Hotseat Interview: Roy Disney

Anyone who follows high-end sailing will be familiar with Roy Disney’s long line of Pyewacket’s, boats that have defined state-of-the-art sailing for more than a decade. But few people know the true extent of Disney’s love affair with the Transpac Race, an event that he has been active in for the past four decades. In fact, Disney has held the Transpac record twice, first with his Santa Cruz 70, Pyewacket II from 1997 to 1999, and then with his 75-foot Reichel-Pugh from 1999 to 2005. Disney, now 79, is still massively enamored with ocean racing, and with the Transpac in particular. Disney recently re-purchased his original Santa Cruz 70, Pyewacket, which was skippered by his son, Roy Pat, in this summer’s Transpac (Roy himself sadly was not be aboard due to a recent surgery). I caught up with Disney to get a pulse on what attracts him to the Transpac, and what makes him tick as a sailor.

How did you get into sailing? “[Laughs] Oh god – that was so long ago I’ve almost forgotten! I guess it started as a romantic notion. I had a friend and coworker who had sailed a Transpac and he instilled a romantic notion of sailing. I learned to sail, and, like many other sailors, this meant that I also learned to race.

I’ve heard that your first Transpac was a revelation for you – can you tell me about it? I didn’t know it was so goddamned far! You’re out there on this little spaceship for a long time – I think my first Transpac took 12.5 days. That’s a long time to be out there with a group of people who you’ve really got to know. Everything about that race was a revelation!

Do you mostly sail offshore, or do you also like beer-can racing? I’ve done them both and I enjoy them both. There’s a nice thing about sailing around the marks – you get to sleep in your own bed at night. But crossing a big body of water by sailboat is very nice. The camaraderie is very intense and is an important part of sailing offshore.

Do you have a preference between the two? I don’t really have a preference between the two. My big goal has always been the Transpac, maybe because it’s such a nice place to go. I’ll keep doing that race until the cows come home!

You’ve re-purchased your SC70, Pyewacket. Can you fill me in on this project? That Pyewacket was a very successful boat for us, as it was the first to break Merlin’s record, which stood for 30 years. After I sold the boat it moved around, but when it showed back up and was for sale, I bought it. I can’t go [to Hawaii] this year because of some surgery that I recently had, but my son will go with the core Pyewacket crew, plus some sailors from Morning Light. We feel that we have a pretty good chance of winning our class.

What changes have you made to the SC70? We’ve tried to make it a little bit faster. We bought new sails, a new boom, but it’s basically a stock Santa Cruz 70.

What can you tell me about your new R/P 60 cruiser? She’s a fast cruiser, although if you looked at her from the side profile you’d think that she’s a racer. But, she’s got lots of comforts inside. I’m not exactly sure where we will be going with the boat yet.

What was your inspiration for the Morning Light project? The idea was to put together a group of your people to go and do the Transpac… The idea started in 2005, and we filmed it in ’06 and in the 2007 Transpac.

Was it a success? We like it, and we feel good about what we created. But to give someone the real idea of what it’s like to sail a Transpac, you’d need to make an 18-hour film. Getting it down to 90 minuets is hard. But we think it tells the story well.

Was it commercially successful? Unfortunately, it was not commercially successful. But documentaries are a hard sell.

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