Less than 24 hours after setting a new west to east transatlantic sailing record of 4d 17hr 28min and 6sec and a new 24 hour record of 687.17 nautical miles, the scale of Steve Fossett’s achievements was still sinking in as his team studied the record books.

Taking 44 hours off Serge Madec and Jet Services V’s 11 year record is remarkable enough but when you consider the Frenchman’s average speed was just 18.62 knots compared with 25.42 for Playstation, the significance of the 125ft cat’s performance really begins to sink in. The fastest average speed for any world sailing record was, prior to 10 October 2001, 20.66kts by Florence Arthaud in Pierre 1er, sailing the Marseilles to Carthage route. Even the QE11 is only marginally faster at just over 26 knots for a normal crossing!

After Charlie Barr, whose ten-day passage across the Atlantic in 1905 stood for 75 years, Fossett is only the second American to hold the transatlantic record. All the others have been French.

In an interview with Yachting World in Plymouth the American millionaire adventurer from Chicago said that this was by far his greatest sailing achievement and was a suitable way to wrap up the sponsorship deal he has enjoyed with Playstation. “It’s been a great sponsorship programme – I’ve counted 17 magazine covers carrying Playstation,” said Fossett who said that nothing had been decided yet, but the original three-year agreement was coming to an end.

Third attempt

It was Fossett’s third attempt to break the Atlantic record but on both previous occasions Playstation ran out of favourable weather and posted seven-day crossings. A near pitch pole in a big squall on one occasion forced them to turn back.

But this time a perfect combination of weather set them on their way from the Ambrose Light on Friday 5 October. Fossett and navigator Stan Honey had been studying the weather patterns for three weeks with Commander Weather Service based in New Hampshire and three days before the off, the green light was given. “Some of the crew sailed the boat to New York from Newport and the rest of the guys flew into New York.”

Incredibly Playstation rode a weather front the whole way across the Atlantic and with a south, south-west wind she remained on the same tack for the entire 2,876 nautical miles not having to tack or gybe once. Wind strength topped 40 knots at times and all sail combinations were used.

The crew looked remarkably relaxed and rested when they arrived in Plymouth having passed the Lizard 90 minutes earlier. “I reckon I got five hours sleep a day – it was a very comfortable crossing and a great, smooth ride,” said Steve Fossett who was one of three watch leaders in a 10-man crew. Each watch stood four hour watches with four on stand-by.

Could have broken 700 mile day

Steve Fossett told Yachting World that Playstation could probably have taken the 24-hour sailing record to over 700 miles during the transatlantic passage. “We were completely focused on the Atlantic record. During our successful 24-hour run (from 2200 GMT 6 October) we reefed and unreefed (the main) and changed headsails because it was important to keep on the optimum heading for the Atlantic run,” he explained. “If we had gone all out for the 24-hour record we would have sailed to the wind angle instead, but I was determined not to loose sight of our main objective,” said Fossett. To further put the performance into perspective, Fossett remembered being elated in 1999 shortly after Playstation’s launch when they sailed 580.23nm in 24 hours. “Things have changed a lot, even since then,” said Fossett.

Damage free trip