There's a strong American contingent among the 50 footers entered for the Transat

No race across the North Atlantic would be complete without some US competitors. While on this occasion there are no American teams in the big monohull or multihull classes, there is a strong contingent among the 50 footers.

Rich Wilson, from Rockport, MA, is no stranger to this race having campaigned the 35ft trimaran Curtana in the C-STAR, the Carlsberg-sponsored event in 1988. Five years later Wilson, a former maths teacher, founded Ocean Challenge and a new learning concept called sitesALIVE. “The premise was simple: kids love adventure and they love computers; once they are hooked by the real-time adventure of online learning, teachers can use this format to make a multitude of subjects come alive,” says Wilson. A severe asthma sufferer since the age of one, Wilson has nevertheless pursued his sailing goals while managing a potentially life-threatening condition. Dealing with this major health issue and other health topics will form part of the educational programmes.

The same year Wilson bought his 53ft trimaran Great American II in which he has subsequently completed several long distance passages attempting to break 19th century Clipper ship records. These include San Francisco to New York via the Horn in 1993. In 2002 Wilson and veteran ocean racer Bill Biewenga beat the 1855-56 time of the American clipper Mandarin from Boston to Melbourne. Wilson followed this up last year with a return trip breaking the 154-year-old passage record of the Sea Witch from Shanghai to New York. As with his records Wilson will be using The Transat as material to feed his sitesALIVE education programme.

American competitors Kip Stone and Joe Harris are strong contenders in the Open 50 monohulls. Kip Stone’s Artforms is a brand-new state of the art design by Owen-Clarke, built by McConaghys north of Sydney. Stone is in the process of delivering Artforms from Australia to the UK. Following this half circumnavigation, Stone will not only be very familiar with his vessel but will have hopefully shaken any bugs out of the boat.

Meanwhile another Boston resident, Joe Harris (44) has purchased the former Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America and renamed her Gryphon Solo. This Groupe Finot design has competed in the Around Alone twice – first as Mike Garside’s Magellan Alpha, finishing second in class, and four years later won every leg of the singlehanded round the world race in the hands of Brad Van Liew. In The Transat four years ago, she finished second in class with Alex Thomson at the helm.

Harris is Chief Financial Officer of New Boston Fund, a $1.5 billion real estate investment and development company and has competed in eight Newport-Bermuda races and two Bermuda One-Two solo races. He ultimately wants to take her around the world in the 2006-7 5-Oceans Race (the new name for Around Alone) and is using The Transat as a stepping stone up to this. “The Transat is the Granddaddy of all solo races,” he explains. “I am thrilled to be an official entry and am looking forward to lining up against some of the top solo sailors in the world. I am training intensely for every aspect of the race.” Harris has just completed his 750-mile qualifier.

Other Transat news includes a crew change. Fred le Peutrec has taken over from Lionel Lemonchois as skipper of the new Gitana XI in the Baron Rothschild’s two-boat trimaran team. Le Peutrec is a former Tornado Olympian, sailed around the world with Grant Dalton on Club Med and has most recently skippered the Bayer CropScience 60ft trimaran.

The qualifications for The Transat must be completed by 30 April (or 15 May for those who raced in last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre or Le Defi Atlantique). Mike Sanderson sailing the 60ft monohull Pindar AlphaGraphics, is expected to complete his qualification imminently. ORMA skipper Steve Ravussin (Banque Covefi) is mid-qualifier and Michel Desjoyeaux (Geant) was due to start his 1,000 mile qualifier last Friday (9 April).