The Sultana is a replica of an American-built 1768 British Navy schooner, considerably antiquated in both hull shape and rig design when compared to her more modern competition. Even so, she completed the 137-mile racecourse down the length of the Chesapeake ahead of the pack. In 16 years of racing, this is the first time that Sultana has placed for speed.
Varying conditions over the race’s duration allowed Sultana to showcase her unique rig, which includes two square topsails and a loose-footed foresail. When the wind died at the start, Sultana’s crew used her square topsails to box-haul, or spin, the boat in place so they could anchor just before the starting line. When the breeze returned, the crew raised anchor and surged ahead of the other vessels in her class.
As darkness fell, Sultana was making a whopping eight knots under full sail. Her crew of 11 kept busy fighting the seven-foot tiller for control and tending to the full press of canvas. Sailing hard around the clock proves why the original Sultana maintained a complement of some twenty-five men. With less than half that number aboard, the crew still managed to bring in and double-reef the mainsail under full darkness after the moon had set.
Frequent jibes throughout the night tested the crew’s stamina—unlike classical schooner rigs that can set sails and run “wing on wing,” Sultana’s fighting foresail must be carried inside and around the rest of the rig when the vessel changes tack. Additionally, her crew has to brace her square topsails during every maneuver, physically moving the yards into a new position with every sail trim.
At sunrise the morning of October 14 Sultana crossed the B- and C-class finish line at Windmill Point. With about forty miles to go, Captain Michael Fiorentino decided to push on to Thimble Shoals where classes A and AA complete the course. Sultana hadn’t made it that far under sail in over a decade.
Nearly 24 hours after the starting gun, Sultana crossed the AA finish line, still making a creditable seven knots and securing her victory. The crew celebrated briefly before firing up the engine and starting the lengthy process of taking in sail, furling, cleaning and finally docking in Portsmouth, where they were rewarded with a good night’s sleep before the awards ceremony the next day.
To see the complete list of race results, go to