Hubert Burda Media

Water Gods

Classic sailing yachts duked it out in a spectacular transoceanic race that took crews from the Canary Islands to Fort-de-France.

Among the bevy of classic sailing boats, it was grand old dame, Altair, that proved sprightly as can be, when she raced to first place at the Panerai Transat Classique in January this year. The extraordinary win in both real time and corrected time saw the 84-year-old gaff schooner come in ahead of Argyll and Gweneven, which took second and third spots respectively.
Owned by Joe Pytka, the Altair was under the command of Captain Stephane Benfield, and performed remarkably well in terms of pace and distance. Even though rival Argyll, led by skipper Emmanuel Fontaine, achieved the highest speed of 18.8 knots (impressive for classic boats), it was Altair‘s consistent distance runs that aided in its eventual victory.
According to Benfield, the 16-strong crew hit steady daily runs of 264, 268 and 272 nautical miles, with the boat going at 11.5 to 12 knots, and a top speed of 16.2 knots during the race.
“When we signed up for this race, I never imagined we would do so well. [But] we prepared the boat really well and I managed to put together an excellent crew. All these elements combined to achieve this beautiful result,” said Benfield, who, in a post-race press statement, also credited the win to his team’s cohesive performance.
Away from the rigorous sailing action, participants took time to enjoy the beautiful sights of Lanzarote island (thought to have emerged 15 million years ago after fiery volcanic eruptions) and also revelled in the fine wine, food and unique environment of the Jameos del Agua cave restaurant, venue of the race’s gala dinner. And over at Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, the competitors received an enthusiastic welcome from locals having sailed into port during the city’s ongoing carnival week — a fitting way for the race to draw to a close.