Harken Derm

How to Pack Like a Pro for an Ocean Crossing

Published on July 7th, 2015

The 48th biennial Transpac Race gets underway next week, with staggered starts on July 13, 16, and 18 for the 61 entrants. For the people planning to sail the 2225-mile course from Los Angeles to the finish line off Diamond Head in Honolulu, packing for the race is now a top priority.

With some 20 Pacific crossings under his belt, Quantum Pacific’s Will Paxton knows a little something about what to take—and what not to take—when packing your bag for an ocean race. And, Paxton says it can all fit into one carry-on bag.

“It’s eat, sleep, sail. You’ll find out pretty quickly there’s not much time for anything else,” he says. “I brought a book with me the first couple times to Hawaii, and I never opened it once.”

Paxton says a good pair of padded shorts is the most important thing to bring, and make sure you invest in a fancy pair of thick, breathable socks. You’ll spend most of your time either sitting on a hard surface or standing and you’ve got to protect your feet.

You get two pairs of footwear: boots and deck shoes. Leave the flip-flops at home. “If it gets light and warm, you can go barefoot, but I’ve seen a lot of foot injuries over the years. Keeping your feet in your shoes, that’s tradecraft,” says Paxton.

A digital watch with a light is also a must—“What time is it?” is a popular question when life revolves around a three-hour shift schedule. You should also bring two pairs of sunglasses, especially if you wear prescription. “If you only bring one and you loose it, you’re handicapped the rest of the race.”

On most boats, you’ll be hot bunking, and often, but not always, the boat will provide the sleeping gear. Check in with your boat as to whether you should pack a sleeping bag. Other things like toothpaste and sunscreen can also be shared and may be provided.

An eye mask can be helpful for sleeping, especially during the day, but earplugs are a no-no. “An iPod is okay, because normally after you fall asleep your playlist will usually run out. You need to be able to hear what’s happening on deck, if someone is calling for help or if there’s an all-hands call, you don’t to be the last one up,” says Paxton.

Of course, every race is different. Know your course—a North Atlantic crossing will require more cold-weather gear than racing the Transpac or Pacific Cup to Hawaii. And, know yourself. If there’s something you need, like a second set of underwear, bring it. You’ll race better if you’re comfortable and feeling good. But if you can live without it, leave it at home.

For Will’s packing list, click here.

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