2012- Many Surprises

The start date of July 16, the latest in recollection of its participants, was designed to avoid the light and uncertain winds that are often found earlier in the Summer.  Instead, great sailing was to be found several weeks earlier, during the Singlehanded Transpac, while Pac Cuppers in the early part of the week ventured out into a near desert of wind, doomed to wander for several days waiting for the wind to fill in on Wednesday and Thursday.

The more confident starting breezes of Thursday virtually guaranteed that the overall winner would come from the later-starting fastest boats, but even there there would be some surprises, as it turned out.  Once well off, virtually all participants had enough wind to move toward Hawaii at a respectable pace.  As in 2010, the favored course was considerably to the north of the typical “south-of-rhumbline” approach.  Many boats clove to the “Great Circle” course – the shortest path to Hawaii, while others ventured rather far north of it in search of better winds and optimal routes.

A few boats turned back or dropped out as the wind, or their equipment, or even their crew, did not meet the needs of their passage and schedules.  No major damage, and no serious injuries, just the usual quota of skippers making the decision that “this is not the time for us.”

Kotuku in a Round DownFor those that carried on, the weather was a patchwork of anomalies.  Many boats reported light squall-like systems, brushing the boats with moisture rather than drenching them with rain, and providing only a modest bump in windspeed.  Others, not far away, reported rain of “Biblical proportions” and winds of 30 knots and above – enough to command the respect of any sailor on any body of water.  See Kotuku's round-down to the right!  Looks normal till you notice the horizon.

Our weather guy, Lee Chesneau explained that some of these oddities were the result of an upper-level low, creating disturbances across a wide area.  Whatever the reason, it created a more challenging course, as many racers opted for more conservative sail plans, particularly at night, rather than deal with some of the sudden changes that came up.

Surprises aside, most agreed that it was a generally benign crossing.  While a few boats encountered unpleasant wave action coming from directly south, where tropical storms were churning things up, most encountered only modest seas, making driving comparatively easy.  The early moonless nights, with any starlight concealed by a cloud cover, on the other hand, created a new challenge, demanding extra skill and drivers’ sensitivity to wind shifts and the heave and sway of the boat to keep the spinnakers full and the boat pointed in the right direction.

In the latter half of the race, the moon rose to provide illumination and, for a part of the night, a silvery highway on the water pointing straight at Kaneohe Bay.

It was in this later part of the race that spirits really rose.  In their blogs, in the 5pm radio net, and aboard the boat, cheerful banter and aggressive racing was evident.  The cold, slatting, and nausea of the first few days was forgotten as the race settled down in earnest.  Now was the time for more careful calculus.  Not only must the skipper and navigator consider optimal winds for their boat’s theoretical performance, they must also consider the actual capabilities of the crew on any given day.  From Maggie, we got this thoughtful analysis:

One mistake we definitely made was flying our 3/4 oz spinnaker all night on Day 5. We now refer to this night as “Speed Racer Night”, because of the insane attention to wind direction and wild helmsmanship that it took to keep to boat from rounding up/down or blowing up the kit[e]. While we gained three hours on our competition, we burned the crew out. In retrospect, I think the kite was simply untrimmed and squirrely. If we were going to fly spinnaker all night, we should have flying our heavy and flat, 1.5 oz spinnaker (affectionately known as Georgia Pacific because she’s as tough and as flat as a piece of plywood). We made 191 miles that day but really burned up the crew.

Minor damage occurred on a few boats.  Cassiopeia suffered a broken gooseneck, likely contributing to her second-place finish.  California Condor hit something solid (“if it was water, it was frozen water” said one crew) leading to some hull delamination and possibly stretched rod rigging (this is hard to do), but not impeding her progress much.  Generally, our fleet arrived safe and sound.

Division E boats at the startFirst to arrive was Icon, the 66 foot Perry design.  Icon received the “Fastest Passage” award, but correcting under our handicap rules to lower in her division, Division E.  She was quickly followed by the J/125 Double Trouble, who had put in a stellar performance including two 300 mile days and initially correcting out to first overall.  Unfortunately, an inadvertent prohibited use of certain tracker data violated the race rules, and DT was assessed a time penalty that caused her to be scored lower in the division.

Swazik, under skipper Sebastian de Halleux, a Swan 45, took top honors for her eight day, 22 hour crossing.  With the time adjustments for handicaps, this well-prepared and well-sailed boat collected a fair amount of hardware and the applause of fellow racers at the awards gala Friday.

A full table of results can be found here, and a discussion of the special awards, such as the Family Trophy (Andromeda) and the Team Trophy (Richmond Yacht Club) can be found here.