Long Distance Runarounds
Let’s go surfing now, everyone is learning how!” Surfing from LA to Hawaii or from Chicago to Mackinac, wow that is a long way on a surfboard. What! Sailboats that surf? Yep, that’s the Trans Pac.
Everyone’s idea of a great vacation is different. Many times, we need a vacation after our vacation! When I was little we would travel great distances in the car, pulling our pop-up camper behind us as we tried to bide our time while staving off the tedium playing highway bingo or reading numerous sports and racing magazines. I faithfully stacked up (almost to the roof!) all of them next to me as we slogged our way forward at a mind-numbing station wagon speed of 55 mph. The horror!
That is what makes the sanctity of the seas so much sweeter. Every move, every tack or tactic means something hopefully gained and not lost. Very rarely behind the wheel of an automobile are you playing wind shifts, changing configurations or keeping track of your opponent’s moves like an incessant chess match.
Then again, what you are tracking as the mile markers stack up are the possible secret hidden locations of state troopers hiding behind bushes or in blind spots as you try to dodge their speed traps. All while trying to keep your eyes peeled forward like the captain of a boat pointed away from wind holes and the doldrums that may lie beyond the horizon.
So why do hundreds of boat owners and thousands of sailors choose to spend their vacations on the small confines of a sailboat either surfing 24/7, half the day in the dark of night or sometimes wallowing on a wave going nowhere swatting flies? Passion! That’s why.
We are presenting two Trans Pac’s this month. One official, from LA to Hawaii, and the other, unofficial, Great Lakes “transpac” which on many occasions replicates their ocean cousin with fresh breezes out of the Southwest allowing the 300+ fleet to “surf” the entire way from Chicago to Mackinac Island, Michigan.
A quick refresher course reminds us that the Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac) starts in San Pedro Bay off Long Beach at the Pt. Fermin buoy sending the fleets, famous for fast downwind sailing, under spinnaker in the trade winds towards Hawaii. The finish line in Honolulu is positioned in front of the Diamond Head Lighthouse a distance of 2,225 nautical miles, compared to 300 from Chi-town.
In 1906, the year of the great San Francisco earthquake, Clarence W. Macfarlane founded the first race. Macfarlane had invited the West Coast sailors to race to Hawaii from San Francisco, but the city’s devastation forced entries to start from Los Angeles.
Sailing the Transpac stirs a variety of emotions and lifelong memories. For some it is the rush of danger, for others a beautiful adventure and for many it is both. Race veterans have said; “The daytime’s mellow, the night gets lively, sometimes scary and the last three days can be like riding a derailed freight train through the tunnel of love.”
Since 1949, the fastest in the fleet have traditionally competed for the unique Transpacific Yacht Club Perpetual Trophy, which is a plaque of hand-carved Hawaiian Koa wood known as the “Barn Door.” The smaller boats race for the King Kalakaua Trophy, a model of a sailing canoe, for the best corrected handicap time.
The 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. However, sailing directly into the Pacific High’s light winds is competitive suicide.
This year’s dramatic story was of Rio 100’s port rudder breaking. As she was taking on water from a broken port rudder shaft and bearing, a crewmember dove into the cramped aft compartment of Rio 100 to remove the broken pieces and stuff the hole with a sleeping bag to stop the leak until a more suitable repair could be made to get the boat back underway and racing.
With an elapsed time of 6 days, 17 hours 9 minutes and 9 seconds, Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio 100 still crossed the finish line at Diamond Head to be the first-to-finish monohull without powered assistance, and thereby the winner of the Barn Door Trophy.
“I credit this great crew for this victory,” said Moshayedi, clearly relieved to have finished both intact and ahead of their nearest qualified rival for the Barn Door, Frank Slootman’s Pac 52, Invisible Hand. “Their expertise and seamanship saved both the boat and our chances to repeat last year’s win.”
