Entries to Transpac 50: A study in contrasts and similarities

Unlike most buoy race regattas, classic ocean races  attract a wide variety of entries. Skippers bring that wide variety because their “hardware” (boats) may be different, but the “software” (people) are the same in their desire to enjoy the experience, challenge themselves, and build camaraderie and rapport among friends and crew mates.

Two recent entries to Transpac 50 demonstrate this similarity and contrast perfectly.

For hardware, take for example the Eddy family’s Cal 40 Callisto, designed in the 1960’s and built locally in Southern California, and compare it to Franco Niggeler’s Cookson 50 Kuku 3, designed in the early years of this century by Farr Yacht Design and built at Cookson in New Zealand. Both are ocean-going sloops and weigh about 15,000 lbs, but their similarities end right there: while the Cal 40 may have been state of the art fifty years ago with its graceful lines, moderate displacement (for the era) and spade rudder, its not easy to push her speedometer into double digits.

In contrast, the Cookson 50’s narrow hull form, supporting the same displacement but with an extra 10 feet of length, a carbon mast and a canting keel make it one of the fastest monohulls of its size in the world today. Double-digit boat speeds appear in its polar performance plots in only 10 knots of wind.

Between these two, the software aboard is different as well, but the human values are the same.

The Eddys are an established clan from Newport Beach, California. They have a long history in Southern California racing on Callisto, which is Hull #50, built in 1966. Callisto is a five-time Cal 40 class champion with two Transpacs under previous owners. In these last 35 years of Eddy ownership, the boat’s only Honolulu race was in 2005, the Centennial Transpac that also summoned the class to rise to a special occasion. But even if you subtract Callisto’s active regional racing schedule, the boat has never been idle. The Eddys reckon they have done some 350 trips from home port to Catalina Island, crossing the channel from the mainland hubbub to a world of dolphins, blue whales, and crying seabirds. It is not only competition that calls people to sea, or rewards them while they are there.

While the boat may have only done 3 previous races to Hawaii, the Callisto team of family and friends has deep roots in both Transpac and Pacific Cup history: Jim Eddy has done 5 previous races and brother Park 7 races. Among friends and crewmates count Kerry Deaver’s 8 races and Frederic Berg’s 4 races. Another Eddy brother, Andy, may also join them for the 50th edition next year. Being an amateur-only team, Callisto would qualify for the new Corinthian division in the race.

More than just through his participation in sailing, Jim gives back to the race by serving as the Treasurer and Vice Commodore of Transpacific YC, helping to guide the organization through its ongoing successes in hosting this ocean racing classic.

“We had 14 Cal 40's in the 2005 Transpac,” said Jim. “It was a blast!  Cal 40s were made for Transpac. We urge more to join the competition and the fun.” Jim’s plea is being heard, as the Cal 40 entries are steadily climbing, with 7 currently signed up and no doubt more to come.

In contrast, Franco Niggeler hails from half a world away in the beautiful Swiss Alps near the border with Italy, and he has explored many corners of the sport for years: from sailing small fast foiling A Class cats on alpine lakes, to an active campaign racing in the Melges 24 Class, to building a unique offshore-capable 40-foot Doug Schickler-designed boat called Kuka-Light, and now to his offshore campaigns racing on Kuka 3.

Niggeler is conversant in 8 languages and counts among his sailing friends high-powered pro sailors like Glenn Ashby from Australia (AC-winning helmsman of ETNZ team in Bermuda last year), who used to race cats with him on the Swiss-Italian lakes, to Roberto “Chuny” Bermudez de Castro from Spain, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the last Volvo Ocean Race, to another top Spaniard, Gonzalo Araujo, who has been a champion in everything from small keelboats to TP 52’s to Volvo Ocean Race classes.

Despite surrounding himself with such high-caliber talent, Franco says at least a third of his team are his Italian and Swiss amateur sailing friends. He says it's a great balance in the social dynamic of the team.

“The most important thing for me sailing offshore is safety of course,” says Franco, “but also that we have a good atmosphere on board. This is very important to me. We always have a great mix of guys, some professional, some amateur, but it’s important that everyone gets along and we have a good time while at sea and also ashore.”

Competition and winning is important as well – over the years Niggeler has turned in some impressive results in some tough races, such as Kuka 3’s top-ten overall finishes in the Rolex Giraglia and Middle Sea Races – but this camaraderie of the team is paramount. “This is a long race and a big commitment,” says Niggeler, “but it has been a dream to do this famous race, and I think this boat is perfect for it.”

The schedule Kuka 3 has for this next year is impressive: (1) Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote next month; (2) Caribbean 600 in February; (3) move to Southern California for upgrade modifications to the keel and rudder in the Spring; (4) Transpac in July; (5) possibly Big Boat Series in September; then (6) Sydney-Hobart in December. And believe it or not, Niggeler will do as the Eddy’s do when they’re not racing: go cruising.

“I want to take some time and explore Bora Bora,” he says, “and this boat will be great for that.” And while a Cookson 50 may not come to mind as a typical cruising boat, there is something to be said for getting fast to where you want to go. Niggeler says even after Transpac he plans to take some time to explore Hawaii, and is looking forward to participating in the post-race activities.

“This is a long race with a lot of time invested by our crew, especially those with jobs at home,” he says. Yet its important to celebrate with the other teams, after the race, we always attend the prizegivings. This is an important part of the experience in this sport.”

So, whether based just a few miles from the start in LA or from the other side of the world, with a crew of family and friends or seasoned pro sailors, and in a cutting edge design from half a century ago or the current state of the art, the biennial lure of Transpac continues to attract sailors and boats to share the dream of ocean racing to paradise.