Done and dusted

Rich Roberts looks back at the Transpacific Yacht Club's four boat race to Tahiti

Thursday July 10th 2008, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
All four boats shared in the glory in the first Tahiti Race in 14 years.

Doug Baker's Magnitude 80 claimed a new record - 11 days 10 hours 13 minutes 18 seconds - and Tahiti Yacht Club officials dusted off the Fritz Overton Perpetual Trophy for first to finish.

Bob Lane's Medicine Man and Chris Welsh's ageless Ragtime also beat Kathmandu's record of 14:21:15:26 set in 1994, while Ragtime and Jim Morgan's Fortaleza corrected out for first and second place overall on time-on-time handicap ratings.

But the numbers tell only part of the tale of sailing 3,571 nautical miles through the Doldrums and across the equator into the Southern Hemisphere, an achievement claimed by all Tahiti racers who have been transformed from Pollywogs into Shellbacks. More people have flown in space.

The race was organised by the Transpacific Yacht Club and hosted by the Tahiti Yacht Club at the deep end. It started in dense fog off Point Fermin at the edge of Los Angeles on June 22 and everyone finished not in French Polynesian sunshine but under dazzling starry skies.

Fortaleza, a Santa Cruz 50 that was the smallest boat in the fleet, closed the contest Wednesday morning when it crossed the finish line offshore from the Pointe Venus lighthouse near Papeete at 4:36 a.m. PDT (1:36 a.m. local time).

"We're finished!" was the clear, concise report from the boat.

Fortaleza's elapsed time of 16 days 15 hours 36 minutes 50 seconds - faster than all but one of the previous dozen race winners since 1925 - converted to 11:05:20:23 corrected time, about seven hours shy of overtaking Ragtime's 10:22:11:18.

For Fortaleza, it was a battle almost to the end. Morgan reported Tuesday: "Since my last update, conditions have improved. First, of course, they got worse in the afternoon with a further 20° header and wind to 28 knots and seas now climbing to eight feet and very short and confused. We were forced to take down the reacher and put up the #3, completely washing the foredeckmen. We were making course with about 10 degrees of leeway because of sliding sideways down the seas. Every watch was greeted with a bucket of water when they came up and [another] five minutes before bunk time.

"But as night fell, winds began to moderate and the seas began to settle. So, when I came up at 10 pm the deck was dry and I put on some rinsed clothes to enjoy the warm air. The moon is now a quarter full and brilliant, but still the stars are able to compete. Sitting on the high side and looking west, you notice that the stars making up the exclamation point that had the crescent moon as its dot a few nights ago seem to have moved. One also seemed to be curiously red.

"I went down to check and discovered that we had previously witnessed Mars, Saturn and Luna in alignment. Perhaps we should have had an astronomer aboard...might have been more use than looking at the weather models and forecasts. We also noticed that the twinkling red/white/green star that we thought must be an airplane two days ago was still there. Deneb twinkles beautifully and strange.

"Really a great night on the water. The driving had become easier and the heel angle less, all with the same speed. Occasionally, one could smell the faint scent of land on the air. Of course, just as I was moving back the hatch to go down, [I received] a full five gallons of seawater over the head.

"At 0830, just before dawn, we launched the spinnaker about five miles north of Mataiva. As the sun came up, the atoll came into view and we ate fresh cornbread and bacon as our last breakfast at sea. Jill [Morgan] did an amazing job all this trip. Never ate so well at sea."

(The Ragtime crew listed earlier omitted the name of an eighth member, Devin Vaughn, raising a point of irony.)

The Transpacific Yacht Race's award for the outstanding crew member on the boat with the fastest elapsed time is named for Devin's father, Don Vaughn, who crewed on the classic Windward Passage in the 1973 Transpac when it lost by 4.5 minutes - the closest first-place finish in race history - to an upstart wooden boat named... Ragtime.

Other members of the Ragtime crew this time were owner/skipper Chris Welsh, Daniel Caponetto, Genny Tulloch, Erik Berzins, Matt Padkerian, Hubie Laugharn and Mark Ivey.

Another note: Caponetto is 16, apparently the youngest person to sail the race this year ...or perhaps any year? There are no known records to verify that.

Tahiti Race 2008 final standings
1. Magnitude 80 (Andrews 80), Doug Baker, Long Beach, finished, elapsed time 11 days 10 hours 13 minutes 18 seconds (betters record of 14:21:15:26 by Kathmandu, Santa Cruz 70, Fred Kirschner, 1994); corrected time same.

2. Medicine Man (Andrews 63), Bob Lane, Long Beach, ET 13:08:35:23; CT 11:13:57:05.

3. Ragtime (Spencer 65), Chris Welsh, Newport Beach, ET 14:16:24:23; CT 10:22:11:18.

4. Fortaleza (Santa Cruz 50), Jim Morgan, Long Beach, 16:15:36:50; CT 11:05:20:23.

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