September 2007

Transpac 2007 Had Everything But Wind

By Rich Roberts

HONOLULU — The 44th Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii had 73 starters, the fourth most ever; the youngest crew (On the Edge of Destiny, average 19.8 years); the oldest crew of two (Tango, each 70), and the oldest boat  (Alsumar, 73 years).

It also had the fun-loving Webster brothers from Oklahoma sailing a 52-foot luxury catamaran The Minnow, while puffing on Sousaphones and playing Beethoven sonatas on an electric piano the whole 2,225 nautical miles, and a team of young sailors recruited and trained for the sole purpose of sailing the race while a production team recorded their every move and sound to make a documentary film about it.

Look for Morning Light in theaters next summer.

There also were boisterous sendoffs from Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach — now Transpac's mainland home port — for each of the three starts, interspersed with the dedication of 11 historic monuments chronicling each decade of the race. 

But once off the starting line at Point Fermin in San Pedro, what Transpac 2007 didn't have was the wonderful trade winds the race is famous for, at least not until it was too late to think about records. Oddly, in a year when the moderately southern route under the rhumb line was blocked by a pattern of light wind pockets for boats starting Monday and Sunday, the window opened briefly for Thursday's starters — including nine vintage Santa Cruz 50s and 52s — to enjoy the best weather of all. The Deep South was the way to go.

Tragically, four days before the first start, Wendy Siegal, a Transpac director whose enthusiasm and energy brought the revival of the Cal 40s four decades after their glory days, was found drowned near her boat in Alamitos Bay Marina. She was 55.

In tribute, friends and other Cal 40 sailors scattered flowers from John Harrison's Seafire in front of the Hawaii Yacht Club one afternoon, following a similar salute at the starting line.

Roy E. Disney chartered his sleek Pyewacket back from the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship and modified it up to record-breaking potential but decided at a late hour not to sail on it. Just as well.

Without proper wind, there would be no record, although co-skippers Roy Pat Disney and Gregg Hedrick claimed a third Barn Door for posting the fastest elapsed time by a monohull (7 days, 1 hour, 11 minutes, 56 seconds). 

There were five doublehanded monohull entries, including double Barn Door winner Philippe Kahn with co-skipper Richard Clarke first on elapsed and corrected time, and the two septuagenarians, Mike Abraham and Phil Rowe, second overall on Tango.

It was a good year for Australians. Jeremy Wilmot, 21, was elected skipper by the Morning Light crew and led them to third place overall in Division 2. Nick Bice, originally hired to oversee Pyewacket's modifications, also sailed on that boat and received the Don Vaughn award as outstanding crew member on the fastest boat. 

Morning Light, a Transpac 52, has been sold to Syd Fischer, Australia's living legend of sailing who plans to race it in the Sydney-Hobart classic starting Dec. 26 (Boxing Day).

He hasn't named a skipper, but Wilmot might be available. His parents would never let him sail the Sydney-Hobart. They might see it differently now.

The last boat to finish was Jorge Morales' Mysteré, a Swan 42 from Dana Point, Calif., competing in Aloha B class. Mysteré got a six-day head start on Pyewacket and finished seven days later. Morales arrived two days after the awards dinner but won a prize, anyway: the Tail End Charley trophy. He was not disappointed.

"It was a fantastic race," he said. "We just missed out on the weather. When we had 29 knots of wind [near the end] the boat was fantastic. The last three days it was blowing a steady 20-24 knots, and when we'd got the squalls they weren't as strong [as usual]. Coming down the Molokai Channel we were going into the 27s."

Other competitors raved about the wonderful surfing but, alas, vintage Swans, built for comfort, don't surf much.

"Unfortunately," Morales said, "it goes through water like a cow. It just refuses to get over it."

The upside: After 20 days at sea,  Morales said, "My water maker was the best investment ever."

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