The three boats in the classic division of the Rolex Transatlantic Race continue to slog it out towards the finish line

While more than a week has passed since the first boats arrived in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge race, the three boats in the classic division continue to slog it out.

Older and smaller than the rest of the boats in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, the classics were never expected to be as fast as the modern racers and larger performance cruisers, but they have also been very unlucky with the weather conditions. Closing on the Western Approaches, they should now be enjoying a fast broad reach in favourable westerly winds, but instead they are once again beating upwind into easterlies.

Yesterday morning at the 0800 UTC position update, A. Robert Towbin’s 94ft (28.7m) Fife ketch Sumurun, built in 1914, was still tackling the Atlantic Ocean with 543 miles to go to reach the finish line at the Needles Fairway Buoy off the western tip of the Isle of Wight. In terms of distance to the finish line, Sumurun was 50 miles ahead of Hans Albrecht’s 88ft (26.8m) Nordwind, and 100 miles in front of Carlo Falcone’s 80ft (24.4m) Fife yawl Mariella, the latter two boats originally built in 1938.

One hundred miles is extremely close, considering the classics have been at sea for more than two and a half weeks. However, the distance to the finish only tells half the story. The canny A. Robert Towbin, a veteran class winner from the New York Yacht Club’s 1997 Transatlantic Race, has spent a long time on port tack heading for northern Spain and is now considerably farther south than Nordwind and Mariella. In theory this should put Sumurun on a faster point of sail to make the final run in past the Lizard and on toward the Isle of Wight. However, in an e-mail from the boat, Towbin wrote: “We have had 20-30-knot winds from the north-east for two days and expect them to continue for another day. This has brought heavy seas coming also from the north-east…just the direction we want to go.”

From on board Mariella, Sophie Luther wrote last night: “Our rivals have now tacked on to starboard and are making a very northerly course for the Lizard, while we are still trying to get as east as possible for the new wind shift.” She continued, “tension is building for the last leg to the Needles. Looks like it could be a nail-biting finish. The good news is our speed is still good, and the log has just hit over 3,000 nm from New York, so surely we must be nearly there? ”

The question remains: will the Classics reach Cowes in time for the prizegiving on Sunday night? The forecast shows easterlies continuing to blow in the Western Approaches and in the English Channel, only turning favourable on Sunday. Based on her having 543 miles to go and having averaged 6.1 knots over the course so far, Sumurun should reach the finish line at 0400 UTC on Monday morning. This will give Towbin and his crew just four hours to prepare for the gun for the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight.

Skipper A. Robert Townbin is philosophical. “Whatever happens in the race of the classics, our hats are off to Norwind and Mariella and their crews. As we write this, 420 miles from the Lizard, these two beautiful boats are right with us, making this Rolex Transatlantic Challenge not only a contest to beat Atlantic’s record, which has now been done, but a modern day challenge to keep boats built before 1950 competing, as they did in the past.” Sixteen yachts are presently entered in the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight, clockwise around on the original America’s Cup course. John Grandy, Rear Commodore of Yachting of the Royal Yacht Squadron, says they have tried hard to recreate the same course as sailed in the 1851 race, won famously by New York Yacht Club Commodore John Cox Stevens aboard America in what would subsequently become the America’s Cup.

“Due to the generosity of Trinity House, we have the services of a disused light vessel that will be in the approximate position of the old Nab light vessel that was there in 1851,” said Grandy. The light vessel has long since been replaced by the Nab Tower, north-east of the light vessel’s original position. “I have put in for safety reasons various passing marks, but otherwise it is straight around the Isle of Wight, starting and finishing at the Squadron Line. I am sending them around the Bridge buoy off the Needles, because if we have to shorten course, that is the obvious place to do it,” continued Grandy.

The present forecast indicates that the wind will be north-westerly by race day on Monday, 13 June. Competitors will also have to deal with strong tides that flow in and out of the Solent and around the Isle of Wight. “They start off with a fair tide,” says Grandy. “They have to be back through the Needles by 1500 to avoid the ebb which will start building up after that.”

Aside from concluding the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, the Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight is also a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the winner will receive a silver plate, a replica of one once awarded to Lord Nelson.

The Rolex Race Around the Isle of Wight will start from the Royal Yacht Squadron line with a first warning signal at 0800 UTC (0900 local time).

Fleet Update (as of June 9 – 1200 UTC)

MARI-CHA IV – GP 19:18:37 UTC June 1

MAXIMUS – GP 00:35:08 UTC June 2 (Leader GP Overall)

WINDROSE – P1 08:24:12 UTC June 3

LEOPARD – P1 09:51:06 UTC June 3

DRUMBEAT – P1 14:30:50 UTC June 3 (Leader PC Overall)

TIARA – P1 15:25:35 UTC June 3

SOJANA – P1 17:55:44 UTC June 5

WHISPER – P2 21:17:41 UTC June 5

SELENI – P2 06:40: 50 UTC June 6

TEMPEST – P2 13:27:00 UTC June 6

STAY CALM – P2 22:49:50 UTC June 6

SARIYAH – P2 10:12:03 UTC June 7

Still to finish

ANEMOS – P1 30.3nm (on June 9 12:00)

SUMURUN – CL 543.3nm (on June 9 12:00)

NORDWIND – CL 596.8nm (on June 9 11:30)

MARIELLA – CL 645.4nm (0n June 9 08:00)


STAD AMSTERDAM – CL Retired (arrived Cowes, June 4)

CARERRA – GP Retired (in Newport, RI)

OCEAN PHOENIX – P2 Retired (arrived Azores)

PALAWAN – P2 Retired (arrived Cowes, June 9)