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. the Transpac race 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 race 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!
There are some final details: the stowing of sails, the drive past the Hawaii Yacht Club where a lively crowd cheers us from the rails, the parking of the boat, the perfunctory inspections, a few team photos. Then loved one are placing leis around our necks and holding us tight as tears let slip. Someone places a Trader Vic perfect Mai Tai in my hand. After 13 days at sea it tastes like ambrosia. Our wonderful hosts, Denette and Eric, lead us to a tent where Kalua pork, sticky rice, deviled eggs and many other treats await. More Mai Tais are poured, sailors' heads grow blurry, sea legs go slack. The Transpac race 2017, literally an epic of Homeric proportions, reaches its final stage: the week of parties, aka: the sacking of the city.
Beware, Trojans, beware.
Mahalo nui loa, Aloha, and love to all. A hui hou!
The crew of La Sirena,
Ala Wai Marina, Honolulu, Hawaii
Over and out.
July 15, 2017
It is the eve of our last night at sea. Wind and swells have built throughout the day as we near the mouth of the famed “Molokai” channel. We approach on a high angle from well above Oah'u, but that does nothing to ease the conditions. We spend the day being pushed all over hell's half acre, and then at night it really lays on. For added kicks, multiple squalls pelt us with occasional rain and dangerously high wind gusts that threaten to knock the boat over. None of this is out of the ordinary for the Transpac race.
After a final Sunset with Sinatra (truncated by rough seas) I head up for a burly turn on helm. Fraser and Carl then take turns in an epic Dueling Banjos back and forth handoff on a hot reach that each later describes as the toughest stints they have ever pulled at the wheel. When I come back on watch three hours later—having not slept a wink—Barb, Troy and Sean are all fried from long hours of similar beatings. On it goes through the night: A sheet runs full out and trails behind unoticed in the dark. A sail bag rips open, giving Poseidon a nice trinket, gear crashes everywhere, salt water sprays through an open port. Wind speeds ride past 20 knots, then 25, and then 28 in gusts. Did I mention the squalls?
Weep not for us, dear reader, for we have asked for this ride. For in the heat of the maelstrom, clouds part, the moon silvers the sea, and the wind drops down to the mid-teens. Orion rises before the mast and I park a star in the rigging and drive more or less as the ancient Polynesians did. The Milky Way and all its kin splay out overhead, infinity and history itself displayed in the heavens. Wind, sea and stars are ours. Troy and I marvel at both the sight and the feeling: one of those moments that seem larger than the self. This is zen. This is the song of the Sirens. This is THE this.
See you all soon in Honoloo,
The tired and happy crew of La Sirena
July 15, 2017, 0200
These are the days of miracles and wonder.
The gods smiled upon us today—but first they made us sweat. Light air and broiling heat vexed the boat throughout the afternoon. Steering was difficult in the fluky winds and occasional rogue swell. We made the best of it still, policing up the boat, stowing foul weather gear, cranking down hardware, and taking down-time in bunks. The occasional “This wasn't in the brochure,” comment was made in refernence to the much lighter than normal winds for this stage of the race. It would have been easy to get down. Sean and Carl decided to rig a swing instead.
Utilizing a bosun's chair and some good old-fashioned American ingenuity, they rigged a sitting harness off the boom on the port side. Infectious laughter, ridiculously fun wave-skimming, and pure joy followed. The gods see these things. Signs were sent to the optimistic and fun-seeking crew. After six days of hopeless trolling on a makeshift handline, a Mahi Mahi took the hook. “Fish on!” rang out, and many hands rushed to battle stations to dispatch the beautiful 10 lb green and gold offering from the sea. Requisite clownish photos were taken and the grim work of filleting set to. Dinner plans were changed.
As the skipper put his galley skills to use, a distinct freshening in the breeze was noted. Items began sliding off counters, the boat lurched in gusts, walking became difficult again. Life at sea was set to right. Before it got too rough, the crew feasted on 3 different incarnations of the divine fish as prepared by Chef “Tonimoto” (all apologies to Mr. Morimoto of Honolulu), and Owen Provence's yum-yum-beefy-cheesy mac. Shortly thereafter, the sun sizzzled down into the sea in a blossom of orange and red as the crew rocked epic cuts from The Ventures.
