By Lloyd Thornburg
The past few years we have had a good share of success with at least one wrong turn in our racing program. When Brian Thompson and I were planning the PHAEDO3 program we had a wish list of races and records which would be nice to attempt if we had a MOD70. The Transpacific World Record was the crown jewel of our dreams. Serious talk of a MOD70 began on our long journey home after dismasting the Gunboat PHAEDO during the Trans Pac Race of 2013. It was in this race when we watched the Trimaran LENDING CLUB take off over the horizon, seeking this very difficult record. They came heartbreakingly close to the record, but it was not to be. Then just before the Trans Pac 2015 they were back this time with a bigger weapon. Faced the tough choice of going for the race or taking an excellent record window a few days before, they made the right choice and left before the race and went on to break the world record!
While happy for the team it now seemed they may have put the Trans Pac World record out of reach for my much smaller Trimaran PHAEDO 3. Over the past couple of years, we have faced strong competition and pushed ourselves and the boat further and further, squeezing ever more speed and getting closer and closer to the absolute limit of what our crew and boat could handle. Last fall we began to feel we had reached a new level with the boat and we started thinking about the next challenge for TEAM PHAEDO. We began to allow ourselves to dream of the Trans Pac record, once again. The plan seemed simple. Sail the boat to the west coast. Do an early yard period then wait for a weather window to attempt the record. That is exactly how it worked out. In hindsight, nothing we had yet done with the boat could have prepared us for the enormity of the task of breaking the Trans Pac Record. Here is how it began…
I was sitting at my favorite coffee shop, at home in St. Pete, FL. Finally beginning to relax after my first few nights at home after taking a very hard won Line Honors in the Newport to Ensenada race. Looking forward to an afternoon kite session and a generally slow day of personal admin and Netflix when I received a message from Brian Thompson. Still not yet through my ultra-important first cup of Bandit Coffee the message said “You awake yet? Possible weather window for Trans Pac record.. Fri Midday departure.. Exciting times!” Exciting times indeed! The first shot of adrenaline/fear/excitement and doubt landed. No more need for coffee, I spent the day going through hundreds of emails and still perhaps unwisely managed to get a kiting session in from 6pm to 8pm. The next day I was up pre-sunrise off on a plane to Long Beach to meet the boat. The day was spent buying provisions and extra pieces of kit for the crew. The crew flew together with zero notice. Some of our regular crew and a couple who had only sailed on the boat once or twice. Many of our crew had just made it home to England. They had minutes to pack a bag and jump on a plane back to SO CAL, mission impossible indeed.
By some magical twist the night before the record, I slept well! A quick UBER past Starbucks and we were off the dock by 8:30 am. One of the toughest pieces of the Trans Pac is getting away from Long Beach and over Catalina Island smoothly and cleanly. The timers in place we were ready to start as early as 9:30 am. Hurry up and wait we did. The thing was, the longer we waited the more wind and sea state we would face later slowing us down.
Many of the crew jetlagged and tired showed their true professionalism in taking the opportunity to eat as much food and drink as much water in between naps while two would stay up willing the wind to arrive while motoring slowly in circles. Finally, around 2:30pm the wind began to fill and as soon as we could get the boat lined up and coordinate with the official timers we began our attempt. It was slow going at first and gnawing at the back of my mind was the constant thought, every extra minute we spent slowly going over Catalina island would raise the average speed needed to break the record. Also, we knew we were going straight into some very testing conditions. Within a few hours darkness was upon us and we were straight into 3 reefs and our J3 reaching into big seas 30 to 35 knots of breeze. All this in the at somewhere around 100 degrees TWA which is absolutely the scariest place to drive a hyper performance Trimaran. Fully into darkness we checked our math or math’s as the mostly English crew would say and found we were going to need to average 27.5 knots from that point on all the way to Hawaii on our routing just to tie the old record. It was at that moment when the boat was slamming so hard it felt as though it might come apart the enormity of our task began to dawn on me. We were going to have to leave everything on the table. We were entering the rarified air of all or nothing. Not the usual all or nothing but this boat is either going to flip, snap in half, dismast or we might get the record…might. That first night several of our very experienced sailors including me lost their lunch for the first time on a boat…ever. The seas were not abnormally large but we were attacking them with an insane pace. Nearly every helmsman coming off driving with 30 minute averages of 30 knots or more. Which in sea state, in the dark, sailing a precise heading rather than an optimal speed angle is no mean feat. When I finally went off watch and found a free bunk in the back of the boat it was so rough after 30 minutes the spectra holding the bunk snapped and I took a nice solid whack to the head. Nothing to do but curl up in the mess of the broken bunk and try and sleep because soon I would be called up on deck to helm the boat raging across the sea.
