Please select your home edition
Gul 2019 CODEZERO EVO Leaderboard

An interview with Dobbs Davis about the 50th edition of the Transpacific Race

by David Schmidt 8 Jul 08:00 PDT July 10, 2019
Super Maxi RIO 100 at 2015 Transpac finish © Race Yachts

Hawaii. Mere mention of this beautiful island chain amongst serious offshore sailors immediately sparks conversation of the world-famous Transpacific Race, which starts on the waters off of Los Angeles and finishes off of Honolulu’s Diamond Head formation, yielding a racetrack of some 2,225 nautical miles. Transpac, as the race is affectionately known, is organized by the Transpacific Yacht Club and now raced biennially (odd-numbered years following WWII) and has a proud and rich history hailing back to 1906.

More importantly for anyone who loves sailing fast under spinnaker, Transpac also has a long track record of serving-up fantastic conditions, once teams crack off their sheets and aim their bows for what can only be described as one of the planet’s prettiest destinations.

Not surprisingly, the race has long attracted some of the world’s fastest boats. To help give some perspective on how much the race—and sailing—have evolved since Transpac’s inaugural event, skipper H.H. Sinclair won the 1906 Transpac with a time of 12 days, nine hours and 59 seconds aboard Lurline, his 86-foot schooner. Flash-forward 99 years and skipper Ken Read, sailing aboard Comanche, the all-conquering, VPLP-designed 100-foot super maxi, sailed this same patch of brine in just five days, one hour, 55 minutes and 26 seconds.

I checked in with Dobbs Davis, media manager for the 50th edition of the Transpacific Race, which is set to kick off on July 10, via email, to learn more about this classic West Coast distance race.

Can you describe the race’s culture to an outsider?

The culture of this race is not unfamiliar to any West Coast offshore sailor who is used to starting in cold places and heading towards the warmth: laid back but serious when it’s needed, with competent and able seamanship, and ready for the long miles.

Can you give us a 35,000-foot view of how the race has changed in its 50 editions (and over 100 years) ?

Well, my first race o Hawaii was in 1980 as a teenager, so I’m only 10K feet up. But clearly the progression of the race has followed—and sometimes helped set—the trends in the sport.

Like most offshore races, the early pre-WW II days were mostly custom cruising boats in search of adventure in Hawaii or beyond. A handful were dedicated custom race boats, like Dorade (1936).

Then in the 1950s were recreational cruiser/racer boats from California, and in the 1960s some new production designs that were innovative and successful on the Transpac course (e.g., Cal 40s) along with dedicated custom downwind designs (e.g., Ragtime and Blackfin). The real breakthrough was 1977 with Merlin that showed that light fast designs for the same rating will always beat the generalist IOR Maxi lead mines. This started the idea of fast is fun, an inherent concept for Transpac ever since.

What about the boats and the attitudes of the sailors?

See above, except that about 20 years ago as the entry numbers waned TPYC promoted the casual Aloha class concept of having true cruisers who wanted to be part of the fun.

This could only start when the [use of] multiple start days was introduced to try to compress the finishes of the fleet.

Given the distances involved, what do you see as the biggest performance breakthrough over the race’s proud history: faster, lighter boats (starting with Merlin), GPS/GNSS navigation or sat-comms for weather routing?

[Ultra-light displacement boat] ULDB sleds, for sure. Weather routing has helped, but not like being on a boat that sails 25-50% faster.

What’s the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the race in terms of weather?

For Transpac 50 we should be close to being “normal”, i.e., East Pacific sea surface temperatures are not high, so with no obvious strong El Nino pattern in place this year the North Pacific High looks fairly stable and able to deliver the usual pressure in the usual directions.

Can you tell us about any special 50th anniversary celebrations that you and the other organizers have planned?

75% of our skippers are new to Transpac, so the First Starters Party should be well-attended - it will be at Shoreline YC in Long Beach on 5 July (

Then the usual Skippers Briefing the next day, followed by the Aloha Send-off party in Long Beach at the bandshell next to Gladstone’s. And in Hawaii, the parties will all be epic simply due to the size and scale of the fleet: nearly 100 entries creates an enormous crowd of not only sailors but family and friends as well at the Mount Gay Rum parties at Hawaii and Waikiki Yacht Clubs.

And the final Awards ceremony in Honolulu will be huge: we had to organize space at the Hawaii Convention Center in Ala Moana.

If you were a gambling man, what boat(s) would you be looking at for the barn door trophy? What about for the overall win?

Ha, I don’t gamble, too many variables! But with the Barn Door [trophy] now being re-dedicated back to being awarded to the first-to-finish monohull, it’s hard not to go with Comanche again if there is “normal” weather.

