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Hawaii's Grand Ilusion wins overall handicap prize

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July 11 Position reports

by Rich Roberts

Honolulu Hawai`i (July 11, 1999) - Its main sail torn apart, Hawaii's Grand Illusion apparently claimed the Governor of Hawaii Trophy for fastest overall corrected handicap time in the 40th Transpacific Yacht Race Sunday.

The award is not for the first boat to finish - Roy E. Disney's 72-foot Pyewacket grabbed that Saturday night in record time - but is based on handicap time according to a boat's calculated speed potential. Pyewacket rated as a virtual "scratch" boat, while Grand Illusion, with its Transpac handicap of 29.455 seconds per mile for the 2,225-nautical mile trip from Los Angeles, saved its time on Pyewacket by almost three hours.

The 13-year-old Santa Cruz 70 needed to finish by 3:40 HST Sunday afternoon and crossed the Diamond Head finish line at 12:52 and 27 seconds. Only two other boats still at sea Gone With The Wind from San Francisco and Stealth Chicken from Long Beach had an outside chance of beating out Grand Illusion.

The aged "sled," one of several ultralight displacement 70s that emerged in the mid-80s to dominate Transpac with their downwind speed, does most of its racingin California but represents Lahaina Yacht Club on Maui, where skipper James McDowell, 39, resides. His father Ed, a part-time resident of Kaua`i, has owned the boat since 1988 but no longer sails long-distance races.

"We pushed the boat pretty hard," James McDowell said. "Maybe that's why we broke the main."

That happened late Saturday night in strong winds about 150 miles from the finish. The boat was jibed to alter course and when the main sail slammed over on the new side a two-foot-wide gapped opened from the mast to the leech, right under the 97 sail number. But the leech cord along the back of the sail held together to keep the upper and lower halves effective.

"When Pyewacket finished [Saturday night] we knew we had the time on them," McDowell said. "But to fix the sail meant stopping to do it, and to stop would have meant losing. We just said, 'Let's keep sailing.' "

As it was, when the wind increased in the Moloka`i Channel, Grand Illusion achieved its top speeds of the race in the low 20-knots range with a split main sail and spinnaker. Then it surfed downwind through huge waves to the finish line as spectators gasped at the separated sail.

Patrick O'Brien, Grand Illusion's navigator, kept the boat in steady winds, but McDowell played a daring game of chasing accelerated bursts of speed in squalls like a bird dog sniffing out quail.

"There was some resistance at first," McDowell said, "but the best pressure is in front of the squalls, and when [the crew] saw the results we just kept looking for the next squall to chase."

A few hours earlier, Disney had claimed his second consecutive race record and Barn Door as first to finish, although he said those honors belonged to his son, Roy Pat, who took over as skipper of the previous, smaller Pyewacket in 1997 when the elder Disney smashed his right leg in a car crash.

The new Pyewacket's elapsed time of 7 days 11 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds an average speed of 12.4 knots - lowered its predecessor's mark of 7:15:24:40.

"I always told Roy Pat, 'It's your record,' " Disney said. "Then when we broke it, he said to me, 'If anybody had to break my record, I'm glad it was you.' "

Unlike Grand Illusion, Pyewacket finished on a clear but moonless night, the only illumination coming from the city lights of Waikiki. Pyewacket flew past the Diamond Head buoy at 22 knots, its billowing spinnaker projecting a ghostly image as it momentarily obscured the flashing red light that marks the end of the race.

Several boats expected to finish late Sunday night included another Hawaiian entry, the 30-footer Two Guys on the Edge. The other Doublehanded division entry, Vapor from Long Beach, remained incommunicado with suspected radio problems.

Photos, e-mail from boats, daily progress and position reports, charts, crew lists and other information are available on the race web page.

Arrival Party Photos are at http://holoholo.org/transpac/99arrivals/

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Last Modified: Monday - 19990712.09:50 HST
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