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Transpac 2011 - Belle Mente breaks some hearts

by Transpac 2011 on 16 Jul 2011
Clearing Coco Head, Bella Mente - Transpac 2011 Kimball Livingston/Transpac
A beaming-through-the-fatigue Hap Fauth hit the beach today in Honolulu, Transpac Barn Door win in the bank, mission-accomplished on the Left Coast tour of his 74 foot sloop, Bella Mente. The 'Barn Door' is awarded to the first finisher of the Transpacific Yacht Race, 2,225 miles, Los Angeles to Honolulu, 'and that was our objective,' Fauth said. To finish first.
 
Bella Mente made Diamond Head just before dawn, as pink streaks began to color the high clouds off to the east. Official finish time: 05:44:28.

Doug Baker's Magnitude 80 followed 2 hours, 51 minutes later , making steam. They had made a race of it. Bella Mente had shown the way all the way from their July 8 start, but the outcome was never a done deal. These were boats with different strengths, each playing for the right point of leverage. Both crews worked through the night without sleep. Now it was time for the reward. It got a bit brighter for Magnitude  . . 

'For four days before the start, we ran models of the race,' Fauth said. 'No matter how the different models came out, they all had one thing in common. They all told us that, 400 miles from the finish, we'd better be 150 miles north of Honolulu. The routing kept coming back to that, but, intuitively, you don't want to go north in this race, especially in the mushy stuff we sailed into in the middle of it, when everybody slowed down.'
 
So true. Going in, there were mixed signals . A heavy, persistent winter had bled into an alleged 'spring' that in the country of only-two-seasons (California) looked a lot like still-winter on the Pacific Ocean, persisting through June. For 53 starters, the 46th Transpacific Yacht Race could be:
 
An excruciatingly-slow repeat of the Turtle Transpac of '79.
 
A perfect opening for a very fast race.
 
In fact it was something of both. Depending upon where you were. When. A first wave of starters, the smallest race boats and an 'Aloha' division for cruisers, went off on July 4 with an excruciating shortage of breeze. July 8 starters fared much better, making quick work of leaving the coastal waters and at first enjoying a very strong ride in the trade winds blowing toward the islands. Then the race slowed down in that 'mushy stuff' Fauth mentioned.

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Bella Mente navigator Ian Moore said, 'By the middle of the race it came clear that our opponent was better downwind than we were. They could match our speed and sail 5-6 degrees lower [closer to the finish] so we had to change our tactics. The favored route was north, but there were risks attached because north puts you closer to the High Pressure Zone. You could lose the breeze. But we had to do something different, and that made it simple. We had to take full advantage of the shift. We had a meeting of both watch captains, Mike Sanderson and Tom 'TomMac' McLaughlin, and Hap, and me. We all agreed. Hap understood the risks, but he was supportive, and maybe, just maybe, we could have gone half of those 150 miles north and still made a gain. But we went the whole way for maximum leverage.'
 
With a perspective from the opposite deck, here is Magnitude 80 navigator Ernie Richau: 'They controlled the side of the course we wanted. Wanted, but couldn't have. We could never get across them without paying a price we couldn't afford.'
 
And know now, couldn't afford not to.
 
The international set will recognize the name Dee Smith, who has sailed on Bella Mente but missed this race. He was on the scene for the welcoming party at Waikiki Yacht Club - every finisher gets an aloha welcome - and recalled a time when, 'I asked Fauth, why don't you do a Transpac with that boat. I think you could steal the Barn Door and maybe set a record.'
 
So it worked, and was Fauth happy? Here he is with a couple of his closest friends.

Bella Mente, even though a replacement boat is nearing launch in Rhode Island, entered the 46th Transpac with a new rig, new sails, an added sprit, and five feet of added length. To counter, Doug Baker had reconfigured Magnitude from canting-keel to fixed keel (only fixed-keel qualifies for the Barn Door) with new sails of its own. 'It was an interesting process to get to the start line,' Fauth said. 'The race was 60 percent planning and 40 percent execution. Dougie Couvreux and Matt Smith from our crew have both sailed on Magnitude, and we knew this was no slam dunk. But they're a running boat, and we're a power-reaching boat. We stack every sail on the weather quarter and put the crew on top of that.'

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