Transpac: Fastest ride to Diamond Head
Published on July 21st, 2021
(July 21, 2021) – The 51st Transpac has attracted all kinds for this bucket-list boat race, with racer/cruisers to arrive in Honolulu well-fed and rested while the speedsters will need more time to recover from their carbon chaos. Peter Isler, navigator on Pyewacket 70, reports from the fastest of them all:
So what’s it like sailing on one of the West Coast’s quickest offshore monohulls?
First, and maybe most importantly is tradition. Pyewacket 70 is the latest in a long line of super fast ocean racers owned and skippered by Roy Disney and his father, the late Roy Disney. There have been several 70 foot “ULDB sleds”, turbo sleds, MaxZ 86s and now this hot-rodded Volvo 70 (ex Telefonica and Black Jack) to have carried the Pyewacket moniker.
Some have left the West coast and raced internationally – in the Caribbean, Transatlantic, and in Europe, but the focus for all of them is the offshore jewel of the US West Coast, the biennial Transpac Race – LA to Honolulu.
Along with big, fast downwind oriented boats, the Pyewacket tradition includes a boat that is impeccably prepared, and international rock stars racing alongside the Pyewacket’s core team of veteran west coast sailors. So when you get the invite to do the Transpac with the Pyewacket team, its a pretty big deal.
But fast forward to two-thirds of the way across the 2225 nm race track – it’s from now to the finish where the best memories will be minted. It’s blowing 21 knots, the finish line is dead downwind and Pyewacket 70 is strutting her stuff, averaging 20+ knots with bursts to 28.
The Juan K designed plumb bow skips over water until you catch up to the wave in front of you and it plows in – sending spray up that reaches the crew sitting all the way at the transom both as an aerial salt water rain and as a river of seawater rushing across the foredeck, into the cockpit and out the open transom.
It’s really, really wet!
Even though the water temps have warmed up nicely as we sailed southwest, the attire on deck is dry top with full neoprene neck seals, boots with gaiters and foul weather pants. When you come down below to go off watch, the first thing you do after hanging up your outer layers to drip is to do a quick fresh water face shower in the sink.
Although our crew is comprised of specialists: bowpersons, trimmers, pit people, engineers, sailmakers, and riggers, we haven’t changed a headsail (there are three flying up front) in over 52 hours and we probably won’t until we get to the finish line… the trade wind conditions are that good and steady (though the odd squall could change those plans).
To sail the boat in a straight line in this configuration, it takes two people – the driver and the main trimmer. The mainsheet is on a huge centerline winch that eases out normally by hand, and trims with an electric motor that is controlled by a wireless hand held remote control unit a bit like the one for your TV.
So over the course of a 4 hour watch (we are following the classic 4 hours on 4 hours off watch system – where one or two crew switch every hour), everybody takes turns driving and trimming the mainsail. The three headsails are cleated off, and only adjusted periodically when the conditions change and the boat needs a gear shift.
These little changes are important – don’t get me wrong – but it’s a lot different than sailing your average keelboat downwind where there might be a trimmer playing every sail constantly. Because Pyewacket 70 is so fast, and the apparent wind is so far forward, it’s like we are close reaching when we are going downwind – so the driver does most of the apparent wind changes.
With six people on watch, and only two active, what do the rest do? They stand around…. behind the helm (to keep the weight aft at faster speeds) because there’s nowhere to sit, except the cockpit sole, and if you’ve made it this far in the story, you know that cockpit floor is awash with a couple inches of flowing water every time the bow digs in – which can be every minute or even more frequently in bad wave sets.
And because the boat is bucking around like a bull at a rodeo, you have to hang on to keep from getting thrown off your feet. Needless to say, when conditions get rough, everyone is wearing their life jacket/harness and have their tether straps clipped in to something secure.
Also, the sails are stacked so high on the windward rail (a good thing to protect the bystanders from more direct hits of spray) that you can’t easily see the horizon up forward and out abeam, but the view out the transom is amazing, looking like the wake of a light speedboat firing across the ocean.
For every four hours on, you get four hours off watch which are good for “trying” to sleep, eat, and snack while aiming to keep from falling over as this runaway freight train heads for paradise. The future memories await; there is absolutely nothing like making landfall in the Hawaiian islands after a hard ocean passage.
We’ll hopefully see the big island first – unless Mauna Kea is shrouded with clouds, then Maui, Molokai, and finally Oahu. As we get closer, the sea life suddenly appears. A highlight are the dolphins that can put on an amazing show playing with your bow wave and wake as you surf into paradise.
The swells – that are about 6 feet right now – will grow larger as they converge into the channels between the islands and the wind usually does the same thing. So often times the fastest speeds, most wind, biggest waves, and best scenery are the few hours and even minutes before the finish line at Diamond Head buoy. By then we won’t even mind all the firehose spray coming from the bow.
Here are the eight division leaders (as of 1:15 pm PDT):
Division 1. BadPak – Botin 56
Division 2. Peligroso – Kernan 68
Division 3. Warrior Won – Pac52
Division 4. Pied Piper – Santa Cruz 70
Division 5. Bretwalda3 – Rogers 46
Division 6. Triumph – Santa Cruz 52
Division 7. Favonius – Dehler 46
Division 8. Ho’okolohe – Farr 57
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.
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