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A Q&A with Tom Trujillo about the Transpacific Race’s 49th running

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 7 Jul 2017
Rio 100 approaches finish - 2015 Transpac Jeremy Leonard
When it comes to classic West Coast distance races, it’s tough, if not downright impossible, to beat the 2,225-mile Transpacific Race, which is in the midst of its 49th running, taking a 55-boat-strong fleet from Los Angeles, California, to Diamond Head, just off of Honolulu, Hawaii, in a series of four staggered starts (over three separate days)-spread amongst nine different divisions-that began on July 3 and continue through today (July 6), with the multi-hulls and the fastest monohulls starting last. While weather is anybody’s guess over a racecourse that can stretch into multi-week adventures for some of the smaller boats, all comers will likely be exposed to fantastic surfing conditions en route to the Aloha State.

Some backstory: The first Transpacific (or “Transpac”) Race was planned for 1906 and was supposed to run from San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, but the Great San Francisco earthquake necessitated a change in starting lines, so three brave-hearted yachts set off that summer from Los Angeles on a celestial-navigation adventure that was likely aimed more at proof-of-theory than at establishing not-to-be-bested racecourse records, however those attempts would certainly follow in coming decades and centuries.

Today, the Transpac Race finds itself in a rarified group of four races-along with the Newport-Bermuda Race (also founded in 1906), the Fastnet Race (established 1925), and the Sydney Hobart Race (founded 1945)-that are considered sailing’s greatest bluewater Corinthian challenges, and it welcomes boats as wildly diverse as Cal 40s, Santa Cruz 50s (and 52s), Santa Cruz 70s, mighty Comanche (Jim and Kristy Clark’s 100-foot, VPLP-designed monohull), and MOD 70 trimarans.

Additionally, this year also marks the historic return of Merlin, Bill Lee’s breakthrough 68-foot, ultra-lightweight displacement boat (a boat that held the Transpacific Yacht Club’s Perpetual Trophy [aka, the “Barn Door” trophy] for the fastest elapsed-time finisher from 1977 to 1997), which Lee brought back to the West Coast and lovingly restored.

The 2017 Transpac Race is currently underway, with the event employing a more compressed starting sequence (allowing the fleet to hopefully experience similar weather) than in previous years, so I caught up with Tom Trujillo, the race’s principal race officer, via email to learn more about this classic bluewater event.

Can you bring us up to speed on any changes at the Transpacific Race since its last edition? Is there anything new in store for racers this year?
Some of the biggest changes in the race have come over the last two to four years [includes] satellites tracking boats, electronic emails for position reports and sending standings back to the racers on the course.

[As for] some of the social 'fun', the traditional voice communications via SSB/HAM [radio] is missing, although the modern technology is far better for the competitors, less demanding on time and easier to install and setup. Using a sextant and conventional navigation tools has now become a contest towards a trophy, rather than a requirement for the race.

How big of a deal is it to the race that globetrotting boat like Comanche is coming to race this year?
We members of the Transpacific Yacht Club consider our race to be [a] premier event, one of the top such ocean races worldwide. So having the commitment of a first-class team like Comanche adds to the respect and thrill of the event to both the racers [and] competitors, and the fans following the Transpac.

From a historical perspective, how important is it to the race that Bill Lee will once again be skippering his Merlin to Hawaii?
The return of Merlin is a monumental event! Bill Lee has been a supporter and, of course, officer of the [Transpacific Yacht Club, or TPYC] for many years. The 'fast is fun' Wizard brings excitement and a ton of credibility to our race.

Back in February the re-splash launching of Merlin in Santa Cruz [Harbor] attracted a large crowd, many TPYC and past officers [and] members were in that crowd to mark the importance of [her] return.

If you were a gambling man, would you be putting your dollars on the monohulls (likely Comanche) or the multi-hulls (likely a MOD70) to take the Barn Door trophy?
I was recently the starting commissioner/observer on the Los Angeles end of [Lloyd Thornborg’s MOD70] Phaedo3's record-breaking run to Honolulu, it's impossible NOT to get excited about the multi-hulls in this year's race.

I'd gamble on a multi-hull first to finish, and perhaps set a new record as well?

How do your entry numbers compare to previous years? What about the average LOA of each entry…has this gone up in recent years?
We've currently got 55 entries slated to [compete]. There have been bigger fleets and smaller [ones], too. This seems like an average number of entries, but every one of them is thrilled and ready to race.

Although there are big LOA's on this year's race - we also have a Transpac-classic-Cal 40, a host of Santa Cruz 50-sized, and a big showing of 60-footers and above.

Much has been said of late about the amount of garbage and detritus that’s in the water in between LA and Hawaii—how big of an issue do you see this being for competitive teams? What about for teams that are interested in breaking the course record? Does this represent a wildcard challenge?
Phaedo3's crew emailed during their record-setting run that debris was [on] everyone's mind.

The worst was 2011 after the Japanese Tsunami; I was aboard Alaska Eagle on the race and [was] getting constant emails and radio comms about logs, docks, pieces of homes, roofs, telephone poles floating on the course. I'd email out the last/Lon of all these sightings, but at night you just keep your eyes open and hope…

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
I'm thrilled my TransPac experience has brought me to the position of Race Chair/PRO for this year's race. I take the job seriously, and I'm striving to provide a fast, fun, and safe experience for the competitors

Special thanks to Bo Wheeler and Dobbs Davis for their insight and input with this interview.

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