The next day the wind angle mercifully moved aft. The difficulty was nearly our entire crew was broken from the first night at sea so keeping the speed up through varying conditions and lots of sail changes was not easy. I remember driving trying not to think about how it would be hammering the boat through the sea for 3 more nights. We would spend more of this record in the darkness than daylight. The first two nights were nearly as cold as sailing around Ireland. With the apparent wind blasting over the boat at close to 40 knots or more all the time the wind and water literally pull the warmth straight out of your body. Every time I came off the helm my tiller hand would be a frozen claw until I could get it moving again. Probably more from hanging on too tight, than the soul chilling cold. One memory which sticks out for me was after a particularly intense stint on the helm I found I couldn’t feel half of my thumb, this numbness went on for a couple of days. I think this was due to hanging onto the bottom of the helm seat with a death grip while trying to avoid crashing the boat into the back of an ill-timed wave. When I say crash, I mean crash, at one point one of our drivers had a particularly good stuff into the back of a wave and more than one crew member became projectiles within the boat. One of them was particularly unlucky and cracked two ribs. After a phone call to our medical assistance it was determined we could continue so we gave him the recommended pain meds and put him in a bunk, for some doctor ordered rest. Very unexpectedly and as testament to the incredible will driving him. Peter Cummings after very little time bounced back and contributed several massively important and fast drives despite the pain or perhaps driven by it.
One of the things I did not expect with this longer record was the massive stress of racing the clock racing relentlessly forwards. All the while knowing even the slightest breakage, a plastic bag on a foil or a single cloud could ruin our record chances. With each passing hour, it got warmer and warmer as we approached Hawaii, the swells got larger and longer allowing amazing surfs and spectacular 3 rudders out of the water crashes at the bottom of a waves. One of the challenges became keeping the boat speed at 30 knots but not surfing because the swells could easily push the boat speed up to 38 to 40 knots which seems great until you realize the is nowhere to go and you bury all three hulls nearly to the mast and think “am I going to capsize this thing over the front!” Getting to our first Gybe about 700 miles from Hawaii the record was beginning to seem possible then after the Gybe, a wind shift our routing had promised seemed not to be arriving. Meaning we were going to need to average yet higher speeds to keep our record. Yes, it was beginning to feel like it might be ours but also it might slip from our fingers when we were getting so close. Magically every squall line we passed seemed to head us and give us more pressure speeding us along and making a shorter distance to Hawaii, every inch was going to count! Some models had us arriving within minutes of the record either side.
In the end, we came screaming across the finish line in the predawn sails eased on the flat water doing over 32 knots beating the old record by over and hour! Just in time for a huge Record Breaking(still to be ratified by the WSSRC) Breakfast. Nearly everyone on the team ate a Gigantic Belgian Waffle and an omelet, each. Other than forgetting to drink enough water or sleep we apparently had forgotten to eat enough as well! After a few telling nightmares and a week of sorting out other PHAEDO business and 4 visits to the Chiropractor I finally found the stillness to sit down and reflect upon what we have just accomplished as a team. This achievement was MONSTER! In every way and while words most certainly fail to describe how beautiful, frightening fast and intense this sail was I hope you can feel just the slightest bit of what it was to break this record!
By some trick of fate or the mind this sail already feels a distant memory, a lost lover’s face you can hardly picture but whose memory will always fill your heart with crashing emotions, your life all the richer having found your limit and then gone way way way beyond it.
As I put my final touches on this rough draft I am looking forwards to my cup of coffee tomorrow morning where I will literally have come full circle from the most intense experience of my life. I am very much looking forwards to quite reflection, stillness and once the caffeine kicks in asking…”what’s next?!”
I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped make this record possible. The sacrifices TEAM PHAEDO has made over the years to make it look easy are far too many to enumerate here. Much of the success or failure to make this happen was decided over the past several years due to all the tremendously hard work all our primary crew, shore crew and suppliers have made. A special mention to the WSSRC, the tireless record keepers who have over the past few years sacrificed many nights sleep make sure these records are accurate to the second.