the first days of the race, we headed almost
directly into the wind and waves, conditions that we believed to be
favorable to Maximus, our closest competitor. Then on the night of
Wednesday, May 25, as we approached Grand Banks off Newfoundland amid
gale-force winds, we suffered a series of breakages that very nearly
forced us to withdraw from the race.
First off, our genoa, the forward-most sail, separated from the line
that held it to the top of the mast, forcing the crew to wrestle the
sail to the deck and replace it with a much smaller sail. Then, as the
wind gusted up to 50 knots, the mainsail, the boat's most important,
began to part from the vessel. The 3,200-square-foot sail is connected
to 14 "cars," which slide up and down a milled aluminum track that is
bolted to the rear of the mast. After the bow launched off a steep
15-foot wave and returned to the water with an explosive crash, the
upper-most car disintegrated and a section of the track began to lift
away from the mast. The $300,000 sail was removed in less than five
minutes, before the track totally self-destructed, but we were then
effectively unable to continue racing.
Just before midnight, Bob Miller, Mari-Cha's owner, said, "The ghost of
Charlie Barr must be smiling."
A few minutes after that, another major problem arose: The track on the
mizzen mast also started peeling away. By then, many, maybe most, of our
crew, which includes several of the world's top-rated professional
sailors, had concluded that we should withdraw from the race. It had
been the most difficult trans-Atlantic passage that anyone aboard had
experienced, morale was terrible, and further damage seemed likely. Most
of us thought that repairs, even if they could be made, would leave us
too compromised to really compete.
|Mike Sanderson at helm with skipper/owner Bob Miller behind him. Photo by Thierry Martinez.
Mr. Miller would not hear of it. "I don't want to retire," he said to
Mike Sanderson and Jef d'Etiveaud, his top crewmen, very early Thursday
morning. "That has to be our very last option."
By daybreak Thursday, Maximus had erased our lead and pulled ahead by
about 30 miles. With just two small sails, we were moving at less than
10 knots when we should have been making at least 12. We had developed a
multipronged plan of attack to reverse the damage, but we could not do
anything until the wind and waves diminished to the point that crewmen
could be hoisted up the mast.
At 11:30 a.m., when the breeze dropped to about 15 knots, Justin
Clougher and Francis Tregaskis went up the main mast carrying an
electric drill and a power cord that had been assembled using every one
of the vessel's extension cords. Once they were 90 feet above the deck,
they struggled to drill seven holes straight through the track and mast
as they were being knocked into and away from the mast. Meanwhile,
Damien Durchon and Jeremy Lomas went up the mizzen mast. While they bore
holes and drove a dozen bolts into that mast, others used patches and
polyurethane glue to repair several tears that had developed in the
At 4 p.m., the repairs were complete and we resumed racing. By then,
though, Maximus had expanded its lead to 45 miles. Mr. Sanderson thought
we were unlikely to catch up. Our only hope was a wind shift that would
play to Mari-Cha's greatest strength -- downwind sailing. "What we have
to hope for is a southeasterly shift that comes before it's too late,"
Mr. Sanderson said.
On Sunday morning, almost a week after we left New York, we finally
found a favorable breeze, a southeasterly with 20 knots. That is what
Mari-Cha was built for, which became obvious as our boat speed also
accelerated to an exhilarating 20 knots. We have been moving at about
that speed ever since, enabling us to reach the line in time and also
maintain a comfortable lead over Maximus, which was about 40 miles
behind us when we crossed the line.
It has been a very long trip, quick enough to break the record but
longer than any of us expected when we left New York a week and a half
ago. But as we crossed the line in fog yesterday morning, the horrendous
weather, the crippling problems with the boat, and the lousy food did
not seem very important anymore.
Mr. Knecht, the author of "The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the
1998 Sydney to Hobart Race," is now at work on a book about large-scale
illegal fishing and Chilean sea bass.
Click here for finish line photos of Mari-Cha IV.