Strange rainy weather and light southerly breezes greet the fastest boats in the fleet; first wave leaders pass halfway point to Hawaii; second wave starting to slide out of light air slump on their second day of racing.
San Pedro, CA – Tendrils of moisture spinning off tropical depression Dolores centered several hundred miles south in Mexico were making their way into Southern California today, bringing clouds, light southerly breezes, the occasional rain shower and a clap of thunder for the third and final starting day of the 48th biennial LA-Honolulu Transpac. And while this was bizarre weather for July, it did not discourage dozens of spectator boats assembled in everything from kayaks to cruise boats to watch the two starts held off Pt Fermin in Los Angeles today.
First off the start line at 12:30 local time were the three Gunboats in the multihull class, just able to get moving in the light air off the start line, but as a puff from the south rolled in they were quickly off. Pat Benz’s bright green GB 66 Extreme H2O took an early jump off the start for being the only boat with a masthead genoa, but Lloyd Thornburg’s bright orange Phaedo, another GB 66, was holding close once the breeze filled in a few knots.
This is Thornburg’s “race for redemption,” having been here two years earlier but suffered a dismasting a few days
into the race, forcing the team back to the mainland. “We definitely feel like we have some unfinished business here,” said Thornburg before the start today. “But, we’re real happy with the work we’ve done on Phaedo, and we think we’ll be even faster than we were before.”
Thornburg and members of his team had also just flown in from the UK where they set an elapsed-time record in the Transatlantic Race aboard his chrome and lime green MOD 70 trimaran Phaedo3 less than a week ago. Back-to-back long ocean races like this are rare for anyone, and perhaps unprecedented for owners racing their own boats in both races.
Thirty minutes later the last of the monohulls provided a more entertaining start, with 16 boats ranging from TP 52’s to 100-foot canting keelers crowding towards the favored pin end, where a quick tack to port would send them on their way on an upwind fetch directly to the West End of Catalina Island.
Another team returning to Transpac from 2013 with a renovated boat is Syd Fischer’s 100-foot Ragamuffin from Australia. Over the past year the boat was surgically altered with design help from Andy Dovell by lightening and widening the hull, giving it more stability, and thereby increasing its speed and their chances for setting the course record that eluded them in the last race. Today they met fellow Australian-based rival Wild Oats XI, who struggled to get off the start but was quickly off in pursuit. The other 100-fotter, Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio, looked good off the line, and with a fixed rather than canting keel like her two rivals she may be able to stay close in the light winds until if and when the breeze comes on.
The winner off the start was one of the fastest in Division 2, Tom Holthus’s all-black STP 65 Bad Pak, who timed a perfect approach to the pin, was first to tack, and led the pack on the first leg towards Catalina. Bad Pak is one of six boats in this class that is also being scored using the HPR rule, a rating system designed for fast offshore-capable yachts.
News from the remainder of the fleet that started earlier in the week is mixed: the Monday starters are still enjoying great breeze, fast sailing, and are already past the half-way point in the race. Paul Stemler’s J/44 Patriot is leading in both elapsed and corrected time for Divisions 7 and 8, and with the faster divisions still mired in light air to the east they look strong to hold this place in the standings for days to come.
The lead group is making great progress, but in squally conditions perhaps made worse by another low pressure system lying off to their south. Ed Sanford’s J/105 Creative, one of the smallest boats in the fleet and with only four on board, reported “Currently in our second squall in the last two hours, gusts to about 23.” A report from Harry Zanville’s Santa Cruz 37 Celerity indicated a good workout for their boat and team of six aboard: “A lot of knock downs but little Celerity keeps getting up…these are not Stan Honey squalls…hope there is a lot of rum in Hawaii.”
But two boats from this group have had to start a long and arduous return to the mainland due to rudder problems: Steve Campo’s Hobie 33 Bazinga and Jim LaBarge’s Jeanneau 54DS Avanti. Bazinga’s trip may be particularly long, since she is using an alternate steering method that relies on drag, and is only making a few knots progress back east. So far neither crew has asked for assistance.
The Thursday starting group would happily trade their weather conditions with the first group’s squalls, as indicated by an early morning report from Chris Hemans’s Rogers 46 Varuna that indicates “Sea and sky conditions cloudy, [heading] 131°, [wind] 3 kts and 1013.0 mb…still waiting for something to happen.” The erratic courses and slow speeds on the tracker have recently, however, started to transform into straighter courses, indicating this fleet may be starting to move past the worst of the wind hole that lies out there waiting to swallow today’s starters.