A Labyrinth of Byzantine Complications

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By Kimball Livingston

The surprise decision to remove the rating limit from the Transpacific Yacht Race, only four months ahead of the 2007 race, comes at the end of a season of open rumors that Roy Disney's team had found a loophole in the Transpac rule and were planning to put a new, ABN AMRO-like back end on the MaxZ 86, Pyewacket, to exploit it.

Hasso Plattner, whose MaxZ 86, Morning Glory, set a new course record in the 2005 Centennial Transpac, believes that Pyewacket is becoming a new boat and says he's not going to defend his record. He says, "If there's no chance to get the owners in cohesion, and everybody's on their own, then sooner or later, your Maxi will be sailing handicap against Transpac 52s. The whole idea of the MaxZ 86 was to avoid this, to take the same boats to every race. Now my design team tells me that, to be competitive, I have to rebuild the last 10 meters of the boat. But no, I won't destroy a beautiful boat for one race. Morning Glory is in Southern California now, but instead of racing Transpac it will go back to Italy for the Rolex Maxi Cup in Sardinia, which just might be the swan song."

Yikes. Let's hope this isn't the apocalypse, but innocent (that's my bet) beginnings have led to a labyrinth of Byzantine complications, and conspiracy theories abound. You gotta love it, I guess, but I'd rather be sailing.

And here we go: both Disney and Plattner set out to optimize their boats for this 2007 West Coast classic, a 2225-mile reaching and running race from San Pedro to Honolulu. Like Newport-Bermuda and Chicago-Mackinac, the Transpac uses the Offshore Racing Rule (ORR, son-of-Americap) whose purpose is to rate boats for long races that have a history of special rating needs. But they do not use standard ORR for the top-end boats. Instead, as explained by Transpacific Yacht Club Commodore Al Garnier, four individuals put up $5,000 apiece to create a Transpac-limit VPP for the likes of Pyewacket and Morning Glory (canting keels and fore-and-aft rudders--CBTF technology), "and that was a mistake; it turns out that $20,000 did not produce a robust program."

Strange things happened.

With Juan K on the case of optimizing Pyewacket, and Reichel-Pugh on the case of optimizing Morning Glory, and both camps pinging the ratings office of ORR with what-if modification models, they discovered that, with major modifications, they could make the boats faster and simultaneously lower the ratings.

Whoa, boy.

Over in the Pyewacket camp, Robbie Haines says, "We saw these glitches coming back from US Sailing/ORR. Both Juan K and Reichel-Pugh had serious issues with what was coming out of that office. There were errors in the VPP (velocity prediction program) that were giving bum info to all of us."

Here's Transpac YC's Al Garnier again: "Robbie has not been to recent meetings and is out of the loop [he's been with Morning Light in Hawaii: Ed.]. The regular ORR VPP is not the problem and doesn't have to be fixed. The normal boats rated under ORR could start tomorrow and be fairly rated against each other. What has to be fixed is the Transpac-limit VPP, because otherwise we're handing the big boats a handicap win and a triple crown."

THIS JUST IN

Roy Disney stepped off a flight from South Africa Thursday evening in time to read the West Coast posting of Scuttlebutt, which excerpted part of this story. He then emailed as follows:

Kim,

I’ve just read what you’ve written (so far, I’m sure this will go on for a while!) on the TP speed limit - or lack thereof – and I can only say that the story as told by the TPYC press release is the true story...no conspiracies, no cloak-and-dagger convolutions, just the simple fact that the VPP got things wrong, as the release said, loopholes were indeed found (more than one, by the way) and boats (please note the use of the plural) started getting modified to adapt to this newly discovered “reality.” And not, I would emphasize, before MANY questions being asked as to the validity of the trial results that uncovered this anomaly, and on a number of occasions. The hole was big enough to drive a truck through, yet it was decreed “OK” over and over. What else can you do but adapt your boat to this new scheme of things (you will note that as a rhetorical question), especially if you understand your competition to be doing much the same thing?

TPYC’s Board thought long and hard about all this, when the truth about the VPP flaws was discovered, and just to help refute the notion of “conspiracy,” all those board members with any connection to Pyewacket recused themselves from both the discussion and the vote.

I am, as you noted, a member of the TPYC Board, have been since 1993 or so, and I absolutely believe the Board did all the right things in all the right ways, at a very difficult time, when it seemed an almost insoluble problem. Every Board member, I promise you, has the best interests of the Transpac and of the sport at heart. Any mistakes were human mistakes, made with the best of intentions by bright and honest people.

Roy

My, this is interesting, running a sort of real-time web story. Now let's pick up the piece to which Roy Disney was responding:

Robbie wouldn't say just what is going on at this point with Pyewacket (under wraps at Westerly Marine, I believe) beyond allowing that, "The boat is being optimized for Transpac."

