After more than two weeks the latest mid-fleet arrivals in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge race struggled against strong tides and light winds yesterday

Ocean racing can be a cruel sport. After more than two weeks into their voyage east from New York, the latest mid-fleet arrivals in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge race struggled against strong tides and light winds yesterday in the English Channel to reach the Needles Fairway buoy finish line off the western tip of the Isle of Wight.

“It was a long old night,” admitted America’s Cup sailor George Skuodas, racing on board the Swan 80 Selini. “We spent from 2am to 6am trying to point the boat in the right direction on the tides, trying to get her to drift the right way. It is a little frustrating when you have sailed 3,000 miles and are desperately trying to get it over and done with and seeing the guys coming up behind us.”

Their worst fear was drifting and missing the line. This would have meant dropping the anchor and waiting for the tide to turn. “There was a little more stress than I would have liked after 15 days of sailing,” continued Skuodas.

Selini finally finished at 0640 UTC this morning. They had had a relatively easy passage, having dived south-east from New York to avoid the worst of the north-easterly headwinds. They then spent eight days sailing with the wind on the beam in 25-35 knots with the occasional squall of 45 knots. “We did some 20 knot surfs,” said Skuodas. “Our best noon-to-noon run was 274 miles or an 11.5 knot average. It was one of those funny boats where no matter how hard you push you don’t go that much faster. When we were drifting along, we were doing 10.5 knots, and when we were caning it, we managed 11.5.”

Like most of the big boats in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, Selini experienced sail damage, in her case, to the running spinnaker. This compromised their downwind performance toward the end of the race.

Sunday night saw the arrival of Peter Harrison’s 115ft (35m) ketch Sojana, following their detour to the remote Newfoundland island of St Pierre to drop off crewman Mal Parker, who had broken his forearm in two places following an incident with a winch. Prior to this, Sojana had been leading Performance Cruising class 1 on handicap.

Leaving St Pierre Sojana had passed close to Cape Race through the chilly Labrador current off Newfoundland. “It was bitterly cold; we had ice forming on deck,” recounted skipper Marc Fitzgerald. “In the Labrador current the sea temperature was down to 1 degree Celsius. And then there was the fog — we hardly saw St Pierre at all because of thick fog. It was unusual. In the UK, you don’t get 30 knots of breeze and thick fog, but it is a feature of the Grand Banks. Plus there’s lots of shipping.”

Despite the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge race being the longest of the four Atlantic crossings Sojana has made to date, they still scored a new top speed for the yacht of 34.9 knots. “The boat flies,” continued Fitzgerald. “She is near on 100 tonnes of displacement, so when she gets rumbling, it is far more impressive than doing 30 knots in a multihull.”

Sojana crossed the finish line at 1755 UTC on Sunday, followed mid-evening by John “Hap” Fauth’s Whisper at 21:17:41 UTC, the first to arrive in Performance Cruising class 2. Otherwise immaculate, the aft deck on Fauth’s 116ft (35.4m) yacht told a story with the mangled remains of a carbon fibre spinnaker pole and blown out sails. “We had two spinnakers. They were sewn together once, so we had four blowouts,” said Fauth. “For the last 1,000 miles, we didn’t have any equipment to go wing-and-wing, or a spinnaker, and it was a broad reach all the way. We had a great race otherwise. We did a lot of preparation, picking the crew and working with the crew and making sure that the boat was really in tip-top shape. All of our dreams came to fruition. Everyone worked hard. We had our fair share of surprises. You are broad reaching and ‘boom,’ you have shreds up the foresail. It is disappointing. By our calculations, we were 80 per cent powered for the last 1,200 miles. That is at least 24 hours.”

This was Fauth’s fourth Atlantic crossing and his first while racing. Would he do it again? “Yes, in a heartbeat. We’ll be better next time! You will absolutely see me, provided I am not pushing up daisies!”

The Performance Cruising class 2 handicap leader Bugs Baer and William Hubbard III’s Tempest anchored four miles short of the finish line yesterday, stemming the ebb tide. She has until 02:14:18 UTC June 7 to win her class in Performance Cruising class 2 on corrected time.

Once she arrives, there will still be six yachts competing, Palawan having announced her retirement yesterday. “The crew is fine and while we have had our share of difficulties, they have been overcome and the vessel is quite sound. The one element we could not overcome is time,” e-mailed skipper Joseph Hoopes to the Race Office yesterday evening.

Meanwhile the three classic yachts are bringing up the rear, led by A. Robert Towbin’s Sumurun. Last in the fleet still with 1,150 miles to go at noon today is Carlo Falcone’s Fife yawl Mariella.

“Most of the yachts in the fleet are finished or will be finishing tonight or in the next few days, and the three old ladies will be the only ones left,” wrote Mariella crew Sophie Luther. “It’s always quite a blow when you realise this. You know you have still a long slog, while all your friends are celebrating their good results or drowning their woes on land.”

A majority of the finishers are now preparing themselves for the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight, on the old America’s Cup course, on Monday, June 13. How many of the classics will be in by then remains to be seen.

Fleet Update (as of 6 June)

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

SOJANA – 17:55:44 UTC June 5

WHISPER – 21:17:41 UTC June 5

SELENI – 06:40: 50 UTC June 6

TEMPEST – 13:27:00 UTC June 6

STAY CALM – P2 – 62.5 nm to finish (06.06.2005 12:00h)

SARIYAH – P2 – 108.6 nm to finish (06.06.2005 12:00h)

ANEMOS – P1 – 362.1 nm to finish (06.06.2005 12:00h)

SUMURUN – CL – 832.8 nm to finish (04.06.2005 12:00h)

MARIELLA – CL – 1150.0 nm to finish (06.06.2005 12:00h)

NORDWIND – CL – 1037.6 nm to finish (06.06.2005 11:48h)

STAD AMSTERDAM – CL – Retired (in Cowes)

CARRERA – GP – Retired (in Newport, RI)

OCEAN PHOENIX – P2 – Retired (enroute to Azores)

PALAWAN – P2 – Retired (enroute to Cowes)