As of this writing, the wind is laying on NE at 25 knots and the boat is scooting along at 8-10 knots* on “Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,” under ten million stars. THIS is what the brocure promises. This is the Transpac race. Book your passage soon, and make sure to render a suitable offer to Poseidon.
Love from the rollicking high seas,
The crew of La SIrena,
23.42.113N/153.51.57W (less than 300 mi from Honolulu)
July 14, 2017, 1000
Becalmed and carry on.
It's going to happen at some point. You are going to sail into a hole. Our turn came today in early afternoon. Ater driving 7-9 knot speeds throughhout the morning, the wind shut off about 2 p.m. And by shut off, I mean valve closed, as in less than 5 knots, as in None. We tried all the tricks, but after an hour or so we were virtually becalmed. Heat blazes down while we more or less loll on the current. Tans are improved. Body temps go up.That nasty hope that other boats in your division are also entrapped rises within. What to do then?
Jump in the ocean. Or, rather, dunk in the water off the stern while tethered to a line. Safer, and the same effect is achieved. While down there, we all observed the loose fitting at the base of the rudder that has led to the odd thumping we have heard throughout the race. It flips, it flops, it generally stays in place. Shrug. We also observe that it is a very, very long way down toward the bottom. Swim sessions are short.
In late afternoon the wind ticks up. A boat speed of 4.5 knot—pitiful for this stage of the Transpac race—elicits heart flutters. Slowly it builds. An evening meal of the skipper's private pesto recipe, mated with some leftover pork chops and a nice Napa Cabernet—a pairing that would get you bodily removed from most restaurants in Italy—brightens the mood. Evening sets in with a brilliant sunset and various selections by the Chairman of the Board. It was a slow day. We had some kicks. We're sailing to Hawai'i. Life is good, brah.
Warm and humid wishes,
The crew of La SIrena,
July 12, 2017, 2230
The wind blew stink overnight, and our drivers took a bit of a beating, albeit with weathered grins. Then it all fell out about mid-day, winds dropping to levels we hadn't seen in a week, the ship wallowing in the wonky swells as the sails bucked. The day turned hot as the cloud cover withered under the tropical sun. Misting fans became coveted items. Lethargy took hold.
Is that…? Did I see…? Yes! A spout! WHALE HO ON THE PORT SIDE!
Oh, magical beast. Oh, joy inducing hump-backed lovely, cruising slowly fifty yards off, blowing great torrents of steam into the air. And wait… a pod of dolphins too? Now swimming in our bow wake? What gifts Poseidon does bestow on we happy few. All reverence to you, powerful lord of the deep. We remain enchanted by the denizen of your realm, from the mighty line-ripping Tuna to the graceful flying fish, and now the propitious and playful dolphins and the gray leviathan cetacean.
The rest of the day passes in light winds, burning down to a brilliant sunset set to the music of one Francis Albert Sinatra. Weather files are downloaded and pored-over, new strategies mapped for the end-game. Locomotive has almost certainly won the day in our division, but we are hot on the stern of t Draconis for second in a race that may well be determined in the Molokai'i channel.
It is great to be in the Transpac race. Better still to be in the hunt. It is best of all to experience the majesty of the sea and its inscrutable and beguiling creatures.
Love, aloha, and fair winds,
The crew of La Sirena,
July 12, 2017, 0800
Plates were full onboad La Sirena today. The day began with with a jibe of the symmetrical kite at first light. A complex orchestration of moves on any boat, it was further complicated by our having remined on starboard tack for an entire week, denying us the opportunity to stay sharp on our skills. Still in all, the manuever went quite well despite a few small glitches. There will be ample opportunities afforded for more jibes ahead, particularly in the Moloka'i channel.
