July 23, 2010

Pacific Cup 2010 Wrap-Up – Winners and More Winners

Of course everyone who finishes, or even starts, the Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii is a winner, but some of our winners also got trophies for winning a little faster. The 2010 race was, to put it mildly, different.  The entry list had several points of note, but all will agree that the big story was the weather.

Entry List.  55 entries qualified to race, starting with a pair of our smallest ever entries, the 21-foot Mini Transats designed for Atlantic Ocean racing, to the long waterline of the Santa Cruz 70, built for speed.  Most of the entrants clustered in the forty to fifty foot range.  Depending on the specifics of the boat, this can be an affordable family vessel, manned by mom, dad, and the kids, or it can be an all-out racing machine including professional crew like Chip Megeath’s Criminal Mischief.  Fourteen of the entrants doublehanded, sailing with just two crew aboard. 

Our youngest team -- James Clappier and Cody Spruce, each 21 -- raced on Furthur, a Santa Cruz 27 they bought for $5000 and worked like mad to prepare and then truck from Florida to California for the start.  None of our crews declared themselves the oldest.

Many boats raced with multiple family members aboard, including Andromeda, racing out of Mexico, with father Antonio Luttman aboard along with daughter Ana and others, and Rapid Transit, with James and Cree Partridge and other members of their family. Dart was a father/son effort, with dad John Crutcher celebrating his 76th birthday during the race.

Our international contingent, in addition to Andromeda, the Swan 59 racing out of Mexico, included two Canadian boats: Whistler V and Scaramouche V.  From down under: Limit, the splendid racing machine with an Aussi/Kiwi crew and one Irishman.  Peru brought us Mirage, skippered by Hector Velarde out of the confusingly-named Waikiki Yacht Club of Peru.

Strange Weather, Odd Courses.  In a normal race year, skippers and navigators know that a predictable phenomenon called the Pacific High will form at about the time of the race.  This offshore zone of high pressure has fine weather with very little breeze at its center.  It’s the kind of weather you’d like to vacation in, and sailors whose courses take them too close will find themselves there for a prolonged period.  Normally, however, the high is surrounded by clockwise winds that get stronger as you move away from the center.  This leads most racers to seek an optimum course sailing in an arc south of the shortest distance to Hawaii, but designed to find strong enough wind to propel their boats at maximum speed.

Not this year.  While a high-pressure zone appeared to form near its usual spot, another weather system well to the south shifted the traditional “race” winds well to the north.  The few boats who adopted the traditional southerly route soon found themselves running out of “gas” and were forced to head back north just to keep moving.  “You lied to us,” mock-complained one racer to the Pacific Cup commodore, who had spent much of the pre-race preparation time expounding on the virtues of a conservative southern course.

As a testament to the impact of weather information and routing software available to sailors, virtually all racers adopted their northerly courses early in the race, to one degree or another.  Back on shore, race officials were startled to see, day after day, that the courses taken were all north of the “rhumb line,” a straight line on the map from start to finish, generally viewed as the northernmost sensible course.  The final group of starters, the fastest boats in Division E, took the northerly plan to an extreme, in some cases sailing slightly away from Hawaii as they positioned themselves north for their drive to the finish line 2070 miles away.

But Wait, There’s Less.  Had the challenge of wind distribution been the only one, it would have been an interesting enough race.  However, each group of racers faced an additional challenge:  immediately offshore, there was virtually no wind.  A 50-100 mile dead zone, of virtually no breeze, trapped the racers, constraining their speeds to a fraction of their normal progress.  Some spent several days in this dispiriting weather, losing race time and rocking.  The rocking is not only wearing on the crew, but also can cause damage to the boat as sails repeatedly empty and fill causing repeated shock loads to the entire system.  This “slatting” was likely responsible for a fair share of damage suffered by several of the boats, leading some to turn back at this early stage with damage or with a view of their schedules that predicted a finish after they could afford.

By a few days in, however, the boats that were continuing had escaped the clutches of the coastal zone and were on their way.  Now a new set of challenges arose.  The southerly weather system had not only moved the normal winds, it had compressed them.  Multi-race veterans called this one of the windiest Pacific Cups they could recall, comparing it to the inaugural race in 1980.  Powerful 30-knot breezes alternated with periods of light air to average, in some cases, an ideal 15 knot breeze, but only on paper.  “Exhausting” and “terrifying” were terms used by some racers to describe certain passages of the race.

Racing in the Dark.  Adding to the challenge was the difficulty of racing at night.  Race officials had selected start dates based on outgoing currents at the Golden Gate Bridge, reluctantly picking a period with very little moonlight.  Night driving can be a challenge, but starlight, with a few augmentations, can be enough to manage things.  A small side-benefit to the lack of the moonlight was that the breathtaking panorama of the night sky’s starscape, no longer visible in populated areas would be displayed to our racers in all its glory.  The communications boat, VALIS, and its skipper Paul Eliott, were prepared with star discussions obtained from the SETI Institute to help augment the enjoyment of nature’s finery.

We didn’t count on clouds.  Not just a puffy few clouds for detail, the racers sailed most of the race under a leaden overcast that blocked sun and stars.  “We sailed in warm clothes and foul weather gear till the last two days,” said one racer.  The darkness was blamed by several racers for some of the “carnage” that some of the boats suffered.  While a certain amount of gear breakage is normal and to be expected, it did appear that the 2010 race had more than its fair share of boat damage, perhaps making up for the almost trouble-free 2008 race.  In the dark, it’s hard to see the spinnaker, leading to the possibility of a “round down” or other sailing accident which can break spars or other parts of the boat.

