Sailing Maserati to the Starting Line

CHARLESTON — The Canadian model predicts four days at sea, the U.S. model predicts three, and the European model … well, that’s a bit much to run just for a delivery. Either way, the current course of Charleston to New York is significantly shorter than the one slated to start in about two weeks: an attempt to beat the monohull record for New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn.

The goal for that trip is 40 days, though the time to beat is a little over 57, a target set by Yves Parlier on Aquitaine Innovations in 1998. Veteran Italian sailor Giovanni Soldini will guide Maserati — a Volvo Open 70 modified to be significantly lighter — across some 15,000 miles, possibly more depending on whether the winds cooperate.  And it’s especially hard to get them to go your way around the treacherous tip of South America.

Bjoern is the on-board photographer for the Charleston to New York leg, a 600-mile journey that brings Maserati around another troublesome Cape — Cape Hatteras — although barrier islands don’t look quite as intimidating as massive rocky cliffs blasted by a roiling Southern Ocean.

It’s been a long journey to the starting line for Soldini and crew. They spent an unanticipated 28 days at sea after leaving La Spezia in early October, sentenced to time in the Caribbean as they waited for Hurricane Sandy to blow through.

After about three weeks in Charleston, the team got underway today around 2 pm, and Bjoern managed to transmit a few on-board photos while he was still close enough to the coast to have reception. Enjoy!

MAYDAY South of Hell Gate

The broadcast came across the VHF at 11:25 a.m. that Saturday: “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is the sailing vessel Blue Moon. We’re stuck below a bridge on the East River by Roosevelt Island.”

Escorting a NYC Swim event, I happened to be less than two miles away from the described location, and able to respond to the mayday call. When I arrived on the scene within minutes, her mast was lodged mid-span of the Roosevelt Island Bridge, and the strong current had turned the 35-foot hull broadside, leaning her 40 degrees. Water was washing over her starboard gunnel as two sailors in red life preservers took the high side, fearing the boat might not stay afloat much longer.

NYPD Harbor Unit’s 35-foot response boat #351 also arrived on scene and picked up the distressed boat’s crew from the downstream side. Meanwhile, an FDNY rescue truck stationed itself on top of the bridge. Sparks flew as the team cut open a metal gate for two rescue divers to access a ladder that led them down the stanchion of the bridge. The firefighters asked to come aboard my boat and use her as their stand-by vessel while they assessed the situation.

Next, a 55-foot “Kenny Hansen class” NYPD launch arrived and tied off Blue Moon’s halyard to their bow in hopes of pulling the mast free. But the halyard stood no chance. As the twin 740-HP Detroit diesels lurched, it snapped and whipped back at the boat.

FDNY’s new 64-foot fast-response boat ‘Bravest’ was there within minutes as well, and took station upriver of the bridge. This boat can pump over 6,000 gallons of water per minute, and the lettering of the vessel’s name was cut from steel salvaged at Ground Zero.

The NYPD and FDNY secured the scene and determined that the best course of action would be to summon a bridge operator and wait for the lift-bridge to open and free the boat.

The situation was under control, and I returned to the NYC Swim event, with a renewed sense of vigilance to the swimmers. The whole episode is a reminder of the extreme difficulties posed by the East River’s notorious 5-plus knots of current.

Hugo Boss Crew Transfer at Ambrose Light

As Alex Thomson sails for the starting line at Ambrose Light off New York aboard the IMOCA Open 60 Hugo Boss, his crew transfers onto New York Media Boat’s RIB running alongside at about 20 knots. Thomson is attempting to break the transatlantic record in preparation for the Vendee Globe later this year. After all three crew were in the RIB we stationed just north of the ‘A’ buoy. Simon Clarke sighting it due south and waited for Hugo Boss to cross the line, marking the time.

Alex Thomson, BOSS Prep for 4th Solo Round-the-World

You’d think a man who executes a swan dive off the keel of his sponsored 60-foot sailboat in a tuxedo or entertains Ewan McGregor at sea might exude a certain arrogance.

