Just when we thought we were ready to show some serious aloha-love to the Aloha Division - Eric Gray's Morris 46, Gracie, led most of the way in Transpac 2011 and finished mid-day Monday - in comes Jack Taylor's Horizon to polish off a brilliant win in the SC50 division and raise the question, how do we tell this? Which story is the story?
And then -
It came clear.
Even though they started four days apart, and even though the boat designs are light-years apart, Gracie and Horizon shared a common thread. While much of the competition knifed up and down across latitudes, these two winners sailed about as close to a straight-line course as you could hope for. No, you couldn't call it a classic Transpac year, but Jon "Mr. Horizon" Shampain, from his perspective as navigator, put it this way: "The High was so far north, at 40° or so, that we were on the great circle route for the first 24 hours. Then, as we bore off with the jib top, the code 0, spinnakers, we sailed a pretty classic route. When the breeze went light in the middle, we had to cross north of the rhumb line, but by then it was pretty much over in our class."
Loving that stern scoop, Jack? Photo: Sharon Green
Which just keeps on happening. The short list for Mr. Taylor's SC50 - always with fresh greens from Shampain's garden and zero freeze-drieds - includes division wins in Transpac 2009, Pacific Cup 2010, Cabo 2011 and now this. Footnote: They love the stern scoop. "Now we can talk to each other and hear ourselves," Shampain said. "That's not why we added the scoop - we had no idea it was going to change life in the cockpit - but now we know."
From the Department of Wisdom: Prior to the start, Shampain said, "I get weather from multiple sources. I go to Rich Shema at Weatherguy, and I get Commanders' Weather because that's what the competition uses."
Know thine "enemy."
Jack Taylor, lower right, and Team Horizon Photo: Kimball Livingston
And it doesn't hurt to have a seasoned crew that's not making it up on the spot. This is a family boat, with Taylor's brother Scott aboard and son John. Shampain's son Eric was in the crew for race as well, and let's round that out with Tom O'Keefe, Dan Geissman and Mel Wills, who informs us, "The only thing that broke, in 2,225 miles, was the bottle opener."
Well, if it was going to break, it was going to break on the way to Cabo. Ask the Bella Mente boys.
And Gracie's story is quite a bit like Horizon's story, except that starting on July 4 made for "interesting times." The exaggeration that tells the truth is that there was no wind at all. The weather briefing at the skipper's meeting was bullish for wind all the way, but our contrarian Weather Underground consultant Matt Gregory got it right when he tipped us to "some nutty #&@% that's about to happen."
No two ways about it, Division 6 and the Aloha entries drew the short straw for start days, but let's be clear, friends. I never dissed the Aloha folks as mere cruisers. I said you were sailing cruising boats, and I stand by that even if PK Edwards (85 and loving life) does have a carbon main on his second-place Catalina 42, Wind Dancer.
What made the difference for Gracie? I don't think that Dan Nowlan, US Sailing Offshore Director, will mind if I repeat his comment that, "Watching Gracie come across, and seeing how well she was doing, I started to worry that I had the numbers wrong." As in, the rating. "Then I looked at the crew list, and I realized it wasn't about the rating." Crewman Sam Cargill categorized Transpac 2011, from the Aloha perspective, as "Fifteen days of dinghy racing. We sailed every mile. It was a real commitment."
OK, we get it.
The start, per Eric Gray: "We looked at zeroes at times. Then we found the wind about 100, 150 miles off Santa Cruz Island. We worked it until we got a chute up, and basically, never took it down. Sure, we made some sail changes, but from there we just sailed it on in. We thought it would be a 14-day race, and if you subtract the two days of 'no' wind, it was a 14-day race." And then . . . "
Eric Gray and all the little Grays. Photo: Kimball Livingston
I missed the Bad Pak arrival, but Betsy Crowfoot was there to capture the moment as Tom Holthus, navigator Scott Lowry and crew collected their second division win in a row, 2009 and 2011.
Bad Pak ticks one off. Photo: Sharon Green
I've been hearing a lot of praise for the camera work of Betsy and of course Sharon Green, our eye in the sky, and I've noticed that Sharon's disciplinary procedures are working. At the skippers' meeting in Long Beach, she was clear and firm: "When you see the helicopter, clean up the deck, look around, and put on your shirts."
Transpac is history. Look good for your grandkids
POSTCRIPT: Every race looks different, depending upon your point of view. Some time after Transpac 2011, we received a letter from Dr. PK Edwards, which is worth recording for history. It reads in part:
"Assessment of navigation performance in the Aloha Division requires a much more detailed analysis plus at least some input from the boat that finished second. While there is not doubt that Gracie sailed the shorter course, there is serious question as to whether she sailed the fastest course. Wind Dancer was becalmed with zero wind for six hours on Monday night, in the lee of Santa Barbara Island, and as a result ended up in last place early-on, at one point being as much as 27 hours on corrected time behind the eventual winner. At the finish she was in second place, only three hours behind on corrected time, and gaining. There has to be a message here. Once Wind Dancer got going and reached up to the 1020 mb line, she squared off and sailed deep polars, mostly on starboad pole, to a final gybe point in wind that steadily increased to 20-25 true, with gusts to 28-30. This was well before we had Molokai in sight."
Dr. Edwards goes on to detail some equipment failures that added time to Wind Dancer's crossing, then adds:
"We have come to know Gracie by racing with them in the LAYC's Times/Whitney/Bogart Series. They are great people, and we're glad they are the ones who beat us. We just don't believe they outnavigated us."