Saturday, July 12, 2008

One Expensive Belt Buckle

"It's about the people."

You always hear that.

Racing sailors feel a passion for boats and the motion of boats and the beauties of the sea, but what keeps them going is, "about the people." So it gave me a grin to hear exactly the same from a man about to cross 2,120 miles of open ocean, solo, in the Singlehanded Transpacific Race.

Ken "The General" Roper went out the Golden Gate on his 10th solo race to Hawaii on Saturday, and before the start that's what came out of his mouth.

"It's about the people."

How do you define community for somebody who has put more than 100,000 mostly-solo miles on a 31–foot boat? Roper says, "I keep up with a lot of the people who have done this race, and out of 23 boats this year there must be six or eight that I've raced with before."
(The belt buckles awarded to finishers define a pretty small club.) Roper: "It's one expensive belt buckle."

The 2008 race is his "last one." Again.

Mark Deppe, 2006 winner in a J/120, explains it this way: "There’s something addictive about the race. No one hesitates to help out and support their fellow competitors. We all share the experience of getting our boats ready and passing the qualification inspections. Then we share the experience of racing to Kauai for two weeks or more, talking twice daily on the SSB. By the time we cross the finish, we're a family, having shared our best and worst moments, and we're friends for life."

Roper very recently soloed back up the coast from Puerto Vallarta and wasn't caught up in any dramas or last-minute fixes. His Finn Flyer, Harrier, is "pretty much always ready to go."

About half of the skippers now on their way to Hanalei Bay, Kauai, are returning veterans. For Skip Allan, this is his 28th race to Hawaii. He did his first full-crew Transpac as a teenager in 1963. In 1967, at 20, he skippered the family Cal 40, Holiday Too, and won the Transpac overall.

Skip had sailed some of the most famous racers of the 20th century by the time he launched his 27-foot Wylie, Wildflower, and finished second in the inaugural solo Transpac of 1978. Norton Smith in a Santa Cruz 27 "sailed a heck of a race" that year, says Skip, and Smith won, and that leaves unfinished business for Mr. Allan, doesn't it?

I took a sail with him recently at Santa Cruz . . .

Lots of seamanlike touches on his simple little boat, including over-height, over-spec'd stanchions and beefed-up lifelines. Can't be wrong.

And I note that The General (Roper is a Brigadier General, US Army, retired, so what other nickname could a 10-race veteran carry) formed his interest in the solo Transpac by encountering the finish of the inaugural. He happened to be in Hanalei Bay on his way back from cruising the South Pacific when the race arrived—and that was a story in itself. Arrangements had been made for a hotel there to host the race at that end, but in the interim the hotel changed management and somehow that information never got transferred. Imagine the surprise.

Then you have the likes of Deppe, defending his 2006 win in Alchera, a sprit boat. Image from file. Saturday, July 12, 2008 did not look at all like this in the Golden Gate Strait . . .

Here's Deppe explaining himself: "This will be my fifth Singlehanded TransPac. My first was back in 1996. The second time was in 2002 with a new boat, a J/120 I named Alchera, which roughly translated means Dreamtime. Though I had a great second trip, I felt at the time that two Transpacs was enough for one person in one lifetime. Then, in 2004 I entered and raced just once more. Afterwards I solemnly vowed never to do it again. I said to all of my friends and competitors, ‘If I ever talk about doing this race again, please shoot me.’ Then I did the race again in 2006. No one shot me, though they gleefully reminded me of what I had said.

"I’ve accepted the inevitable, and now I’m racing for the fifth time. No one believes me anymore, but this really is my last time. Really."

The marine layer was 2,000 feet thick over Northern California over the weekend. That's fog, son, thinning toward race time to reveal the hazy, pervasive smoke from the wildfires. I don't notice the fire-smell anymore.

I had fish frying so couldn't go out to follow the start, but it's a short walk from the Sail West bunker to my favorite vantage point. Not much of a picture, but this is what was in front of the lens on Saturday, July 12, 2008 . . .

At least, unlike so many ocean-racing starts through this patch of water, nobody started the race soaked through. Below we see the 2006 race winner, Mark Deppe's J/120, as the right of three. The coastline opens to the north, wrapping back at Point Reyes, but these guys as they cleared Point Bonita had only one rock—25 miles out, the Southeast Farallon Island—between them and Hawaii . . .

The fleet had a generally light-air day for clearing the coast. By Sunday, the breeze was a proper northwesterly, 10-20 knots, with a prediction of seas 8-11 feet (and the standard reminder that occasional waves will double the significant wave height).
So, these guys are out of Dodge.

Racing for the Ida Lewis Trophy

A slow solo start aside, what the National Weather Service called "locally strong winds in the San Francisco Bay" created some adventures for the 66 young women racing the US Junior Women's Doublehanded Championship out of Sausalito Yacht Club.

The racing area off the north face of Angel Island was civil enough (most of the time), but there's a hurricane alley between the racecourse and home base, and yes, we saw 30 knots. That's a lot for anyone in a C420. Of course it helps when there's a mother duck, as we see in this shot from Peter Lyons,

Congrats are due to Sydney Bolger and Caitlin Beavers, up from Southern California. It was their regatta from Day One.

AND I've been enjoying Rich Roberts' reports and photos from the Cal 20 class championship down south at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club. Twenty-seven years, now, these doughty little 20s have been doing their thing, and around Long Beach, home to ABYC, there's been a heap of attention paid to this class. As in, expensive plastic-classic restorations.

Can't say as how I have a lot of nostalgia for my days of pounding one of these things through an ebb-tide chop in the Alcatraz Channel, but Cal 20s are not going away, and this is good. Here's Keith Ives. He rushed back from sailing Los Angeles-Tahiti on Medicine Man (can't miss the next regatta) winning race one . . .

Dads, pay attention. As crew, you have a lot to learn, but the kids'll shape you up . . .

I wasn't there, Rich was, so I'll quote him re. the winner: "Any competent sailor can make a hot boat go fast, but Mark Gaudio's affinity for old, slow boats is becoming the stuff of West Coast legend. The 51-year-old Newport Beach institutional bonds trader completed a triple crown of sorts Sunday with a strong finish in big winds to win the 47th Cal 20 Class Championship, hosted by Alamitos Bay Yacht Club. It was his third class title in the past year following similar successes in Lido 14s and Naples Sabots---neither known for speed---and now he is the Cal 20s' first four-time champion, all four in the last eight years."

And hey, there's a Cal 20 racing to Hanalei Bay. That would be Robert Crawford on Black Feathers. Here's how he explains himself:

"The mantra of the Singlehanded Sailing Society in the early 1990's was, 'Do the race in the boat you have.' At the time, I had an Ericson 32, and after a couple of seasons of sailing the SSS races, I did the '94 TransPac. The preparation for that race, and the race itself, proved to be a worthy and memorable adventure. They say the greatest challenge in this race is getting to the start line. I think that's true.

"Now, fourteen years later, I'm back. The Cal-20 holds a warm spot in the hearts of many a San Francisco Bay sailor. I have enjoyed the last couple of years outfitting mine with equipment appropriate for a safe and exciting run for Kauai. I'm sure to be among the last to finish, but I'm hoping my high handicap will keep the hot boats on their toes."

And Thomas Coville with Sodeb'O is outpacing Frances Joyon's transatlantic record and, holy smokes, the first of the Pacific Cup starts leaves the San Francisco cityfront at 1250 on Monday, and we're only a week away from the 100th running of the Chicago-Mac and . . . and . . . it's a busy world—Kimball