Light weather patterns create challenges, opportunities for racers

San Francisco – For the thirty yachts that started out Monday and Tuesday for Hawaii, the big question is not “where’s the wind?” but “how do we get there?” Just outside the Golden Gate, a band of very light breeze, delightful for beachgoing but frustrating for sailors ready for heavy weather, poses a tricky challenge. With winds in the range of 5 knots (6 miles per hour) this initial hurdle calls into play a set of skills not often used in Bay Area racing – light air sailing.

If a yacht and her crew can get through the light air zone, however, a wide area of stronger breezes beckons. Veteran Pacific Cup racers Jim Quanci and Mary Lovely aboard Green Buffalo have adopted an unusually northerly course, taking a risk of sailing extra miles but hopefully getting to that patch of wind first, which would make up handsomely for any extra distance sailed. Green Buffalo’s crew totals well over forty Pacific crossings, so their guess is to be respected. They’re accompanied in their direction by about half their day’s fleet. The remainder are diving south in a traditional bet on weather patterns normalizing, with stronger winds in that direction.

“We’ve tried just about all possible combinations of sails and settings, but when there’s very little wind and sloppy seas there’s just not a lot you can do but trim for minimum breakage!” reports skipper and Communications Chair Paul Eliott aboard VALIS, a Pacific Seacraft 44 with three crossings to her credit.

The light winds may give a slight advantage to Southern California racers, who are more accustomed to coaxing every ounce of boatspeed out of light breezes than are the local Northern Californians. Typical Bay Area winds provide all the power one might want for sailing, if not more, so this light air is a challenge. Adding to the challenge, of course is the presence of large offshore swells that rock the boats, causing discomfort and lead to sails flapping, which often wears them faster or breaks other gear. Everyone in the fleet will be looking forward to passing through this zone into the real wind.

Nine to Start Today, Eight Tomorrow

Fully-Crewed Division C will start today at 12:45. This division includes faster boats from 31 to 46 feet, with a lovely Swan 59, Andromeda, hailing from Mexico and skippered by coffee grower Antonio Luttman, rounding out the fleet. Thursday will see eight more boats start, including J World’s Hula Girl, Paul Cayard’s entry from 2008 now turned into a charter/training venture by local sailing school J World. Also starting will be the newest boat in the fleet: California Condor, a 40 foot design by Jim Antrim who will be sailing on board with skipper “Buzz” Blackett. Condor was built locally and only launched last month but shows every sign of being a stellar performer and a great ride.

Final Starts Saturday

Saturday, July 10, will see the final starts at 2:30 pm, with the fastest-rated boats taking the start line at Saint Francis Yacht Club. Record-holder Pegasus MotionX-50 will go toe to toe with Alan Brierty’s Limit from down under, boasting a 12-foot advantage. They’ll be joined by Ashley Wolfe on Mayhem, a TransPac 52, James Partridge and his family aboard Rapid Transit (another Antrim design), Mirage, the queen of the fleet at 70 feet is a Santa Cruz 70 from Peru, and Tiburon’s own Criminal Mischief, a light, nimble 45-footer skippered by Chip Megeath.

The original plan called for virtually the entire fleet to arrive on Tuesday at scenic and friendly Kaneohe Yacht Club on Oahu. Race organizers and Luau planners may be called on to revise those plans slightly as the racers work to get to the steady winds and warm seas that have characterized this race for the last thirty years. Racer blogs, tracking and updates can be found on the race website at PacificCup.org.

The Pacific Cup, organized by the Pacific Cup Yacht Club, has 56 entrants for the 2,070-mile run to Kaneohe Yacht Club in Hawaii. For many entrants, this is their first major ocean crossing. This is the sixteenth race and the thirtieth year of the competition. For more information about the race and its entries, visit http://PacificCup.org.

Pacific Cup Yacht Club (PCYC) was established in 1979 to run the biennial Pacific Cup. PCYC’s mission is to realize the dreams of many sailors to participate in a competitive, safe, and fun race from San Francisco to Hawaii. As such, its pre-race seminars are not only qualifying events for Pacific Cup participation but a way to introduce and encourage participation in offshore sailing.