Midway through the final race of the inshore portion of the 2018 Atlantic Cup, the three boats in the lead—Mike Dreese’s Toothface 2, Mike Hennessy’s Dragon and Oakcliff Racing, representing the Long Island Sound-based sailing school of the same name—suddenly broke free from the pack. Next thing we knew we had a dogfight on our hands.
Back and forth they went, tacking and gybing, bobbing and weaving round the waters off Portland, Maine, under sunny skies in a building sea breeze. One minute, the Oakcliff team elected to go with its genoa on a tight reach while Dragon and Toothface 2 stuck with their A-sails, and suddenly Oakcliff was surging ahead while the other two struggled to stay on their feet. Moments later, though it was Oakcliff’s turn to grit its teeth as the others turned on the afterburners at the subsequent gybe mark.
Part 1 of SAIL magazine’s ongoing four-part video series on the 2018 Atlantic Cup. To see the rest of SAIL’s four-part Atlantic Cup series, click here
Finally, it was Toothface 2 and Dragon sprinting toward the finish under spinnakers again, literally neck-and-neck, with Toothface 2 eventually breaking the tape less than a boatlength ahead of its rival—a fitting end to what had been a spectacular couple of weeks of racing up the better part of the Eastern Seaboard.
“We are feeling really good,” an ecstatic Dreese said afterward, ecstatic in no small part because the win had also helped him secure second place overall. “We had a great, great inshore crew, and really picked up the pace. This, without a doubt, is the greatest race I’ve ever participated in. Props to everyone involved and all the competitors.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to the Atlantic Cup than just a fully-crewed, two-day inshore series; there is also a pair of doublehanded offshore legs, the first one stretching 648 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, to New York City, the second spanning 360 miles from the Big Apple to Portland. And while Leg 1 was marked by frustratingly light airs for much of its length, the Leg 2 “sprint” was a true boat breaker, with sustained 30- to 40-knot winds on the nose and equally brutally seas.
“It was a very long leg…with the wind in the wrong direction,” said French sailor Catherine Pourre, co-skipper of Eärendil, which won both it and Leg 1 on its way to winning the regatta.
“We slammed a lot, two or three times in a really bad way. We had strong wind and current against us on the side, and the sea state was a little discombobulated,” agreed Pourre’s teammate, Italian sailor Pietro Luciani, describing the first part of Leg 2, a brutal beat out to a virtual turning mark southwest of Nantucket.
In fact, so brutal were the conditions that two of the boats in the 11-strong fleet were forced to withdraw due to mechanical problems, both making quick stopovers ashore before continuing on the Portland.
“Due to significant delamination of our mainsail and further damage to both our Solent and staysail, my co-skipper Ashley Perrin and I have made the decision to head for Newport, Rhode Island prior to evaluating our options,” First Light skipper Sam Fitzgerald reported shortly after retiring, a situation made all the more disappointing given the team’s strong fourth-place finish in Leg 1. The other boat forced to withdraw was the French-flagged Esprit Scout, an effort handicapped by a grueling sailing schedule prior to the race and minimal prep time in Charleston.
Beyond that, perhaps the most impressive thing about this year’s Atlantic Cup was how rock-solid the regatta was, whether at the Leg 1 start in Charleston or the final award ceremony in Maine. Founded in 2011 and now run by Manuka Sports Event Management every other year, the event has had to fight against the headwinds facing any North American effort to make inroads into professional offshore racing—something that remains very much a European game. Nonetheless, whether it was the healthy fleet size, the tight competition or the international makeup up of the crews—which included competitors from nine countries and a strong contingent of American sailors—the regatta definitely has the feeling it’s here to stay.
Reflecting on this year’s regatta, race director Hugh Piggin said he now has European crews coming up to North America for the express purpose of competing in the Cup, as opposed to just tacking it onto their pre-existing Euro-centric schedule. He added he is working on coordinating with the rest of the Class40 class over in Europe to carve out a slot for the race in its overall schedule and that he fully expects a strong fleet for the next regatta in 2020.
As for the Class40 boats used for the racing itself, they continue to deliver in the form of blistering speed on a reach when the wind is up and, somewhat surprisingly, some exciting inshore performance as well. Given the cutthroat nature of some of the starts in Portland Harbor, in particular, you would have thought these people were racing a bunch of dinghies as opposed to wide-beamed bluewater thoroughbreds.
Could it be that Piggin and rest of the Atlantic Cup have finally cracked the code that will bring Vendée Globe style racing (and crowds) to the United States? Time will tell. For now, though, things are looking more promising than ever, an accomplishment in and of itself.
For more on the Atlantic Cup, including a SAIL-produced four-part video series on the event, click here.