Right way to Tahiti?

Rich Roberts reports on the progress of the Transpacific YC's latest race

Thursday June 26th 2008, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
A glance at the latest weather chart for the Transpacific Yacht Club’s 13th race to Tahiti suggests that it would be a great year to be sailing to Hawaii. For that’s exactly where the leaders were heading Wednesday, apparently looking for the narrowest part of the dreaded, windless 'Doldrums' on the equator before gybing south toward the South Pacific.

With this anticipated detour, Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80 sailed 86 miles between midnight and 6 a.m. Wednesday but made good only 42 miles toward Tahiti. Usually that course - a virtual rhumb line to Honolulu - would take them through the light winds of the Pacific High, but this year the High is much farther north.

The 73 boats in last year’s Transpac should have had it so good. Instead, with the Pacific High dipping deeply south, many of them spent the first half of the 2007 race on a course to ...Tahiti.

But the four boats sailing now weren’t complaining. With Mag 80 leading the way, Bob Lane’s Medicine Man, Chris Welsh’s Ragtime and Jim Morgan’s Fortaleza had fallen into line and, reaching in winds of 16 to 18 knots, they seemed to be having a wonderful time.

“Great sailing conditions,” Medicine Man e-mailed. “Sighted one humpback [whale], a few flying fish.”

Ragtime: “Chilly this AM. [Single sideband radio] back up, happy with that. Showers for all today, and we'll be better for it.”

Fortaleza: “Pole back and headed downhill. Generally lighter conditions, but seas beginning to get behind us.”

Earlier, in greater detail, Fortaleza reported in its blog: “Our second full day is done, and it was a good one. The spinnaker went up afternoon and we began to reach well. . . . At sundown, with the typical lull, we changed to a bigger spinnaker for the night. Jill [Morgan] took that opportunity to set our surf speed record at 15.1 kts.

“The night was perfect. Good speed on, with the stars out and turned up to 11. Jupiter was blinding in the vast sea of the Milky Way. As midnight rolled around, the moon rose, first appearing to look as a ghostly ship and then rising as a brilliant half marble. Only Jupiter left to contend with her as we steered on toward dawn. The spirits are high, the food is fantastic, and all is well.”

Ragtime’s Welsh checked in similarly: “Report from 500 miles SW of CA, 48 hours into the race. Blue skies, bluer waters, and gorgeous out. Nights are all stars, moon rises late. Saw a lone dolphin last night. Departure from Pt. Fermin was good after we broke out of the fog and got into wind. Made Catalina in 3 hours and kept going since then. . . . The Cortes Bank [was] in our way 100 miles out. Had to duck a fair amount to stay away from it and, since it was night, watched the GPS closely.

“Good news this AM: caught two squid (Darwin failures that outran the tuna chasing them by jumping into the boat). Fried one up for brekkie, saved one for evening appetizer. A few crew members troubled by the prospect, and Devin said it definitely did not taste like chicken.

“The Doldrums (sort of the miniature golf of sailing) lie ahead. If the door opens, and we scoot through, all good. But the door can reject you also and tell you to lose two turns waiting for wind.

“Since no trip would be without some drama, a deal scheduled for closing June 2 and delayed finally closed this AM, so there will be enough money for a cocktail when we get to Tahiti. I can't wait to do one race without an escrow open.

“Crew dynamics are very good, everyone in good cheer except apparently the last of the vinegar rinse in the fresh water tank did not get washed out and not everyone likes the flavor. Anyone for vinegar Crystal Light?”

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