A second exercise involved a perceived loss of speed over the last day and a half. In the late afternoon, it was agreed by all that we'd have to take down the spinnker and back the boat down. Additionally, we decided that a swimmer would go down and inspect the keel and rudder if nothing floated free of the boat while backing her. A team meeting was held and the entire manuever and range of contingencies were discussed. Then down came the spinnaker and La Sirena was genty backed down into the swells. When no free floating kelp or detritus drifted off, it became time to dunk the Skipper. The shockingly clear waters afforded an easy view of the keel, drive shaft and rudder. All were completely clear. Without skipping a beat, we proceeed to re-hoist the spinnaker and make way. As we resumed course, the boat seemed more slippery through the sea, and Troy pulled down a quick burst at 14 and a half knots. Inference suggests that the keel had indeed been fouled, and that the offending item, perhaps now waterlogged, had sunk, rather than floated away. Regardless, boat speeds remained bettter throughout the evening. We won't get the lost time back, but we again solved a vexing conundrum. Such is the Transpac race, an endless opportunity to build your team while solving little problems like seized blocks, chafed lines, shifting winds, ripped sails, and even a rudder post that requires a daily spraydown with Pam cooking spray. Endorsement, anyone?
With evening came the best team building exercise of the trip: Michael and Barbara reached deep into their party-planning bag and tossed a 52nd birthday party for the skipper. The legendary hula girl “Carl-ita of the South Seas appeared in requisite coconuts and skirt and performed a birthday song that would've left Marilyn green with envy—or perhaps mal du mer. Tom Waits, Roxy Music, Frank Sinatra and others backdropped the bestowing of many beautiful gifts. Then came a dinner featuring beloved Carol's reknown “sauce and balls” splashed down with a lovely Valpolicella and followed by a cake—a cake!—baked at sea by the amazing Barbara. Some say they saw a tear in the old Skipper's eye before it was all over, although he steadfastly blamed it on a rogue salt crystal.
Evening brought a reality check as the east wind laid on hard and it fairly well blew stink with Wonk City wave sets all through the night. As one hit the stops on both sides of their bunk, they could take comfort in knowing that capable comrades—part of a great team—were on the job above.
Love, fair winds, and blessings from the sea,
The crew of La Sirena,
10 July, 2017, 2130
The big news today arrived with the 10 a.m. fleet report: La Sirena logged 204 NM sailed yesterday in ripping good winds, an all-time boat record! That, and the fact that we remain competitive while holding the high line in the race, brought cheers to the cockpit this morning. Winds were also very good today, and we expect to post a number close to this morning's in tomorrow's report. Estimates for our Hawaii arrival are beginning to firm up, although wind forecasts continue to vary with each new report.
Almost as good—and even more eagerly anticipated—was the arrival of the sun after 5 days of stony gray overcast. Crew members were already in high spirits following a lunch of Carol Naranjo's insanely tasty Carnitas and some guacamole, but the blazing sunshine that emerged in early afternoon had all hands shedding layers and camping out in various quarters in beanbag chairs to get their tan and their zen on. Between the rays and the warm trade winds blowing, it was a truly lovely afternoon. Transpac race at its finest.
In other news, we are beginning to see more floats and assorted trash in the water, but nothing that has posed a threat to the boat yet. All else is smooth sailing for vessel and crew.
Love and fair winds,
The crew of La Sirena
July 9, 2017
Wind laid on all day today, topping 25k true on occasion, and averaging about 16k. We dropped the asymmetrical sail this morning and hoisted a robust traditional spinnaker instead. Boat speeds improved nearly logarithmically to steady 9s and 10s, with numerous forays above 12 and a daily high of 15.3k by Fraser (shattering my short-lived 13.6k record). Crew has been in high spirits with much shouting and boasting about one's individual skills at the helm. Sea state has varied from moderate to burly, but the wave angle to the boat has been perfect. This is the type of weather we hope to ride the rest of the way to Honolulu. It's sailor's conditions all the way.
Mid-afternoon, Fun Commodore Michael hosted our halfway party as the senior ranking Transpac racer onboard, with 5 completions to his name. Toast were made, vows of fidelity and fraternity offered, and grog rations handed out. Additionally, a round of gift exchanges was made, and then a message in a bottle signed and committed to Poseidon's realm with a reward promised for anyone who finds it. We followed with a dinner of Owen Provence's delicious and comforting shrimp paella. Yum!
Race-wise, we are the high boat in the entire fleet as all other boats appear to have dived south on hot angles. We are left with the option of following along and finishing out of the money or pursuing different strategies that could lead to upset opportunities. We remain dedicated to the competition and are hard at work analyzing all options. Let's see what tricks these old seadogs have left.
