Tiara and Drumbeat, two of the world's largest sailing yachts, finish just 55 minutes apart after Rolex Transatlantic Challenge

While the Grand Prix division scrap between Mari-Cha IV and Maximus may have taken the limelight in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, an equally intense battle was taking place across the North Atlantic between the two massive near-sisterships Tiara and Drumbeat.

Measuring 178ft (54.3m) and 174 feet (53m), respectively, Tiara and Drumbeat are two of the world’s largest sailing yachts and represent the last word in luxury ocean cruising. To find one racing is unusual; to race one across the North Atlantic is exceptional; to find two such yachts undertaking a nearly 3,000 nautical mile match race across the Atlantic, unheard of. Yet despite calms, storm-force winds and gear failure, the two boats were separated by just one second at the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge’s Lizard gate.

“We had a bit of everything,” described designer Ed Dubois racing on Drumbeat. “For our big heavy boats we had very light airs to start with, which was a bit dismal, but we were both in the same situation.” During one three-hour watch, they only covered six miles. “The gale in the middle, while it was uncomfortable, didn’t worry us too much,” continued Dubois. “We were better off than a lot of the boats because we were so big and comfortable. We had proper roast dinners during the gale, and we only had one victim of seasickness, which lasted about a day. We went on showering and shaving, and we had a very nice time.”

Both boats experienced sail damage during the severe conditions. On Tiara, chartered to a group from the Societe Nautique de Geneve led by banker Thierry Lombard, they broke the head of the staysail, their principal heavy weather sail, and two battens in the mainsail. Routine issues on a smaller boat, they scaled up into big problems. “On a normal boat you would drop the main, change the batten. On our boat there is absolutely no way you can do that,” said skipper Pascal Pellat-Finet.

Meanwhile, Drumbeat broke two halyards, but their biggest hold-up stemmed from when they broke two batten pockets in their mainsail. “In getting the main down it was flogging around, and it pulled the headboard off,” recounted Dubois. “Happily we got it down and spent the afternoon reattaching the headboard. Then we repaired the in-board end of the battens by bolting them right through the sail. We didn’t want to re-hoist the main in darkness when it was still blowing like hell, so we hoisted it in the morning successfully, and we were off. We thought it might have been a race-losing moment, but we got it up and away we went.” In total they sailed without their mainsail for around 28 hours, during which time their 150-mile lead over Tiara turned into a 150-mile deficit.

Crews on each boat were monitoring the progress of the other closely. Into the Atlantic, Tiara chose to sail around the bad weather, taking a route much further south, while Drumbeat was between Tiara and Windrose, further north still. “I am never one to go to the corners of a race course, so we moderated that and just erred to the right of the course,” described Drumbeat’s navigator, Australian round-the-world sailor Adrienne Cahalan. “In terms of racing Tiara and racing the fleet, we wanted to set ourselves up so that we had some options still. In the end Tiara had a bit of a problem coming back.”

Drumbeat’s more northerly course allowed them to sail a faster angle approaching the British Isles. They passed north of the Scilly Isles off Land’s End, while Tiara passed to their south, saving them miles, and with their faster pace, by the time the two giant sailing yachts reached the Lizard, they were separated by just one second. Drumbeat was then able to pull ahead due to a technical problem the crew of Tiara was facing with their spinnaker.

Drumbeat pulled ahead, but even then the outcome wasn’t sealed, as Adrienne Cahalan explains: “There was an unexpected shift coming up the Channel yesterday morning, and there were some nervous moments because we were on the wrong side of that shift. But we were 20 miles ahead at that point, and we went straight back in and covered them.” In the end, Drumbeat crossed the finish line off the Needles just 55 minutes ahead.

“I am hugely enthusiastic. I’ve had the best time of my life,” said Drumbeat’s owner Mark Lloyd. He had first sailed across the Atlantic when he was 19 years old, with a friend William Pelly. Thirty-two years later he had invited Pelly back for this crossing. “It has been a huge celebratory event. We have had a really, really good race. It was one of the best things I’ve done for a long time.”

Adding to their crew’s satisfaction is that Drumbeat looks set to win the Performance Cruising class 1 on handicap, beating Tiara by 4 hours, 45 minutes and Windrose by 15 hours, 3 minutes on corrected time.

Finish times

MARI-CHA IV – 19:18:37 UTC June 1

MAXIMUS – 00:35:08 UTC June 2

WINDROSE – 08:24:12 UTC June 3

LEOPARD – 09:51:06 UTC June 3

DRUMBEAT – 14:30:50 UTC June 3

TIARA – 15:25:35 UTC June 3

WHISPER – P2 – 299.0 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

SOJANA – P1 – 315.1 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

SELENI – P2 – 390.6 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

TEMPEST – P2 – 417.8 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

STAY CALM – P2 – 492.0 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

SARIYAH – P2 – 543.5 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

ANEMOS – P1 – 636.0 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

PALAWAN – P2 – 995.1 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

SUMURUN – CL – 1238.6 (04.06.2005 12:00h)

MARIELLA – CL – 1469.7 – (04.06.2005 12:00h)

NORDWIND CL – 1499.1 (03.06.2005 20:00h)


CARRERA – GP – Retired

OCEAN PHOENIX – P2 – Retired