Dancing Bear Transpac Report No. 4: Character Building

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It's been a character-building weekend aboard the good ship Dancing Bear, currently holding 11th place in the Cal 40 Class in the 100th-anniversary edition of the Transpac.

Because ocean racing is such an esoteric sport, it would perhaps be instructive to explain our predicament in terms of a real-world scenario. Take rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, a piece of road with which your faithful crew has recent experience and one I think we can all agree is among the most heinous stretches of highway ever created in the so-called history of civilization.

A veteran Transpac navigator once explained that racing to Hawaii is all about picking your lane and holding your course. On late Friday, DB was holding a lane to the north of her competition. In our 405 example, we were in the right lane and just coming onto the freeway.

Just ahead, however, our weather files showed a strange anomaly in the atmosphere, an isolated low-pressure system with little or no winds. It was the equivalent of a 22-year-old blonde in a Hummer who has inexplicably pulled to a complete stop because the batteries in her cellphone stopped working. So we had to change lanes. And the commuter lane, over to the left, or south, seemed to be zipping right along with plenty of potential breeze. We had to get over there.

The problem was, there was a long line of trucks barely moving in the adjacent lanes: bad wind and a bad angle. We knew it would be painful getting south. But we bit the bullet and changed course, seeking a new lane.

A couple of things happened. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the wind finally clocked far enough aft that we were able to hoist a spinnaker. This was good. However, in changing course, we were sailing more miles than the boats that had originally chosen the left, or southern lane. This was bad.

To cut to the chase, we've picked our new lane and are living with the consequences. These included last night's spell of frustrating, very light winds, all in the 5- to 10-knot range. Boat speeds were often under 5 knots. At this morning's 0800 position reports, it was clear most of our competition had spent the evening sailing at significantly faster speeds.

Our 24-hour run of 157 miles was third slowest in the fleet. But we weren't the only boat having problems. Race leader Illusion, sailed by Cal 40 vet Sally Honey, had dropped to fourth after suffering the worst day's run in the entire pack, a difficult 146 miles. Meanwhile, in a lane just a mere few miles to the south of Illusion, the Cal 40 Ralphie was relishing in its own private breeze and establishing itself as the new front-runner.

Looking ahead, we've just hoisted our lightest spinnaker and are once again making close to 8 knots. We've dealt ourselves this hand, and we'll play the cards we're holding. As navigator Peter Hogg helpfully explains, "We've chosen a strategy that may yet provide a high opportunity of success. Whether that opportunity arises with the time frame afforded us within the constraints of the racecourse remains to be seen."

In other words, 1,400 miles to go. Bring 'em on.

Note: This report is dedicated to flight engineer Mark Logan, brother of Dancing Bear crewman Dave Logan. While there is, no doubt, a cast of characters aboard DB, Mark and his mates are people of true character, and they're in our thoughts as we cleave the waters toward Honolulu.

Dancing Bear clear. . . .

To read earlier Dancing Bear Transpac Reports, click here.