Three days out

Keith Taylor brings us up to date with the process of Great American II's Hong Kong to New York record

Friday March 21st 2003, Author: Keith Taylor, Location: Transoceanic
After three days at sea, Great American II, the 53-foot trimaran aiming to break a clipper ship record from Hong Kong to New York, is positioned some 500 miles south of Hong Kong. For American sailing adventurers Rich Wilson and Rich du Moulin, who set out from Hong Kong on Sunday, March 16, the first days of their offshore campaign have been marked by light, variable winds. The duo is sailing 15,000 miles non-stop to New York to chase a 154-year-old sailing record and bring a live adventure to thousands of school children through a unique educational program called sitesALIVE.

Although their journey is "like racing a ghost ship," said crewmember du Moulin, the historic route of the clipper ship Sea Witch is indelible in these sailors' minds. After three days of racing, GAII's position lags some 500 miles behind the progress logged by Sea Witch.

Weather has been the ruling factor. According to Michael Gilchrist of Commanders Weather, the Nashua (New Hampshire) company that is providing weather routing to the boat, October to April is the prime time to transit this region, as the Northeast monsoons typically dominate the wind patterns.

These NE winds carried Sea Witch some 1,100 miles on her first days out in January 1849, as Sea Witch captain Robert "Bully" Waterman reported in his logbook now at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. In his first log entry, Waterman wrote, "Here beginneth our passage. through the night fresh breezes..." But those fresh NE winds did not blow for GAII.

"We hit the start line like an America's Cup yacht, and we were off," said skipper Wilson, of the start on Sunday. "But twenty tacks later out the narrow Southeast approach, we were becalmed for an agonising two hours."

Winds have been generally light and variable in direction for Wilson, 52, and du Moulin, 56. A trough of low pressure south of China has brought squalls to the area and generally disturbed the seasonal weather patterns.

But GAII's pace is expected to quicken. Winds on March 19 were reported as 12-knot Northeasterlies, and forecasters at Commanders Weather predict the NE breeze will stick with the boat for the next 24 to 36 hours.

The proof lies some 1,500 miles ahead, when GAII passes through the narrow Sunda Strait. The course for both vessels runs through the Strait, and this point in the journey will be like a mark of the course on their race to New York.

For Wilson, the departure from Hong Kong was an emotional one. The days prior to Sunday's start were full with final preparations and a festive sendoff by GAII's hosts at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. The reality of what this crew faced hit Wilson head-on when they stepped onboard to depart.

"We had an enormous and exciting adventure coming up, but it would also be a great challenge--physically, emotionally, and mentally - and its outcome was uncertain. I longed for the comfort and normalcy of our living room at home in Rockport, as I stepped aboard our compact trimaran to head halfway around the world to New York."

The vessel OSKAR, provided by friends at Wollem Ship Management, carried family and friends out into the harbor to escort Great American II from the busy port. After a final farewell, OSKAR peeled away and headed back to port. "I can say without embarrassment, my eyes misted over," said Wilson, as he watched their escort head back to land.

Great American II faces some 7,000 miles before she reaches the southern tip of Africa and heads north into the Atlantic Ocean, setting a course for New York's Statue of Liberty. If they can break Sea Witch's record of 74 days 14 hours, the two sailors are expected to arrive in New York the week of May 26.

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