The Transatlantic Race: “In Our Own Words”
by Jesse Fielding and other members of the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team
The Transatlantic Race 2011 for the OakCliff All-American Offshore Team was the opportunity of a lifetime for 16 young American sailors. The adventure started for a core group in January 2011, building the foundation of the team and structure of the project. Over 350 resumés were considered for the open bunks on the 2011 Transatlantic team, and as per the schedule, the sails went up for the first time at Kings Point, NY in May 2011, just before the Storm Trysail Club’s Block Island Race.
The sailing team was handed the keys to Vanquish by Ralf Steitz, President of the US Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation. Vanquish (ex Moneypenny) is a mini maxi, built to the STP65 Rule with ocean racing in mind. For a group of aspiring ocean racers, this was an unprecedented opportunity.
When forming the All-American Offshore Team in January of 2011, we kept in mind that a team with limited resources, and therefore a limited time frame, would need the full complement of ocean racing skill sets to ensure a measure of success. Those skills can always be built upon and become better practiced, although for this trip we needed a solid base and that is what we got. The Transatlantic Race (TR2011) was ultimately a success for the team because of the character we had on board and the skill sets that accompanied them. Each sailor has their own perspective of the race, and each brought their own skill set to the proverbial table. To try to fully understand the experience of the TR2011, the words of those characters are paramount.
Charles Enright – Skipper
Our race was a good race. The first six days were what you would imagine a Transat to be: 25 knots, fog, rain and big waves. The last five days, however, were more like a Bermuda Race: upwind in light air from a high pressure system. We felt we sailed a tactful and navigationally sound race. Aside from possibly being a bit further north as we exited the high pressure ridge, I don’t know that I would have changed anything else. PUMA, Rambler 100 and Leopard of London were able to stay in the low pressure that we started in. We fell out of it, along with Beau Geste and Sojana. We were fortunate enough to keep the boat and crew in one piece; the only real issues were a lost staysail sheet and a lost freeze-dried cooler. I thought we sailed the boat through the water well. We kept our speedo and polar percentages high. I was particularly happy with how the team came together and overall effort we were able to put forth.
Chris Branning – Navigator
The TR2011 has been the most complicated race we have participated in. The prep leading up to it was difficult because it seemed like there were so many aspects to cover in terms of preparation. It never ended. The weather routing and prep really felt like we were getting to do something big and make a real passage. There were a lot of miles to sail.
The first few days of the race were the most fun. The breeze kept the intensity up and we were sailing fast. Once we passed the end of Newfoundland, the race switched from using muscle to brains. It became extremely tactical with gut decisions and checks, as we knew we were sailing into light airs ahead. Watching the crew stay lighthearted was refreshing, especially from a nav station that produced only depressing information. The team was the glue, and everyone’s good attitude fed off each other. Peering around the computers to the see my teammates joking in the galley, I felt like I was so fortunate to be onboard; there was nothing we couldn’t handle – even light wind! A long-term tactic of mine as navigator to lure the skipper and watch captains down below from the glitz and glamour of the helm was the promise of Tic-Tacs. Visit the nav station to get up to date on weather and strategy, and get a low-calorie breath-freshening mint! Unfortunately, since the race got so light and so much time was spent navigating the ridge of high pressure, I think we demolished 20 packs of Tic Tacs. We nearly made ourselves sick, and I am surprised we didn’t have to go to Tic Tacs Anonymous after we finished. For the next race, I think we should all cut back on the mint intake.
Ben Quatromoni – Bow
Youth and American: two words that have been on the fringe of professional ocean racing for years. As a member of both of these categories, I was a bit apprehensive when Charlie Enright and Mark Towill approached me in January during Key West Race Week with the concept of the All-American Offshore Team. They pitched the idea of a 100% American sailing team with an average age under 25, brought together to compete in the Transatlantic Race 2011. As a young American sailor, I thought this idea sounded too good to be true. Fast-forward six months and I find myself on the starting line of the TR2011 against some of the biggest names, payrolls and yachts in sailing. Needless to say, it was a dream come true!
