Two of the world's fastest racing monohulls are set to go head-to-head during the forthcoming 2005 Rolex Transatlantic Challenge

Two of the world’s fastest racing monohulls are set to go head-to-head during the forthcoming 2005 Rolex Transatlantic Challenge. The race starts 21 May 21 off New York and after passing through a gate off The Lizard, finishes at The Needles, on the Isle of Wight, UK.

Robert Miller’s 140ft (43m) Mari-Cha IV may be a similar size to some of the giants in the Performance Cruiser class, but she differs in being an out-and-out racer, with a utilitarian interior free from any luxury.

For Robert Miller, competing in the historic Rolex Transatlantic Challenge has been a priority since the design stage of his futuristic-looking schooner. Mari-Cha IV has already earned her stripes on this course: in October 2003 she set the present New York to The Lizard monohull passage record with a time of 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes, and 39 seconds.

“It would be great to get the race record and to give our transatlantic passage record a nudge,” says Mari-Cha IV’s racing skipper Mike Sanderson. Although it is highly weather dependent, achieving this goal is very possible. “It was all pretty tame when we did it last time, as it was our first big trip,” he continues. “We did our first 525-mile day and half of us didn’t even get our wet-weather jackets on. We were just cruising along at 25 knots.”

Over this winter Mari-Cha IV has been modified to improve her performance further with a general diminishing of her weight. While the boat has movable ballast in the form of a massive canting keel and water ballast to keep her upright, she has also been fitted with twin daggerboards which, Sanderson says, should make a dramatic improvement to her upwind performance.

Aside from the boat’s physical upgrade, 18 months on since her launch Mari-Cha IV’s crew are now more familiar with the boat and are able to push it harder. “We’ve got better sails for the trip, and I think it is a no-brainer that we’ll be able to kick off a quick time given some good conditions,” sums up Sanderson.

By coincidence Mari-Cha IV’s main competition in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge is from New Zealand, the brand-new 100ft (30.5m) Maximus owned by Bill Buckley and Charles Brown, the latter of whom is Sanderson’s step uncle.

Designed by Greg Elliott, who was also part of Mari-Cha IV’s design team, Maximus may be 40ft shorter than her rival but benefits from state-of-the-art technology, maintains Charles Brown. He too is enthusiastic about the race celebrating the anniversary of Charlie Barr and Atlantic’s record-breaking voyage. “It is the greatest challenge, a 100-year-old record, what better could you do? Charlie Barr was the most famous yachtsman in the world. It has everything to do with why we built the boat. And it is extreme stuff. You go north, near the ice, and it is 3,200 miles – a really fantastic race.”

Despite the length difference, Brown is confident about his chances against the big schooner. “They have a 40ft advantage, and waterline length is the key to reaching. But we have the advantage of having caught up with two years of technology. In even breeze, obviously the odds should be all on them. So I am not saying we are going to be faster than them, but I am very happy. There may be some windward work coming out of New York, and there may be some coming in. If we get ideal winds we can do 1.5 – 2 knots faster than wind speed.”

For this special event, the crew on both boats will include some of the greatest contemporary names in yacht racing from the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, including Mike Sanderson, Mike Quilter, and Jeff Scott. The Rolex Transatlantic Challenge concludes with a weekend of activities in mid-June, including the prizegiving at Osborne House on 12 June and the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight on 13 June.