Cousins battle for sea superiority
Published on July 26th, 2018
The sailing roots run deep in the Paxton family, and this year cousins Will and Julia engaged in their first head-to-head doublehanded race in the 2018 Pacific Cup to Hawaii.
They were competing against each other in the 6-boat Express 27 fleet, which was perhaps the most remarkable division for the 2,070 nm course from San Francisco to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.
Designed by Carl Schumacher, 117 boats were built in the ’80s by Terry Alsberg at Alsberg Brothers Boatworks in Santa Cruz, California. This ultra-light displacement was an immediate hit and continues to hold its value with a strong one design fleet in San Francisco.
But racing offshore? “Dropping the centerline profile but still maintaining the tight turn at the topsides resulted in powerful stern sections, a long waterline, easy longitudinal lines, and a transom that won’t drag,” explained Schumacher. With an oversized rudder positioned as far aft as possible, the result is “sports car” control under the most taxing conditions.
For the Paxtons, the elder Will has some 19 Pacific crossings notched in his belt but always with a full crew, while younger cousin Julia has sailed a couple trips to Hawaii as crew on other people’s boats, so neither had attempted a shorthanded open ocean race of this distance and caliber.
Teaming up with Julia on Loose Cannon would be another sailing student during her formative years of the Richmond Yacht Club’s Junior program, and now her boyfriend and soulmate, Andy Goodman. Will would be teaming up with on Motorcycle Irene with long time sailing partner Zachary Andersen.
As it turns out, the lack of previous long distance double handing would not be much of a handicap. And as time would show, the shorthanded boats that started in the first group of four start dates on July 9th would have an advantage, if they played their cards right. Yet nobody could predict the outcome and the neck and neck drag race that kept tracker voyeurs glued to their seats as the mighty Express 27’s scurried across the Big Blue Pacific.
This time little cuz beat big cuz. Erik Simonson of Pressure Drop caught up with the crews after arrival in Kaneohe and delivers this (marginally edited) interview of the escapade.
Andy Goodman and Julia Paxton:
Pressure Drop: Can you provide a little background on your sailing history?
A&J: Well 1st, we are both product of the RYC Junior Sailing Program, and we have been sailing together for the past two years. We both started with El Toros, then I moved up to keelboats and Julia went onto 29ers. We both sailed together to Hawaii on Michael Moradzadeh’s Santa Cruz 50’ Oaxaca, which was our beginning of offshore program.
PD: Tell us a little about your boat Loose Cannon?
A&J: (Andy) Well my dad bought Loose Cannon when I was still in high school, so that was a while back, but it ended up sitting on a trailer on a farm in Stockton for a long time. It had weathered so badly, I was not comfortable even sailing it on the bay. Two years ago, we decided to restore her back to racing condition. (Julie)We stripped the whole deck, pulled out all the fasteners, pulled out the bad parts of core and reglassed everything and reseated everything just to make sure the whole thing was dry. We put in all new standing rigging, replaced most of the hardware and all the running rigging. Pretty much a new boat from the deck up. Her bottom half was in great shape, having spent all that time in dry storage and not in the water. We had intentions of doing this race all along and rebuilt her with offshore intentions from the start.
PD: So when was the idea of racing to Hawaii double handed conceived?
(Julia) It’s funny, in 2016, I raced in the Pac Cup on Wayne Koide’s Sydney 32 Encore, and Andy, who I just met, came over and surprised me. We started chatting about maybe doing the Pac Cup double handed. Andy and his brother Noe had wanted to do the race triple handed on an Express for years, but when their friends Patrick Lewis and Steve Carrol did it doublehanded in 2010 on Tule Fog they rethought the program and decided they might duplicate the feat. They (chokes up a little) never got that chance to do that together, so we decided to pick up the torch where they left off.
PD: So when it comes to the final preps committing to the race, when did you put your nose to the grindstone as it were?
