This year’s Pac Cup was wind, wind and more wind. Getting out of Dodge that first day, the missing light wind ridge, north and south – there was good wind everywhere. The strong high north east of Hawaii and an unbroken string of Tropical Depressions created these strong winds across the whole course. And winds means waves. And yes, there were waves.
The first two days from a tight to beam reach was in 8 to 12 foot swells birthed in the Gulf of Alaska. Then several days of Northerlys down the California Coast threw another 4 to 6 foot wind waves on top. The good part is they were mostly in the same direction. The bad part is when they aligned, it meant green water on deck and every boat that said before the race they were “dry” found they were not. These big beam seas also resulted in likely 80 percent of all crew having a touch (or a lot) of mal de mer.
As we entered the middle section of the race, things got messy. The 4 to 6 foot swell – still from the north – joined 8 to 10 foot trade wind waves from the east and then the rare 5 to 8 footer from the south birthed in one of those Tropical Depressions. So, sizable waves from three directions made for a real mogul field of waves. When they all hit at the same times you could find yourself pooped from behind – standing in a foot of water when at the wheel – which had the positive effect of cleaning out the cockpit nicely. There was no need for taking turns with buckets cleaning the cockpit this year! When they aligned “just right”, you would find yourself falling off a 16 to 18-foot cliff into a deep dark hole – seeing boat speeds in the high teens in only 20 knots of wind. How many times can you have the spinnaker collapse back on the rig as you fall down the front of the wave, only to have it shock fill when you reached the bottom? How many times can you watch your bow pulpit disappear in a wave when you reach the bottom of that hole in the water before crying uncle? Most entrants found out in the mid- to later- half of the race as even their strongest kites started blowing up from this wave induced repetitive shock loading. And those snooker waves coming from the Tropicals to the south. A few times per day you would be hit broadside by one of those Tropical created waves from the south – born off Mexico - that if it hit you in the stern meant an “auto broach” and if it hit you in the bow meant and “auto round down”. And these waves were big heavy irresistible forces that any rudder or helmsman is ill equipped to counter.
And once in a while…. a helmsman dream would appear. Atop one of those 18 or so foot mountains, a pass through the mountain ahead of you would appear. So bow down, race down the first mountain, catch the pass through the second mountain before it closed up – with the boat in the mid-teens the whole way – a full minute or two. Call it double black diamond. Call it Le Mans. When at night and blind, call it just plain scary. And when you caught the rarest of the rare… a pass through 3 mountains… personal and boat speed records fell… 17k, 18k, 20k of boat speed and more – from boats everyone said were displacement and couldn’t/shouldn’t surf.
In a typical PacCup, the biggest steepest waves are the last 100 miles as you approach the islands – as the tradewind waves have had the most time to build them up and then the shallower water slows them down making for big short period waves. But you know this year was different – or maybe just felt different. After the “mine field” of waves in the middle of the course, and after the crews had figured out how to manage them through day, night and the occasional squall, the last miles went easy. Just another day on the Pacific Ocean.
This race did leave many of us wondering “so why do they call it the “pacific” ocean?
Note: Jim Quanci sailed this year's race a navigator on Encore.