Superyacht owner Ed Kastelein has a passion for recreating classic racing yachts – and few come faster than 69.3-metre Atlantic, which held the transatlantic speed record for a century, discovers Tristan Rutherford
“There’s a lot of water in my family history,” laughs Ed Kastelein, owner of the ground-breaking modern classic Atlantic. “On my father’s side, all the family were fishermen. You can trace them back to the 1600s.” Another branch of Kastelein’s family founded the Holland-America Line. From 1873, this shipping service carried a million passengers from Rotterdam to New York in search of better lives in the West. Holland-America later pioneered palatial voyages to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. It’s a legacy that lives in Rotterdam native Kastelein, who built his first canoe from wooden planks aged 12, started working on classic yachts at the age of 16 – and today has some of the world’s most important yacht restorations to his name. “I like being on the water and I like creating things,” he says. “My passion is just a combination of the two.”
Kastelein made his money fairly early in life, working in the restaurant and hotels sector predominantly in the Rotterdam area. His first major restoration project was 36.5-metre Thendara. Her white hull was launched on the Clyde in 1936, and she could slice a regatta field like an ivory dagger. Yet like so many pre-war thoroughbreds, Thendara slid into decline following the Second World War. Kastelein tracked her down in 1988, and after a refit she was returned to form as a transatlantic race winner. “It’s a pleasure for myself and the crew to sail in a wonderful boat,” he says. “I think it’s also great for the public to see sailing history.”
Other vintage refits followed in swift succession. Among them Camper & Nicholsons classic Aile Blanche, the 44-metre schooner Borkumriff, and then, in 1992, the 44-metre schooner Zaca a te Moana, once owned by Errol Flynn. She sank the Hollywood actor financially. Flynn invested a fortune in her refit then passed away while trying to sell her to clear his debts.
For his reconstruction of Zaca a te Moana, Kastelein kept an eye on costs and went double Dutch on her build, with a steel hull from De Amstel shipyard and sails by De Vries.
Like many mariners, Kastelein became infected with the transatlantic bug. A century ago the ocean speed record, registered from the Ambrose Light in New York Bay to the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, was the maritime equivalent to the Space Race. Government-backed sailing boats invested millions to win bragging rights over yachting’s ultimate prize. The fastest transatlantic vessels were designed by Nathanael Herreshoff, the naval architect who designed record numbers of America’s Cup winners. Kastelein was compelled to recreate history.
“In 2000 we rebuilt 49.5-metre Eleonora, a copy of Herreshoff’s racing yacht, at Graafship shipyard,” continues Kastelein. In 1910 the original yacht, Westward, won every race in German waters and eight of nine off Britain. Charlie Barr, the Russell Coutts of his day who captained three America’s Cup winners, skippered her to success.
Was Kastelein a hands-on client during the build of Eleonora? “More like a project manager,” he laughs. “I was at the shipyard near Rotterdam every single day.” She kept Kastelein busy post-launch. Not least with regatta trophies from the hallowed arenas of racing – Antigua, Cowes, Newport and the Voiles de Saint-Tropez – and a sprint from France to Brazil.
One of his first friends to step aboard was Doug Peterson. This legendary American naval architect had designed dozens of lightning-fast yachts, including some America’s Cup winners. “Even though I only launched Eleonora a week before, Doug asked me: ‘So, when are you going to build your next boat?’ I told him ‘I really don’t think this is the correct moment to ask!’”
But Peterson’s query got Kastelein thinking. The fastest transatlantic racer ever built was the 64.5-metre schooner Atlantic. In 1905 she not only smashed the New York to Cornwall speed record, but she safeguarded it for 75 years. She is the sort of vessel that enthusiasts purchase as a scale model. Kastelein went one better and built a full replica of her.
The Dutchman takes up the story. “I saw Doug six months later. He told me ‘I got everything ready for Atlantic, so we can make her now.’” Peterson followed up with a maritime detective mission. Atlantic’s original plans were lost. So the largest racing schooner ever recreated was pieced together – and converted to modern shipbuilding standards – from dozens of photographs, press clippings and first-hand accounts.
These include accounts from the Kaiser’s Cup in 1905. German Emperor Wilhelm II sponsored this no-limits transatlantic race in the hope that his own vessel, Hamburg, would reach the Lizard first. But Atlantic had Charlie Barr at the helm.
The New York Herald reported that, “As the Atlantic drew nearer we could make out a big American ensign flying from her peak. At the next moment every steam vessel within a radius of five miles... began a strident concert with whistles.” Captain Barr, who was seen “leaning over the port rail smoking a cigar”, summed up his winning charge. “It amounts to this: I have got the best yacht afloat.”
