Reference time set
12 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes and 48 seconds, is the reference time - Estrella Damm, the IMOCA Open 60, and her crew of Alex Pella (ESP), Pepe Ribes (ESP) and Stan Schreyer (USA) set the first record for the 3,670 mile passage under sail between New York and Barcelona very early this Wednesday morning when they crossed the finish line in front of the Catalan capital’s 26 story iconic glass W Hotel, at 00:37:06 GMT/02:37:06 local time Barcelona. They made the passage at an average speed of 12.48 knots.
From the top storey of the avant garde new landmark, the blinking navigation lights of Estrella Damm slowly became more distinct through an otherwise foggy night. As the red IMOCA 60 crossed the finish line, - on a transit between the apex of the sail-shaped hotel and the historic Tibidabo church, they finally brought to an end a passage which had comprised two contrasted sharply - a very fast crossing of the Atlantic and a painfully slow section in the Mediterranean, ending with a crawl to the finish line.
And as the upbeat, relieved Estrella Damm crew stepped ashore close their rivals Pachi Rivero, Toño Piris and Peter Becker on W Hotels were still making very slow progress, some 50 or so miles behind them.
While the Estrella Damm crew were pleased to have won, there was considerable disappointment for the W Hotels team which put up a close fight all of the way across the Atlantic, mostly within 20 miles of their rivals until they were struck two successive body blows last Thursday and Friday. First their port rudder mechanism was damaged by a wave, when they were in big winds to the north of Madeira, on the edge of a malicious low pressure system. Then, while they were repairing it, they were struck by a big wave causing W Hotels to broach.
As a result they lost more than 130 miles and were 168.5 miles behind at the 1700 GMT sched last Friday. But the tenacious W Hotels crew fought back on the approach to and into the Mediterranean they had closed the gap again to 53.9 miles by lunchtime last Sunday.
One of the targets of the New York - Barcelona Transoceanic Sailing Record challenge was to join the two cities by establishing a record route between them. The weather patterns which characterise the Atlantic and the Mediterranean have proved to be a worthy challenge, and the record which has been established by Estrella Damm sets the bar high.
In the Atlantic Estrella Damm and W Hotels enjoyed high speed reaching only a few miles apart, pacing each other at high mileages. At first they rode in front of a low pressure system in southwesterly winds before having a brief respite crossing a ridge, conditions building again from a low pressure system situated between Madeira and the Iberian peninsula.
An average of more than 15 knots was set for the passage to Gibraltar across the Atlantic. But while the best run in the Atlantic was in excess of 460 miles in 24 hours, by comparison it took about three days and 10 hours to cover just the 528 miles from Gibraltar to Barcelona.
“It is all good," commented Estrella Damm's Pepe Ribes. "We are very happy to be finished. I think we are pleased with the boat, it was very quick reaching and we did not break too many things and so the reliability is improved. We learned a lot about to sail the boat in reaching conditions. To have W Hotels by your side for days and days just raises your level. It is like a great nine days of hard testing. So we have learned a lot about how to sail our boat, the modes of how to sail the boat, etc. That is about the sails, the cross-overs, the way to sail the boat, the heel angles, the fastest reaching angles, we learned in all areas, and how we want our sails for the Barcelona World Race.
“I think we develop well as a partnership. Our plan to have the same responsibilities, to work together in the weather, and together in all areas on board is a different way of thinking to the French, where it normally is really a skipper and a guy helping the skipper, but for us I think this works very well for us.
“ Stan developed really well. To step on to one of these boats for the first time, to cross the Atlantic is very hard in a big boat like an IMOCA, and the first three days were pretty hard. But he is a good sailor. He soon understood the settings on the boat, trimming the boat, and he was always part of the watch system. He was not on standby, he stood his watches. There were three equals on the boat and everyone had one watch. He was on deck by himself as an equal watch. I think he enjoyed it.
“We are happy with the record. I thought it would be slower at this time of the year. I thought with the help of Jean Yves Bernot we chose a good day and we were able to keep the pace, and then we were lucky that the second low pressure moved away out of the entrance to the Strait, because at the beginning it was blocking the route. The last two days it started to move and we were just pointing to the middle of the low and we just missed it by the south.
“We lost the bow pulpit and a couple of stanchions, just in the first few days. It was very bumpy and just jumping off waves at 20 knots, we hit a wave, I don’t know, it just ripped off…but really, just normal stuff.
I feel good. Today we had a hard day because this light weather was a bit tough, we did something like 30 sail changes in the last 24 hours . A lot of sail changes…A2, Code Zero, A3, A2 Code Zero, A3, all the time, all the time. And then it was really stressful because it was really foggy.”
Their American IMOCA 60 newbie Stan Schreyer added: “ I am not feeling too bad. We were pretty diligent with our watch system, so we all got a lot of rest while we were on board. It was a very interesting trip because we saw so many different conditions, windy with small waves when we started out, then we ran through some light winds, then strong winds and big waves. So actually, it took us 12 days, nine days to cross the ocean and four days up the Med, tells the story.
“It would have been nice to go faster in the Med because we had made such good time across the Atlantic. It was disappointing to take so long there, but that is sailboat racing.
“One thing I noticed about them, and this was obvious before we started, is that they both just love sailing and life on the boat. They were born to do what they are doing. I could see when we left the dock in New York that we got out of New York Harbour and we were preparing to start the record run by Ambrose Light, they were kind of giddy. They were so excited. This is what they love to do. And they are both very, very hard workers, they work very well together, and I think they will be very well prepared for the Barcelona World Race, because they have a very good dynamic between the two of them. They are good friends from away back, they work well together.
“There was no difference between when I started and when I finished. I had done enough sailing with them before the race that I was not new to it. My relationship with them was not brand new before we started this race. And it was easy to fit in with them because they work so well together.”
Estrella Damm arrival time 00:37:06 UTC
Elapsed time 12d 06h 3m 48s
Average speed on orthodromic 12,48kn
3670 miles orthodromic course