July Update

I’ve just finished racing in the Transpac, a 2250 mile race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, on the Santa Cruz 70 Holua. Held every two years, it’s a downwind race that takes about 8-10 days, and is considered one of the real Classic distance races.

This is one of the rare distance races that I do, as I mainly focus on short course buoy racing. So it’s a bit of an adventure for me, and I absolutely loved it. Not ready to do it full time, but as the occasional race, it’s great.

Our boat sailed with eight crew, doing 3 hour watches at night, and 4 hours during the day. Pre-made frozen diners for the first two nights, then it’s freeze dried for the remainder; just add boiling water, let sit 30 minutes, and then eat. Not bad actually. Sandwiches in the day, and oatmeal or cereal in the mornings, and lots of coffee and snacks.

Here is my list of the highlights and the not-so highlights, of the race.

The Highlights:
– the first night out, no moon because of cloud cover, pitch black, very light air drifting, and then hearing this huge exhale of a whale right next to us
– day 2, blowing 18+, reaching at speed, at night with no moon, doing a sail change, driving with full concentration, and then Dolphins start jumping all around us, playing with the boat
– driving at night in pitch black conditions, blowing 20 knots, A3 spinnaker up, confused waves that you can not see, and processing everything to have the boat sailing at peak speeds. Taking in the wind pressure on your face, seeing the heel angle, seeing the curl of the A3, reading the digital info of True Wind Angle and Boat Speed, and constantly processing it all, and steering the boat on that fine line. Fantastic challenge, and a blast to get right.
– day 3, pitch black at night again, not as windy and rough, and the dolphins are back. But this time they are not jumping, you just see them coming and going like torpedoes, leaving these awesome trails of phosphorescent under water. Never seen anything like it before.
– working together as a team with seven other guys to get it done. Waking up during your off-watch to help with a sail change, taking your turn at packing the kite, working as a team doing a maneuver at night.
– sailing along during the day and seeing nothing, nothing, but endless water and open space, and seeing ourselves in the middle of the ocean on this little boat. Gives you a different perspective on the world, and on life.
– day 4, blowing 20+, 1am, and the call is to do a gybe onto port, drop the kite, back down to get kelp off our rudder, then re-hoist the A2 without repacking it, on a 70 footer, with eight guys, at night. Ok, got it! I’m driving, we transfer pole, call the ease and cut, gybe and fill the kite perfectly. Nice. Now kite down, spin the boat into the wind, strap the main on center, get her going backwards for 2 seconds, then deploy staysail to get the bow down, re-hoist the A2, and back up to speed. Done, in under 2 minutes. Awesome.
– day 5, now on the long port gybe, three different swell directions, but all going with us, blowing 20-25, and it’s a surfing dream. Hours and hours of just carving it up, connecting one surf to the next, finding the rhythm that keeps the boat flying. It’s like a ski slope, down Mount Everest. It’s like eating ice cream, with no calories or fat. It’s just too good to be true. A downwind sailors dream.
– the Santa Cruz 70, designed by Bill Lee of Santa Cruz, for the sole purpose of going downwind fast. Big rudder, big wheel, and a raised steering platform so you have the perfect view of the waves. As old as the design may be, it’s a brilliant boat for this race, and a joy to drive.
– day 6, now with a 1/2 moon, water lit up nicely, blowing 25, get woken for the 1030-130 night watch, main, staysail, and the A2+ flying, 150 true wind angle, 3 guys on deck, me driving, one guy trimming, and one cranking the handles, big swells from the remnants of Hurricane Dolores and TS Enrique, and just ripping along at 15-20 knots, surfing and hauling butt under brilliant moonlight. It does not get any better than this.

Ok, and now for the not-so highlights:
– getting a call at 230am the morning of the race start and being told our navigator is in the hospital and can not race. Yes, that navigator, the most important crew on an offshore race, the one that’s supposed to help you find Hawaii.
– hitting Kelp Island at 1am the first night and having to back down 3 times to clear it all off our keel, strut, and rudder.
– not being able to shower for 9 days. A bucket of salt water and some Dove Dish soap on the transom on day 7 when it was calm was a special treat.
– after not seeing any garbage for the first three days, the amount of plastic in the water on days 4 – 6 was unbelievable. We all need to make noise about this or our oceans will be a dump, and the sea life, and us that eat it, will suffer.
– being half way to Hawaii, and the engine batteries go dead. No engine, no watermaker, no instruments, no good! An hour later, some rope around the flywheel and led up to the winches, and we got the puppy started.
– the night shifts towards the end of the race became a real struggle. Watches were 3 hrs on, 3 off, but not always easy to sleep on your off-watch with all the noise and racket, or the heat below in the day.

Hawaii finally came into view at 6am on our 9th day, and we sailed in to finish 6th overall of some 60 boats, just 15 minutes out of 5th, and 45 minutes out of third, after nine days of racing, all without a navigator to help us better read the weather and play a more tactical race.

A fantastic race and experience that I hope to do again.

Now straight from Hawaii I am in route on a very long flight to Palma Majorca Spain to race on a TP52 in the Copa del Rey. From a 9 day race, to short intense buoy racing in one of the hottest classes should be an interesting transition.


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