Atlantic’s New York to the Lizard voyage clocked in at 12 days, four hours and one minute. Only in 1980 did the great French yachtsman Éric Tabarly break the longest-standing speed record in sailing history. And even he required a hydrofoiled trimaran to overhaul the time.
“Doug Peterson redesigned Atlantic without changing a single line,” says her owner. Once again, this Dutch recreation took place at Graffship with Kastelein at the helm. “I oversaw the rigging, the interior and all the mechanical parts.” The painstaking reconstruction included spars that shoot 45 metres skyward above the waterline. Atlantic was undoubtedly a labour of love for Kastelein. “From start to finish, from finalising the plans to launch, she took around four years. I showed up every day.”
Only the interiors differ from the 1905 record-breaker. Although the original Atlantic was light years ahead in terms of luxury – it had steam heating, refrigeration, three tiled bathrooms and an observation room – she was still “a bit rustic” below decks. Now skylights shine on to chic lounges and wood-panelled staterooms, set in a 12 guests and 12 crew configuration.
Like the original, Atlantic is fast. Her inaugural shakedown was a leisurely two-month cruise from Rotterdam to Cannes via the Bay of Biscay. “After the first week we were sailing out of Portugal,” Kastelein recalls. “The Bay of Lisbon has calm water but the wind can blow quite high. We did over 22 knots, which was really exciting.”
Equally thrilling was victory in the Bailli de Suffren Regatta, the longest classic yacht race. This nautical hell-for-leather starts in Saint-Tropez then calls at Porto Rotondo in Sardinia and Palermo in Sicily, before breezing into Malta’s Grand Harbour Marina.
“At the end of the regatta we were beating up against Elena,” remembers Kastelein, referring to another Herreshoff-designed transatlantic competitor. “We had a lot of sail up.” Some 1,750 square metres of sail to be exact, more than double that of the 1930s J Class yachts. “We were really lucky with a big gust and Atlantic sailed right past Elena into first place.”
With speed came stability. “Once we sailed her from Rhodes to Bodrum with some older guests on board,” says Kastelein. “We were reaching 17 knots and these seniors were sitting there without spilling their English tea! You could push Atlantic really hard yet you always felt really safe on board.”
The Turkish coast remains a favourite sailing destination. “You can sail between coast and islands with a lovely breeze,” says Kastelein. A personal highlight is when local fishermen putter up at night selling sea bass and squid directly to Atlantic’s chef. Kastelein’s true passion is pace, however, a daily opportunity that the Turkish Meltemi winds afforded him “from 11am to 6pm every day”.
Sadly, Kastelein never witnessed Atlantic’s finest mastery of the seas. “She had a four-year charter where the client took her on a slow circumnavigation,” the Dutchman explains. “To Canada and Nova Scotia, around Panama to Alaska, then across the Pacific towards Australia.” The yacht proved so fast that she returned from New Zealand to Panama in 31 days flat, averaging 15 knots on several days. She also proved an excellent expedition yacht, dropping crab pots up Alaskan fjords one month and serving as a dive base off Fiji the next.
On the run home through the Atlantic the charter party hit heavy weather. “They never felt for one moment that she could not handle it,” says Kastelein. “So much so that the guests carried on to Scotland,” a destination that seldom welcomes ingénue sailors.
Was waving goodbye to his hand-built joy not galling for Kastelein? He dismisses the thought with commercial nous. “As an owner you always have to be realistic,” says the entrepreneur who successfully built and sold Zaca a te Moana and Eleonora – yachts that sunk less commercially minded owners.
The original Atlantic tells a final tale of heroism. By 1914 the transatlantic record holder was still the fastest sailing boat afloat. She was assigned to the Atlantic Ocean Patrol Force chasing submarines. In 1941 the American government acquired her a second time. Originally cast as a cadet training vessel, she became an outright submarine hunter when her speed became apparent. The yacht was the recipient of both the American Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
After the war Atlantic was stripped of lead and sold to breakers. Yet her fighting spirit was undiminished. On one stormy night she broke her moorings and sailed out to sea alone. Although broken up in 1982, her transatlantic monohull record remained unsurpassed until 1998. The champion never lost her crown.
Kastelein hopes a new owner can enjoy a yacht that couples history, circumnavigation prowess and a proven charter record. “I’ve had the pleasure of owning her since 2010. I have spent so much time on board but this year I’ll only register two or three weeks of sailing. I’d like to do something else.” No more replica racing yachts? “No!” asserts Kastelein. “That I have already done.”
That “something else” he mentions is another minor classic. “The finishing touches are currently being put on the 25-metre G L Watson motor yacht, originally named Themara, that featured in 1980s movie The Big Blue,” says Kastelei. He’ll surely be pushing for a swift finish. Like every yacht he’s previously owned, this flying Dutchman is built for speed.
This feature is taken from the October 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now