After thousands of miles of training aboard our “stolen” 65- foot race boat, the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team (OAAOT) was ready to compete in the race of a lifetime. Not only were we competing against some of the greatest sailors of our generation, but we were doing it with a 100% American crew comprised of 15 of the most gifted men and women I have had the pleasure of sailing with or against!
As one of two bowmen for the OAAOT, I was responsible for ensuring that all the sails went up and down without a hitch. Sometimes this is easy; other times it is truly a feat of strength, courage, and sheer determination! We experienced fantastic sailing for the first five days of our trip: optimum reaching conditions for our 65-foot carbon rocketship. We sailed over 2,400 miles in six days, but the wind gods did not smile upon the mighty Vanquish for the final 600 miles. We endured light wind for the remainder of the race into Plymouth, but still managed to finish within 15 minutes of a very quick and extremely well sailed 80-footer, Beau Geste. These conditions were a bit tamer for working the front of the boat. Even though I was significantly drier for the latter part of the race, I endured challenges of a different nature. Such things as calling the breeze while dangling from the top of the rig (even though there was no breeze anywhere!), driving the yacht in light air and handling the plethora of sail changes to ensure maximum boatspeed at all times. This was an experience I will never forget. Few young sailors get the opportunity to race with a crew comprised of other young professional sailors. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of this experience and look forward to the next race!
Mark Towill – Watch Captain
Challenging. Exhilarating. Rewarding. These are all words that defined the TR2011 with the Oakcliff All- American Offshore Team. Our boat was sufficiently prepared, we were confident as a crew, and we were in it to win it. For me personally, however, I did not expect the race to be as mentally challenging as it was. The conditions were constantly changing: from 25+ knots to 0.0; thick fog to sunny skies; large waves and surf to water so calm you could almost walk on it – we saw it all. Everyone on the 16-person crew found themselves drained at one point, either from physical exhaustion or a test of mental patience, or sometimes both. The ever changing weather kept us all on our toes and we did nice work to always be pushing the boat and working hard to find the appropriate set-up. After eleven and a half days on the ocean, we successfully crossed the line at the Lizard as a much more cohesive and unified team than when we had left the dock in Newport. In my opinion, that’s the best part about ocean racing – it’s the people that you share the experience with that truly make it worthwhile.
Reaching the finish line of any race is a combination of excitement and trepidation. We could have taken on another week of freeze-dried food and happily kept sailing. But finish lines exist for a reason: so that another race can begin. The opportunity to prepare, race and ultimately make the calls during a Transatlantic campaign was an opportunity rarely afforded young sailors of any nationality. In a country that has profitable commercialized sporting associations like the NFL, NASCAR, NBA, MLB, and PGA, it is hard for sailing to show up on anyone’s radar. We are fortunate beyond all expectations to have had the chance to build a solid team and race onboard Vanquish. We couldn’t have done any of that without the support of the Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay NY, that stands behind the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team’s goal to provide opportunities like the Transatlantic Race to young American sailors – without a strong base of private sponsorship. We will continue racing under the banner of opportunity creation for young sailors and are looking forward to our next starting line. Follow us by signing up for our email updates at oakcliffsailing.org/offshore and follow us on Facebook: “All American Offshore Team.”
The Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team members aboard Vanquish for the TR2011 were:
Benjamin Allen Newport, RI Bowman
Chris Branning Pace, FL Navigator
Charlie Enright Bristol, RI Skipper/Watch Captain
Nate Fast Noank, CT Trimmer
Jesse Fielding Wickford, RI Pitman/Driver
Jan Majer Annapolis, MD Driver/Trimmer
Matt Noble Richmond, CA Driver/Trimmer
Colin Orsini Seattle, WA Grinder/Trimmer
Ben Quatromoni Newport, RI Bowman
David Rasmussen Novato, CA Trimmer
Molly Robinson San Francisco, CA Trimmer
Amory Ross Newport, RI Media
Pat Showell Sweetwater, NJ Grinder/Trimmer
Kaity Storck Huntington, NY Driver/Trimmer
Mark Towill Kaneohe, HI Watch Captain
Chris Welch Grosse Pointe, MI Pitman/Trimmer/Driver
Editor’s note: At press time, The Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team had just completed the Rolex Fastnet Race finishing 2nd in class and 3rd overall.