By Ronnie Simpson
From humble beginnings 40 years ago, the Pacific Cup yacht race has grown into an event that attracts top-tier sailing talent from not just the San Francisco Bay Area but from all over the United States and beyond. In the record-setting 2016 race, Jens Kellinghusen’s globe-trotting Ker 56 Varuna VI showed up from Germany and blitzed to Hawaii in less than six days. Two years later, the well-traveled and syndicate-owned Mills 68 Prospector from the East Coast sailed the fastest elapsed time and claimed the overall win.
In 2020, more than 60 yachts are preparing to leave their mark on the race. The appeal of sailing to Hawaii is attracting boats from all over the West Coast, the Midwest and overseas. A number of boats from Southern California make the multi-day journey up the coast to San Francisco for the Pacific Cup. This year we see a surge in Seattle and Pacific Northwest boats planning to journey down to the Bay to take part.
Marek Omilian of the Seattle-based TP 52 Sonic has recruited navigator David Rogers from the 2019 Transpac overall winner Hamachi and a host of talented Pacific Cup race veterans. With 2018 Pac Cup veteran Alex Semanis of Ballard Sails onboard as a watch captain and sailmaker, no stone is being left unturned in tricking out this former Med Cup boat with an inventory of sails to cover all the wind speeds and angles.
Michael Schoendorf’s distinctive Paul Bieker-designed Riptide 41 Blue rates with and races against 70-footers. Blue couldn’t quite sail to her rating in the relatively light conditions of 2018. If the breeze is up in 2020 and the speedster can live on a full plane, Blue could surf her way to the top of the rankings.
A couple of Pacific Northwest sleds are also champing at the bit to lay down quick tracks to Hawaii. Former race record-holder Rage, Dave Raney’s Wylie 70 from Portland, will return after sailing in the 2018 race. Another Portland-based 70-footer, the Santa Cruz 70 Pied Piper, has also entered.
Also from the Northwest comes a group of ‘30-something’ J/Boats. Karl Haflinger’s Tacoma, Washington-based J/35 Shearwater returns for her third consecutive Pacific Cup, but her first as a doublehanded entrant. After a humbling race during the crew- and gear-breaking 2016 race, Shearwater came back in 2018 and delivered a hard-earned thumping of the competition to take divisional honors in the Weems & Plath B division against a group of larger racer/cruisers.
Although they’ll race in different divisions, Shearwater should have a good battle against Chad Stenwick’s fully-crewed The Boss. Another Washington-based J/35, she’ll make the trip down for her first Pacific Cup. After sailing in the Victoria to Maui race in 2016 on a friend’s boat, Stenwick opted to buy his own boat and recruit some of his old crewmates to give it another go. Having already sailed a Vic-Maui, the crew was intrigued to tackle a new adventure.
The Boss and Shearwater will likely have their work cut out for them. Boats in this size and rating band have a high number of entries in the Pacific Cup, including another fully-crewed Seattle-based J/35, Jason Vannice’s Altair. Tolga Cezik of the Seattle-based J/109 Lodos told us that they’re looking forward to this Seattle showdown across the Pacific. “We are stoked to race against several other local Puget Sound boats in the same rating band, hopefully enjoying warm sunshine from start to finish. We can almost taste the mai tais already!”
A cruisier entry from the Evergreen State is Steve and Sherri Smolinske’s Bellevue-based Spencer 1330 True Love. They brought her back to life after 20 years of criminal neglect. A longtime group of friends and family will be sailing together after many other offshore races on a variety of boats. This will be the first big offshore race for the crew on True Love, recommissioned in 2018 after a four-year restoration. Among the crew are three couples and a father-daughter combo.
International entries come from as far away as Switzerland and Japan, while David Herring’s Islander 36 Galatea is being trucked all the way from Wisconsin. A native San Diegan who’s always dreamed of sailing to Hawaii, he and his crew — veterans of several challenging Trans-Superior races — have decided to come out West and try their hands at a long ocean race.
Another first-time entry, this one from Southern California, is Ian Sprenger’s Santa Cruz 27 Wilder. A lifelong sailor who grew up in Sausalito dreaming of the Pac Cup, Ian had to put his dream on hold for 13 years while serving in the Navy. As soon as he got out and started his civilian job as a pilot, he grabbed a good mate and began preparing for the race. ‘Wilder’ is a good name for the disposition of anyone who chooses to doublehand a small ULDB to Hawaii.
Doug Baker’s Long Beach-based Kernan 68 Peligroso has to be the fleet’s scratch boat and favorite to claim the fastest elapsed time. With a timeless hull form, a proven pedigree and no shortage of speed, Peligroso is a veteran of multiple Hawaii races. She’s sporting a highly experienced and very pro’d-up crew.
We wish all of these out-of-town boats — as well as the locals — the very best of luck in the 21st running of “The FUN race to Hawaii.”