What qualifies a former liveaboard cruiser to race on a super-fast carbon-fiber offshore grand-prix boat? Kate Theisen had almost no racing experience when she applied to the Morning Light Transpac program last summer, but she was selected from a pool of 538 to be one of the final 15. “I think anybody who’s sailed is intrigued by the idea of sailing faster,” she said. The Morning Light project, backed by Roy E. Disney, brings together 15 college-age sailors who will attempt to become the youngest crew ever to complete the 2,225-nautical-mile Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawai’i. This year’s race begins on July 15. Disney will produce a documentary feature film of the crew’s training and race adventures.
The young sailors came to Hawai’i for a series of two-week training sessions in which they’ve been coached in handling their Transpac 52 at speeds of more than 25 knots by such renowned sailors as Mike Sanderson, a winning skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race; Stan Honey, a winning navigator in that race; Robbie Haines, an Olympic gold medalist; and Dave Tank, an America’s Cup veteran. In addition to racing skills, the Morning Light gang has learned navigation, diesel-engine repair, winch maintenance, and other ocean-voyaging skills.
Theisen, 20, is a junior at New Mexico Tech, and she’s majoring in astrophysics. She was home-schooled as she grew up cruising the U.S. East Coast, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean with her parents and sister aboard their Gulfstar 41. Kate’s clearly comfortable aboard a boat, but with the Morning Light crew, she was thrown in with some remarkably experienced young racers. Three other members of the crew, Chris Schubert, Kit Will, and Charlie Enright, also had experience cruising with their families, but in addition, they’d built solid racing resumes before applying. How has Theisen been able to hold her own?
“What you notice about Kate,” says Dave Tank, “is that she’s always the first one into the worst job, and she stays until it’s done.” And he points out that that’s exactly what defines the best offshore racers. Come July 15, however, only 11 of the 15 will compete in the Transpac, and at press time Theisen was slated as an alternate. But when it comes to passagemaking, sailing director Robbie Haines says, “She’s a bundle of energy and would be my first choice for any crossing.”