(Andy) Well both of us are merchant mariners, so we go out to sea for 3-4 months at a time, but then we can take 3-4 months off. This year we both got off at Christmas, so we decided not to g back to work until after this race. So it was 7 months of nothing but getting the boat ready. We are lucky to have friends who have done this race double handed on Express’s and other small boats that could advise us on all the tricks to make it happen.
PD: Both in Merchant Marines? Did you both attend Cal Maritime?
Andy: Actually I’m Cal Maritime and Julia is New York Maritime.
Julia (laughing) I’m sort of the black sheep in that regard. NYM had an environmental science major that I was pretty keen on, and I majored in navigation and meteorology.
PD: That answers the next question, where di you brush up on your navigation and meteorology skills?
Andy: She’s actually a professional!
Julia: We were very fortunate in 2016 to have Jim Quanci as our navigator on Encore and last year we had Liz Baylis as the navigator on Oaxaca. We come from this community that is very supportive in sharing and passing down the knowledge. Even little things like offering up a dodger or a beanbag to use in the nav station, or Dave Hodges at Ullman Sails in Santa Cruz offering up tips on sails, the list is endless
PD: Tell us about offshore training you did prior to the start of this race?
Julia: We started racing the boat in earnest this spring. Our 1st race was the Double Handed Farallones, double handed in 2 Lightship races and double handed in the Duxship race. We had our share of success and also failure. The best part being we got to line up with the other double handed boats that were doing this race, so we got to see how we stacked up as well as getting together afterwards and comparing notes and ideas, so we all ended up with a fleet mentality going into the start, which I think was really valuable.
PD: Any pre-race apprehension before the weeks, days or hours prior to the start?
Julia: Absolutely! (Laughs)
Andy: It can get confused with excitement. Everyone was asking if we were nervous, and I would answer “absolutely NOT, I’m excited” until the day before, then it was like “okay, now I’m nervous”
PD: Looking back at the weather on your start on the Monday, when the weather forecast was looking a little edgy, what was going through your minds?
Julia: I think that contributed to the nerves a little bit. The forecast was for 25-30 knots offshore for the 1st night and because we really light with no crew, we knew we couldn’t hang going to weather so we just decided to run with it. The routing software was indicating we should go north because of the remnants of hurricane Fabio disrupting things in the middle of the course, we decided to bank on the trade winds and stay south. We ended up south of the fleet and had a few days of slatting with lots of sail changes, but we got into the trades early and that made the big difference.
PD: You were trailing your cousin for the 1st few days but then things changed. What happened?
Julia: We started behind him, but were happy it was not an insurmountable distance, then on that Saturday (the 14th) we were finally getting out of the light wind and moving at 4-5 knots when we spotted Will and Zach black carbon mainsail ahead, looking through binoculars we saw that they were still slatting. We decided to stay below them and not go near the hole they were in, that literally is what it came down to!
PD: What was your watch schedule like?
Andy: Our 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM schedule, was 4 hours on then 4 hours off during the day, then 3 hours on and 3 hours off at night. It worked of great as you would switch between having two 4 hour watches on and two 4 hour watches off every other day. And with the weather not being too crazy we were actually able to sleep, which as great!
PD: Will had mentioned prior to departing that double handing is just single handing with breaks!
Julia: Yeah, you are up on the deck making all these decisions by yourself, but you know in a couple hours, you will have backup on the way, plus you know if anything happens you have help just a few feet away!
PD: Any memorable fire drills for you?
Andy: It was pretty casualty free, the biggest problem was the light air and wind clocking around flogging the main stuff. The most memorable moments was seeing our competition in the middle of the Pacific, and the last night when we had just set up for our final approach and to have Pyewacket, with their high dollar navigator come sailing by on the same approach. I felt pretty good to know we had pick the same lay line!
PD: Provisioning, what did you munch on?
Julia: Mostly dehydrated meals, oatmeal in morning, Salami sandwiches or PB&J for lunch. We ate really well. Tons of protein bars, beef jerky, tons of snickers bars, chocolate covered expresso beans, I’m big on coffee! The express’s don have built in water storage so we just used gallon sized water bottles, which eliminated the tank water taste you get on some boats.
