Stars descend on Newport

For first start of DaimlerChrysler transatlantic race. Dana Paxton examines the form of the frontrunners

Tuesday June 10th 2003, Author: Dana Paxton, Location: Transoceanic
The excitement is building in Newport among the 600 plus sailors preparing for the DaimlerChrysler North Atlantic Challenge. With days until the first start of the 3,600 nautical mile race to Germany, there is a significant group of professionals set to join the amateur crews aboard some of the 63 yachts entered in this race.

In the group set to start on June 14, Huntington “Skip” Sheldon is looking to win and has engaged plenty of know-how for his Reichel/Pugh 65 Zaraffa. With a rating of 1.415 Zaraffa is calculated to be the fastest boat in the first start and therefore top favourite to earn the title “first ship home.” Famous names like Neal McDonald, Mark Rudiger, Richard Mason and Michael Joubert served as skipper, navigator, sail trimmer and bowman, respectively, to push Assa Abloy to second place overall in the Volvo Ocean Race and now they will push Zaraffa across the Atlantic. Richard Clarke from the Volvo winning illbruck will also be onboard.

Zephyrus V, owned and skippered by Robert McNeil will be one of the hottest favorites. The 87-foot (26.50 meters) high tech maxZ86 yacht will sail in the second start on June 21 and is allowed to use water ballast. With a rating of 1.693, she is potentially the fastest boat overall in the race.

Zephyrus V is led by John Bertrand of Annapolis, Md., an Olympic silver medallist and America’s Cup helmsman (and is not the Australian John Bertrand). Half of the boat’s international crew is composed of sailors who have completed the recent around the world race: Anthony Nossiter (Australia/djuice), Gordon Maguire (Ireland/News Corp),
Sidney Gavignet (France/Assa Abloy) Guillermo Altadill (Spain/Assa Abloy), Peter Doriean (Australia/djuice/News Corp), Justin Slattery (Ireland/News Corp) and Ian Moore (Ireland/second navigator on illbruck).

Professionals shall bring the needed power even on the smaller cruiser-racers, which also have a good chance of winning. Harald Graf von Saurma-Jeltsch of Germany, owner and skipper of the Comfortina 42 Meltemi, hired Volvo sailors Bridget Suckling and Anna Drougge who sailed on Amer Sports Too as bow and trimmer, respectively.

Also starting on June 21, the brand new 85-foot (26 meter) UCA, owned by Klaus Murmann (former president of the Employers Association), will sail with the experience of six circumnavigations. Tim Kröger, who was part of the French America’s Cup team Le Défi, brings experience from two around the world races. Four times around the globe sailor and navigator on UCA will be illbruck's Juan Vila from Spain. "Juan was our first choice,” said Murmann. "He read the Gulf Stream very well in the transat-leg so that
illbruck could set the 24-hour record. That experience will count in the DaimlerChrysler North Atlantic Challenge.”

The closest match might develop between UCA and the 80ft Morning Glory, now named HSH Nordbank. It was chartered from SAP boss Hasso Plattner, who broke records in the Cape-to-Rio and in the Sydney-Hobart races. Skippered by Admiral’s Cup sailor Walter Meier-Kothe of Germany, the fast yacht is a maxi racer like UCA, but without water ballast or a canting keel.

“Sure we sail to win, but it is very difficult to give a prediction about the possible ending,” said Meier-Kothe. “Everyone has a chance, but as yachts of very different speed sail in the same start, the crews may find different weather windows and anything can happen.”

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