In her 40-year anniversary, Merlin took 3rd place in Division 2 competing against the very same Sleds who were her design progeny built in the 1980’s and ’90’s and who are still racing hard and racing well.
Transpac legend, Merlin, crossed the finish line at Diamond Head 40 years after she did it the first time and after crossing the finish line was escorted to the narrow and sometimes treacherous entrance to the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, a safe haven from the Pacific swells.
Bill and Lu Lee’s venerable Lee 68, Merlin’s, elapsed time of 8 days 02:34:09 did not set any records this year, but this was still better than the elapsed time of 8 days 11:01:45 that she set in her original configuration when Lee and his team raced her in a very windy 1977 Transpac. This improved finish a testament to the upgrades made to the boat over her long and storied life.
“Lu and I are the eighth owners of this boat for the second time,” said Lee, who navigated this race to be second (currently) in corrected time behind another legendary finisher today, Roy Pat Disney’s Andrews 68 Pyewacket. Disney’s newer boat rates slower than Merlin, so being only 2 hours behind but allowed several more hours gave her the corrected time edge. Nonetheless, Lee said they had a fantastic race on Merlin.
“We had no major failures or breakdowns and this boat has had 7 keel changes, 4 mast changes, deck layout changes and countless sails through its life. Right now, it is set up nicely. She sails better, easier and faster than the original boat, so much so it’s really a different boat and a pleasure to sail.”
It was this boat that, in 1977, turned offshore yacht design in an entirely new direction when Lee’s design concept was to keep the boat long, narrow, and intentionally light weight to sail efficiently in the off-wind races of the U.S. West Coast, yet to also be at the prevailing IOR Rating of 70.0 feet, which was the defined Maxi rating limit of those days.
Other conventional IOR Maxis were often referred to as “lead mines” because of the large keels they needed to keep their stability for their massive sails and 80-foot lengths. The conventional Maxis of that era were designed to perform well relative to their rating in all conditions, whereas Merlin excelled in one direction alone, downwind and their race record stood for 20 years before beaten by Pyewacket in 1997.
And, here she was again, finishing at Diamond Head under sunny skies and trade winds with the same rainbow color scheme on her spinnaker that she had in 1997. Lee even donned his Wizard cape at his team’s Aloha party at Hawaii YC just to complete the nostalgia.
Lee pointed out that the replica of Merlin in the trophy case no longer resembled his boat, having been “modified by eight owners with four keels and rudder, two decks, four masts and two interiors.”
One of the new classes is the PAC 52, which will make their debut this month in the Rolex Big Boat Series. Gavin Brady is on the PAC52, Invisible Hand, and spoke about transporting the boat back to prepare.
“The great thing about a Pac 52, is basically in two days’ time it’s going to sail itself back to the West Coast.” said Brady. “That’s really what I think the Pac 52 Class is all about. It’s about sustainability. Where you’ve got yachts that can actually sail themselves, not just through the Big Boat Series or the Pac 52 series, but they can go ocean racing and then actually sail themselves back home.”
“For me, sustainability is what the sport needs,” said Brady. “Not one trick ponies that need to live on trucks and ships, and are one-off boats. I can categorically say that this won’t be the last Transpac race that this boat wins. It might not be in our hands, but in 15 years’ time you’ll see this boat come to Hawaii and you’ll see it sailing home, and I think that’s really cool.”
H.L. Enloe’s ORMA 60 trimaran, Mighty Merloe, crossed the finish line first at 5:02:30 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST) for an elapsed time of 4 days, 6 hours, 32 min, 30 sec; a full 26.5 hours faster than the previous mark set in 1997 by Bruno Peyron and his team on Commodore Explorer.
For Comanche navigator Honey, this was his seventh first-to-finish Transpac, and the fourth time he has helped win the Elapsed Time Record Trophy (aka The Clock Trophy) as navigator.
