July 12, 2010

Excellent Daily Runs as Leaders Find Strong Winds Damage forces one home, one to slow down

Pacific Ocean – The fifty-odd racers on the way from San Francisco to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu are cheering: wind is at hand. The maddeningly light winds that plagued the start of the sixteenth biennial Pacific Cup, billed as “the FUN Race to Hawaii,” are now a distant memory. For the three hundred sailors in the race, the FUN has begun.

Early starters charged out under the Golden Gate Bridge only to find a “parking lot” of wind-less sea. This morning, however, virtually the entire fleet has found winds as strong as they’d want to sail their yachts as they’d want to sail them. Maybe even more.

Fleet Leaders. Emma Creighton of Alameda, CA, and her lone crew Andrew Hamilton from Santa Cruz, aboard the tiny 21-foot boat named Pocket Rocket, a Mini-TransAt posted a stellar 276-mile run in the last 24 hours to launch them into first place in the Double-Handed 1 division. In the supposedly slowest division, Division A, Nancy, a Wylie Cat 30 with only one sail and skippered by Pat Broderick of Santa Rosa, CA, ran nearly 200 miles to claim first in her division. She’s closely followed for second by Green Buffalo, an entirely conventional Cal 40 crewed by a team of veterans (fanatics, actually) and led by husband and wife team Jim Quanci and Mary Lovely. Green Buffalo took an extreme northerly course, considered very risky by most race observers, and has now cashed in on that investment, rejoining the fleet only 17 miles behind first place.

Sweet Okole continues to extend her lead in Division B with a 224-mile run that puts her in view of making it to Kaneohe Yacht Club in time for all the parties. In Division C, the smaller fast boats are tightly grouped with the leaders no more than sixty miles apart in distance from the finish. With 1200 miles to go, it’s difficult to call a leader among Uncontrollable Urge, Sapphire, and Summer Moon, but it’s interesting to note that it’s the three “sport boats”, small, light and nimble, that dominate the heftier and longer racers such as Scott Campbell’s beautiful J46 Riva.

Overall Leader Jack Taylor, of Horizon, a Santa Cruz 50 out of Dana Point, California, is first in his fleet and first in division, last night posting a run of 288 miles. That’s a great performance, but this is an extremely competitive fleet, with Bill Helvestine’s Santa Cruz 50 Deception just a few hours behind him. Not to be counted out at the very bottom of the fleet is War Pony. Though she’s the smallest in that division, she put in an impressive run of 298 miles. If War Pony can catch up to her handicap rating, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Among the “Rock Star” division, Division E, with the fastest boats, Tiburon’s Chip Megeath continues to show the stuff that he and his Reichel/Pugh 45 Criminal Mischief are made of. Having only started Saturday, Division E is at the edge of the light air zone, but all of its members have put in decent runs as they position their boats for the heavier wind to come. Close behind Chip is Philippe Kahn on Pegasus MotionX-50, with Limit a competitor from “down under” in hot pursuit. Like the boats in Division B, we can expect a fair number of shifts in the lead before the race is complete.

Damage on the Course. As a race of 2070 miles, lasting one to two weeks, the Pacific Cup has been said to be the equivalent of a hundred or so races back to back. This naturally leads to some amount of gear failure – usually minor, but sometimes not. In the last 36 hours, two participants have reported serious gear trouble, but have dealt with the situations effectively and in a seamanlike manner. Bequia, skippered by Dennis Ronk of Elk Grove, California, a multi-race veteran, suffered a steering gear failure and has had to turn back to San Francisco.

Recidivist, doublehanded by Ken Olcott of Palo Alto and Larry Ho of Redwood City, suffered a broken forestay. The forestay is the wire that helps hold the mast up. However, as Recidivist is sailing downwind, the stress in the direction of the failure is relatively weak, and they were able to replace the forestay with a halyard normally used to hoist a sail. The intrepid pair is continuing to race to Hawaii under reduced sail. This not only keeps the competition going, but also keeps the boat aimed in the direction that provides the least stress on the mast.

Racer blogs, tracking and updates can be found on the race website at PacificCup.org.