Psst! Don't tell the old girl there's a replacement on the way. Hap Fauth's mini-maxi, Bella Mente, set a blistering pace overnight - not just another Saturday night - and in these early stages of Transpac 2011 is threatening the 7 day, 11 hour Barn Door record set in 1999 by Roy Disney's RP75, Pyewacket III. A record, that is, for fixed-keel monohulls employing no stored energy. That's the regulation for Transpac's most coveted prize, the Barn Door Trophy.
The helo view of Bella Mente getting out of town - Transpac 2011
To be clear about this: Hasso Plattner's cant-keeled Morning Glory lowered the monohull course record to six days, 16 hours in 2005, and Neville Crichton's cant-keeled Alfa Romeo in 2009 lowered it to five days, 14 hours. But for a lot of these boats, this year, it's about fixed keels and the Barn Door. Some 32 miles astern of Bella Mente and 12 degrees to the north (at morning roll call; not subject to the six-hour transponder delay) was Magnitude 80, built with a canting keel but reconfigured for this race with a fixed keel so that Doug Baker could have another crack at the Barn Door.
With Friday starters winning the luck of the draw - a fast pass through the inner coastal waters and an easy launch into the synoptic wind on the ocean - the navigators will soon be showing their hand as they 'pick a lane' for rounding below the calms of the Pacific High Pressure Zone. To that end, the smaller, slower Monday starters who worked north of the rhumb line, just to keep moving, are likely to be twice-punished.
Or thrice, in the case of Harry Zanville's SC37, Celerity, farther north than anybody and reporting that, overnight, they tangled with a fishing net and spent 45 minutes overboard, diving and knifing, to set themselves free. Celerity, racing in Division six, showed 1,324 miles to go at morning roll call. Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles to the south, P.K. Edwards' Catalina 42, Wind Dancer, showed a pokey 1,509 miles to go, race-cruising in the Aloha division.
Celerity - Transpac 2011
But Wind Dancer's southerly track, purchased with a lot of torture in the light winds suffered early-on, puts her right where the hotshot navigators on Bella Mente, Magnitude, Pendragon VI, etcetera, are aimed. Provided Wind Dancer doesn't get run over (Bella Mente, closing from astern, showed an average speed over 24 hours of 15.4 knots), Edwards is headed toward a happy patch of water.
Meanwhile, O Canada navigator Kevin McMeel is making a big play and committing his boat even farther to the south. We may see some nose-to-nose racing down the final stretch, but these are the hours when the navigators put their cards down. These are the moves that determine who will be racing nose-to-nose at the front, and who will be racing nose-to-nose back in the swamp.
The six-hour delay in transponder updating was imposed for this purpose, so that navigators must think strategically about how to play the course, rather than act tactically and perhaps cover an opponent's moves hour by hour or even cover minute by minute. O Canada blew the tapes out of their A2 at sundown Saturday and were last reporting sailing with an A2 they bought second-hand just weeks ago. 'Our first non-intentional sail change,' as McMeel referred to it. He sounded quite pleased with the second-hand purchase.
Around the fleet there are some great battles forming. 'Dr. Laura's' Katana led the handicap standings this morning in Division two but was also farthest north in the group and possibly vulnerable for that.
OCanada - Transpac 2011
The sleds are still tightly grouped, led by Pyewacket, and the six SC50s racing as a class are, frankly, as bunched as you would expect to see them without a transponder delay.
Flaca had the lead this morning, but I like this note from Jack Taylor's never-to-be-counted-out Horizon. It's Jon 'Hip' Shampain reporting as the boat sails under Code Zero and genoa staysail 'toward the ridge where the trades should kick in.
The breeze has been backing all the time, and finally we see it east of north occasionally. . . The big boy Belle Mente is over 200nm right down our intended track, posting a 395 nm daily run (quite impressive) and the Criminal Mischief gang is 40+ miles in front of us taking a similar route.'
And a possible key to success? 'This morning we finally see some sun, and with the code up we sail flatter and a few knots faster. But we're anxious for the kites. We should be able to start drying out this yacht now.
As usual we are eating good food, organic salad makings from my garden along with frozen dinners that each crew member makes. No freeze dried for the group. The boys are beginning to get into the ebb and flow of being offshore. Hawaii awaits.'
And this report was done wrote and ready to be posted when a note popped up in the Inbox from the northernmost of the SC50s, Bill Helvestine's Deception from San Francisco Bay. Here's Bill: 'After sailing through the night with a reefed main and jib top (a high-cut reaching sail), we were able to shake our reef and put up our brand new genoa staysail.
About five hours later, the wind veered enough that we've been able to hold our A3 (small reaching spinnaker) and our spinnaker staysail. Winds are averaging around 18 knots and oscillating between 340 and 350 degrees and we're averaging 12 knots. The water is warmer. The sun is out.' Yes, children, the heading and speed numbers shown on the Yellowbrick tracking are six-hours delayed along with the position reporting. This will continue until the lead boat crosses a line 100 miles out from Diamond Head Light.
Bella Mente is a Reichel-Pugh 69, first-to-finish in the 2006 Newport-Bermuda. She broke her rig in a Cabo Race in the spring, and the crew has been rushed to get a replacement installed and tuned while a new boat is coming along. Before flying east to oversee work on the new boat, team manager Rob Ouellette watched Friday's start from ashore at Point Fermin and commented:
'From our vantage point, Bella seemed to be moving nicely against our main competitor, Magnitude 80. Magnitude seemed overpowered sailing upwind in 15-18 knots of breeze . . . Routing as of Saturday had Bella finishing in about 6.5 days (early morning on Friday, July 15th). This could be a record breaking run.'
Two more boats have withdrawn. Andy Costello's J/125, Double Trouble, should have been a threat for a time allowance win overall. Instead, navigator Trevor Baylis reported 'rudder damage issues' as the boat turned back for the mainland. And a boat that had many admirers - Jeff Urbina's sexy RP45, Bodacious 3, out of the Great Lakes - made the dock in San Diego this morning after turning back due to a shoulder injury to one of the crew.
The boat is set up for solo racing. Urbina and four of his Transpac crew race against each other, solo, on the lakes, and a couple of years ago they teamed up to race the East Coast classic, Newport-Bermuda, on a previous Bodacious. This was their shot at the West Coast classic. The injury apparently is painful but not serious, and I get the idea that these guys might be back in 2013.
The parched crew of Jeff Brauch's Crash arrived back in Long Beach this morning and were met at the dock by Principal Race Officer Dave Cort, Heinekens in hand. Crash turned back when the crew realized they had lost their fresh water supply. All of it. First there was the one tank that was leaking, so they pumped that water over to the next tank.
Then they found that tank was leaking itself to empty. No watermaker. Case closed on what decision to make (turn back while we can) and there are theories as to the cause of the failure, but so far, only theories. The boat had a previous owner and a previous life in Massachusetts . . .
Finally, congratulations from Transpac to George David, Hartford, Connecticut and his crew aboard Rambler 100. Rambler has claimed a new Transatlantic Race record of 6:22:08:02 for the course from Newport, Rhode Island to Lizard Point, South Cornwall, a measured distance of 2,975 miles. A lot of ocean. A lot of boat.