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On the Harbor: Racing the Transpac – 9 days, 6 hours and 39 minutes

By LEN BOSE

I have just returned from this year’s Transpac race from San Pedro, California to Honolulu, Hawaii – 2,100 miles across the never-ending dark blue Pacific Ocean. We completed the race, aboard the Santa Cruz 50 Horizon, in 9 days, 6 hours and 39 minutes, which is very close to a new record for this type of boat. We placed 2nd in class and 7th overall out of 95 entries, only 12 minutes out of first place. I’ve lost a Harbor 20 race, in our harbor, by more than 12 minutes before.

On the Harbor Racing Horizon in the deep blue

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Courtesy of Shanon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Aboard the Santa Cruz 50 “Horizon” in the big, deep blue

I won’t bother you with the race’s finer details or “gremlins” as we called them on the boat. For example, an incoming wave threw the galley hatch, which landed on the laptop...frying it, which led to a very unhappy navigator who mentioned the possibility of that happening before the start of the race. On the second night, we had a shiv at the top of the mast blow apart, which chafed through one of our new halyards. Next, was a type of “Who done it,” when a crew member decided to open the holding tank on the boat which quickly overflowed. Our gremlin then decided to drop a winch handle in the wheel well during a maneuver and lock up the wheel, which spun the boat out of control and we blew up our new 2A spinnaker. The propane regulator decided to freeze up which led to missing dinner one night...this was fixed the following morning. Then to top it off, the wind instruments decide to crash the last five hours of the race. Most of these gremlins were caused by bad preparation on my part and they have been noted. Just when I thought I was getting pretty good at this, there is always more to learn.

Gremlins were jumping from boat to boat and our problems were minuscule to many other competitors. The Santa Cruz 70 OEX had a catastrophic rudder failure that caused the vessel to take on water and finally sink. Fortunately for OEX Mighty Mouse, Roy Disney on Pyewacket was a couple of miles behind them and retrieved the crew on OEX from their emergency life raft and saved the day! Nothing to joke about, Disney saved nine sailors from the cold blue 200 miles off the California Coast and withdrew from the race, returning to Marina del Rey. Unbelievable seamanship by both crews with no loss of life. On the vessel Lucky Duck, a crew member was changing the propane tank on the stovetop and caught himself on fire 100 miles from the finish. He spent five days in the Hawaiian hospital and is doing fine. In fact, he is bringing the boat home as I write. Many boats retired from the race because of rudder problems and if that was not enough, two days after the finish, the skipper of Chubasco, Jim Lincoln, passed away in his sleep at the age of 61. The crew of Chubasco was left speechless and deeply disturbed by the loss of their friend. I met Lincoln earlier this year, and was greeted with a big smile and a welcoming hello as if he was reaching out over the water to shake your hand. It goes without saying, Lincoln will be missed by many

With all that being said, let’s talk about the highlights of the race. I compare the race to a type of video game with the start of the game being relatively difficult, then somewhat easier before the grand finale, when everything is thrown at you at once. The race starts off easy with the light westerly breezes escorting you past Catalina and out to the outer waters, where you are then greeted to 20+ knot winds and steep waves. In full foul weather gear, the boat is moving similar to a bucking bronco and water is going over your head, as you hang on for two days of hell, living sideways. In fact, it is almost more dangerous inside the boat than outside in the darkness of the night. Trying to acclimate yourself to the watch system, the first time you hit the rack it is difficult to get any sleep. Then, while preparing yourself to come on deck and be on time to start your watch, you need to keep one hand on the boat and use the other for putting on gear. A couple of nasty falls occurred down below during this time, but fortunately, no one was hurt, just a little bruising and embarrassment. Then at the end of two days into the race, you are quickly reminded why we do this to ourselves. The breeze moves more behind us and the boat gets much flatter and more stable. The next seven days are filled with warm downwind sailing with the large spinnakers up and you’re surfing down the faces of the large Pacific waves. Life does not get better than that.

On the Harbor Racing Len Bose

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Courtesy of Len Bose

Downwind sailing, with the large spinnakers up...life is grand for Len Bose

With the full moon rising in the east while the sun is setting in the west for the first part of the race, we always had good light which makes sailing that much easier. For the first time, I saw a moonbow, not a rainbow or a Len Bose moonbow. With the full moon up and a passing rain squall, you could see a moonbow, which I’ve never seen before. Or course the stars are so close and clear that it feels like you can reach out and touch them, or you are in a virtual game flying between the stars. Just as you start to relax and take this all in, the video game starts again by throwing a few obstacles in front of you, like floating trees or other types of large flotsam that if you struck them, would ruin your whole day. As we pushed on into the warm tropical trade winds, the moon would raise a little later each night and the breeze would build into the mid-20s and it would get so dark that you could not see the person next to you. Just about then the navigator would inform us it was time to gybe the boat, which is a rather complex maneuver intensified by the increased wind, sea state and, of course, the darkness. While driving the boat through these maneuvers, thoughts of waiting for the moon to rise or why did we not do this before the sun went down, crossed my mind. I took a deep breath, looked up into the stars, and brought my head back down and told myself, “I got this.” All those dark gybes we nailed and I mumbled to the navigator, “You sure know how to test my skill level.” Knowing that I still got it or maybe even better than the past does place a rather large smile on my face. Now, if it was only easier to put my left shoe on, I would feel like I was in my early 30s again.

We are closing in toward the finish with a narrow lead with about 300 miles to the end, when the game kicks it up a notch or four and starts throwing everything it has at us. In the darkness of night, these low altitude clouds called squalls start attacking you, making the wind jump from the low teens into the 30s within a few seconds, then dumping buckets of rain on you just to make it that much more difficult to see, thereby raising the intensity level. These squalls appear to be dark bowling balls rumbling down the lane behind you to knock you over like a pin. Believe it or not, this is fun to us, to be that last pin standing and extend or gain back the lead in the race.

On the Harbor Racing Horizon finish line

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Courtesy of Shanon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Closing in on the finish line...

Two good nights of fighting the squalls and noticing that your competition is gaining on you make you dig deeper. Now, there is one small bit of water before you that challenges you. This bit of ocean is referred to as the Molokai Channel. With the wind increasing to the low 30s, the sea state is most challenging with the waves suddenly increasing in size as they bounce off the different islands around you. If you have ever seen the Wedge break, it’s like that. You are setting up for a nice wave then all of a sudden it is three times the size. If that’s not enough, add in the commercial boat traffic and having to contact them on the VHF radio to make sure they see you and cross safely in front or behind you. Okay, I got this, then five miles out, if you are fortunate, you are finishing during the daylight and the photography helicopters show up. You can get a little distracted, but need to stay alert so you don’t get hit by a big blast of wind between Coco Head and Diamond Head called a Williwaw. Yes, the Hawaiians have a name for this sudden burst of wind. Now, you just have to bring the boat past the red channel buoy, red right returning, at the Diamond Head Lighthouse and it’s all Mai Tais from there.

Already looking forward to the next version of this game.

Sea ya!

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Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for Stu News Newport.