History surrounds the Transpacific Yacht Race and everywhere you turn at Transpac Pier at Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, you run into living legends.
Christopher Branning confided, “We are 15 of the luckiest people in the world. Being part of the Morning Light crew has opened up opportunities.”
Branning, a strong dinghy sailor who recently graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, was one of 15 trained by Transpac legends before he sailed the Los Angeles to Hawaii Transpac Race in 2007 on Morning Light. Recently, Branning showed up at Club Transpac like a pro. He melted into the crowd and before he knew it, he was in a clutch of world-renowned navigators.
Stan Honey, who has navigated his way to 12 Transpac wins, imparted a lot of Transpac and navigational tips to Branning, Van Os and the rest of the Morning Light crew during their preparations for the 2007 Transpac. Branning, Van Os and Morning Light skipper, Jeremy Wlimot, shared the critical navigational decisions during their first Transpac. The “Morning Light kids” as the crew is often referred to, parsed a lot of weather information and found themselves in the middle of the Pacific Ocean trying to outguess John Kilroy and his talent-laden and experienced crew on Samba Pa Ti, another TP 52 . At times during the 2007 Transpac Race the Morning Light nav station was an absolute pressure cooker.
A few days before his good friend, Branning, arrived in Long Beach, Van Os, a Cal Maritime Academy graduate, admitted, “I feel more pressure to perform this time than I did the last time.” He explained further, “Last time we were the kids. We were the underdogs and had everything to gain. This time, we’re on different boats and we’re on our own.”
Branning and Van Os turn to their mentor, Stan Honey, with navigational questions, as do many of the other navigators in the field. Honey won 12 Los Angeles to Hawaii Transpacs. He has won the Volvo Ocean Race as a navigator and has set singlehanded and doublehanded passage records. He has also set speed records as member of monohull and multihull teams. Following Transpac 09, his attention will turn to finding the right weather windows for Franck Cammas and Groupama to set a ‘round the world record in a multihull.
Honey’s reaction to Van Os and Branning’s unsettled nerves is, “That’s part of navigating. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t feel the pressure.”
For Transpac 09, Honey has signed on with Neville Crichton on Alfa Romeo. Van Os is the navigator on Pyewacket. Branning is Akela’s navigator. Alfa Romeo, along with other RRS 51 and 52-waiver boats, is sailing its first Transpac and hopes to set the all time course record and win the newly deeded Merlin Trophy. Depending on the weather, they are looking at a 6-day, give or take a few hours, crossing. Branning is on the largest traditionally ballasted boat and the one that stands to win the Barn Door trophy. As for Van Os, the three agreed, “If Robbie Haines is on the boat, there is pressure all of the time.”
There is a navigators’ fraternity. Rather than admiring their heroes from afar, Van Os and Branning are now part of it. Navigators often share information and discuss what they are seeing before they head out to the racecourse. Pre-Transpac 09, Branning is being ostracized a bit, because Akela, as a traditionally ballasted boat, is competing against Pyewacket for certain honors.
During a Morning Light social function, Haines’ was in one clutch and the navigators, including Transpacific Yacht Club Commodore, Dale Nordin; John Jourdane, and Honey, were enjoying themselves in another that is within earshot of Haines. Branning and Van Os joked uncomfortably, “We can talk to one another, but all we can talk about is girls.”
With that, Honey went on to describe his early Transpac races as a navigator. The first was aboard Al Martin’s Sumatra in 1977. His second was 30 years ago aboard Drifter. It was the first time that he navigated and won a major event.
The navigators still have another day of weather watching, decision-making and consultation before the pressure is on and they become self-reliant and chart their course in the annals of the world’s most enduring and greatest ocean race.