Maserati, skippered by Giovanni Soldini, is a Multi 70, which broke one of its rudders in a high-speed collision with an unidentified floating object, while racing in second place. The crew was able to retrieve the shattered rudder on the back of the starboard hull of the trimaran. The other rudders on the port and the central hulls were undamaged and the crew continued to race towards the finish in Honolulu.
“We were sailing fast at 28 to 30 knots when we heard a big bang,” Soldini reported, “we immediately stopped the boat and managed to retrieve the rudder blade that was still attached by a retaining line. That was quite a difficult procedure because it was during the night, with lots of wind and waves.”
Maserati sailed well south of the course rhumb-line, which is the shortest most direct route between LA and Diamond Head, to find more wind and to try to avoid the worst of the ocean debris littering the course further north.
“Our choice to stay south was also because we wanted to avoid the areas with more debris,” Soldini explained, “But yesterday, during the day, we saw at least 15 floating objects, including a net, a very big rope line, a buoy with an iron pole and many smaller buoys. At one point, we caught a large piece of plastic sheeting on one of the rudders.
“The bushings are still intact but the force of the impact completely destroyed the stock and blade. The rudder on the other side and the central rudder are okay, but cannot sail too fast on the side without the rudder as sometimes we lose control and the boat spins out.”
Next year the Pacific Cup is back on with another even year odyssey from San Francisco to Hawaii.
Mayhem, Then Monotony
Racing the Chicago to Mackinac in many ways is a Great Lakes Trans Pac. Generally, the breezes come out of the Southwest allowing many in the fleet to literally “surf” up the Michigan shoreline. Of course, the highlight of the weekend is the Grand Hotel’s “Porch Party” which has become, for the women of the CYC, the “Kentucky Derby” of sailing with the amazing array of colorful hats. We were greeted with “mash potato martinis” which was a first for me!
This was the 30-year anniversary of Pied Piper’s dramatic shattering of a 76-year-old record when Dick Jennings (he owns an exterminating business) immaculately prepared SC70 surprised everyone at that year’s party by showing up under the Mackinac Bridge during the festivities at just over 25 hours and 50 minutes from the start! The highlight for me the following year was being able to steer Piper down to Harbor Springs after the race!
The Cruising Division started things off for the 301 entrants in the 109th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Island. The 289 nautical-mile course from the Chicago Lighthouse, just off Navy Pier, went off without a hitch, but before it was over one third of the fleet failed to finish.
It began in light WSW winds, a building SE breeze that pushed the fleet northward up Lake Michigan, but all eyes were on a severe thunderstorm watch for parts of Wisconsin. While the storm was not anticipated to impact the fleet, special marine warnings for some discrete cells soon began over Lake Michigan.
The first night report expected the front to cross the entire lake by Sunday morning (July 16), with the racers making great progress in pre-frontal southerly winds, shifting to the north by morning with strong winds and big seas expected. A typical Lake Michigan sweeper, fierce and fast and over as quickly as it begins, but when it hits.
High Priority 2, a Corsair 31 in the multi-hull fleet, capsized late Saturday night, with all four crew safely rescued by the Coast Guard.
The Amway families’ fortune faded when their annual entry, the 86-foot, Windquest, under Doug DeVos’s guidance, was seemingly caught unprepared as it was knocked down for almost a minute before righting with a damaged mast. Crewmember Farley Fontenot posted this account. “We had quite the night,” wrote Fontenot. “We had the A2 spinnaker up at 10:30 p.m. Our group was off watch and all of a sudden it was pretty violent as we could hear the on watch hollering to try and get the chute down, they called for all hands! Just as we heard the call, she went over. We were down for at least 45 seconds before she came up. David Tank then went out on the prod and spiked the tack and in the take down process, we shredded the A2. Windspeed was at 42 knots at that point!