Not so for British sailor Alex Thomson. In fact, one of the first things he told me in our brief conversation at Manhattan’s North Cove Marina aboard his Hugo BOSS Open 60 was that he’s failed his first three attempts to sail singlehandedly around-the-world.

First, there was the structural damage in the 2004 Vendee Globe, some apparent breakdown of carbon fitting that caused boom trouble.

Then there was the keel damage in the Velux Five Oceans Race in 2006, when Thomson had to be rescued by fellow British sailor Mike Golding.

In 2008, yet another Vendee went unfinished – or un-started, rather – when a fishing vessel struck Thomson’s yacht, dismasting it as he brought it into port for the race start.

In an extension of this streak of bad luck, Thomson was hospitalized with appendicitis just two days before the 2010 Barcelona World Race, which he was to tag-team with sailor Andy Meiklejohn. (Though this setback wasn’t all that negative – Thomson got to be present at the birth of his son).

When we met him that Saturday night at North Cove, Thomson seemed far from disheartened. He was below deck at his navigation table testing and demonstrating electronics to some of the crew as we came aboard.

We weren’t exactly stowaways. Earlier in the day, Bjoern had ferried some of the BOSS sailing team across the Hudson to Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, where the boat was initially docked. The crew had to move it back over to New York, but ferry service wasn’t running. Bjoern’s SeaRider was, of course, and he took the crew aboard in exchange for a promise of beers and a tour of BOSS.

Thomson had a week of hospitality sailing ahead of him but was happy to tell us about his upcoming round-the-world attempt. The 2012 Vendee Globe gets underway on November 10, leaving from Les Sables-d’Olonne in western France.

Barring any health or dismasting concerns, Thomson will likely be at sea for some 100 days. The winner of the 2008 Vendee did it in 84 days – but that’s the advantage of a trimaran over a monohull. (The winner was actually FONCIA, which Bjoern recently photographed during the KRYS Ocean Race stopover in New York).

Perhaps luck will be on his side this time. The latest trip across the Atlantic to the states only took 12 days, and Thomson and co-skipper Guillermo Altadill finished second in last fall’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

It’s probably true, then, what they say about Thomson on the Vendee website: “The day he makes it all the way round, Alex will be a real threat.”

MOD70s Squeeze into North Cove

Kristina and I were having lunch at Liberty Landing Marina when we spotted the first mast approaching at an impressive speed despite the calm wind. I grabbed the boat keys and headed for SeaRider. Jean Marc Normant, the technical manager for MOD 70 KRYS Ocean Race had hired me to assist his newly designed 70-foot trimarans make a smooth entrance into the tight opening of North Cove Marina at the southern end of Manhattan.

It was borderline intimidating as these boats quietly flew past Ellis Island under full sail swarmed by media helicopters. I put the throttle down and went to pick up Jean Marc at North Cove, who would orchestrate the docking.

The boats had just raced from Newport, Rhode Island, to New York with Steve Ravussin’s ‘Race for Water’ in the lead. Now they were staying a few days in New York before the official start of their inaugural transatlantic KRYS Ocean Race, which would take them to the finish line in Brest, France.

Approaching North Cove, I noticed nice custom fenders with KRYS logos wrapped around the marina’s bulkheads. The entrance was a bit narrow for the trimarans and the extra safety measures had been ordered a day earlier.

Jean Marc was at the waters edge working his handheld VHF in French. “Ça va – mind if I take the wheel” he said to me as he walked down the floating dock towards SeaRider.

Sensing his confidence, I agreed, and immediately recognized his excellent boat handling skills.

The organizer had flown in a few zodiacs outfitted with strong outboards to act as tug boats. Their sponsons were wrapped in cloth to prevent scratching the hulls of the MOD70 fleet. The two-man zodiac crews reminded me of cowboys corralling wild horses. They sped out onto the Hudson and strategically positioned themselves below the trampoline on both sides of the center hull, forward and aft in order to best maneuver the trimaran.

Having missed slack tide by more than two hours, they were facing a strong ebb current perpendicular to the 76-foot opening at North Cove, and with a beam of 55 feet they had only 10 feet of clearance on each side if they hit the entrance dead-center.

