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Even the most daunting world records are meant to be broken eventually. For elite navigator Stan Honey and a crew of sailing all-stars from around the world, beating the prestigious monohull transatlantic sailing record was the ultimate accomplishment. And it was no easy feat.
The most essential element needed to beat the record was the right boat. The Comanche—a custom-built, 100-foot racing yacht—was specifically designed to break open-ocean records. “With the engineering structure, with the use of carbon fiber, with this canting keel mechanism, this boat is literally half the weight of a boat like this even 10 or 15 years ago,” says the Comanche’s skipper, Ken Read.
Read, Honey and their team were able to win and set records for competitions such as the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 2015 and the Bermuda Race in 2016. Soon, the Comanche team set its course for sailing’s most prestigious prize: the transatlantic record. The boat that set the record in 2003 was the Mari Cha IV, which was able to sail from New York to the southern tip of England in six days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds.
The success of the gruelling journey 2,880 nautical miles (3,312 miles) across the Atlantic Ocean depended largely on Honey’s ability to navigate through the rough winds and weather out at sea. He kept the crew on standby while he identified the ideal start day with the most optimal conditions to set out on their journey. Honey declared that they were going to set sail on July 22, 2016. Read had prior commitments, so Casey Smith took over the role of skipper.
Although Honey was meticulous and had monitored weather patterns closely to make sure their transatlantic traverse would go smoothly, nature is unpredictable. Within the first night, the crew had to deal with a dangerous thunderstorm, which came earlier than expected. The Comanche had to adapt and sail a different course than originally planned. Though many feared this would be the end of their attempt at the record, they managed to find a way through. “We just managed to wiggle our way out of it and keep going,” Smith says.
Still, the rest of the journey was not easy. The team had to be strategic and set difficult four-hour shifts, with 18 men splitting time between sailing up on the deck, eating and sleeping in the bunker. But with the entire crew’s dedication, sailing at an average speed of 21.44 knots (nearly 25 mph), they went above and beyond their goal. With a trip that lasted five days, 14 hours, 21 minutes and 25 seconds, the Comanche’s crew shattered the world record by more than a day.
“We pioneered a completely new tactic, which is the tactic of doing it in a single system. And it was just barely possible to do that with a boat like Comanche,” Honey says. “And I don’t think it would have been possible with a monohull that was any slower.”
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