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2013 Preview and Who To Watch from the Expert

May 2, 2013

The Atlantic Cup Expert weighs in throughout the race to provide commentary and insight into what’s happening on the course. You can ask the Expert your questions at any time throughout the race by submitting a question online at www.AtlanticCup.org. Who is this Expert? Well we can’t really say…s/he is a bit like the Stig, nobody knows…

Let’s take a look at how the teams are shaping up for the 2013 Atlantic Cup. Between you and me, this one is harder to pick than a broken nose!

The real strength of the Class 40 rule is that anybody has a chance to win. It will come down to minimizing mistakes and exploiting strengths. As such, the teams here are presented in no particular order.

The dark horse of the fleet will be #121 – LeCoq Cuisine. Why? Because Eric Lecoq has a brand new Guillaume Verdier designed boat, which is rumored to be the next step in Class 40 design. Eric himself has been in the shorthanded game for a long time and has teamed up with Conrad Coleman, a winning skipper of the 2012 Global Ocean Race. Between them they have the sailing skills and the machine to win the Atlantic Cup. The unknown factor here is that they have never sailed together and will have limited time to learn the new and as yet, unraced boat.

#116 – Icarus is a team full of potential that has been held back the last few years due to funding constraints and some bad luck. Ben Poucher and Tim Fetsch have done a metric ton of sailing together and make a living running race boats. Team Icarus has worked hard to make their program competitive with the help of the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy, and Icarus will return to the course this year with an updated sail inventory. Icarus is also the only American built and designed boat competing in this year’s race. Ben and Tim have the ability to keep the boat in one piece and the skill to make it go fast. Given their one design background, expect a strong showing on the inshore series.

#106 – Gryphon Solo2 is coming off a podium finish in last year’s event and a dominant performance (1st Class 40 to finish) in the 2012 Newport-Bermuda Race. Joe Harris is probably the most experienced shorthanded oceanic racer in the fleet. His teammate, Tristan Mouligne, is no stranger to short-handed racing, having campaigned his own boats for many years. Gryphon Solo 2 is a 3rd generation Akilaria, a French design that has enjoyed much international success. We know this team has the speed and ability to win. The key will be eliminating the mistakes. Having lost key crew members from last year’s very strong inshore team, one question mark will also be inshore performance.

#118 – Bodacious Dream was the dark horse of last year’s event and finished a very impressive 2nd place only a short while after the boat’s launch in New Zealand.  Dave Rearick and Matt Scharl have bucket loads of short-handed experience and time sailing together on the Bodacious program. Last year, Dave and Matt showed that the boat is fast, they can make it go, and they are capably of making smart tactical decisions. Since last year, Dave has completed a European race campaign that included two trans-Atlantic crossings (one with Matt and crew, one solo). They have made many refinements in boat setup, which could pay big dividends in their inshore series performance. If the Bodacious Dream Team (I couldn’t resist) sails fast and smart, they will be very tough to knock off the podium.

#54 – Dragon is made up of long time Class 40 campaigner Mike Hennessey, and long time teammate Rob Windsor. Mike and Rob have been sailing together for years and have Trans-Atlantics, Fastnets, and everything in between under their belts. Mike is one of the most organized, detailed, planners in sail boat racing. Nothing will be left to chance, the team will make sure the boat is meticulously prepared. On top of his sailing skill, Rob is one of the toughest, get-the-job-done sailors you will ever meet. There is not much he cannot fix, and he has the most varied Class 40 experience. The boat herself is one of the older boats in the fleet, which has lead some to conclude she is not as fast as the newer. However, many of the “newer” designs have been optimized for certain long distance races with very specific historical weather conditions. Alternatively, Dragon is more of an “all around design” that could prove to be a tremendous advantage in the coastal wind conditions that make up a significant portion of the Atlantic Cup course. With the potential for upwind and light air conditions on the eastern seaboard, Dragon will have an edge. Plus with the addition of a new articulating bow sprit, Dragon will definitely turn some heads.

