The spirit of tradition class best represents the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge which starts this Saturday

The countdown is on for the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005 which starts on Saturday (May 21) in New York Harbour. Among the 21 giant (over 70ft loa) sailing yachts competing are thoroughbred racers such as Maximus and Mari-Cha IV; large modern performance cruisers such as Tiara and Drumbeat; and classics such as Sumurun and Mariella. But a fourth type, which has come to be known as ‘spirit of tradition’, best represents the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge as the 100th anniversary of the Kaiser’s Cup transatlantic race.

Gerard Dijkstra, Dutch naval architect, who is best known for his work rejuvenating the three gorgeous J-Class yachts Shamrock, Endeavour and Velsheda commented on the spirit of tradition class: “A spirit of tradition yacht is modern, but it has the styling and the atmosphere and the romantic appeal of a real classic.”

In the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge Dijkstra’s recent designs include the 140ft (46.3m) schooner Windrose(pictured)and the modern square-rigger Stad Amsterdam, at 250ft (76m) LOA, the largest vessel in the race. Thirty years ago, Dijkstra was also responsible for refitting another Rolex Transatlantic Challenge competitor, the 88ft (26.8m) Nordwind.

“The spirit of tradition yachts are just as safe and just as quick as a modern performance cruiser or even a modern racer,” continued Dijkstra. “But their sailing is completely different. When you are on board you still have the low freeboard, and you are in contact with the sea. You get all the joy you also get out of sailing a classic without the drawbacks of a leaky hull?.”

While Stad Amsterdam is a replica of a 100-year-old clipper ship, Windrose is an archetypal spirit of tradition yacht: a two-masted schooner with long overhangs at the bow and stern and a bowsprit. Of all the boats competing in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge she is perhaps closest in appearance to Wilson Marshall’s 185ft (56.4m) Atlantic, the 1905 race winner and record holder. Yet belying her ‘classic’ appearance, Windrose has many features of a modern race boat.

“The major difference is the efficiency of the fin keel and the spade rudder and the much lighter displacement,” continued Dijkstra. “Typically the displacement is 40 per cent less than a comparable classic, so her light-air performance is much, much better. Classics dig a big hole in the ocean. When they reach hull speed they sink in, and they get a lot of water over the deck. But the much lighter spirit of tradition boats surf earlier so they stay a lot drier.”

She may be rigged like a classic schooner, but Windrose’s 3DL sails and carbonfibre spars are every bit as state-of-the-art as those found on Robert Miller’s race favourite the 140ft (43m) Mari-Cha IV.

Dijkstra, who competed in the New York Yacht Club’s 1997 transatlantic race, will be among Windrose’s crew this year in the role of tactician and sailing master. Her 25-person crew has already raced Windrose across the North Atlantic on two occasions and driven her as hard as a pure race boat. “Obviously the comfort level is a bit higher, but she is sailed seriously, and the boat is pushed to its limit,” Dijkstra says.