HONOLULU, HI – The 2225-mile LA-Honolulu Transpac Race, first run in 1906, is known worldwide and makes many bucket lists, including that of Afanasy Isaev from Krasnoyarsk, Russia. This historic city of 1 million is the third-largest in Siberia, yet a long way from any tidal water.
As such, how did a team of 15 crew on the 1996 Grand Mistral 80 Weddel get to this race and then take nearly 11 days to complete the trip? Well, it's a long story full of twists and turns, but a big part of this team making it here to Honolulu with an elapsed time of nearly 11 days is due to Isaev’s co-skipper, Vladimir (Kuli) Kulinichinko.
Many on the US East Coast big boat racing scene know Kuli, he’s been active in East Coast pro sailing since arriving over 20 years ago after having completed the Whitbread Round the World Race on Fazisi, the all-red Russian-designed and Russian-built aluminum boat that had heads scratching in the 1989-90 edition of the race when the other IOR maxis were much larger, heavier and ultimately faster around the planet. This unusually narrow light weight design had half the freeboard of their rivals, and looked like it would be – and proved it was - wet, wet, wet.
Yet on a budget that was a fraction of their rivals, this team made it around the planet more or less intact as an underdog favorite with a cult following, and when it did, Kuli jumped off and spent time as a sailmaker in Connecticut, got married to an American, and has been based in Florida ever since. Whenever there is a Russian-based team racing in the US, its likely Kuli will be involved as an important source of skill and a bridge between the two cultures. This was especially needed on this trip, since Isaev runs the Weddel program with paying guests, similar to some other amateur-based offshore racing programs.
“This was a tough trip, but we’re all here,” said Kuli. “We had a core group of us who knew the boat but not quite enough to sail her at 100% all the time. The mainsail broke about halfway across, and that’s what slowed us down. The sail broke clear across the girth, luff to leech.”
Kuli had to revive his skills as a sailmaker and said he spent 36 hours with the sail down repairing it to be useable enough to get them to Hawaii. Progress was slow, with the boat progressing at a glacially slow rate of 6-8 knots at times, but once fixed the team nursed the sail almost to the finish, and then it broke again, and the team finished under just a jib alone.
“We need to get this sail fixed again to the good enough to get to Australia,” said Kuli, where the team is planning to race in the Sydney-Hobart Race in December, as are several more entries from the Transpac race. Its likely Kuli will be needed here as well, since Isaev will likely be taking pay-as-you-go crew once again.