Monday, July 15, 2013

Transpac Race Preview

J/125 Resolute sailing fast!J/Teams Sending It For 2,225nm!
(Los Angeles, CA)- On Monday, the first of three waves of offshore yachts start their 2,225nm journey to Honolulu in the 2013 Transpacific Yacht Race, aka the "Transpac". This epic biennial race, in its 47th edition and organized by the Transpacific Yacht Club, features fifty-nine entries from eight countries spread into nine divisions.

The slowest of these two divisions, Divisions 7 and 8, started this past Saturday over the 4th of July weekend, with 15 entries crossing the starting line off Point Fermin, just west of Los Angeles Harbor. These include the smallest boat in the race, Edward Sanford’s J/105 CREATIVE from San Diego YC with a total of just four crew.  Watch out! A J/100 won this division not too long ago and the J/105 is even faster off the wind!

“We are really pleased the fleet got off to this great start,” said TPYC Commodore Dave Cort. “This was a classic day, just perfect breeze strength and direction. Some teams were very competitive at the start, others had more of the Aloha spirit. Regardless, we look forward to hearing from the teams en route, wish them all Good Luck, and we look forward to seeing them in Hawaii.”

Transpac Aloha partyAt the Skipper’s Meeting, participants learned the weather forecast for this fleet looks good, at least for the beginning phase of this race. Well-established at 1029 mb, the center of the Pacific High lies 900 miles west of San Francisco and will drive 10-20 knot northwest winds along the southern California coastal waters for the next three days, with higher speeds offshore, allowing this early fleet to get a fast start to their southwesterly tracks towards Hawaii.  And while these entries in the first start are not fast enough to break any course records, they may still win racing under the ORR system that uses a special Transpac course model to equalize the boats under handicap for this race.

After the briefing, all Transpac crews got an early taste of Hawaiian hospitality at the "Aloha Send-Off Party" held at Gladstone’s Restaurant in Long Beach, where there were traditional Tahitian performances, hula dancing, and plenty of leis all around. A unique new feature of this year's race will be a daily video analysis on the progress of the race provided by race veteran and Seahorse Magazine Editor Dobbs Davis on the race website.

J/105 offshore sailboatSailing the Transpac stirs a variety of emotions and lifelong memories. For some it's the rush of danger, for others a beautiful adventure, and for many it's both. Russell Coutts, an Olympic gold medalist and three-time America's Cup winner, said after sailing on the record-setting Morning Glory in 2005: "This is one of the best offshore races I have done-- very strategic for the navigators mixed with some fantastic downwind rides. Definitely a race not to be missed."

Since 1949 the fastest in the fleet have traditionally competed for the unique Transpacific Yacht Club Perpetual Trophy---a 3 1/2 x 4-foot plaque of hand-carved Hawaiian koa wood---better known as the "Barn Door." Smaller boats unable to match the larger ones in sheer speed compete for a prize more reflective of crew performance: the King Kalakaua Trophy, a metallic model of a sailing canoe, for the best corrected handicap time.

Transpac stands apart from other major ocean races as essentially a "downwind race," as determined by normal weather patterns in the eastern Pacific north of the equator. After two or three days of slogging on the wind, the fleet encounters the "Pacific High," a mammoth, wallowing blob of high pressure rotating clockwise between Hawaii and the West Coast of North America. As boats reach the lower edge of the high the wind bends aft and turns warm spinnakers go up, shirts come off, and sailors usually enjoy a pleasant ride the rest of the way. But sailing directly into the Pacific High's light winds is competitive suicide.

With improved weather information following World War II, competitors were able to note the position of the High and chart their courses along its lower edge on a southerly loop, sailing farther but faster to Hawaii. Later they optimized their boats for downwind performance.  Said Morgan Larson, a world-class sailor in boats large and small including J/24s, said, "There is no better feeling than surfing down the Molokai Channel towards the most famous finish of all the offshore races in the world. You pass Diamond Head under spinnaker, then pull into Waikiki and the big aloha welcome."

J/125 West Coast Warrior sailing Transpac RaceThis year there are just three J/Teams rolling down the Pacific Coast Highway across the Pacific to Honolulu.  Undoubtedly, the fast reaching J's love the offshore swell and expect to be on the podium at the end of the road.  As mentioned above, the J/105 has proven to be undeniably fast, easy to sail offshore at well over 90% of its performance capabilities by most crews, especially when they are fatigued and tired.  Toss on top of the fleet's notorious offwind racers is the infamous J/125.  Last year, the J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE sailed the Pacific Cup and averaged nearly 13 kts, getting there in 7 days-- an astounding pace for a 41 footer. The current monohull record, held by Hasso Platner's 86 footer MORNING GLORY sailed in just over 6 days averaging 13.65 kts.  Bruno Peyron's 86 ft catamaran EXPLORER has the outright sailing record of 5 days 9 hours averaging 17.25 kts.  J/125's have been known to hit 25+ kts offshore downwind for hours on end, for that matter the little J/70 one-design speedster has hit 21+ kts offshore in France on the Bay of Biscay!

In Division 4, look for the J/125's RESOLUTE (Tim Fuller from San Diego YC) and WEST COAST WARRIOR (Greg Constable from Nanaimo Yacht Club in British Columbia, Canada) to eclipse their classmates after a week of deliriously fast rides down massive 10-15 ft Pacific swells, coping with midnight squalls blowing 20-35 kts and endlessly gorgeous frothy white cresting seas during the day with dolphin jumping all over the place (mahi-mahi for dinner, anyone?).

Of note, it's interesting to see an entire group of former (and current) J sailors participating in the Division I "Turbo" division of this year's Transpac.  Tom Holthus traded in his J/145 BAD PAK for an STP 65 of the same name. Frank Slootman did the same with his J/111 INVISIBLE HAND for an RP 63. Lorenzo Berho traded in his J/24 PELIGROSO for a J/145 PELIGROSO for a Kernan 70 of the same name.  David & Peter Askew traded in various race-winning J's over time called FLYING JENNY (J/120 & J/122) for the RP 74 WIZARD.  Syd Fischer's family have had a go of it in J/24 events in Sydney, Australia; they're now sailing an Elliot 100 called RAGAMUFFIN 100!  Apparently, even Giovanni Soldini sailing MASERATI for Yacht Club Italiano from Milan has had some tiller time on J/Boats.  Interesting times!  All J sailors over the course of time with offshore and some one-design experience.  Time will tell who learned the most, the fastest, in their offshore careers sailing J's!  Amongst this group, it may be the first person to blink and back off the gas (or take the brick off the gas pedal) that will determine who takes line or handicap honors.  For more Transpac Race sailing information