On behalf of the entire crew, with fond wishes to loved ones and friends.
John “Tony” Sandrolini
Skipper, La Sirena
July 8, 2017, 2030
We have learned these last three days that we are fine sailors, and poor fishermen—or, at least, poorly equipped fishermen. Having watched denizens of the deep repeatedly dash off and spit hooks back at us, we were nevertheless reinvigorated this morning when the line took off singing in the mouth of yet another aquarian beast. The typical scenario ensued, but this time with an even more ignominious ending: The fish, which may have been a bluefin tuna, dove for life. And dove. And dove. The rod clacked as the nylon played out, burning through the drag futilely applied to brake the creature's flight. All too quickly it became apparent that the fish had the upper, ahem, hand. Moments after Carl shouts “I don't think we have enough line,” the reel comes to a clacking halt as the last of the 300 yards of 150 lb test rips out and vanishes into the deep. We stare slackjawed as we come to grips with the reality that our fishing adventures on this trip are all gone—hook, line, and sinker.
Well, at least we fought the good fight.
Continuing in theme, Michael, Troy, and I spent a good portion of the afternoon divining weather and plotting boat positions. It is early still, and we are ripping high speeds day and night, but we don't appear to be quite as fast as the other boats in our division. Tactics, guile, and just plain luck may yet win the day, but the fishcapades may be a metaphor for the race itself. We are sailing the hell out of La Sirena and having a ton of fun on the high seas, but the hardware may elude us in Honolulu. Weep not for us, for we are dining on gourmet meals, singing sea chanteys, breathing salt air, and making memories that will last a lifetime. as we say on La Sirena, “This is THE THIS. And it is amazing.
Love and aloha for now,
The crew of La Sirena,
July 7, 2017, 1300
Yesterday was an auspicious day. We made good speeds (regularly topping 10k) on various points of reaching in a solid NE breeze. Better still, at 19:40 pdt we let fly our brand-new asymetrical spinnaker, the fabulous and beguiling La Sirena, icon of this vessel, based on a 1944 Esquire magazine pinup by the brilliant Alberto Vargas. Unfortunately, data constraints prevent me from sending a photo of this magnificent sail, but if you're consumed by curiosity you may search on-line for “Daydreaming/Alberto Vargas/1944” or similar. The entire crew salutes Quantum sails and the Wheatley family at Bahia Rigging for providing this precious yet brawny angel of the sea. She is killing it, Todd!
In more mundane affairs, we solved a speed loss conundrum by shedding a mischievous ribbon of kelp from the keel. Sean cleverly rigged his GoPro on a gaff pole and gave us a no-doubt visual of the 15' strand that may have dogged us for better than a day. When keel flossing failed, we reluctantly struck the ayso and backed down the main until the pesky plant floated free. The entire maneuver took only four minutes to complete. Such episodes, like the previously slack steering cable and balky satphone, are to be expected, and are all part and parcel of the race. Men make plans; the gods laugh.
Overall, it was a very good day. Breakfast was ridiculously good Papas y chorizo; dinner tamales and Spanish rice, all provided by my own precious angel of the sea, Carol. Yes, dear, we all love you very much. Big picture: more of the same sailing on-course as we carve away incrementally at the leads two boats in our division enjoy over us. It's a long way to Honolulu.
Fond wishes from the majestic North Pacific.
The crew of La Sirena
July 6, 2017
With the voice of Bobby Bare singing that melancholy song in my head, I offer today's Skipper's report. We are now well out into the Pacific in continuing favorable seas and a freshing NE breeze of 9-14 knots. This wind held all afternoon and throughout the night, and we have been running a light air asymetrical spinnaker on a hot angle for close to 24 hours now. We have moved up a notch in the standings and remain in contention with the leaders of our division. Weather reports indicate a near straight course to the Makapu'u Light at the east end of Oah'u on the starboard tack we picked up on day one of the race.
