Old School

Sailing the Transpac 2005, the turbo-sleds did it new school and the Cal 40s did it old school. When Diamond Head hove into sight, there were more than enough pleasures to go around

The moth was a problem. We were 14 hours into last summer's Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu--the centennial edition of this Pacific Ocean classic--and we'd managed to knock off maybe 20 miles of the roughly 2,225 to the finish line off Diamond Head. Now, shortly after midnight, with the breeze light and faltering and the speedo hovering at just around a knot or so, a single moth was fluttering in our stern light, and there was no way we could shake it. As a metaphor for futility, however, it wasn't half bad. Plus, on the murky, starless evening it had the added benefit that if we wanted to see how fast we weren't going, all we had to do was turn around.

I was one of five crew on Mark Schrader's Cal 40 Dancing Bear, hull number nine of the venerable Bill Lapworth design, which first touched the water in 1964. Of course, we didn't drift off the California coast forever, and the full story of DB's voyage to the islands is an eventful one, which we'll recount in depth in an upcoming issue. For now, let's just say our trip was full of surprises.

One common denominator for the crews of all 75 Transpac boats was the overall lack of breeze in this edition of the race. Not that it mattered a whit to the 86-foot behemoths at the front of the pack, with their canting keels and America's Cup crews. Even in the moderate conditions, the so-called "turbo sled" Morning Glory crushed the race record with a time of six days, 16 hours.

Morning Glory's victory was indeed glorious, but she was hardly the sentimental favorite. That mantle belonged to veteran Transpac campaigner Roy Disney, of Hollywood fame, who was sailing his own 86-footer, Pyewacket, in his final race. Now in his mid-70s, Disney was sailing in his 15th dash across the Pacific, and he was hoping for a double bullet before he retired from ocean racing: a new record (he already held the earlier mark, of seven days, 11 hours, aboard his previous Pyewacket) and the overall elapsed-time win. Alas, Disney finished two short hours behind rival Morning Glory, proving, perhaps, that storybook endings only happen in the movies.

A century from now, when the Transpac celebrates its 200th birthday, the sailing writers will likely look back at the battle between Morning Glory and Pyewacket as the premier story from the 2005 race. Disney was what you might call an old-school competitor, someone who got into long-distance sailing for his love of the sport and whose all-star crews were always sprinkled with members of his family. "I've brought all four of our kids up on [this race]," he said at the prize-giving ceremony. And you knew from the way he put it that he couldn't think of a better way to raise his children.

But surprisingly, for a sailor who made his name in big-boat racing, Disney in his remarks also singled out a pair of smaller vessels that finished well down in the standings. B'Quest was a boat crewed almost entirely of sailors with a wide range of disabilities. Bubala was a Cal 40 sailed by six men ranging in age from 66 to 72. "This race is not about the big boats. It's about the Cal 40s, it's about B'Quest's disabled sailors, it's about Bubala and the old geezers. Keep doing this," he said.

Disney was right. You could probably purchase all 14 boats that made up the Cal 40 fleet for the cost of Pyewacket's sail inventory. Yet it occurred to me several times during our passage that of all the crews on all the yachts, we Cal 40 sailors were probably getting the best bang for our bucks. Hunkered down in the cockpit, so close to the rush of the water, the sailing was pure and elemental. Hand. Tiller. Sheet. Wind. Kite. It couldn't be any simpler--or more fun.

So for me, sailing the Transpac in the Cal 40 class was also all about the old-school way of doing things. We were mostly a bunch of old guys in old boats having a good, old-fashioned time. Once we pulled away from that moth, even in the light stuff, it just got better and better. Right up to Diamond Head.
Keep doing this? Aye-aye, Roy. You can be sure of it.