For corrected time this too is even harder to predict before the first reliable forecasts become available. If it’s a straightforward drag race then breeze-on conditions favors the planing modern race boats, like Sydney-Hobart winner Alive or the Pac 52 Badpak.

But this is not statistically favored-[world-famous navigator] Stan Honey said in the last cycle that all they needed for Comanche to break the record was steady breeze, not strong breeze.

And in these sub-planing conditions the usual Sleds are favored by their optimization not only for the course but the decades of collective experience on these teams-like on Pyewacket.

While we understand that Transpac is an offshore contest, can you tell us about any steps that you and the other race organizers have taken in recent years to “green-up” the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake? While we understand that Transpac is an offshore contest, can you tell us about any steps that you and the other race organizers have taken in recent years to “green-up” the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

Efficient offshore racing by its very nature is already Green since every team already wants to minimize clutter and waste. Every team in the Transpac knows the high-profile stories and their own observations about the trash in the North Pacific, and no one wants to contribute to that. So this concept is a priori, needs no special promotion-“best practices” are already established.

Anything else that you;’d like to add, for the record? With this fantastic record turnout for Transpac 50, it’s great to see such tremendous enthusiasm for offshore racing [on] the Pacific. It proves the sport is not dead or dying, but very much alive and thriving.

Even our organization of next year’s Transpac-Tahiti Race, a 3,571-mile speed-reaching course to paradise, is on a great track, with already seven confirmed entries over a year out and more expected in the coming months. This shows the spirit of adventure still lures us out to sea.

Related Articles

Transpac News, 12 Metre Words, AC Hall of Fame
Latest Sail-World USA newsletter from David Schmidt While summer isn't even half over, the sailing world is being treated to some great offshore racing, starting with the Transatlantic Race 2019, and followed by the Transpacific Yacht Race, which began in a series of pursuit-style starts on July 10. Posted on 16 Jul
The Good Oil
I've been fortunate enough to have spoken with a lot of terrific sailors This week I've been fortunate enough to have spoken with a lot of terrific sailors and unreal people. So let's just get straight into it then: Our first sailor is none other than the great Tom Slingsby. Posted on 14 Jul
In conversation with David 'Sid' Howlett
Mark Jardine talks with the Coach to Ben Ainslie, Andrew Simpson and more... Hear the story behind the medals as Mark Jardine talks to Olympic Sailing 'Coach To The Stars' David Howlett. Howlett has helped coach some of the sports biggest names to Gold, find out how in this in-depth interview into his career. Posted on 11 Jul
Transatlantic Race 2019, Olympic selection process
Latest Sail-World USA newsletter from David Schmidt As the saying goes that in sailboat racing, if you don't like the conditions, wait a little bit and odds are excellent that they will change. This wisdom proved correct in the Transatlantic Race 2019. Posted on 9 Jul
Sailing this Winter?
Not everyone is going to the tropics Not everyone is going to the tropics. So if you are an OTB sailor, or on board something a bit or a lot bigger, then you could well be in need of some new gear from Vaikobi. Posted on 7 Jul
Make 2019 count! Food and drink
How sailors who love the sea can think about what they eat and drink There are a number of ways we can make our food and drink choices more sustainable. We are going to concentrate on two main strands here. First packaging and simple ways to slim down our plastic use and second the actual food we choose to consume. Posted on 5 Jul
Fletcher Boland onthe Marblehead to Halifax Race
An interview with Fletcher Boland about the 2019 Marblehead to Halifax Race I checked in with Fletcher Boland, the manager of communications for the 2019 Marblehead to Halifax Race, via email, to learn more about this classic New England and Canadian distance race. Posted on 3 Jul
TR 2019, Cup news, and the 2023 Ocean Globe Race
Latest Sail-World North American newsletter from David Schmidt The fleet competing in the Transatlantic Race 2019 has been experiencing light breezes that have been more forward of the beam than anyone would prefer. Posted on 2 Jul
Well I am…
The great Jim Close sent me a link to Rik Breur, who just won the European Inventor Award The great Jim Close sent me a link to a person by the name of Rik Breur, who just won the European Inventor Award. Close, probably best known to sailors as Mumbles, is always good for interesting tales, anecdotes, the weird and wonderful... Posted on 30 Jun
Ben Ainslie and Henri Lloyd
25 years of sailing history together When Hans Eckerström and Magnus Liljeblad relaunched the Henri Lloyd brand, they recognised the importance of quality, heritage and strong brand representatives. Posted on 26 Jun
WindBot-COACH-660x82Gul 2019 GAMMA FooterSOUTHERN-SPARS-OFFICIAL-SUPPLIER-52-SS728-X-90 Bottom