Overcast skies persisited all afternoon, but spirits remained high with hijinks, camaraderie and good laughs all around. Dinner was a splendid Turkey Tetrazzini made by Our Lady of the Sailmakers, Nancy Wheatley. A saint that woman is. The bulk of the day was largely uneventful until we hooked our first fish about 7:30 p.m. It takes a major event to interrupt our long-standing “Sinatra at Sunset” tradition, but the screech of the reel and the call of “Fish on!” were sufficient to knock Ol' Blue Eyes out of the limelight as we all scrambled for reel, gaff, hammer and filleting knife. Carl fought the good fight with some monster of the deep for 15 minutes, but in true Hemingway fashion, the big fella spit the bit and swam away, no doubt bloody and not so unbowed. Judging from the mauling given to our cedar plugs, we probably had a Yellowfin on the line. Alas… the one that got away…
The only unfortunate news to report is that we will probably not be able to restore the “voice out” function on our satphone. The Emergency mode still works fine, and we are anxious to hear your voice on the line should you call, but there will be a definite “Sorry, Wrong Number” aspect to the exchange. We retain full email capability, but again ask all to refrain from writing back unless you have an emergency at home.
Sending our love from the high seas,
The crew of La Sirena
July 5, 2017
Sailing Vessel La Sirena, Beneteau 47.7 First
Sailing Crew: John “Tony” Sandrolini, Fraser McClellan, Barbara and Michael Lawler, Carl Gustafsun, Sean Derby, and Troy McEwan
Day 2 of the Transpac race 2017 was largely uneventful. We reached in fair winds and gentle seas under cloudy skies throughout the day. Sailboats Dark Star and Onde Amo appeared on the horizon periodically; otherwise no race vessels were sighted.
The significant event of the day was the repairing of the steering cable. Both the slackness in the cable and the troubling binding and thumping emanating from the vicinty of the rudder post convinced us of the need to act. Multiple options for controlling the boat during the repair were considered, included heaving to, utilizing the manual tiller, and activating the autopilot (which almost certainly would have carried a penalty from the race committee). In the end, we struck the jib and slipped the manual tiller onto the rudder fitting. Fraser drove the boat while Carl and I reaffixed the slack cable onto its drum and cranked down the cable fittings on the steering quadrant down in “the hole”. Seas were fair and winds were light during the 30 minute repair, making the task relatively easy. We surrended some time during this activity, but all hands were very pleased with the behavior and integrity of the rudder assembly afterward.
Yesterday was, of course, Independence Day. No fireworks were discharged, but Michael and Barbara prepared a beautiful feast of ravioli, fresh vegetables and rack of lamb with mint jelly. Anyone who knows the Lawlers will not be surprised by this extravagence, which was very well received by the entire ship's complement.
During the evening we dueled with Dark Star a bit in close quarters before passing to the north. This brought a little excitement to the evening, but is definitely to their advantage as they are both in a different division and in posession of a lower rating. In our own division, we remain the lowest boat but trail the fleet slightly. We hope to convert the more favorable winds anticipated down here on a run toward Diamond Head as the race progresses.
Other than some difficulty transmitting on our satphone (we can hear the R/C, however) all is well aboard ship.
Love and best wishes to all,
The crew of La Sirena
July 4, 2017
This is the first daily report for the sailing vessel La Sirenal during the 2017 Transpacific race.
Wind was light at the start of the 49th semi-annual running of the race. We crossed the line smartly at 1 p.m. pdt in 7-9 knots of sou'east breeze on port tack. We had some difficulty prior to start with the jib halyard slipping and had to drop the mains'l halfway down just a few minutes prior to the gun. This caused some consternation but the crew rectified the problem swiftly. Shortly after the start we went over on starboard tack and maintained this board until clearing the West end of Catalina Island (by about 50 yards—-nice driving Carl).
Upon rounding the West end, we turned down to a southerly heading which was well left of the other boats in our class. We worked this course throughout the night in a wonderfully fresh breeze of 13-18 knots of true wind and very placid seas. Boat speeds overnight averaged approximately 8 knots on both close and beam reaches. Morning brought gray skies, 2 foot seas and winds of 7-12 knots.
The first night was uneventful for the crew with no sickness or injuries of any kind. Some looseness in the steering cable has been detected and will require a close eye and some trouble-shooting going forward. All else is well.
With love to family and dear friends,
The crew of La Sirena,