There's one thing, well, more than one but one great thing the Transpacific Yacht Race has going for it. The big finish. The Molokai Channel. Maybe you got stuck in the fog off Catalina and spent years, yes, years getting out of town. Maybe the Pacific High Pressure Zone pulled a gotcha and reached down and swallowed the lane that you thought was going to sweep you to glory, but instead you watched the little transponder blips that represent the competition just walk away on a different latitude line.
Maybe you swore off this madness once and for all a thousand miles out as you crawled through the drips into your alleged bed for a couple of hours sleep, if you're lucky.
And then you get here. The islands rise on the horizon, clear and lovely. The breeze rises behind you and funnels down the Molokai Channel and there you are on the ride of a lifetime, and the water is whitecapped and tropical blue, and the sky is tropical blue with puffy tradewind clouds, and ahead lies that iconic Diamond Head finish line that has beckoned racing sailors for over a century, generation after generation. This is the ride of the legends. I signed up after my first Transpac. That was about three Transpacs ago. About your finish on Katana I heard: 'What can you say when the wind is 30 knots and the waves are boiling eight feet high, and I'm driving? The water was coming down the deck, and sometimes I couldn't even see out. And I didn't lose the boat. I...did...not...lose...the...boat!'
Through the night and into the day (and continuing overnight) there are finishers arriving at Transpac Row with that peculiar thousand-yard-stare of fatigue on top of a crazed grin of thrills and accomplishment. But the leader board stabilized for most divisions hundreds of miles ago. Representing the Waikiki Yacht Club, James McDowell's SC70, Grand Illusion, ran 1-1 most of the way across, 2,225 miles, Los Angeles to Honolulu, and finished at 0259 Sunday from a July 8 start. It was on the third or fourth morning of Transpace 2011, McDowell says, that 'the breeze lifted, and we had three days of wind at 10-15 knots, the most amazing sailing I've ever experienced, and we woke up one morning and there we were, 1-1 in the standings. That's when the pressure came on.'
From the Katana crew, which got peeled off on the north side of the fleet as the breeze shifted -Katana is looking to be fourth in Division 2 after leading for a bit - Chuck Skewes notes, 'Easy for McDowell to say. He was leading.'
Katana, ahem, would have liked more breeze.
But while Mr. Skewes has the floor, let's also hear, not that we want to hear: 'We saw more trash in the ocean than I have ever seen before. We were as far from civilization as you can get, and three times we had to back down to get trash off the rudder. And it's going to get so much worse before people wake up to it.'
In the pre-dawn dark, surrounded by food and drinks and leis - yes, every boat has a welcome party, however, whenever - McDowell continued: 'Grand Illusion is raced all the time. Our goal coming in was to beat Alchemy and win our class season championship, and we've done that now.'
And a class season championship is nice. But when your boat is 1-1 in the Transpac, you start to want more than the class season championship. You want to keep what you have. You want to win the Transpac on corrected time, overall. The Transpac is arguably the most important thread there is in the history of West Coast sailing. To a great extent, Transpac is our story. Everyone wants to be here . . .
'It looked as if Philippe [Kahn] was taking Pegasus all over the place, trying to pass us,' McDowell said when he finally had a shoreside chair to sit down in. 'We stayed focused on sailing the shortest distance, and sailing on the favored board. For a while, Pegasus was looking fearsome in the south, but we were able to stop the bleeding.' Results are unofficial, but Grand Illusion looks good for 1-1.
Kahn's Pegasus-MotionX was the first of seven sleds to finish, but lost the division on corrected time to Grand Illusion.
In Division 2, where Jorge Ripstein's TP52, Patches, had been looking strong to win, 'At 1045 on Saturday,' crewman Bruce Cooper said, 'we broke the hard carbon backstay, and I thought our race was over. We sailed the last 12 hours at half throttle on starboard tack, full throttle on port tack. But you have to finish on starboard. Our bowman, Peter Wheelon, went up the mast to set up a jury rig - to make it possible to keep sailing at all - and he said right out it's the most scared he's ever been. But he got it done - with Spectra line - and it kept the mast up. But we could see the mast pumping. In the Molokai Channel it started blowing 20-25, so we reefed. When you've been working the boat hard, pumping the main on the waves, making gains, it's disheartening to have to throttle back.'
But when it works out, it works out. Patches had a lot of time in the bank, and between Ripstein's apparent win in Division 2 and the second place in Division 1 for Lorenzo Berho's Peligroso (behind Barn Door winner Bella Mente), the Mexican contingent has come on strong. And, Ricardo Brockman's RP52, Vincitore, looks good for a third place in Division 2. I'll take it upon myself to award (remember, we're recapping) quote of the week honors to young Diego Berho of Peligroso, who was asked, not by me, what did you miss most out there?
What did you miss second-most?
'My other girlfriend.'
Consistent Division 4 and SC50 leaders Bad Pak and Horizon continue to hold their leads today, each with a few hundred miles to go at morning roll call. We'll be adding their fleets to Transpac row soon enough. Remember, transponder positions are real-time, no longer six-hours delayed.
The Hobie 33, Peregrine, has been a consistent leader in the July 4 starters of Division 6 and crossed the Diamond Head finish line just after 1400 HST today. We'll get this report out,and come back to Peregrine soon. Lindy Thomas's Andrews 70, Condor - he's from the Great Lakes, and the way I hear it has done something like 35 Chicago-Macs in a row - is in the party tent with his crew as this update is released. Cheetah will be here soon, and that will complete the sleds. There is still more to come from Transpac. Eric Gray's Morris 46, Gracie, still holds the lead in the Aloha Division, and . . .
Saturday night I was talking to Santi Becerra, owner of the only catamaran that made the crossing in 2011, Esperitu Santi. His 47-footer is a cruising boat, really, but a fast one, crewed by race rookies all-around. He had never before had to struggle in light air rather than turn on the engine, and when he hit the Molokai Channel, 'We were surfing on waves that, frankly, we didn't want to surf.'
Plenty more where that came from. Bring it on.
Peregrine just pulled in between Paddy Wagon and Patches. Bye for now.
Transpac 2011 - McDowell, 2nd from left and crew. Photo Kimball Livingston Transpac - Kimball Livingston
Trans Pacific Yacht Club website