“At 3:00 a.m., the wind shifted and we needed to reef. Reefing a boat is not easy, but we mapped it out. We tried for 30 minutes to no avail. The main would not go on lock. We send Tank to the top of the rig, where he told us the headboard car was demolished. We took the main down and worked for hours, but no luck. We retired from the race. We were having a great boat for the race for first to finish. Now sailing back downwind Lake Macatawa in Holland (home base) hitting 17 knots with jib only. (Unfortunately) Windquest out.”
Elsewhere on the course, David and Kim Hoff’s Beneteau 10R, Nirvana, had their hands full as well. “We were having a great race and then around 10 p.m. we witnessed an amazing lightning show in the distance,” reported Christopher Beckwith. “Within two hours wind had increased to about 45 knots and over we went. We got the boat back upright and we worked to take down our number two chute and struggled in the wind, losing it over the side.
“We managed to retrieve it and then attempted to reef the main. We then decided in the building wind with gusts in the 50’s, to drop the main. I still had steerage at six knots under bare poles. As the breeze settled out and the wind subsided we put in a reef and reduced jib.
“Continuing on, four hours later I came back on watch and took the wheel in washing machine conditions. Under reef and a reduced jib, we worked our way upwind in 25-30 knots of breeze. Then, a loud bang and the furler blew up, immediately overpowering the boat.
“We coasted for a few minutes, catching our breath and attempting a repair. In 8- to 10-foot seas and 30 knots of breeze and a 33-foot boat, it’s no easy task. The crew was beat. The boat was broken. We were all cold, wet and dehydrated. It was nothing short of a day at the water park in ice-cold water, fully clothed. We made the decision to pull into Pentwater, MI and get a good meal.”
The highlight of the event was the first finisher in the Cruising Division, Joseph S. Haas’s, Infinite Diversion, which shattered the cruising race record with CYC Commodore Leif Sigmond and Past Commodore Joseph Haas, owner and skipper onboard.
Mark Wheeler’s first-hand account on Spinsheet was that he was the man overboard in the night on Meridian X.
“The wind forecast was for a cold front to come through in the middle of the first night with a fairly sudden shift from SW to N,” wrote Wheeler. “We raced under spinnaker on the lifting starboard tack from the start and then gybed to the heading port tack. This brought us to our target position in the middle of Lake Michigan and about 100 nm up from the start. The wind direction was 220 at about 15 knots. There was one thunderstorm to the west that did not seem to be moving. The front was still to the NW and an hour or so away. At about 23:30, the wind began to build rapidly to 30 knots with no change in direction, and then very soon to 40 knots. I had gone off watch at 23:00.
“An all hands-on deck call was made to get the staysail and A2 down. I scrambled on deck with my inflatable life jacket and harness on, but not buckled. As I got back behind the wheels, I reached out for the port running back winch. Just before my hand made contact with the winch, the helm was put over hard to starboard to go down with the ever-increasing wind. I went over the side head first through the life lines above the winch. I was only able to grab a spinnaker sheet for a couple of seconds as the boat was going approximately 18 knots.
“My first order of business was to pull the lanyard to inflate the vest. The water was really rough at this point and breathing was a challenge. The vest inflated properly which was a relief, but since I had not buckled the front fitting, I had to hold the lobes together with my arms to stay afloat.
“I knew it would be a while before my teammates could return to look for me since they were travelling away so fast and would not be able to turn without dropping the chute. In fact, afterwards we estimated the boat ended up more than 1.5 miles from me.
“With the wind blowing 40 knots, I was in survival mode and concentrating on remaining calm and trying to breathe without ingesting too much water. The next 15 minutes were discouraging to say the least. I was floating in the middle of a pitch black, moonless Lake Michigan with no light at 12:15 a.m., and with no boats in sight.
“After about 30 minutes I could see Meridian’s white mast light off in the distance, but clearly a long way from me. I started whaling on the whistle. Occasionally water would get into it and the whistle would not work, but when I had clear blasts it was very loud and fortunately carried a long way. Meridian heard the whistle. Later they told me they would motor and then stop to get the boat quiet, listen, and go towards the sound again. We think this process took about 15 minutes, but it worked and I was found!”
