Life onboard the fastest boat in the fleet

Published on July 12th, 2022

Among the 58 teams still on the 2070 nm Pacific Cup course is Pyewacket 70, and after getting underway on the last of the staggered start days (July 4, 5, 7, 8), they are leading the charge from San Francisco, California to Kaneohe, Hawaii. Navigator Peter Isler provides this update from the Pacific Ocean on July 12, 2022:

Its day’s like today that I really think I have the world’s best job.

Sure, I could use a nice long siesta right now (and instead, I’m splitting my time watching clouds on deck and waiting to download the next weather GRIB file that comes in every 3 hours). And, yes I’ll be suffering the rest of the race (about 2 days) with no more creamer to add to my coffee which me and my team mates seem to enjoy every few hours.

And there’s the harsh reality that the race record, set by Rio100 in 2016 (5 days, 2 hours, 41 minutes and 13 seconds) is completely out of reach this year because we have been running downwind in 11 knots of wind for a couple days.

But these are little peeves.

On the other side of the token, I get to sail on an ultra well-prepared, amazing sailboat – Pyewacket70, a turbo-charged Volvo 70 with some of the best sailors on the planet. The weather, albeit featuring much lighter than average winds, turns this powerful, almost brutal apparent wind machine into an elegant sailing yacht, that slips along downwind sailing three knots faster than the wind speed with hardly any spray on deck.

In last year’s, much windier race to Hawaii (Transpac 2021) the entire on-watch crew, attired in dry tops and full foulies, stood behind the steering wheels – because it was too wet to sit even on the windward deck because of the constant flow of water pouring aft from the bow wave’s spray. The stack of sails on the windward side prevented any sort of view to windward.

However, this year, in the much milder conditions – foulweather gear has been optional for most of the race, and in the heat of the day – shorts and t-shirts. And the sails are stacked farther forward – creating a nice seating place for the on-watch crew who have full view of the horizon.

There have been some epic clouds to watch (and interpret), clear night time skies with a huge waxing moon that must be a day or two from complete fullness. Whales, sharks, flying fish, seabirds… it’s all been enjoyed while we try to sail this boat to the island of Oahu as fast as possible.

The extra visibility (and slower speeds) gives everyone a clear view of the ever growing collection of plastic waste floating out here – over a thousand miles from the nearest land. We’ve had to do two back-downs today since daybreak to clear plastic and floating rope that is too tough to cut through with our leading edge knife in the keel fin.

It’s passages like this one that provide further resolve to try and minimize my plastic footprint.

Even in light/moderate winds, Pyewacket70 is so fast, pulling the apparent wind so far forward that our downwind headsail inventory features three jibs…. a triple head rig with the giant masthead genoa-like sail set out at the tip of bowsprit and sheeted off a “stick”/outrigger pole back just in front of the steering wheels.

Inside this MH0 are two staysails, a bigger one that fills in the slot of our fractional jib and a smaller staysail that hoists partway up the mast. The shots taken by our professional drone pilot Kyle Langford (click here) give you an idea of the way this boat slices through the wind sailing downwind – our apparent wind is well ahead of the beam – we are simply too fast for the rounder spinnaker/gennaker sails that most of the Pacific Cup fleet will be using now.

We’ve all slotted into the 4-on 4-off watch system by now (day five) and the boat gets pushed hard 24/7 while the crew talks about all the sorts of things crews talk about… from sailing sea stories (we’ve heard lots of those – especially from the around the world veterans that make up a good portion of the crew), to what is the best freeze dried meal available in the day box and how to best prepare it – it turns out you can become quite a connoisseur of these lightweight meals.

The mild conditions have also provided an opportunity for a sunset fellowship hour, where the sea stories get even more plentiful, replete with some gourmet snacks that must be hidden very well to last this long on a boat where a meal is a bag of freeze dried something or other that gets reconstituted by a cup or two of boiling water. The kettle is almost always warm on the Pyewacket.

Lying ahead, our destination is Oahu, an island that is no stranger to boats named Pyewacket and skippered by men named Roy Disney. Our skipper Roy Pat, and his dad Roy, have been sailing (and often winning) in ocean races from the west coast to the Hawaiian Islands for decades and we on the crew our proud to be part of that continuing tradition.

Although the race record is out of touch, we still have a shot at doing very well on handicap but with the withdrawal of our near sister ship Wizard (due to structural issues identified a few days before the start), our closest competitor is over 200 miles astern and dropping back.

So we are playing the “handicap” game, and hoping we get better conditions than the fleet of boats that trails behind us – some by almost 600 miles. We can only control where we go and how we sail the boat and let Mother Nature decide who gets the best winds.

Two days to go and the weather models are showing that we will “finally” be getting into some decent trade winds as we close in on the islands… that will give us a chance to play with our steed in her favored conditions – fresh 20+ knots of winds going downwind. We’ll have to put our foulweather gear back on – but we will gladly do so to get to see some consistent over 20 knot boat speeds that this boat can do without breaking a sweat.

Well time for me to get back to the best job in the world – downloading GRIB files and working with the crew to figure out the fastest way to get to the finish line – that is, as I wrap up this, exactly 783.9 nautical miles from our present position.

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