September 2007

Tahiti In 2008: It's There For All, Big And Small

By Rich Roberts   

LOS ANGELES — The Transpacific Yacht Club is convinced that many of those 2,000-plus competitors who sailed more than 200 boats in the last three Transpacs are ready now for the next great ocean adventure: across the equator to the South Pacific.

With its 44th biennial race to Hawaii successfully completed last month, the TPYC announced that for 2008 it will revive the race to Tahiti that it ran intermittently a dozen times from 1925 to 1994 — this time, it envisions, not only with boats at the leading edge of evolution in the sport but a new generation of sailors sailing smaller boats with their families and friends. For many, that's more than enough reason to race to Tahiti.

After the 1964 race, Dale Budlong wrote in Sea Magazine: "There is a saying at the Tahiti Yacht Club that there is no one winner in a race to Tahiti. Any boat that anchors off the quay in Papeete has won an adventure in paradise."

 All qualified ocean racers that meet ISAF Category 1 and the minimum size requirement are eligible. Those interested may contact entries chairman Mike Nash:

Dale Nordin, race co-chairman and Transpac vice commodore, said, "This will be the first chance for many younger sailors to race to the South Pacific on their own boats. At the same time, many of the high-tech boats launched since 1994 haven't had the opportunity to do this race." 

At 3,571 nautical miles, Los Angeles to Tahiti was once known as the longest regularly scheduled race in the world. The renewal is scheduled to start June 21, the date of the summer solstice that marks the longest day of the year.

The start will be off Point Fermin in San Pedro where this summer's Transpac started at the southernmost tip of the City of Los Angeles. That's also where the last 10 of the 12 Tahiti races started, following those in 1925 from San Francisco and in 1953 from Honolulu.

Already declaring to compete are Doug Baker's Magnitude 80, an Andrews 80, and race co-chairman Bob Lane's Medicine Man, an Andrews 63. Mag 80's successes this year alone include a runaway record in the Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta Race, first to finish in Newport to Ensenada, and first corrected in Division 1 of the Transpac.

But, even in the Tahiti race's early days, smaller boats upstaged much larger front-running rivals by correcting out on handicap time, as Walter Johnson's 38-foot Mistress did against Spencer Murfey Jr.'s 55-foot Silhouette in 1953. George Kiskaddon's 33-foot Spirit, the smallest boat ever to sail the Tahiti race, was fifth overall among 14 boats in 1970.

In other years, ocean racing icons such as Novia del Mar, Morning Star and Ticonderoga were outshone by boats two-thirds their size with crews performing closer to their potential — a trend that has taken hold in Transpac over the last four races when boats 40 to 52 feet corrected out overall. 

One notable exception was Jake Wood, a longtime West Coast racing icon who died last spring. Racing to Tahiti, his 62-foot Sorcery was first to finish and overall in 1974 and again in '78.

The fastest elapsed time to Tahiti of 14 days, 21 hours, 15 minutes, 26 seconds — an average speed of about 10 knots, modest by current standards — was achieved by Fred Kirschner's Santa Cruz 70, Kathmandu, in the most recent race in 1994.

Kathmandu's only rival was Wood's Mull 82, a larger and heavier Sorcery that finished more than a day later.

Tahiti is the largest island of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of the Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean at 17°40′S, 149°30′W. The island has a population of 169,677 inhabitants, according to the 2002 census. The capital is Papeete on the northwest coast.

Captain James Cook visited the island in 1774, followed by other European ships with increasing frequency. The best known of those was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied shortly after leaving Tahiti in 1789.

Peggy Slater, a noted Southern California sailor who was skipper for several Transpacs, said after sailing to Tahiti in 1961: "Since the days when Captain Bligh's men fell for the wiles of the laughing maidens who swam to the ship and perched on the rails, every sailor has had his ultimate course plotted: Tahiti."