Racing across the Pacific
The big boats in the hunt for the first-to-finish Barn Door trophy didn’t take long to establish a fast pace. On the first full day of racing, the maxZ86 Morning Glory led a five-boat pack, all of which beat the previous 24-hour distance record. Morning Glory, with Peter Isler navigating and Russell Coutts in the afterguard, covered 393 miles. She was trailed by maxZ86 Pyewacket, the 90-foot canting keeler Genuine Risk, turbo sled Magnitude 80, and maxZ86 Windquest. A day later, with 1,390 miles to go to Hawaii, Glory was still leading the group and sailing an average pace of 13.5 knots.
SAIL senior editor Kimball Livingston is sailing in the Transpacific Yacht Race in the Cal 40 class, which started off Long Beach on Monday, July 11. He submitted the following report after the start. Since then they’ve developed battery problems on board Radiant, which is limiting their outgoing communications. Expect a report from the island after the finish.
I lied. I told everybody I wouldn’t file any stories from the Transpac for three or four days, not until we had worked our way clear of the coast, through the moderate breezes off Los Angeles and then through the cold pounding of the windy Outer Coastal Waters, where spray flies the length of the deck and the waves are generally big enough to launch you. But that’s in a classic start to the Transpacific Yacht Race. This is 2005.
Instead, we spent our first night just trying to escape light air in the LA Basin, and day two found us eking out fractional-knot speeds, with occasional bursts to four knots, in a race to the race—a race to reach the wind. It’s out there.
In our group of 14 vintage Cal 40s, Radiant answered morning roll call on a longitude line even with Jim Eddy’s Callisto to the north of us and Sally Honey’s Illusion to the south (with Santa Barbara Island in between). Ralphie, also to the south, had about two miles on all three of us.
After days of perfect Southern California weather, with the fog burning off early and a brisk sea breeze each afternoon, our Monday start—to be followed by starts for faster, bigger boats and record hunters on Friday and Sunday—was sailed in a thick murk that never went away. To the excitement of a start with 2,000+ miles of ocean in front of us, we had the added thrill of being backwinded and stalled by the downwash of a helicopter at three minutes to the starting gun.
The start wasn’t pretty. Ours, or as far as I could tell, anyone else’s. I’m not sure that anyone “won”. We had an afternoon of frequently slatting sail, followed by a night of frequently slatting sails (competitors’ running lights reflecting off the water; that sort of thing), followed by a morning of same. Experienced hands will recognize that beneath this narrative runs a subtext of sail changes to the drifter, back to the number one genny, to the asymmetric spinnaker, to the drifter—leading to that wondrous infestation of spaghetti-deck that greets the dawn watch following many an ad hoc decision over how to string things together.
This sort of sailing is fraught with challenges, most of them personal, and opening a window into the character of a man whereby you might judge whether his potty training went well or ill.
Somewhere in the cover of that night I remarked to my Los Angeles Yacht Club skipper, Fin Bevin, ” The good news is, we’re passing the bubbles. The bad news is, I have time to count them.” On a few occasions in races past, Fin noted, the winners from a light-air start went north almost to Santa Barbara, “but I’m not sure we could get there from here if we tried.”
I asked, “What’s our tacking angle?”
The reply, “Oh, 150 degrees or so.”
As I write I’m sitting on my knees beside the companionway steps, facing aft in front of our onboard computer, which is mounted on what was designed to be a Cal 40’s starboard quarterberth. My knees are comforted by what we call the Praying Pad, and if the chiropractor who got me ready for this race could see me in this un-anthropomorphic position, he’d probably break down and cry. Sorry, Troy. But there’s ample wind and a new race ahead; between us and the delicious trade winds that will carry is down the pike to Hawaii, the cold coastal northwesterlies wait to give us a pounding. Our navigator, Fin’s son Charlie, explained the tactical situation this way. He said, “What we need now is for the wind to fill in the middle of the course, and I’m not sure that’s a likely call.”
There’s a good chance we’ll make the breeze today or tonight, and then I’m back to what I said before. No dispatches for a while. Silence is golden. submitted 7/12
A hundred years ago there were no new oceans to discover, but there was ample adventure in going to sea for the hell of it, and Americans were up for launching long distance ocean races. Now for the centennials.
