Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's the Right Junior Trainer?
Skip Allan on the Solo Transpac

Soon after his world youth championship win back in 2002, I talked to Andrew Campbell about "stuff," including the quirky
(and beloved) little Sabot in which he learned how to sail and race. Southern California for a long time now has been talking to itself about the Sabot and whether or not clubs there should be training kids on an international platform. Optis, for example, instead of a sinkable shoebox with leeboards.

A Sabot "nationals" extends all the way from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Beyond, there be dragons.

Andrew recalled that, "Growing up, we used to read about these kids from the East Coast or wherever. They were always racing in South America, or Europe, or Miami. They seemed huge."

The debate about Sabots usually includes an assertion on the order of, "We're cheating our kids," by not switching to an international trainer. This view of kids in Sabots was lifted from SDYC . . .

Now, OK, there's been some movement, and junior sailing in Southern California is no longer all about the Sabot but the Sabot is with us still. My question is, who's being cheated? Quoting Andrew again: "We all grew up and went on to the Laser, kids from all over the country, and when we hiked out and put the boats on the wind—well, there we were."

And here he is, about to represent the USA in the Laser, and a guy like me would be tempted to conclude that if you let kids be kids, the ones who want to learn how to race will learn how to race. I gotta admit, though, when Campbell was one of the little tykes launching into the basin at Shelter Island, alongside San Diego Yacht Club, I never imagined him as America's sexiest Olympian. But who am I to argue with the lathered-up ladies at . . .


If time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once, let me tell you, the system is broken. There's great catamaran racing under way at Cowes (all our AC friends are in the fray) and my buddies in the Pacific Cup are all wrapped up at Kaneohe Bay, and my friends in the Singlehanded Transpac are (mostly) wrapped up at Hanalei Bay and—

I'm not much at arithmetic, but it does appear that Skip Allan's Solo Transpac win, corrected time, is on the order of 32 hours over second place. That's a three and a two. That's big even for Skip, but there's nothing average here.

Allan skippered his first Transpac (fully crewed) win at the age of 20 in the family Cal 40, Holiday Too: "All our boats were called Holiday because nothing goes faster." This was Skip's 28th race to Hawaii and the seventh for his 27-foot, Tom Wylie-designed Wildflower, first put to the test with a second-place finish in the 1978 Singlehanded Transpac inaugural. So much for Skip's "unfinished business."

Let's let Skip tell us about the 2008 Singlehanded Transpac:

From a slow couple of days getting away from the Golden Gate in winds 0-5 knots, "A northerly filled in very evenly, and the boats that had worked their way ahead got richer. The High was far north and looked as if it would stay there, so for my boat that argued for the rhumb line. But you had to be careful. Farther along there was a very defined line between wind and no wind. I stayed on or below the 1024 millibar line, but some of the tailenders weren't aware and got stuck.

"The main competition was an Olson 30 out of Duluth, Minnesota named Polar Bear. Eric Thomas was well-prepared and he sailed hard. He would hand-steer under spinnaker until the first squall of the night. He was making 160-200 miles a day while I was making 140-160, but then he ran out of runway.

"It was a close-knit fleet," Skip says, "and it was a wonderful experience to talk to everybody twice a day at roll call. Wildflower somehow seemed to know what she was supposed to do, and I can't explain that but there it is."

One key to success—simplicity.

Allan favors hanked jibs for uncompromised sail shape, "and when you drop the halyard the sail stays on deck"). The boat converts easily to a cutter by leading the inner forestay to a tie rod–supported padeye 3 feet aft of the stem. This configuration centralizes the CE, and Skip can switch easily among among the boat's three jibs. Offwind sails include spinnakers plus a pair of 255-square-foot jib topsails that can be set singly (for close reaching) or together with staggered hanks and twin whisker poles (for broad reaching).

When I visited last month in Santa Cruz, the repositories for grain, granola etc were empty and waiting . . .

The finely-calibrated knotmeter was tuned to minimize electrical draw . . .

This, to me, is a beautiful log (1978 race) and yep, this has to be an entry from the Gulf of the Farallones. Catch that "wind down to 25" line . . .

Skip reports that he had only one, shall we say, incident in the 2008 race. A squall broached the boat while he was sleeping—running under twin jibs—"and it was a mess for about half an hour. One pole broken. The topping lift wrapped around my radar and I don't even know how it got there, so I had to climb for that. It was one of those 3 a.m. things."

One of those 3 a.m. things. And this would be the look of speed . . .

Now you know—Kimball