Six day Transpac

Rich Roberts looks ahead of the centenial Transpacific Yacht Race

Monday February 9th 2004, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: Transoceanic
The Transpacific Yacht Race will soon be a centenarian among the world's great sailing traditions where bigger and faster speed machines share the experience with family type boats.

In its day Windward Passage was both. Now it was guest of honor for the weekend's biennial dinner meeting of the Transpacific Yacht Club membership at Newport Harbor Yacht Club, where outgoing Commodore Brad Avery turned over leadership to Jerry Montgomery on a high note.

The Centennial Transpac will be the 43rd race in the biennial series since the first in 1906. It was interrupted twice by World Wars. The 57 boats representing a record nine countries in last year's race were an 18-year high that Montgomery saw as the beginning of a resurgence for the event.

"We hope to increase the number of boats," Montgomery told an audience of about 300. "In this last race we went back to our roots with boats that we see sailing regularly. Now we're working with a number of classes to do what the Cal 40s did."

Montgomery hopes to see even more than the 10 Cal 40s that, through the efforts of new board member Wendy Siegal, resurrected their glory of the 60s by establishing their own class.

Windward Passage and the former Mir - now Miramar - have been beautifully restored but are not expected to race. They were the dockside centerpieces for the affair. Windward Passage is legend for owner/skipper Robert Johnson losing the 1969 race on a time penalty imposed for a starting incident, then claiming first to finish, corrected time and record time honors two years later with Mark Johnson sailing in his late father's place.

Mir is best known, also from 1969, as the only boat ever to finish the race sailing backwards - a sail flying from its mizzen mast after losing its main mast in a knockdown near the finish line.

In 2005, as always, while any boat will be eligible to win the Governor of Hawaii Trophy for best corrected handicap time overall, only a few will chase the Barn Door, the unique slab of koa wood that goes to the monohull with the fastest elapsed time. Philippe Kahn's Pegasus maxi sleds have won the last two, but next year the new maxZ86 boats will be the ones to beat.

Three are scheduled to go: The DeVos family's Zephryus V and two others recently launched: Roy Disney's fourth Pyewacket and Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory, the latter two with state of the art canting bulb twin foil (CBTF) technology.

For ratings purposes, Montgomery said, "The maxZ86s will be at the top end of the fleet. Any other boat rating equal or less than them will be eligible to race."

And how fast do the maxZ86s rate? Bill Lee, the entries chairman who led the 'sled' revolution with Merlin and his line of Santa Cruz 70s, brought gasps from the crowd.

"These are potentially six-day boats," Lee said.

The record for the 2,225-nautical mile race from Los Angeles to Honolulu is 7 days 11 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds set by Pyewacket in 1999. Bruno Peyron's 86ft catamaran Explorer clocked 5:19:18:26 in 1997.

Lee, who spent a few days sailing on the new Pyewacket in New Zealand, also cautioned, "One thing about these boats is that they're complicated, like race cars. Don't buy one unless you know how to drive it."

The 2005 race will start later than it has in many years, waiting beyond the usual Fourth of July getaway until later when, Montgomery said, "the moon will be in a much more favorable phase."

Division 5 for the smallest boats and the Aloha class will start on July 11, followed by Divisions 3 and 4 on July 15 and Divisions 1 and 2 on July 17.

The Aloha class, conceived for the '97 race, is a legacy of the late Hugh Lamson, a TPYC board member who championed the development of 'cruising' classes in Southern California racing in the early 90s. They soon outperformed their original designation as 'cruisers' with some extraordinary feats of seamanship and are now better described as throwbacks to the Transpac's classic days before fiberglass and ultralights when crews sat down for dinner and slept in real bunks every night. When it became evident that weight was a detriment to speed in what is essentially a downwind race, many competitors tossed such refinements overboard.

That's why, Lee said, in the Aloha and the smaller classes "there is lots of potential in Transpac for what I call an owner-operated boat."

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