Ever since America’s Cup legend Charlie Barr skippered Atlantic to a historic transatlantic record almost a century ago, sailors have been attempting to break the elusive New York-Lizard benchmark of 12d 4h 1m 19s under race conditions.

Next spring, the world’s finest yachtsmen will have a formal shot at Barr’s 1905 race record when the New York Yacht Club’s 2002 Transatlantic Challenge presented by Rolex gets underway off Sandy Hook, NJ. And while setting out to cover approximately 3,100 ocean miles at breakneck speed certainly counts as a notable endeavour, the 18 May start for superyachts from 85ft to over 300ft will qualify as one of the most impressive gatherings ever of latter-day ocean going yachts.

In 1997, the last time that the New York Yacht Club and Rolex organized the Transatlantic Challenge, the 184ft three-masted schooner Adix, strikingly similar to Barr’s Atlantic and skippered by Tasmania’s Paul Goss, came very close to making the record her own, as did several others in the 16-boat fleet.

However, the winds, ultimately, would not allow it. It had been the same story four years before in 1993 when Goss guided Adix through her inaugural attempt at an ocean passage (non-racing) record over Atlantic’s course. The yacht was becalmed a few days out from the Lizard. This time, Goss and his crew are back for a third attempt, and they will face stiff opposition.

“If we get good conditions, the boat could certainly break the record,” said Goss, who originally proposed the concept of the Transatlantic Challenge and ultimately finished second – behind the 170ft schooner Adela – in the inaugural race’s Spirit of Tradition division.

“However, there are boats entering this time that are more modern than us and built much lighter, and they are more efficient over a wider spectrum of wind angles. Our edge would be our waterline length (Adix will likely be one of the largest boats entered), but we can only take advantage of that if the wind is on the beam or slightly forward or aft of it.”

Perhaps as driven as Goss will be Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who came to prominence more than 30 years ago when he completed the first ever non-stop solo circumnavigation. Known for his unstinting focus on the job at hand, he will be at the helm of the two-masted 135ft Eleonora, which has been chartered by Paul F. Van Vlissingen and Hugh Lord Amherst to represent the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS), the New York Yacht Club’s partner for organizing activities at the race’s end.

Eleonora is a recreation of the Nat Herreshoff-designed schooner Westward and will find as her rival in both competition and sheer beauty another Nat Herreshoff design, the 108ft Mariette, owned by Thomas J. Perkins. While for many Eleonora’s and Mariette’s majestic images under sail will resurrect the glamour of the past, for Knox-Johnston it will serve more as inspiration to extract every last ounce of speed from his ship.

“It won’t be easy to break the record,” said Knox-Johnston, who also represented the RYS in the 1997 event but with a much smaller boat, the 86ft ketch Sapphire, “although given the right conditions there are a number of yachts that could beat Atlantic’s time.”

One of those yachts is Isam Kabbani’s returning entrant Sariyah. At first, the calm, quiet Kabbani of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, seems to be a superyacht owner drawn to the event more by the allure of the magnificent boats than by their purpose in gathering, but a closer look reveals he has put careful thought into his 130ft ketch’s assault on the race record.

According to Sariyah’s Captain Tim Laughridge: “We’ve taken 17,000 pounds off the lead wings on the keel, and we’re working diligently on our light wind and downwind performance since we are a relatively heavy displacement boat.”