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Pacific Cup: Keeping the hope alive

Published on April 6th, 2020

The final three months leading up to any major offshore race are usually a hive of activity as competitors are busy preparing their boats, making their final lists, getting inspected for safety and compliance, and spending time on the water training.

Most of those same activities are still well underway this year for the 21st Pacific Cup, but just like almost every other aspect of life right now, these unprecedented times call for new measures and no shortage of fluidity and adaptability for this biennial 2070 nm test from San Francisco, CA to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.

To that end, the Pacific Cup Yacht Club has revised their schedule of race deadlines and inspections while moving their pre-race board meetings and seminars entirely online to comply with new social distancing regulations. For their part, many race competitors have also adapted in a variety of different ways, all hoping to seamlessly move towards competing across the Pacific Ocean.

With staggered starts from June 29 through July 3, some programs are very optimistic and charging full speed ahead with their preparations. “We are definitely still planning to race… if they let us go out the gate we will be Hawaii bound!” insists Jason Crowson of the new-to-the-Bay J/125 Rufless. “We are still pushing forward getting the boat ready and making sure we meet all the requirements.

“We are pretty close to being ready and Rufus is even finishing the last few touches on our emergency rudder, which is a thing of beauty of course and probably nicer than most boats’ main rudder!. We are just trying to keep our social distancing while still getting everything ready to go.”

Crowson and his brother, Richmond-based boat builder and pro sailor Rufus Sjoberg, have recently acquired the boat from Europe and brought it back to the Bay to give the rare and venerable 40-foot J Boats’ platform a full rebuild before their first race to Hawaii on it.

Former Pac Cup Commodore and multi-time race veteran Buzz Blackett tells us how he’s been kept off the water but is still preparing for another Pacific Cup.

“The need to shelter in place and California’s county and state orders pretty much stopped all of our sailing preparations,” noted Blackett of his Antrim 27 C. “We’ve only gotten ‘io out in the ocean once and don’t know when we’ll get out again.

“Without sailing, I’ve shifted my focus to other new-boat stuff, like getting a VHF call sign and MMSI numbers for the radios, and working out gear stowage, sleeping, galley, and other below-deck arrangements. We very much want to do the race, but recognize that there will have to be a lot of good news if it’s gonna happen anytime soon.”

Blackett and his co-skipper, famed naval architect Jim Antrim, both turn 70 this year, but in their first outing on the new boat, they claimed first overall out of more than 300 starters in the annual Three Bridge Fiasco race. The coronavirus may target ‘older’ people, but these two senior citizens are raring to race to Hawaii and compete for overall victory.

Out-of-town competitors such as Florida’s Peter Fray, skipper of the prototype Mini Transat 415, have to deal with not just COVID-19 but the resultant uncertainty and logistical hurdles involved with remotely preparing for a race that may not be.

“We joke around that the Vegas odds are 19:1 against a race,” remarked Fray. “As such, we have delayed the shipping of our little boat to San Francisco until June time frame amid these concerns. The boat is very close to ready but I’m not investing in anything new at the moment like sails or life raft.

“This will greatly impact my ability to get a certified PHRF certificate and inspections done before the race but I can’t afford to ship the boat without a race. We desperately want to do the race and are hoping for positive news. If the race is on and my crew is healthy we will compete.”

Fray noted how shifting the seminars online has been positive as now all the remote boats can attend too.

As to the status of the race amid the health crisis, Pacific Cup Yacht Club Commodore Michael Moradzadeh has been conferring daily with the board (above) and key volunteers about ongoing developments.

“We have two main issues: first, the shelter-in-place rules are severely restricting many participants’ ability to perform important preparation steps or get needed gear,” said Moradzadeh. “They also are hampering planning at Kaneohe. Second, and possibly more important, is the concern that an undetected infection could seriously endanger the health of crew underway, or they could end up transmitting it to others at a finish line event.”

With so many other events cancelled or postponed, the Pacific Cup board is keeping a close eye on public health edicts and the progress of the epidemic. “We don’t want to cancel,” said Moradzadeh, “but sometimes the safest voyage is the one you don’t start.”

In the event of cancellation, Pacific Cup is exploring a number of alternatives, including a coastal race in late summer or other destination racing once the restrictions are lifted. The board expects to be making firm decisions later in April.

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Source: Ronnie Simpson

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