The zodiacs powered up and pushed the first MOD70 towards the gap at about 15 knots. There was no backing out at this speed. Fully committed, they were shooting for the entrance as the crowd of a few hundred people went silent in fear. Some boat owners were standing by aboard their vessels with fenders in hand. Jean Marc and I were stationed just inside the marina and were ready to assist whatever the outcome would be.

The boat cleared the gap with only three feet to the northern bulkhead. An extremely tense moment – but then the crowd erupted in cheers.

All the while, Jean Marc kept his cool. “One down, four to go” he said, turning his attention back to conducting his symphony telling the next boat to come in a bit slower.

All five boats made it safely to their docks. As Jean Marc disembarked, he thanked me and said he’d see me in a few days for their departure.

Queen Honored in New York

As thousands of boats flooded the Thames for the Queen’s diamond jubilee river pageant, those in the Clipper yacht race flew their Great Britain spinnakers to pay tribute to Her Majesty on this side of the Atlantic.

A parade-of-sail launched Sunday morning from Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, sweeping past the Statue of Liberty and nearing the Brooklyn Bridge before docking at North Cove Marina in New York.

Winds rounded the massive spinnakers of the Yorkshire and the Edinburgh, casting a union-jack explosion against southern Manhattan and its rising Freedom Tower, to honor the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

London’s larger flotilla included more than 1,000 vessels – the largest river pageant in that city in more than 300 years, according to the BBC.

The Clipper race departs New York on Thursday June 7 for the last official leg of the round-the-world voyage, which got underway last August in the U.K. The fleet of 10 vessels is scheduled to arrive in Southampton at the end of this month after completing a nearly 40,000-mile journey around the globe.

Each boat bears the name of a different city, with Australian, British, Chinese, and American destinations well-represented. Crew comprise a mix of experienced and novice sailors, some hopping on for specific legs, others staying for the full circumnavigation.

The boats return to a busy summer in London, with the Queen’s jubilee rolling into the Olympic games in July.

Soldini Sets Sail for Cape Lizard

Italian sailor Corrado Rossignoli had landed in New York from Milan just two hours ago. Now, he was pacing the dock at North Cove Marina in lower Manhattan, waiting to meet the new crew with whom he’d be attempting to break a transatlantic world record.

It was 9 p.m., and the goal was to leave within two hours for Ambrose Light, where the team would set out for Cape Lizard in southwestern England. A diver had just splashed, tasked with scrubbing away any bits of algae and residue that might have accumulated during Maserati’s nearly two-month stay in North Cove.

“If you lose by 20 minutes, I don’t want to be the reason,” the diver joked to Skipper Giovanni Soldini, the 45-year-old veteran Italian sailor at the helm of the 70-foot monohull Maserati, which was once the Volvo Ocean Race boat Ericsson 3, now modified to be significantly lighter.

Soldini had spent most of the past two days trying to get his new crew in town to take advantage of the window of opportunity he’d been waiting for. A low-pressure system was kicking up winds that could be just right for breaking the nine-year-old record for fastest transatlantic crossing in a monohull: 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes, 39 seconds, held by Robert Miller and the Mari Cha IV, a vessel twice the size of Maserati carrying three times the crew.

American crewmember Brad Van Liew flew in from Charleston that afternoon, as did Sebastien Audigane and Ronan Le Goff from France, and Javier de la Plaza from Spain. They met Soldini and boat captain Guido Broggi, who’ve been in New York since late March, passing the nights drinking espresso and grappa at the Battagli-Bastianich collaborative restaurant-market Eataly, their meal sponsor.

Soldini and Broggi had a full crew for the first attempt, but some, including German sailor Boris Herrmann, had to return to Europe for other regattas.

Now, Rossignoli and the British sailor Tom Gall made for a team of eight that huddled around the stern at 10 p.m. for a safety briefing. Soldini handed out personal locator beacons, strobes, headlamps and extra batteries – standard precautions, though the crew would be facing some big challenges. Satellites were already counting about 40 icebergs in their path – and those were just the ones large enough to detect.