Andy: Can’t forget the expresso induced brownies!
Julia: Oh yeah, BIG SHOUT out to my uncle Fred who whipped up killer 5 chocolate brownies with two kinds of coffee, we keep a Tupperware pan of those on deck at all times!
PD: We noticed before the departure, Andy got his ears lowered, a big sacrifice?
Andy: It definitely got a lot of reaction, but I know it grows back. It was much more comfortable and you don’t really have a lot of time for personal hygiene, so cutting it all off was just one less thing to think about.
Julia: Plus, it made the boat lighter!
PD: Getting back to civilization after 13 days on the water, any culture shock?
Andy: Actually yeah, we had no idea about the coverage that the race was going to have…
Julia: We were blown away, honestly. When we turned on our cell phones, all the texts and messages, from inner circle of friends, outer circle of friends, folks from Richmond Yacht Club, Stockton Sailing Club, Facebook …We were happy we could put on a good show…Coming back to all that love and encouragement was over whelming…
Andy: Very emotional for us!
PD: Well that about wrap it up unless you have any more shout out?
Andy: Yeah thanks for all the supports from the Richmond Yacht Club and the Stockton Sailing Club
Julia: A special thanks to Will and Zachary for their support of the Express 27 Fleet. Over the years they have both have served as president and measurers, and their endless energy to keep the fleet alive. The work they put in is probably the reason we were able to have 7 boats in this Pac Cup!
Will Paxton and Zachary Andersen:
Will and Zachary have been partners in the Express 27’ Motorcycle Irene for around 10 years, and can almost always be found around the podium following the many buoy races they compete in. They also obtained the Shock 40’ Secret Squirrel (now Velvet Hammer) a few years back and have poured bundles of time, money and energy getting her ready for longer offshore adventures. Zach and Will include Andy and Julia in many of those outings, making their campaigns a family affair.
PD: Congrats on your success in the Pac Cup! Your 1st time Double Handing in this race and you manage a second in class and 3rd in PHRF. Having all that time doing full crewed campaigns, what possessed you to do it?
Will: It was actually Zach that suggested it, we had planned on doing it on The Hammer, but there was growing momentum within the Express 27 fleet to get our own start for the Pac Cup, and if we decided if we were ever going to do it double handed, this would be the year.
PD: So who in the class was banging the drum the loudest?
Will: That would probably be Rebecca Hinden
Zach: There has been talk within the fleet for a while, but when people started actually signing up this year, we said, lets do it! We actually had The Hammer signed up, so we just switched over the registration
PD: When did you decide to jump in with both feet?
Zach: I think it was November or December, we were a little late to the party actually, one of the last to teams to register and get the boat ready
PD It’s easy to talk about doing such a trip over a beer at the bar, but when it comes time to push off the dock with 2,000 plus miles ahead, any pre-race apprehension?
Zach: We had been in such a huge rush to get the boat ready over the last few months, we didn’t really have much time to think about it. When we finally did push off the dock, it was more of a huge relief!
Will: All the pre-race preparation are taxing and stressful and is not the fun part of the race. Once you get through that and actually untie the dock lines and start sailing you can relax.
PD: How much work actually goes into getting an Express double handed ready for a Pac Cup?
Will: It’s quite a bit, especially when you get into the instrumentation and indicators for navigation, you have solar panels and charging systems, quit a few things over and above what a stock express would have gone with, like a hand held compass and GPS. Our boat had not gone through a thorough going over as far as water proofing and structural inspecting in may 15 years, so in the weeks leading up, while other boats were primping and putting tape down, we were drilling holes and applying epoxy, making sure things wouldn’t rip out of the deck or water wouldn’t be dripping on our head at night.
Zach: It’s a completely different thing than jumping on a boat at absolute minimum weight for a weekend of buoy racing to loading up the boat with 30 gallons of water and all the food we need to store, all the gear and safety equipment. We were lucky the Will had lined up all these amazing people to help, like Scot Easom and Rufus putting in time on the boat, Evelyn Hull who has been doing navigation on the Invisible Hand helped put together our navigation program. It was a big team, sometimes there would be 10 people working on the boat at the same time, you could hardly move around on the boat!