Transpac officials say they don't know if changes have really been made to Pyewacket. The point of removing the rating limit, they say, was to interrupt the process of pinging the ORR office for trial certificates and thus to give ORR an opening between now and June 7 (Transpac declaration date) to fix the Transpac-limit VPP. That is, if you're not trying to come in under a specific number, you are not applying the same pressure to the rule. I'll let Garnier say it this way: "By throwing out the limit, we have until June 7 to get things right; we don't have to keep running trial certificates."

Instead, the VPP engineers can pull out their wrenches and pliers and saws (and duct tape?) and try to fix the formula for the CBTF boats in time for the race.

And you haven't been paying attention if you don't already know that Disney, after donating Pyewacket to the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship, chartered it back for this race.

Note: 1) In "removing the limit" the Transpac YC actually raised the limit to 30 meters, bigger than Pyewacket's range; 2) I resigned myself to writing this not-very-fun piece in the West Coast afternoon, too late to reach the US Sailing office. I would prefer to have made that contact.

Maxi Headache?

It's not enough to say that, well, there shouldn't have been a rating limit in the first place. This race has long set limits, so as to not be dealing with a succession of bigger hammers.

I was personally enthusiastic for opening Transpac to 30-meters, which was done in 2005--but only if the race was going to see a fleet of 30-meter boats. Letting just one drop in and take the record opens the question of what next? Do you set a 30-meter limit or do you invite Mari-Cha IV? (That 140-footer currently holds the Pacific Cup record, San Francisco to Hawaii.)

When there were no takers among the international fleet of 30-meters, the race reverted to its lower limit, which led to all this bother.

Now the door is open again to the 30-meters, but it would take some pretty interesting logistics to get one or more of them to Los Angeles in time to race, which is why you have people asking if this was all a carefully orchestrated play on the part of the Pyewacket guys to set themselves up to regain the course record.

Some people are going further and fuzzing the difference between positing a Pyewacket-based play and a Pyewacket-in-cahoots-with-Transpac YC conspiracy. I'm not buying. I know too many people on the Transpac board who are motivated only by the best interests of the race and the sport.

Two things I'm clear on:

1) If there was a start-to-finish game plan here, a lot of bets had to line up, tremendous prescience was involved, and I wish those guys were working for me.

2) In this game nothing happens without an accompanying conspiracy theory.

On days like this, I remember what it was like being in high school.

Once upon a time there were big hopes for the MaxZ 86 as a class. Those ended a while ago, so let's close with a brushstroke of history: First, Bob McNeill built the standard-keel MaxZ 86 since sold and now known as Windquest. Then Disney and Plattner got into the game, but they decided to go CBTF (canting ballast, twin foil), which made McNeill's boat instantly obsolete (I don't think he was happy about that; he has since taken to restoring classics, including the Coronet, now at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island). Disney's Pyewacket and Plattner's Morning Glory are sisterships, but the only near-sister to follow was Genuine Risk, and that boat never really found its legs.

Clear as mud?

Here's the original announcement inviting 30-meters to come and race:

Oct. 4, 2005

Barn Door Opens Wider for 30-Meter Boats in 2007

LONG BEACH, Calif.---The Transpacific Yacht Club has set a tentative speed rating limit for the 44th race from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 2007 that seeks to continue the tradition of battles for the Barn Door.

The decision by the board of directors states a rating limit "similar to 2005, with a length limit of 30 meters [98 feet]." This length limit will bring some consistency between the larger boats eligible to compete in the Transpac and in the Newport-Bermuda Race.

The board retained the right to consider raising the size and rating limit, but only if an established group of bigger and faster boats indicates a serious commitment to participate in the race.

This year Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory---a maxZ86 from Germany---was the scratch boat when it led a five-boat assault on the record for monohulls in 6 days 16 hours 4 minutes 11 seconds while collecting the Barn Door slab of carved koa wood traditionally awarded to the monohull with the fastest elapsed time.

Randall Pittman's slightly larger 90-foot Genuine Risk had to power down to meet the rating limit and posted the third fastest elapsed time behind Roy Disney's maxZ86, Pyewacket. Two other boats---Doug Baker's Andrews 80, Magnitude 80, and the DeVos family's Windquest---also broke the record.

Pyewacket, donated afterward by Disney to the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship, probably won't be raced offshore, and besides Morning Glory there is only one other maxZ86 in existence---Windquest, an earlier version without canting keel technology. The state of the art has expanded to boats of 30 meters (98 feet) or more, all with canting keels.

Transpac Commodore Jerry Montgomery said that in determining the 2007 rating limit, "We will coordinate with other members of the Offshore Racing Association." Those would be the organizers of the Newport-Bermuda and Chicago-Mackinac races.

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