“You only need a piece of ice the size of a soccer ball to end the game,” said Gall. It’s hard to maneuver around these obstacles when you’re traveling at 20 knots, their target average speed.

But there was little time to worry. Soldini sailed through sail descriptions, and Broggi ran through winch operations and watch schedules. Just past 11 p.m., after the extra gear had been sent off with a courier, Soldini and his crew cast off for Ambrose into a still Hudson River.

Just past the Verrazano Bridge, the winds picked up, rain set in, and the swell grew. Once at Ambrose, they waited until 3 a.m. – and then, they were off.

Behind The Lens: the Maserati Shoot

Five years ago at the Emmy Awards a TV News colleague said “this is a highlight of your career.”

I never thought of it that way, but while escorting Maserati eight nautical miles out to sea aboard my 12 foot boat, in the middle of the night, in swell and rainy conditions, I found myself thinking ‘now THIS is what I consider a highlight’.

I had been commissioned by Giovanni Soldini’s PR Team to photo document the crew’s final preparations on the dock, for the racing yacht’s transatlantic record attempt.

My car was loaded with gear, when Soldini called asking if I could also bring my boat to push Maserati’s bow around to better maneuver her out of North Cove Marina.

The forecast called for 25 knots of wind and the Hudson River has strong currents, so he felt it was crucial to have a support boat in the harbor when casting off the lines.

I thought to myself ‘How am I going to run boat operations and photo/video on the dock at the same time… I need assistants!’ Kristina Fiore and Joel Gibson had been onboard with (now New York Media Boat) since day one, and immediately offered their availability.

They would take the photography equipment by car to lower manhattan, while I ran the boat over to North Cove Marina. Parking in that area is a real challenge but after paying off a hotel concierge, the loading zone was ours.

Soldini was below deck charting icebergs, bowman Corrado Rossignoli focused on checking all ten sail bags, while a diver gave the hull a last wipe-down. Shortly after our arrival at 9:00 pm the rest of the Maserati crew came down the dock. Brad Van Liew expressed concern that the latest weather update slightly differed from what had previously been predicted.

Personally I like to shoot with a 12-24mm lens when working on boats as it captures a good amount of deck space. In this case the helm, winches and three carbon fiber grinders added a nice touch.

Joel and I were hitting the shutter buttons, as on-board preparations continued, and Kristina managed to arrange for a video interview with second bowman Tom Gall – who’s biggest worry are growlers south of Newfoundland.

A steady and annoying rain had set in and I was glad to have opted to bring equipment dry-bags.

Around 10:00 pm Soldini held a final briefing and boat captain Guido Broggi distributed PLB’s, strobes, and the watch schedule.

There was a pile of bags on the dock with non-essential gear that needed to be shipped to London in order to lighten the boat and Soldini grew nervous as the hired courier was running late. After promising him that we’d take care of it, he felt ready to cast off.

My crew split up. Kristina stayed on the dock to handle equipment bags and the car. Joel kept shooting aboard Maserati and captured one of my favorite photos of Soldini setting course towards Ambrose Light.

I ran the RIB and took shots of the yacht in front of the new york skyline.

Once clear of the marina, Soldini gave orders to hoist the main. He then motioned me to come alongside for a moving transfer of Joel from Maserati to the small boat, at about 15 knots.

We continued chasing Maserati past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazano Bridge.

With the ISO screaming at 6400, the camera LCD showed more than the naked eye could see.

These were extremely difficult shooting conditions, but I was pleased with the results while cranking the ISO to the max, as I like to normally keep it below 1200.

Once the lights from the NY boroughs faded and Maserati sailed onto a pitch black Atlantic Ocean, we wished them good luck and reversed our course.

Just after 2:00 am we docked the RIB at Liberty Landing Marina, where Kristina awaited our return.

A preliminary photo selection was made for the Italian PR firm just in time for them to start their workday in a timezone 6 hours ahead of ours.

It was an successful shoot and I want to thank Kristina and Joel for their hard work on short notice.

Check out a list of where the photos from this shoot were published.