Race Archives

2009 Honolulu

Samba Feeling Translates into a 2009 Transpac Clean Sweep

Honolulu, HI (July 15, 2009) – John Kilroy’s Samba Pa Ti, a modified TP 52, is the big winner of the Transpacific Yacht Race. Kilroy’s Samba team racked up a clean sweep. The team was first to finish in Division I and won the coveted Barn Door for having the fastest elapsed time of all of human powered traditionally designed sailboats. The team also won the King Kalakaua Trophy, for the best corrected time in the entire fleet. Additionally the eight-man team won the Governor of Hawaii Trophy; the W.H. Steward Memorial Trophy; the Harry Uhler Memorial Trophy; and the trophy for the Shortest Elapsed Time Under 73 Feet. For navigating Samba Pa Ti to the First Corrected Time Overall and the Best Division I Corrected Time, navigator, Nick White, collected the Chuck Ullman perpetual Trophy.

Kilroy prides himself in putting great teams of people together. He went into the race knowing he had an excellent grandprix boat, was well prepared and had a terrific group of people; but the quality that he feels distinguishes his team from others is that special “Samba feeling.” They simply love being together. In Hawaii, where all of his crew and their families were guests of Kilroy for the two weeks of activity surrounding his wedding some years ago, the Samba feeling is akin to “'Ohana”, or family spirit. Kilroy believes he has created an environment in which the best of the pros sail better because they love racing together. Says Kilroy, “we spend a lot of time planning the 90-100-footer that we’re going to be sailing when I am 90 and they are 70.”


Kilroy can not give enough credit to his crew. It is the same team that sailed the 2007 Transpac, although in optimizing the boat to account for the light conditions that they experienced in 2007 and their assessment that there was a high probability that they would encounter “normal” Transpac Race conditions this year, they sailed with eight rather than 10 crew members. 

“Stu Bannatyne is the best of the best and the most complete tactician and underrated sailor on the ocean,” affirmed Kilroy several times during the interview. Nick White, who developed the Expedition navigational software program that a majority of the teams used, shared his virtual race analysis with the team for weeks before the start so that the team could make final adjustments to the way they managed the details of sail selection, ballast, crew number, waterproofing and provisioning. Eric Arndt, did an impeccable job putting the boat together and trimming. Bob Wylie is also and “a world class trimmer who can fix anything.” Robbie Naismith, “has a great energy around him and a great numbers and optimization oriented trimmer.” Of course, Kilroy had tremendous praise for his bowman, Mikey Joubert. “Justin Ferris,” says Kilroy, “is world class. He’s phenomenal.”

Samba Pa Ti is only the fifth boat in the 103-year history of the Los Angeles to Honolulu Transpac to have a clean sweep by being first to finish in class, first in fleet and have the best corrected time in the fleet. Others preceding her were: Dorade, in 1936; Windward Passage, in 1971; Chance, in 1991 and Silver Bullet in 1993. Samba Pa Ti has the shortest LOA of any boat ever to win the Transpac Barn Door Trophy, supplanting Dorade, which won in 1936 with an LOA of 52.4 feet. Dorade accomplished the first clean sweep prior to the late 1940’s, when the Barn Door perpetual trophy was first awarded.

This Samba has gone through many configurations – IRC, ORR and PHRF, and the team has done a lot of work with the polars and optimization. They were much lighter than they were in 2007 and weighed in at 14,800 pounds. Flash, Tom Akin’s TP52, was second in class and second in fleet. She weighed 17,400 pounds and had 10 crew members. “The keel and boat were geared for the Big Boat Series rather than being optimized for this year’s Transpac,” in Kilroy’s estimation. 

Flash made a conscious decision to have a more stable boat for early reaching conditions, whereas Samba Pa Ti sacrificed stability in the beginning of the race for a lower rating that would be more beneficial as they squared off and ran deeper. The Samba team fully expected other boats in their class, such as Flash, to look better than them early in the race, because of the difference in configuration. When they saw Flash close within six miles of them with less than 48 hours remaining in the race, the Samba team knew that they needed to put 70 miles on Flash in order to be comfortable. Fearing that 70 miles would be very hard to achieve, they went into overdrive and pumped every wave with their grinder pedestal in full motion. 

Modified TP52’s are on a razor’s edge with ultra high performance ability and require constant attention of a skilled helmsperson to shred every wave like pro surfer Andy Irons. While Kilroy and each of his crew are all very accomplished helmsmen, each of them has confidence in the others’ specialty and knows where his responsibility ends. Samba’s layline call was a collaborative effort, and it paid off. 

The conditions that the Samba team had when they reached Molokai were not anticipated. They had expected to be lifted from Molokai’s A4 mark, instead they were hit with a squall and headed 35 degrees. They broached twice and then did a peel. There was a lot happening in raising a spinnaker and lowering another, and one of Samba’s most conscientious crew members, Nick White, tried to radio one of the mandatory reports to the race committee, but the VHF did not work. While focusing on the safety of the boat, he lost focus on the hail that would give the race committee and the volunteers the requisite time to mobilize for Samba’s finish. The Race Committee protested Samba and prescribed a 15-minute penalty pursuant to paragraph 37.6 of the SI’s.

Penalty or not, John Kilroy, the Samba Pa Ti team and their Samba feeling achieved some of the most remarkable accomplishments in Transpac history, the world’s most enduring and greatest ocean race.

Boats eligible to win the Barn Door do not have moveable ballast and/or stored power up to 100 feet with the shortest elapsed time. These boats are ineligible for the Barn Door Trophy.
Photo of Samba Pa Ti surfing down the Molokai Channel by Sharon Green.
Photo of John Kilroy after arriving in Hawaii by Phil Uhl.
Photo of Samba crew upon arrival at Waikiki Yacht Club during Transpac 09 by Phil Uh.