“I was suffering from hypothermia when they dragged me aboard. I had been in the water for 1 hour and 6 minutes. The crew got my wet clothes off, wrapped me in blankets and fleece, gave me some hot water and eventually I stopped shivering.
“We retired from the race and headed for Muskegon immediately after my retrieval, which was about 4 hours away. Once I was warm, it was clear I did not need medical attention.
“I consider myself a very lucky man, and I will forever be grateful to the crew and my good friends on Meridian X for being able to recover from the squall and get back to the same general area in which I was lost. It certainly was not an easy task.”
At the curtain call, 200 of the 297 starters completed the course. After a brutal thunder and lightning storm pounding with winds up to 50 knots the first night, the great lake went calm with most the fleet floating methodically up the West Michigan shoreline at about 2 or 3 knots. Hopefully there was plenty of OFF onboard!
Clearly, Mark Wheeler has a whale of a tale to tell his grandchildren one day! Thank you to Spinsheet Magazine for sharing his harrowing account. A lesson to everyone out there on a boat during their “vacation.”
The Chicago to Mackinac Race started in 1898 with five boats; Larry Ellison brought his Sayonara here in 1998 for the 100th. The race has seen occasional sustained violent weather in the blows of 1911, 1937 and 1970, the year Ted Turner joked beforehand that Lake Michigan was a “millpond.”
After gale force winds took down most of the fleet in the Mac of 1911, the year that a 76-year record to stand was set, the finish in the 1912 and 1913 races was changed to Harbor Springs on Little Traverse Bay instead of Mackinac Island. Race organizers felt the shorter distance was safer. From 1914 until 1916 the Mac was back to its full distance.
The 2017 Bell’s Brewery Bayview Race to Mackinac got off to a slightly normal, be it a wet, start on 254 nautical-mile Cove Island course and 82 teams racing on the shorter 204 nm Shore Course from Port Huron, Michigan without a hitch. With rain and several storms to encounter, though not as intense as the one that hit the Chicago Race the week before, as only a few boats retired, but for most, the race was extraordinarily fast and satisfying, even accounting for one record-breaking performance.
Peter Thornton’s Volvo 70, Il Mostro, beat its own course record established in 2015, with a new Elapsed Time Cove Island Course Monohull Record of 21:45:12. The previous record was 23:39:54. The team was 15 seconds away from beating the current Multihull Course Record set by the ORMA 60 Arete in 2016 of 21:44:58. Il Mostro’s speed averaged approximately 11.7 knots throughout the race. “We sailed into a hole for two hours and Wizard was the only one who stayed with us; the rest of the fleet saw us stalled and went to the Michigan shore,” said Thorton. After Il Mostro got going again, a storm harboring gusts of “mostly 25 knots, up to 30” carried the boat at an average of 21 knots up the straights to Mackinac Island. “It was fun, a great race,” said Thornton. “We’re just happy to be out there doing this.”
Taking the overall win on the Shore Course was Mark Miller’s Beneteau 42, Comfortably Numb. “They said it would be a quick race, and it was,” said Miller “I’ve never been that far up the course that early, that fast. Near Alpena and Hammond Bay, there was storm after storm after storm. We took down our asymmetrical spinnaker and were jib reaching, battling three others in our class for 10 to 12 hours. I’ve done 34 Macs and never finished that early.”
Phil O’Niel on a TP 52, Natalie J, also said this was the fastest “Mac” he’d ever logged. “We were never off the breeze all the way to Cove Island. I can’t ever remember going upwind (for 140 miles) that long, or getting that wet (all day was torrential rain). We were fourth around Cove Island but got around other boats from there when it became a fun, fast downwind course. We ran into storms, but thankfully you could see them coming. They really blasted us, so we took down the spinnaker.”
This year, the Bell’s Beer Bayview Mackinac Race benefited Set Sail for Autism and Alliance for the Great Lakes.
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