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Scuttlebutt News:

Transpac 2009: "It simply isn't fair"
by Tom Leweck

(July 5, 2009) It simply isn’t fair. No one much noticed when the Division 6 and 7 boats started the Transpac Race last Monday, and it was not much more visible three days later when Division 3, 4 and 5 began the 2,225 mile race to Hawaii. There were virtually no spectator boats to see them off and they’ve attracted damn little media attention since. But on Sunday, the Transpac Course Marshalls earned their keep as a spectator fleet that numbered close to three digits in size kept squeezing ever closer to get a better look at the Division 1 and 2 big boats. There was even a helicopter aloft with Sharon Green and Leslie Demeuse -Disney shooting both still and video footage. And with a cloudless sky and a 10-12 knot Westerly blowing, they certainly got some good shots.

The boats that started last week would have given anything for the10-12 knots of breeze. They’ve been wallowing for days now in very light to nonexistent winds that were blowing pretty much on the nose. Some of those who started last Monday still had 70% of the race course in front of them after six days at sea. The pace has been so slow that many of the smaller boats are undoubtedly rationing food. And they probably haven’t even been able to fish in hope of getting a bit more food. According to North Sail President, Gary Weisman (who knows about these things), “Those boats aren’t even moving fast enough to get their lures to work.”

Stan Honey, undoubtedly the most celebrated Transpac navigator in the 100+ year history of the race, acknowledged that the boats already on the race course had ‘pulled the short straw’ weather-wise. “It’s been pretty horrible for them,” Honey explained. For whatever reason, the Pacific High had not set up as it usually does. “Some of the boats are going way south, but it does not look like they’ll be able to get around the confused weather pattern,” he acknowledged.

But now that the big boats are on the course, the weather is starting to shape up. “It looks like we’ll have a pretty typical Transpac weather pattern for our race,” said Honey from the deck of Neville Crichton’s 100-foot Alpha Romeo. “I suspect we’ll be in Honolulu in about six and a half days.”

Joe Buck, who did his first Transpac in the mid-60s agreed. Buck, who is navigating Peter Tong’s turbo-charged SC 70 OEX, felt they should be tied up in the Ali Wai Marina in eight and a half days. When I reminded him that from 1977 to 1997 Merlin held the course record with a passage of eight and a half days, Buck nodded and smiled. “OEX is a lot more powerful than Merlin," he explained.

How did the start go? Ben Ainslie at the helm of Alpha Romeo shot out from the pin with pace at the gun, and quite casually disappeared over the horizon. The 100-footer won’t experience even one second of dirty air in this race - they will probably break a course record and also get the majority of the press coverage. At the same time, the crews of many little boats will go hungry on a passage that will take them many more days than anyone ever imagined - or planned for.

As I said earlier, it simply isn’t fair.

Race website:

Division 1 and 2 start photos by Rich Roberts

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