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 Transpac. Its likely Kuli will be needed here as well, since Isaev will likely be taking pay-as-you-go crew once again.Read more
July 17, 2017, 1200
Dawn breaks pink at 0530 after an epic night at sea. This does not mean the winds and seas let up. If anything, the cross swell becomes tougher. We no longer care; we are exhausted, we are dirty, and O'ahu is in sight. It's all over now but the shouting, but soon there will be much of that. We count down the last hours, toss fruits and veggies overboard, and take to photography like Ansel Adams.
Due to our tight angle, we clear Makapu'u Light by just a few miles and forego the long sleigh ride down the Moloka'i channel. But it isn't like we missed out: we have just come 2200 miles through some wild winds and occasional 10' seas. We have sailed the old girl to the breaking point (and beyond in some instances). In short, J.D. Smith, we have had our fun. Now we want to see loved ones awaiting us on the docks.
A final, near-calamity awaits us just prior to the finish line. Five miles out, we begin to drop the durable symmetrical kite we have lived under for a week so we can fly our glamor girl "La Sirena" pinup sail at the photo-op-ripe finish line. Poseidon plays one last trick: the halyard has chafed badly at the top of the mast and won't pass through the block, preventing us from dropping the sail. Sheets slip loose, and suddenly the massive sail is flying free in front of the boat, a red ribbon billowing out in the stiff wind. High Keystone Kop comedy ensues. No one's pride is left unharmed. All hands pray to god we are out of camera range.
Finally, we wrassle the kite out of the ocean into which it has fallen and hoist our beautiful pinup girl. We barrel across the line making 9 knots and grinning like a passel of Cheshire cats. Transpac 2017, six months in preparation, two weeks in duration, and a lifetime of future reflection, is complete. Barbara Lawler, the runaway MVP of our team, drives the boat the last 3 miles and takes La Sirena past the famed red buoy. I do not know how often women sail Transpac boats over the line, but it is my high honor to relinquish this coveted moment to her. She's our planner, provisioner, mother, and one hell of a bad-ass sailor. Barb, we love and salute you!Read more
July 17, 1730
This will be the last entry by me of this adventure until we are on Oahu.
July 16: More of the same-nice breeze, nice ocean swells, beautiful starry night, vibrant Milky Way, shooting stars.
The mechanical water maker was pulled out of the ditch bag. We got 2.5 gallons of fresh water with two hours of manual pumping. That was used for cooking and coffee making, leaving the emergency water for drinking.
July 17: We broke the 100 NM mark at 1:30 a.m. Pacific time. We broke the 50 NM mark at 9:50 a.m. We had our first glimpse of Hawaii today at 10:15. It likely would have been earlier but for all the clouds on the horizon.
We had a pretty nice knock down a bit later in the morning. Vang blown. Traveler down. Spin sheet eased. Main sheet out. The clew shackle gave way again during the douse, eliminating the letter box option. Tack on, halyard dropped for a controlled takedown on the bow. We stood back up and unfurled the genoa, trimmed in the main sail and got back to racing.
We can almost taste the Mai Tai's.Read more
Winners and non-winners alike given warm Hawaiian welcomes upon arrival, any time of day or night
HONOLULU, HI – A large wave of finishers in the 2017 Transpac have arrived in the Ala Wai last night and in the pre-dawn hours to start to fill up the slip spaces set aside in the Marina for the finishers, known as Transpac Row. From tallest mast to shortest, most of the race entries are moored here, bedecked with leis and ti leaves as symbols of Aloha hospitality from a culture that recognizes the special nature of having completed a long sea voyage.
After crossing the finish line, all boats are escorted to the narrow (sometimes treacherous) entrance to the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, a safe haven from the Pacific swells. Donned in their flowered shirts, the crews stand on deck to be greeted like conquering heroes by the amplified sounds of native drums, slack key guitar music and a loud and resounding “Aaaahhh- looohhh – haaaaah” given by staff commodore Howie Mednick from the second deck of the Hawaii YC.
“We welcome you to Hawaii, and ask only that you do Drink well, Sing well, Eat well, Sleep well… and Drink well some more!”
Boats then proceed to their assigned slips, get boarded and inspected for rules compliance, and then are released to the awaiting leis and hugs of family, friends and well-wishers. Regardless of the time of day or night, every crew is given an Aloha Party of food and drink, some more traditionally Hawaiian than others, with the unshaven and weary crews growing their smiles with each re-told story and re-acquaintance with terra firma.
This is a unique feature of Transpac among the world’s ocean races: nowhere else will you find this intimate and embracing level of hospitality and respect. Finishers of the Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe will experience their re-entry into life ashore under the glare of TV lights, crowds and microphones, whereas at Transpac it will be under the flickering flames of a tiki torch and the inner glow from a Mai Tai.
The lore of this hospitality reaches far and wide, as evidenced by not only entries who come every two years from around the Pacific Basin, but also those who come from the other side of the world. This year two entries from Europe were here to have the Aloha experience.Read more
July 16, 2017, 1130
We wallowed, we moaned, we imagined competitors were killing it and we were proven right. 4 knots of breeze followed by 7. Then, a line of clouds and wind to 15; we were getting out! Then a squall, 20 knots pointing us directly at the finish for over an hour gaining us precious miles and leaving us in good pressure that we've been taking home ever since.
Speed. Pure nasty, mouth watering speed. We are a demon on a wave, going a full 10 miles per hour. I think about that and wonder why we consider sailing to be an insane sport that only goes 10 mph... and it's because 10 mph on the water feels like you're a Nascar driver with a wild bobcat in the back seat. Sponsored by wonderbread, fig newtons and Me.
Horizon has this locked up. They picked an apt name for that boat when they decided to campaign her... but we're eating away at everyone else's lead. Sometimes small bites, sometimes large chomps like Shaggy with a Scooby Snack. 8 miles on Hula girl in 1 hour - check. 1 mile on prevail, check... Hans' b.s. calculator has us with a potential corrected spot on the podium. I like Hans' b.s. calculator. we live, eat and breathe by it every hour when we get a new poll from yellowbrick.
Mark Van Selst now has a new nickname: Mephistoles. He abhors the light and welcomes all darkness. quick to cover the instrument lights and prefers to gybe in complete darkness. Some onboard think that he has sold his soul for distance in this race. We give him shit to no end but he's usually right on the calls for a sail change.
Breakfast was abhorrent. We scrounged for whatever we could find. I resorted to lunch meat and cheese rolls with peanut butter and dried cranberries. Sam tried to flavor his water with strawberry jam (a failure by his account) and Mark flavored his with sriracha (a success by his account alone). We have reports that Bill has been cuddling up with a squeeze bottle of mayonnaise searching for a source of caloric intake of any kind. Even the celery is gone.
Almost to the mythical land of never ending mai tai's and fresh water showers - lord knows we need both.
"If you're not first, you're last." - Ricky Bobby.Read more