Charleston duo begins Atlantic Cup

Ben Poucher

Their boat is named Icarus, but Ben Poucher and Tim Fetsch say it might well be named Underdog.

The Charleston-based sailors are skippering an unsponsored, underfunded entry in the second Atlantic Cup sailboat race that begins at 6 p.m. today out of the Charleston Maritime Center. The boats are Class 40s, double-handed (one or two sailors) that originated in France.

The international fleet of participants will take 31/2 to 4 days to reach their first destination, North Cove Marina in New York City. The second leg begins May 19 to Newport, R.I., then culminates with two days of inshore racing. The total purse for the race is $30,000, with $15,000 going to the winning crew.

The boats average 8 to 81/2 knots, though Fetsch said on a downwind leg they might be going as fast as a powerboat, up to 24 knots.

“It’s really cool, fast sailing,” Fetsch said.

Poucher, 29 from Kalamazoo, Mich., and Fetsch, 30, from Baltimore, are College of Charleston graduates, but neither participated in the school’s sailing program. Their backgrounds were on much larger boats, and now both are professional sailors.

“In Europe, there is a huge group of sailors and companies that see this as a marketable sport. In the U.S., there’s never been a professional circuit,” Poucher said.

The Class 40s are a relatively inexpensive class of fiberglass boats. A race-ready Class 40 boat can be had for approximately $350,000 compared to $1 million plus for all-carbon boats.

“It’s kind of like restrictor plate racing in NASCAR,” Poucher said. “The boats are designed in a box, a certain length (40 feet), a certain width, a certain depth and a certain height. They have to fit within those parameters, but anything in the middle goes. It’s a very innovative, high-tech class.”

To fund a Class 40 for a year-long campaign would run in excess of $250,000, but Fetsch and Poucher are racing on a shoestring. Their boat is a 2007 edition that was donated to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and together they’ve put approximately $75,000 of their own money into refitting it.

“When we’re not racing, we have to work,” Fetsch said. “When we’re moving the boat around, we usually bring some of the Merchant Marine cadets to learn different aspects of sailing.”

Poucher said sailing enthusiasts can follow the race in real time at AtlanticCup.org. Each boat will have a cameraman aboard.

“What the Atlantic Cup is trying to do,” Poucher said, “is show the characters, the people behind the race and show people what others have never seen.”