Four to Tahiti

Rich Roberts reports on the peasouper start to the Transpacific Yacht Club's new race

Monday June 23rd 2008, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
Four boats started the Transpacific Yacht Club’s 13th Tahiti Race Sunday in a dense offshore fog off the Point Fermin bluffs. To further disorient observers, the onshore breeze was only 3-6 knots and the Los Angeles Yacht Club’s race committee boat, Warrior, was pointing downwind toward land into a favorable current, not toward Santa Catalina Island 22 miles out.

But the competitors had it figured out, especially Bob Lane’s Medicine Man. With Keith Ives driving, the bright blue Andrews 63 ducked Magnitude 80’s transom seconds before the horn and hit the line steaming on a strong port tack, closely followed by Chris Welsh’s Spencer 65, Ragtime.

Doug Baker’s Andrews 80, Mag 80, and Jim Morgan’s Santa Cruz 50, Fortaleza, started and stayed on starboard tack and disappeared into the fog, presumably to tack to port before too long to clear the west end of Catalina, the first mark of the 3,571-nautical mile course.

Chairman and principal race officer Dave Cort said later: “We didn’t have anybody over early, and I was really surprised to see all the spectator boats out there, especially given the conditions. You not only couldn’t see Catalina; you couldn’t even see Point Fermin [a half-mile in].”

The cool fog temperature was refreshing for those who had spent the past week in Southern California wilting in a heat wave of 100 degrees (F.)-plus that ushered in the first weekend of summer. But it will be a short summer for the 37 sailors in the race. In a week or so they’ll sail out of the season from the Northern Hemisphere into the early autumn of the Southern Hemisphere.

Maybe then their rare adventure of a race will completely sink in. Only a few have crossed the equator under sail, as they will in this resurrection of the historic run to the South Pacific. They’ll finish offshore from the Pointe Venus lighthouse near Papeete in a span of about 11 to 18 days.

“I’m looking forward to getting to Tahiti,” said Genny Tulloch, 23, the only woman on Ragtime and one of only two women in the race, along with Jill Morgan, wife of the Fortaleza skipper.

Tulloch’s previous Pacific experience was as the only woman on Morning Light, the Transpac 52 sailed by 11 young people in last year’s Transpac as a Roy E. Disney film documentary project due for release in October.

“The boats couldn’t be more different,” Tulloch said, “especially sailing on Ragtime, which is a legend. What a great way to go to Tahiti!”

The elapsed time record for the race, first run in 1925, is 14 days 21 hours 15 minutes 26 seconds set by the late Fred Kirschner’s Santa Cruz 70, Kathmandu, in the most recent race in 1994. Magnitude 80 is projected to break it by two or three days and, in good conditions, all four boats could eclipse it.

But there could be a snag in the plan. The trickiest part when crossing the equator is traversing the Doldrums where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet and tend to rise, which is good for ballooning but lousy for sailing.

Here’s the bad news from Magnitude 80 navigator, Ernie Richau, as of two days before the start: “Just in the past week the Doldrums have expanded from 80 [nautical] miles to 320 miles.”

Well, nobody said it was supposed to be easy.

On the bright side, the skippers talked about their upcoming adventure with far more anticipation than trepidation. Medicine Man’s Bob Lane talked about his crew at Friday night’s send-off dinner at Los Angeles Yacht Club.

“I’m fortunate to have sailed with some of these guys for 20 years,” Lane said. “We really enjoy getting out and sailing together.”

Ragtime’s Chris Welsh: “The boat has done more Transpacs [a record 14] than the whole crew put together. I guess we have the oldest boat and the youngest crew [average age 34].”

Fortaleza’s Jim Morgan: “We probably have the oldest crew”---all members of the Los Angeles Yacht Club.

Finally, veteran navigator John Jourdane, who has done 49 Pacific crossings including several equatorials but won’t be doing this one, told the group: “Tahiti is the most enjoyable. Take care of your boat, take care of your crew - and take care of the ocean. Don’t throw anything overboard.”

Overall, the race will be scored on a special TPYC Tahiti time-on-time (not time-on-distance) rating issued by US Sailing, based on the mainly offwind Tahiti Wind Matrix and a Pacific Swell adjustment.

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