This year #90 – 40 Degrees will be looking for redemption after the boat suffered a catastrophic mast failure 15 minutes after the start of last year’s event. Before the dismasting, 40 Degrees was a proven and quick boat. With a new mast and after breaking the RORC 600 course record, it looks like they may have gotten quicker! The crew of long time teammates Hannah Jenner and Peter Harding, who know how to push their boat, will be tough beat offshore. Inshore they are an unknown, but I suspect that with their pedigree they will be strong.

Just two weeks ago, the team of Ed Cesare and Chad Corning on Pleiad Racing entered the Atlantic Cup. Between the two of them they have impressive resumes: Ed Cesare placed third in the IRC 0 Class in the 2011 Fastnet and Chad Corning is the current European and North American Melges 32 Champion. However, racing together as a team and in a Class 40 they have yet to be tested.

Turning our attention to the racecourse let’s take a look at the offshore legs: Charleston to New York City, then New York City to Newport. It goes without saying that weather patterns will always be a major factor and the first leg also has the added challenge of the Gulf Stream current to contend with off the infamous Cape Hatteras. We won’t know what the scenario will be until the days prior to the start. Generally, as the race travels south to north through weather patterns that are shifting east to west, the boats will transition through many different conditions.

The worst scenario the fleet could face is a storm bringing northerly breeze as the boats transition around Cape Hatteras (the Cape Horn of the north), which can produce boat, and crew, breaking conditions. The combination of shallow water, up to 4 knots of current flowing North, and the unlimited fetch of a northerly swell can result in the most horrendous conditions you can find on the East Coast.

The three big challenges for the first leg are exiting Charleston Harbor as short tacking the 3nm out the jetties will be a demanding test of boat handling. Then in anything other than a northerly, the boats will head for the Gulf Stream and set up for a “max current” ride around Cape Hatteras. After Cape Hatteras, the critical decision will be how long to ride the stream before turning left and heading for New York. Last year, the boats that stayed in the Gulf Stream current the longest, although sailing farther, had the advantage. Of course, the more north easterly the breeze, the less advantageous staying with the current will be as it will put NYC at more of an upwind angle.

The approach and rounding of Cape Hatteras can also be a danger to man and boat and could no doubt be the deciding factor in the race. If the weather does not cooperate and brings stiff Northerly wind, the boats have two options, 1) Either tuck into Cape Lookout and Raleigh Bay to “duck” around Hatteras, minimizing the time in the Danger zone, or 2) cross the Gulf Stream and head offshore to avoid the worst of the conditions but sail crucial extra miles.

The third major challenge will be getting into New York Harbor. The approaches to New York are filled with shoals and are a challenge to navigate at the best of times. Throw in some heavy commercial traffic, an approach under the cover of darkness, two fatigued sailors, and the unknown of how Hurricane Sandy has altered the shoals, and this will be an intense time for the crews and could mean the difference between finishing first or last.

For the NYC to Newport leg, the competitors will be looking for a clean exit out of the harbor. I believe they will most likely stick to the channels because of the unknown effects of Hurricane Sandy on the shoals. Having made it out of NYC, and to the turning mark at Barnegat Bay, it will be decision time whether to head for the Long Island shore or stay well out to sea. This decision will be predicated upon where the strongest wind will be. When the fleet reaches Block Island, the skippers have to make the most critical decision of the leg, whether to sail east or west of Block. This decision has to be made by weighing the intricate wind and tide conditions that occur in those waters, which present an extremely complicated decision. In the two previous editions of the Atlantic Cup, the lead boats lost places by going the wrong way. So watching how crews deal with Block Island will be extremely interesting and I am predicting the decision will influence the results!

For a full inshore preview check back at www.atlanticcup.org/ask-the-expert/ the week of May 20th. If at any time you have a question about the teams or the race, you just need to click the Ask The Expert Button on the website and I’ll take it from there.

 

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