The Whitbread 60 racers whose adventures have held followers breathless in the Whitbread Round the World Race will find the welcome mat out for next summer's 41st Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

The Whitbread is now the Volvo Ocean Race, reflecting a shift in sponsorship, and the water-ballasted, 64-foot sloops are now called Volvo Ocean 60s. But the race concept and the designs remain at the extremities of the sport and are a closely tailored fit for Transpac 2001, according to TP Yacht Club Commodore Sandy Martin.

"They're right on the edge, but they rate within our limits," Martin said. "If a few of them enter they could have their own class. It would add a new dimension to the race."

Martin points out that the VO 60s' configuration for long ocean passages would settle nicely into the Transpac's 2,225 nautical miles, a longer run than three of the nine legs of the 1997-98 Whitbread.

The Transpac, first sailed in 1906, cherishes its tradition and prestige but has never been locked in time. Ultralight displacement boats broke through in the Transpac in the 70s, and the new Transpac 40 class coming in 2001 will permit internal water ballast, a staple of the VO 60s (the new Transpac 50 class will not allow water ballast).

Although the Transpac is mostly an offwind race, water ballast would be a significant factor. The first two or three days of sailing are usually on the wind before the fleet slips into the tradewinds.

The next Volvo Ocean Race is scheduled to start Sept. 23 at Southampton, England, less than three months after the July 1 start for Transpac 2001's largest monohulls from Los Angeles. That could be a logistical problem for Volvo entries, but there are several past-generation 60s being campaigned around the globe.

Nokia, known as Swedish Match when it finished third in the 1997-98 Whitbread, set a record of 1 day 19 hours 48 minutes 2 seconds in last year's 630-nautical mile Telstra Sydney-to-Hobart Race, whacking 18 hours off the old record. Five 60s are entered in this year's race starting the day after Christmas.

This month the News Corporation VO 60 won line honors in Auckland's traditional Labor Day Coastal Classic yacht race in a record fleet of 226 entries. Last year John Kostecki's VO 60 illbruck won its class in the Fastnet Race off England's southern coast.

Even Transpac has seen a 60. In 1995 Neil Barth of Newport Beach sailed America's Challenge, formerly Yamaha, as an "invited guest" in his preparations for the '97-98 Whitbread.

The 60s are now rated for the race and would be full-fledged participants for Transpac 2001.


Two boats are under construction and others are in the design process to fit the new Transpac 40 and Transpac 50 classes that will race boat for boat for their own first-to-finish honors next July.

A pair of identical 50s designed by Alan Andrews of Long Beach are being built at Dencho Marine in Long Beach and Westerly Marine in Costa Mesa. A third is scheduled to start soon. Others are being prepared by designers Greg Stewart of Nelson/Marek and Leif Beiley.

Stewart said, "Interest is high in this new class and we have several potential clients that will be watching the development and what the group does after the Transpac."

A Transpac 50 actually has a maximum length overall (LOA) of 52 feet; a Transpac 40 is limited to 41 feet. The classes were created to provide line honors incentive for smaller boats that could never hope to win the Barn Door prize traditionally awarded to the monohull with the fastest elapsed time.

The 40s may carry internal water ballast and, though fractionally rigged, both the 40s and 50s will use masthead spinnakers and even huge masthead Code 0 headsails similar to those popularized in the '97-98 Whitbread race.

"They'll be exciting boats," Andrews said.

Rules for the new classes also permit the "grandfathering" of similar existing boats into the class, although their displacement can not be lighter nor their sail area larger.

Bill Lee, the principal architect of the new class rules, said, "The Transpac 40/50 rule is intended to produce two classes of fast, monohull keelboats of similar performance that can be sailed with minimum risk by both professional and amateur sailors. The yachts are also to be suitable for inshore racing."


A committee led by Vice Commodore Brad Avery is putting the final touches on the Sailing Instructions for Transpac 2001, which are expected to be posted on the event's web site by Dec. 1.

An entry form also will be posted.


Producers Roy E. Disney and Leslie DeMeuse are continuing their tour of North America to present 40-minute previews of their two-hour documentary "Transpac: A Century Across the Pacific."

They have already previewed the video at New York, San Francisco and Southern California's Balboa Yacht Club and will show it to the Hawai`i and Waikiki YCs Nov. 15 and the Kaneohe YC Nov. 17. Then they'll visit the Royal Vancouver YC Jan. 25 and the San Diego and Chicago YCs shortly afterward.

The video, which traces the race's origins to the 19th century, may be ordered through Transpac YC Commodore Sandy Martin, 527 W. 36th St., San Pedro, CA 90731. The price is $59.95, which includes taxes, shipping and handling. Checks should be made payable to Transpacific Yacht Club.


Aloha (formerly "Cruising") class: party June 24; start June 25, 2001.
Under-50-footers: party June 29; start June 30.
Over-50-footers: party June 29, start July 1.
Multihulls: party June 29, start July 4.

Rich Roberts
(310) 835-2526

Sailing News