Wearing the crown in the slot

Published on July 19th, 2021

When Peter Isler doesn’t have a guitar in his hands, or isn’t analyzing weather data to navigate race boats, he writes about life on the Volvo 70 Pyewacket 70 while flying along on the 2021 Transpac Race. Here is his report on July 19, 2021:


We are finally through the ridge, and now in the “slot cars” section of the race (as coined by Transpac record holding navigator and my college roommate, Stan Honey). We are VMG running on starboard jibe, but with the wind about 30 degrees left of the expected trade wind direction when we reach the islands.

One would think with that sort of shift expected, you should reach fast to take advantage of the extra leverage gained for the shift. But in Transpac, there is the big “X Factor” – the Pacific High that typically resides between Hawaii and Alaska during the summer months. It’s that semi-permanent feature’s wobbles and small movements and changes that drives the big picture of the Transpac Race each year.

If you remember your high school weather – high pressure means low wind speeds, so just heating up and reaching “for” the expected 30 degree righty’s leverage takes you closer to the high and lighter winds. Hence the term “slot cars” – we are stuck for a moment on starboard gybe (port would take us almost away from Hawaii), but we want to stay in our slot and not get too fancy reaching up and getting into the lighter winds to our north.

On Pyewacket, this means good things because as of a few minutes ago, the engine has been turned off. Pyewacket has no pedestals, and all the big winches are trimmed with a hydraulic pushbutton system that needs the engine running to operate. But our triple head rig with the big flat A3 up front is pretty much designed to “set it and go”.

You don’t have to play the curl of the luff like you do a traditional spinnaker or round asymmetrical. The A3 looks more like a jib. So because in these steady conditions, we can cleat it and sail to the apparent wind to go fast in VMG downwind mode, the engine is being given a rest. It’s a miracle – so much quieter down below.

The mainsheet winch has its own electric powered system, so that still is going in and out, but it’s like riding in a Tesla, you can barely tell its being trimmed down below. Which is good news for the off watch; it’s nice and quiet down below – you can hear the sound of the water rushing past (we are still doing 20 knots) and all the “normal” boat noises that are normally overwhelmed by the boat’s big diesel that powers the hydraulic winch system.

Anyways, how are we doing? Well the Transpac 8AM leaderboard has us 1st boat for boat and 1st on corrected time. The latter may not last; there are some really fast boats in this race that VMG run really well in moderate conditions, and with our big boat for boat lead, there is the element of luck involved… will the wind fill in from behind or ahead, etc? All the normal stuff when you have a boat that is more than 50% faster than some of the fleet – and is handicapped accordingly.

Our fastest 24 hour run was 1PM yesterday to 1PM today when we did 420nm (point to point) at an average speed of 17.5kts!! But the straight line reaching is over, and with the “box” saying three days on starboard and one day on port – our point to point runs won’t benefit if we play some shifts down the road.

Time will tell, so for now it’s fun to have the “virtual” crown on our heads, even though it can be a heavy load.

Event informationRace detailsEntry listTrackerJuly 19 Roll Call

Forty-one teams started the 51st Transpac Race which takes the fleet on a 2225 nm course from Point Fermin in Los Angeles to the finish line off Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii.

2021 Schedule
July 13 start – Division 8
July 16 start – Division 5, 6, 7
July 17 start – Division 1, 2, 3, 4
July 30 – Honolulu Awards Ceremony

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