We’ve seen one already. In May, 20 large yachts sailed the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, an update of the Great Ocean Race of 1905, New York Harbor to Cowes, England.
The 2005 race was nothing that anyone would have custom-ordered. As in, sometimes too much wind; sometimes too little; and far too much in the way of headwinds. But Mari-Cha IV‘s 9-day, 15-hour crossing trimmed 2 days, 12 hours off the 100-year-old record, and New York YC and the Royal Yacht Squadrom hope to sail the race again within the next five years.
Now, in July, we have the centennial edition of the Transpac, Los Angeles to Honolulu. Next year it’s the centennial of the Newport-Bermuda Race—though the Newport-Bermuda is actually three months older than Transpac.
Say what? Both races were first run in 1906. But the Transpacific Yacht Race switched from even-numbered to odd-numbered years in 1939 to allow a start from the site of the International Exposition in San Francisco rather than, per tradition, Southern California. A one-time exception made sense. The original race would have started from San Francisco, except that 1906 coincided with a rather distracting earthquake. The 1939 fair was big, and there just may have been a bit of pressure brought to bear by San Francisco silver-mine heir James Flood, who had swept the ’36 Transpac with Dorade. Yes, that Dorade. Transpac racing was revived post-war in Southern California, beginning with the first available odd-numbered year, 1947.
And so Transpacific YC in 2005 had to decide whether to declare the official centennial one year early or one year late. But why put off to tomorrow what you can do today?
(Wow, that was a short meeting.)
The fleet of 75 boats goes off in three starts July 11,15, and 17. Boats are in last-minute mode this week, taking care of any number of things as the clock ticks down. The July 11 start includes the Cal 40s and a likely first-to-Honolulu entry, Jim Warmington’s pilothouse Pedrick 75, Shanakee II that’s not slow, but with its chef and luxurious amenities, isn’t exactly trying to set the world on fire. The race for fastest-time, of course,is is a different matter.
Of special interest:
A barn door matchup between Roy Disney’s 86-foot, canting keel Pyewacket, Hasso Plattner’s nearly-identical Morning Glory, and Randall Pitman’s 90-foot Genuine Risk. A different Pyewacket set the course record of 7:11:41:27 in 1999. Disney’s making noises about retiring from racing after this, and he’d like to go out on top. Plattner has Russell Coutts along (for example) to make sure that won’t come easy. We note that the crew of Genuine Risk includes the likes of Mark Rudiger as navigator, so this shapes up as one tough deal. All of these are canting-keel boats, capable on paper of taking a day out of the record, though Genuine Risk at 90 feet LOA had to lose some sail area to make the Transpac rating cap. Then there’s Windquest–the original 86, but “obsolete” because later the decision was made to go to canting keels. On paper, Windquest is slower, but the Transpac is famously a race where you put your cards on the table early: First you close-reach across the coastal northwesterlies, probably with spray flying, then you pick a lane for transitioning into the Trades, and then live with the result (or pay a big price for “adjustments”. Could Windquest or Magnitue 80 play the sleeper?
Philippe Kahn’s new Transpac 52 Pegasus. Kahn went into build late—by plan—and kept crews working in shifts around the clock to complete the build just in time. He wanted the newest design out there. Will it pay? At transpacificyc.org
there’s no picture of the boat; instead, there’s an artist’s rendering.
Fourteen retro-fast Cal 40s, the type that launched the downwind-flyer revolution in the 1960s. Steve Calhoun will race Psyche, 1965 class winner. And while husband Stan navigates for Disney, two-time U.S. Yachtswoman of the Year Sally Lindsay Honey will skipper their 2003 Transpac class winner, Illusion, with the ace female crew of Charlie Arms, Liz Baylis, and Melinda Erkelens. Stan and Sally won a past Pacific Cup in the Doublehanded Division and overall with Illusion, and 2002 U.S. Yachtswoman of the year Liz Baylis was a division winner in the 2002 Pacific Cup, San Francisco to Hawaii, aboard an Antrim 27 with a total crew of three. Just hitting the highlights, folks—
Then there’s senior sailor Lloyd Sellinger, We introduced you to Lloyd a while back as a fellow who was irked at being passed over in a 2003 crew tryout, he felt sure, because of age. For revenge, he overhauled his Bubala and rounded up a crew that’s all 65+. The motto: “Let’s give the kids a show.”
It should be all of that.