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Sally Lindsay Honey's bright view of the dark side

by Kimball Livingston for LAYC 13 Mar 08:46 PDT
Sally Lindsay Honey's bright view of the dark side © Los Angeles Yacht Club

It's not usually big news when someone sells a boat, but then, most boats aren't Illusion, the Cal 40 owned and sailed hard for 34 years by two-time US Yachtswoman of the Year Sally Honey and her (sorry, Stan) one-time Yachtsman of the Year husband.

Sally talked her audience through the changes as the featured speaker, Saturday night, at the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup. Characteristically, she did not acknowledge to her Los Angeles Yacht Club audience the iconic stature of the trio, owners and boat.

The talk was titled, 25,000-mile Preparation for a 635-Mile Race. Sally explained, "It comes from adding up all the Transpacs and other races, and the cruise from home in San Francisco to the start of the Newport-Bermuda." Won by Illusion, of course, but that gets ahead of our story, much of which was known. Thus the chuckle that rippled through the audience when she mentioned that it "helps to have a good navigator."

Success comes from loving it. Sally grew up sailing and racing with her father on the Chesapeake and crossed the Atlantic with him at age 20, a voyage that turned into "magic." Her story comes with time in Harvard's Laboratory of Community Psychology, later as a sailmaker, and that is when she began to have an impact on the racecourse. She controlled her hair with a red bandana, and that became a trademark and a familiar sight out front as she learned to control one fleet after another.

Honey made her mark racing small boats, 505s in particular, winning championships nationally and internationally. She won the Women's North American Sailing Championship both as skipper and as crew. She began racing offshore in 1962, with highlights that include winning the 1996 Doublehanded Pacific Cup, multiple Doublehanded Farallones Races, 2003 crewed Transpac in class and, yes, the 2022 Newport-Bermuda, all aboard Illusion.

Tracing her beginnings in 505s and the eventual shift from crewing to skippering—to place Mark Lindsay's greater weight on the trapeze—Honey spoke of "how important it is to know what the other person in the boat is doing, and the best way to go about that is to switch jobs and learn from your mistakes."

Segue to a later time...

And we find Sally and Stan Honey growing into a doublehanded team aboard "our Cal 40 that is now 57 years old. I had aged out of 505s after 20 years of sailing them, and Stan grew up here at LAYC at a time when Cal 40s were all the rage. But when we found 'our' Cal 40, it had been sitting in a yard for seven years. There were bullet holes ii the hull. She had no engine and oil in the bilge, but we thought we'd have her in the water in six months."

The challenges and delays that followed would be familiar to anyone who knows boat restorations, but Illusioneventually was made as good as the day it emerged from Jensen Marine (RIP). Here's Sally again: "We decided maybe we wouldn't go cruising right away, and we signed up for a Pacific Cup, San Francisco to Oahu. I finished sewing the last spinnaker two days before the race. That year we finished second in class and not so well overall, but we raced again four years later and won overall. We had figured out the boat and felt comfortable because we had figured out the choreography, just as in a 505.

"We worked through what we called cheat sheets for everything we were going to do on the boat," Honey said, as she displayed long lists of duties for all maneuvers, mapping out how two people would get through tacks, jibes and sail changes on a boat where communication between cockpit and foredeck is challenged by distance, especially in breezy conditions.

And then, about cruising. There was a plan. And what happens with plans? "Stan was invited to navigate a Volvo Ocean Race, so we put cruising on hold," Honey said. If you now compile a list of all of Stan Honey's achievements as a navigator—across the Pacific, across the Atlantic, around the world---you have a pretty accurate picture of all the cruising plan interruptions that followed.

"Finally, in 2014, we left San Francisco for Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Caribbean, and the East Coast. Stan suggested we do one more big race before selling the boat, so in the summer before the 2020 Bermuda, we hauled the boat in Rhode Island and returned the boat to race trim. The waterline went up four inches. Add new sails, and we were ready.

"Then came March 2020. The world shut down. The race was cancelled."

Two years cruising New England instead of racing to Bermuda were not exactly a hardship, Honey said, but that left the 2022 race as a goal. "We hauled the boat again, removed all the cruising gear, again, and invited the best possible crew, little imagining that all three would say yes."

Others would ask, who could possibly say no? The Honeys knew Jonathan Livingston from 505s as also an accomplished ocean veteran, Don Jesberg as a one design champion and Cal 40 owner, and Carl Buchan as Carl Buchan. (Olympic gold medalist, for example.)

"Within half an hour we had a yes back from all three," Honey said. "We were thrilled. The first time Carl sailed a Cal 40 in practice, it was choppy and bouncy, and within five minutes he was sailing the boat better than I could. Stan said, 'He's an alien.' "

With the Gulf Stream to cross, Newport-Bermuda is famously a navigator's race, and Stan Honey did nothing to mar his reputation as arguably the world's greatest ocean navigator on the way to claiming the top prize after—drum roll please—635 miles of racing and beating all 215 competitors on corrected time. (The race committee didn't make that total-fleet computation; Stan did.)

But but but we can't leave this story without tying loose ends together. It was Los Angeles Yacht Club's 1972 commodore, George Griffith, who used a napkin to sketch the concept of a boat with a separated rudder and fin keel, with sections very shallow and displacement very light for the early 1960s. He handed that sketch to naval architect Bill Lapworth, said something like, "Turn that into drawings a builder can work from," and boldly guaranteed the builder ten boats. Legends were born. What he had just done was change the face of ocean racing with a boat that could surf.

Cal 40 hull #2 won its class in the 1964 Newport-Bermuda. Cal 40 #1, Psyche, won the 1965 Transpac. And the Honeys owned Illusion for 34 years because, to quote Stan, "Cal 40s have no bad habits."

Stan's nephew bought Illusion, so that boat stays in the family. And just as she said she "aged out" of the 505 dinghy, Sally said of ocean racing, "We feel like we've checked most of the boxes." But to keep everything tight knit, the Honeys are now the happy owners of Sarissa, a lovely but no-nonsense powerboat that was the pride of George Griffith when he "went to the dark side" in his later years. Right in character, the father of the Cal 40 insisted on light weight and a narrow beam to achieve a 20-knot cruising speed with minimum fuel consumption. Griffith operated as yard boss to make sure of it, and weighed every item before allowing it aboard.

Sarissa came in at 48 feet and a svelte 12,000 pounds, "a sailor's powerboat," the yard boss called her. When she became available, the Honeys didn't hesitate. "Again, "Sally declared, "we've gone the George Griffith route."

With congratulations to 2023 Harbor Cup winners University of Hawaii and a mention of a standing ovation for Sally in a college kid-packed Los Angeles Yacht Club, we can call this:

The End.

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