It felt really big when it was just me and Will after that, Carl really designed a comfortable boat, I never felt claustrophobic or hemmed in. The ergonomics of the express are really amazing!
PD: Tell us about the routing, the original plan and changes made as things progressed:
Zach: We had been watching the weather for the last few days leading up to the start. It was an unusual set up than most other years. We basically broke it down to 4 sections, getting off the coast, out into the center, where the gybe would be and then lining up for the finish. Will had a pretty good plan for getting off the coast…
Will: We had put a bunch of effort into our close reaching sail inventory, so I was pretty confident that we could build a lead early on, but the long-range models were pretty complicated, the most oddball one I had ever seen in all my races to Hawaii. The routing all wanted to go north, the weather routers all wanted us to go south and in the middle was a giant wind hole which caused an entire restart in the fleet.
Zach: We felt like we wanted to stay somewhere in the middle and not go as far south as Wolfpack did, we didn’t want to go as far north Green Buffalo did.
PD: You were in a bit of a match race with cousin Julia and Andy what was your evaluation on their maneuvers?
Will: It was pretty impressive indeed, at times it felt like racing your own shadow, as we were trying to catch up to them they would move then countermove, doing everything that I would do. I have raced against a lot of very talented top-flight navigators and they played the game as well as any of them. They have been racing double handed a lot on Loose Cannon. They have devoted almost two years to their program and didn’t get distracted, and boy did it show on the race course!
PD: Before you departed, you had said that double handed sailing is just single-handed sailing with breaks, did you find that to be true?
Will: Absolutely, during watch shifts you talk to your friend for 5 minutes and then they hit the rack and then it’s just you sailing by yourself for 2 hours in the middle of the ocean, it’s pretty wild!
Zach: One of the things we got wrong was not being disciplined in our watch schedule. We are so used to sailing these events with full crew that we actually would end up talking too much during watch changes and would burn up ½ hour time discussing strategy, when the person going off watch should be sleeping.
What was your schedule?
Will: Mostly 2 hours on 2 hours off, but there were some 3-hour shifts mixed in when we made meals or navigating. You really need to manage your sleep deprivation, it’s a big part of the game so you can make good decisions and sail well, so we probably could have done better at managing that.
PD: Best run during the race?
Zach: Our goal wasn’t just to see who could hit the highest number on the speedo but who could get the longest wave run as possible. Will probably had the best runs but I was pretty proud of one run on the last couple days that felt like it lasted 2-3 minutes! I connected 5-6 waves on that one and was probably the highlight of the trip for me!
PD: Food for the trip?
Zach: We went big on the freeze dried. The modern freeze dried is pretty good, but the one thing that stood out was these Mary Janes Bare Burritos with some chalupa sauce. They were pretty awesome!
Will: Gotta have the chalupa!
Zach: And Will dad makes these AMAZING brownies.
Will: Yep the Paxton Triple Chocolate Expresso Brownies!
Zach: We would crack open one of those on midnight watch with a cup of coffee and you would be wide eye and ready to go!
PD any good crash stories?
Zach: It was a pretty blasé race in that regard. The only real drama we had was chasing Julia! It felt like I had been talking to her for 2,000 miles, even though I hadn’t seen her, It seemed that every turn there they were, like match racing all the way to Hawaii! They were there at the dock when we finally got in and we finally did get to talk for real!
The final score would have Andy and Julia on Loose Cannon winning the Pau Maui DH Division with and elapsed time of 12 days, 15 Hours, 11 minutes and 39 seconds! They would also claim 1st place in PHRF and 3rd in the Pac Cup! Motorcycle Irene would take second in division, 5 hours and 23 minutes behind and place 3rd in Pacific Cup and 5th in PHRF.
Background: This is the 20th edition of the 2,070 nm Pacific Cup Race from San Francisco to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. The start of the fleet was staggered with divisions beginning on July 9, 11, 12, and 13.