Arrival.  Despite the many challenges, the strong winds brought the racers to the welcoming arms of Kaneohe Yacht Club sooner than hoped.  First finisher Horizon, racing out of Dana Point, California, arrived late Friday night, July 16, having raced only eight days, eleven hours, with fellow racers arriving like clockwork over the next few days.  The race committee had planned for most boats to begin arriving Tuesday, but by Monday, virtually the entire fleet was tied up or anchored out at the finish line host club.  As more and more boats crossed the finish line, and picked their ways through the reef and around the sandbars and coral heads of Kaneohe Bay to moor safely, the community sense of satisfaction and accomplishment grew.  Stories exchanged and shared experiences, even when separated by hundreds of miles or a few days, only strengthened the bonds.Small items in common, such as being smacked by a flying fish (or in one case a squid), and the challenges of hygiene and maintenance on an offshore situation, vied as conversation topics with the major and serious challenges and experiences such as dealing with squalls that double windspeed while drenching you with rain.  Speculative discussions about what designs would be better for the race abound.  A frequent topic, of course, had been the situation on boats that had suffered damage.  Some boats had endured enough damage that they had turned back, while others were forced to slow down considerably.  Poco Loco, had a broken spinnaker rig that catapulted her into last place in her division, and Trial Run, had a cracked gooseneck, joining the mast to the boom (as well as a small electrical fire, we have learned after arrival).  California Condor, crewed by a talented and well-known and liked team, had suffered rudder failure, always a concern in these races and the subject of a fair amount of bar discussion.

As befits a race with an emphasis on preparation, all the crews overcame their obstacles and made it to their chosen destination.  Greeting teams at Kaneohe met the racers with leis and trays of maitais and pineapple, the warm smiles of friends, and the loving embraces of family.  Several groups have been overheard planning their run at the race for 2012.

By Division

Double-Handed 1.  Crewed by only two, this slower of the two double-handed divisions started with six boats.  Cal 40 Nozomi, from southern California, was first across the line and first to the Golden Gate Bridge.  “That was the last time Moonshine wasn’t in first place,” noted Nozomi’s Rowena Carlson.  Moonshine, a Dog Patch 26, skippered by Dylan Benjamin, took first, followed by Furthur and Nozomi.

Double-Handed 2.  Carl Schumacher’s design, the Express 27, claimed honors in this division, with Tule Fog (Steve Carroll) taking top honors and Great White, skippered by Rachel Fogel in second.  In addition to her Weems and Plath clock trophy, Rachel will be collecting a wedding ring from her first mate J.P Sirey, as the pair announced their engagement midway through the race.  Love must agree with them, as they then moved from fifth place to second.  In third was Pocket Rocket, the 21-foot Mini Transat skippered by Emma Creighton.  Impressively, Emma was using the Pacific Cup as a warm-up for an anticipated 4500-mile Mini-Transat campaign in Europe to begin next year.

Division A.  In some ways the heart of the Pacific Cup, Division A boasts the family racers as well as the slower-rated racing boats.  It includes the venerable Cal 40 class (fully crewed this time) and our communications boat, VALIS.  First place went to Nancy, a WylieCat 30 skippered by Pat Broderick.  This boat is unusual for the race as it has only one sail, making it generally easier to handle, but quite a handful, it’s reported, in heavy winds.  Shawn Ivie’s well-named Friction Loss corrected out to second, while Green Buffalo, the family effort by multi-race veterans Mary Lovely and Jim Quanci horned its way in to third.

Division B.  Sweet Okole, provided a sweet ride for experienced skipper Dean Treadway and her crew, taking first.  This lovely cold-molded Farr 36 is carefully maintained with a clear finish, revealing the beautiful wood grain of the boat’s construction.  The zippy Sydney 32 Relentless took Greg Paxton and Arnold Zippel to second, while Steve Hill, usually a single-hander, took his Coyote and crew to third.

Division C. Uncontrollable Urge, skippered by James and Chris Gilmore, a Columbia 30 Sport, skipped its way to first.  The Synergy 1000 was back to win more trophies at the Pac Cup, with Summer Moon taking second for Joshua Grass, and Spellbound, an Olson 40 bewitched third place for skipper Bob Gardiner.

Division D – The winningest division:  Horizon will be awarded the broom tonight for her clean sweep.  First in division, first to finish, and first overall.  Nice work for the Bill Lee-designed Santa Cruz 50 skippered by Jack Taylor.  A second SC-50, Deception, led by first-timer Bill Helvestine and whose crew included his wife of two weeks, won second.  J World’s Hula Girl, the SC-50 raced by Paul Cayard in 2008 and operated as a training/teaching boat out of Alameda’s J World sailing school danced her way to third, trading positions frequently with DeceptionHorizon, on the other hand, took first early on and never let go.  Observers agreed that Division D’s Thursday start was the best weather to start in with the light offshore conditions having improved slightly.

Division E – Really Fast Boats:  The breathtaking designs and speeds of division E made for some interesting boatwatching this year.  Philippe Kahn’s Pegasus MotionX-50 not only racked up some impressive mileage with days above 400 miles, but also shared the entire experience with many around the world through internet postings of videos and navigational data.  Alan Brierty’s Limit showed itself to be the fastest boat in the fleet, winning fastest passage honors and completing the race in less than seven days.  Neither boat, however, was able to beat its handicap.  First in division on corrected time (and second overall) went to Criminal Mischief, an R/P 45 out of Tiburon and skippered by Chip Megeath.  Chip has been collecting trophies to bring back to his home Corinthian Yacht Club for several years now.  Mirage, the Santa Cruz 70 from Peru, quietly  sped to second place in seven and a half days.  Mayhem, a Transpac 52 helmed by Ashley Wolfe collected third place.  Ashley also announced her engagement immediately after the finish.  Her fiancé, a member of the crew, had reportedly been planning to pop the question at the start, but was persuaded to defer till the finish, just in case the answer was not as expected.