The Origins of the Transpac Race

The originator of Transpacific Yacht racing, the late Clarence MacFarlane of Honolulu, corresponded with yachtsmen of San Francisco and Los Angeles prior to 1906 and succeeded in interesting several mainland yachtsmen in a race to Honolulu. On April 14, 1906, he sailed his 48' schooner, LA PALOMA, from Honolulu to San Francisco to join them in a race back to Waikiki. However, he arrived 27 days after the “Great Earthquake” to find the idea of a race from the Golden Gate out of the question. At the suggestion of H.H. Sinclair, he sailed to Los Angeles to join the LURLINE and the ANEMONE for the first Honolulu Race which started from San Pedro on June 11, 1906. Since that memorable date, there have been 44 Honolulu Races; of these; 39 have started from San Pedro, two from Santa Barbara, and one from Balboa, San Francisco, and Santa Monica. This biennial race has proved to be one of the most popular sailing events in the world.

The first Tahiti Race, sailed from San Francisco in 1925, was the longest race ever sailed by yachts. Four boats raced 3,687 miles. In 1953, the second race to Tahiti started from San Pedro. A total of 72 entries have participated in this race to the south seas; the largest fleet raced in 1970 with 14 boats. The elapsed time record of 17:07:57:57, set by TICONDEROGA in 1964, stood until broken by KATHMANDU in 1994, with a new time of 14:21:15:26.

Although the Transpacific races originated in the same year as the Bermuda Race, the Transpacific Yacht Club agreed in 1936 to hold its Honolulu races during odd-numbered years, establishing a precedent which has been followed since the 1939 race. Prior to 1930, the Honolulu and Tahiti races had been staged by various yacht clubs on the West Coast and Honolulu. In the summer of 1928, a group of Transpac Race participants conceived the idea of forming a club to sponsor the races. This was the beginning of the Transpacific Yacht Club, which was formally incorporated in 1937.

Through the mid 90’s, a modified version of the IOR measurement rule was used for handicap purposes. Except for the first few hours, the race is largely off-the-wind and is, therefore, most favorable to light-weight, planing-type hulls that will sail far above their theoretical hull speed and rating. Bursts of sustained surfing speeds well over 20 knots are not unusual for relatively small boats. In an effort to compensate other types of boats, the Transpac Race applies penalties and limitations on ultra-light, one-purpose boats. In the 1989 race, a division was introduced for yachts rated under the IMS Rule. With increased IMS entries in the 1991 race, the IMS fleet was divided into two classes, A and B.

The 1991 race saw two major innovations: sponsorship by Kenwood Corporation, and a split start, with IOR Classes B and C and IMS Class B starting two days ahead of the IOR and IMS Class A fleets. This helped to compress the finish, which in a slow race would otherwise have likely been stretched over a longer period of waiting for those already in Honolulu. since 2001 a modified version of IMS and Americap have been used as the basis for the Transpac Race rating rule.

However, no rule is perfect and if the wind doth stop blowing after the large boats finish, they will win the prizes; but the tradewinds usually increase closer to the islands, and therein lies the challenge of the race.