Sunday, February 10, 2008

Which Are You Going to Remember ?

So here we are at the Transpac YC dinner, and the buzz is the revival of the Tahiti Race and the banter is all about how people are going to come unglued in three weeks at sea—and the highlight of the ceremonies is to honor Cathie Nash for being the glue that kept the Transpacific Yacht Club together for a quarter of its century of existence—and let's stop right here. Do people really get the point of a 3,571-mile race, one wonders? There hasn't been a Tahiti Race in 14 tears and I tagged Ragtime owner Chris Welsh with the notion that, once people were reminded what's it's really like working through the doldrums to get to south latitudes, there might not be another Tahiti Race for a long, long while. And he said, "That's why I'm doing this one."

And now we're on our way to Catalina Island—all of this happened last weekend in Southern California—and it's the first round-island race of 2008, and here is Jim Morgan skippering his Santa Cruz 50, Fortaleza, and Jim is the guy who likes to explain his Tahiti entry by asking, "Twenty years from now, which are you going to remember? Going to Tahiti, or going to work?"

Nothing international-exotic last weekend, mind you. Just an opener for the local (pretty sophisticated) fleet. Race One of the Whitney/Times/Bogart Series (call it the Whitney). It was 82 degrees in downtown LA on Saturday but let's be honest that even under clear skies in mild winds it took considerable layering to tolerate an overnighter on the Inner Coastal Waters. Fortaleza started at 1205 on Saturday and finished Sunday by the dawn's early light. I guess I forgot to check my watch, but I find sunrise listed as 0643. We parked a little longer than some people at the West End of the island, so let's just say we had fun.

Back to the "exotic." French Polynesia and the island group loosely called Tahiti certainly qualifies as that.

When TPYC ran the first LA-Tahiti Race in 1925, the destination was hopelessly far away and romantic. Precious few westerners had ever been there to see the outriggers of Papeete or the cloud-capped, eroded crater of Bora Bora. These days, when you arrive after 3,571 miles under sail, you won't escape encountering those who arrived by 747. That sailing distance, of course, is nothing to the pros sailing their "laps," but it's still a big deal to most amateurs and working stiffs, who have to account for themselves in their outside-sailing lives. In distance, it's roughly a Transatlantic plus a Bermuda, but at the end of the Tahiti Race you're either nowhere or somewhere, depending. If you're into some cruising after, you have to realize as an American that you skipped Mexico and Central America, the Marquesas, and all the sightems along the "Milk Run" that far. If you're into more racing after, your boat is now a long way from home. In case you were wondering why it's been 14 years.

That's why I appreciated the clarity of Chris Herter. His Ragtime is one of the most famous boats in the Pacific. Under a succession of owners, Ragtime has done it all, including a record 14 crossings in the Los Angeles-Honolulu race. Her Spencer-designed wood hull was built in New Zealand, and Chris has it in mind that she needs to revisit the Southern Hemisphere. This I know. Whenever Ragtime calls on my home port, I just have to wander down to the dock to commune, close up. Here's a shot from the TPYC web site . . .

And another. Dig the hard chines . . .

The 2008 Tahiti Race (13th edition) starts June 22. Only six entries solid so far, and they're working on more but it's soon time to commit or forget. Quoting from the web site: "Other early entries are Doug Baker's Andrews 80, Magnitude 80, from Long Beach and Allen Hughes' Open 60, Dogbark, Seattle. Another high-end Long Beach boat, Bob Lane's Andrews 63, Medicine Man, is verbally committed."

I'll leave you with an image again of Jim Morgan—he's commodore of Los Angeles Yacht Club—before the start of the round-Catalina race. He's calling across the water to a friend, and he shouts, "Come race with us to Tahiti!" And the response, "Explain 'why' to my boss."

It occurs to me that, if I could explain 'why' to his boss, and a few more, I could charge enough to make a handsome living—Kimball

Oops. Additional business for the record:

Gitana 13 en route again chasing the New York to SF record, quoting from the web site in their Friday update, which will surely surely be re-updated by the time you click in: "The maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild had to wait five days at the doorstep of Cape Horn due to bad weather. Following one last night in the shelter of Tierra del Fuego, Gitana 13 should be back on its way to San Francisco this morning. Lionel Lemonchois and his crew of nine are back to the business at hand: trying to beat the Route de l’Or record."

Groupama again on pace to set a new circumnavigation record, quoting from the web site: "On this seventeenth day at sea, Groupama 3 has already covered a third of the course around the globe and is managing to hold onto a small lead over the reference time. These two pieces of good news are added to the fact that a SW'ly wind rotation should kick in over the coming hours, a shift which will be favourable for a long descent towards the furious fifties. After having absorbed the impact of some rather big seas on the hip, as well as suffering from a very bumpy ride due to the combination of a very strong S'ly swell and a very variable high pressure breeze, things have now stabilised since the start of the weekend: the breeze is slowly shifting to the right and Groupama 3 can finally slip along quicker, further and lower towards the Kerguelen Islands. Indeed a low will bring along its share of rain, clouds and low temperature, as well as wind, most importantly. This breeze will initially pass to the SW at 20-25 knots, then to the W at 25-30 knots on Sunday morning, before returning to the SW at 35-40 knots at the end of the weekend... Do up your foulies nice and tight, its going to get wet and seriously blustery as the wind swings round!

The course over 40° South that Groupama 3 has been forced to endure since passing the Cape of Good Hope, will therefore curve slowly inwards towards 50° South so as to shorten the distance to sail around the Antarctic. Already though, Franck Cammas and his men have covered the first third of the race against the clock with over 8,000 miles on the speedo, whilst the weather conditions have not been particularly favourable. But how much does three times seventeen days come to?"

• The Barcelona World Race poised for a first finisher. Again, quoting from the web site: "After 92 days at sea, the end is near for Paprec-Virbac 2 who are less than 250 miles from the finishing line off Barcelona. The leaders are averaging about 10 knots, giving them 25 hours or so until their ETA of 20:00 GMT tomorrow evening. If they realise that ETA and finish tomorrow, they'll have been at sea exactly three months since the race start on November 11th."

• I hear that BMW Oracle Racing now has an Extreme 40 catamaran in Valencia and another on the way, to match the training platforms of Team Alinghi, down the way.

But there is a lot of time yet to fuss over catamarans and who will be King of the America's Cup Hill. Golly, I'm tired. It seemed a long night for little old us, merely rounding Catalina, but what a lovely wilderness sight in winter green. Thank you, Catalina Conservancy and all who had the vision, for saving the place.

And thank you, TPYC Administrator Cathie Nash, for keeping the Transpacific Yacht Club glued together all this time. It was only one night, the club's biennial dinner, but we think of you more often than that. This is a "yacht club" that exists only on paper and in our hearts and minds, and it has one purpose and one purpose only: To put on the Honolulu Race very two years (and to put on the Tahiti Race when the fever strikes). And, I guess, to link race veterans together, because the race and TPYC have developed a life of their own. OK, that's three. Yacht racing isn't supposed to make sense. Leave me alone.

No wait! I'm going to keep asking. It probably once helped control the sails of a famous 12 Meter. Do you know how this Barient got to the Sausalito boatyard of the late Myron Spaulding?