-By Justin Chisholm
Italy’s most high profile ocean racer, Giovanni Soldini, and a handpicked eight-man international crew are standing by in New York, waiting for the optimum weather to begin a record-breaking passage to San Francisco – a route first plied by huge commercial clipper ships in the mid-1800s to satisfy demand for trade sparked by the California Gold Rush.
Soldini, who became a sporting hero in his home country after winning the 1998 Around Alone singlehanded race, is banking on strong winds to arrive from Canada for the start of the record attempt, as well as a split in the Azores high pressure system to enable him and his crew to set a new record time on the 13,225 mile passage from New York to San Francisco, via Cape Horn.
As he waits and watches the weather models, Soldini has put the crew of Maserati (formerly the Volvo Open 70, Ericsson 3) on standby to leave some time around the 19th December.
“Here in New York we are in high spirits, the crew get along really well, Maserati is a very fast boat and we can’t wait to set off” Soldini said.
The Maserati crew are aiming to smash the existing record of 57 days, 3 hours and 2 minutes from New York to San Francisco, set by France’s Yves Parlier aboard the monohull Aquitaine Innovations back in 1998.
While sailing with the name Ericsson 3 on her transom, Maserati finished fourth in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race around the world and has been modified by Soldini for a series of ocean racing record attempts. The modifications include a lighter keel bulb and a metre-longer keel fin, as well as the addition of two water ballast tanks in the aft corners.
Speaking from the boat in Manhattan’s North Cove Marina, in the heart of the Financial District, Soldini said he and the crew were eager to get underway but prepared to wait for the right weather conditions to kickstart their record attempt.
“The best for us would be to set off behind a low pressure with NW winds of 25/30 knots,” he explained. “It’s a cold wind arriving from Canada.”
To break the record the Maserati crew will need to storm chase these southerly moving cold fronts and dodge the light winds of persistent high pressure systems along the route – the latter being something they were unable to do on a failed attempt to break the transatlantic record from the USA to England earlier this year.
On that occasion, despite at one point being 200 miles ahead of the record pace set by the much bigger yacht, Mari-Cha IV, an unexpected high pressure developed in their path and left them drifting tantalisingly close to strong winds only 60 miles ahead.
Soldini said an attempt on the New York to San Francisco record appealed to him after learning more about the clipper ships which raced each other along commercial shipping lines between the east and west coasts of America in the 19th century.
“It has a great history this route,” he said. “The gold rush made San Francisco a centre for commerce and the fastest ships could charge the best prices.”
The clipper record for the route was set by the 235-foot Flying Cloud in 1854 when she took just over 89 days. Remarkably, this record stood for 135 years before it was beaten in 1989 by Warren Luhrs’ radically designed racing yacht, Thursday’s Child. Luhr and his crew completed the passage in 80 days and 20 hours after stopping in the Falklands for five days to repair damage from a collision with debris in the water.
Almost 10 years later, Frenchman Yves Parlier and his crew set the current monohull record at 57 days, 3 hours and 2 minutes when they won the appropriately named Gold Race in 1998.
The route’s multihull record of 43 days 38 minutes was set in 2008 by Lionel Lemonchois’ crew on the 110′ catamaran Gitana 13.
This time, Soldini is banking on the persistent light wind weather system known as the Azores High splitting in half to allow Maserati to thread the needle between the two and break through into the consistent trade winds which could act as a conveyor belt to whisk them quickly south towards Cape Horn.
“After two or three days of sailing it would be just perfect if the Azores high pressure split up in two: one centred over the Bermudas – which we will leave on our right – and another one on the Azores, which we will leave on our left,” Soldini said.
“A passage would be generated, allowing us to enter a zone of enduring trade winds.” Previously, on the delivery trip from Italy to the US, the Maserati crew had to make a 1500 mile detour to avoid the worst of tropical storm Sandy as it made its way up the American east coast and laid waste to parts of New York.
After a few weeks of boat preparation in Charleston, South Carolina the crew spent three days moving their boat to New York to be ready for the record attempt which will see them spend Christmas at sea and arrive in San Francisco during mid-February.
Maserati’s crew for the record attempt will be: Giovanni Soldini (ITA), Guido Broggi (ITA), Corrado Rossignoli (ITA), Michele Sighel (ITA), Boris Herrmann (GER), Ryan Breymaier (USA), Carlos Hernandez (ESP), Sebastien Audigane (FRA) and Teng Jianghe (CHN).
The team’s official website, http://maserati.soldini.it will feature regular updates during the record attempt including live tracking.
Justin Chisholm is Founder and Editor of SailRacingMagazine, a free digital magazine focused on the world of professional yacht racing.