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At last, Vapor materializes at finish line

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by Rich Roberts

Honolulu Hawai`i (July 17, 1999) - -As the trade winds gasped a sigh of relief, wayward Vapor - crippled by a broken rudder and silenced by a faulty radio - sailed out of a rainbow at dusk Saturday to complete the 40th Transpacific Yacht Race in 19 days 8 hours 16 minutes and 40 seconds - arriving 31st, overall. (clik link for pix)

The smallest boat -a 25-foot B25 - ever to sail the race posted the longest elapsed time in 44 years. But skipper Bill Boyd, 47, and navigator Scott Atwood, 43, from the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach insisted they could have done much better without the rudder problem.

"We had an incredible sail," Boyd said amid 200 people who greeted them with a luau and draped them with leis at the Hawaii Yacht Club. "We had it going 20 knots the second night in the trades, but that's when we broke the rudder."

They patched up the split rudder with a tourniquet type of repair that held together until the last 500 miles. Then they had to switch to their smaller backup rudder, which limited their speed to 5 or 6 knots.

"If we went any faster it would start to wobble from the strain," Atwood said.

That's why they finished without their main sail up and only their working headsail - no spinnaker - for propulsion. Otherwise, the boat held up well.

"It was agony for two racers to have to slow down," Atwood said.

They also sensed the agony of friends and family ashore when they were unable to report at the daily morning roll calls until the 16th day. "We received but we couldn't transmit," Boyd said.

"It was a happy day when we finally got in touch," said Atwood, who was sailing his ninth Transpac. "We saw two freighters out there. One was a Mexican ship. We asked the skipper if he'd relay our message [to the communications vessel Alaska Eagle] and he said, 'Yeah,' but he never did."

They had an Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB) they could have activated for rescue when their rudder broke. "It ran through our minds at the time," Atwood said, "but we didn't think it was a life-threatening situation."

They had a standard single side-band radio that would have been adequate - if it had worked. They learned it didn't on the way out to the starting line June 29 and had a worker aboard installing a new one minutes before the gun, "but maybe it wasn't tuned in properly," Boyd said.

After they tied up at the dock, a four-foot-long piece of California kelp floated up off the keel. Someone draped it around Boyd's neck. He was surprised and flabbergasted. "We dragged that 2,000 miles," he said. "That was slowing us down even before the rudder broke."

It wasn't the slowest elapsed time in Transpac history. That was almost 24 days (23:23:55:04) by William Merry's Viking Childe in 1939. But it was the slowest since 1955 when Elmer Hitchcock's Sea Mist took more than 20 days (20:03:32:07) to sail the 2,225 nautical miles.

By comparison, Roy E. Disney's 72-foot, high-tech Pyewacket lowered the record to 7:11:41:27 when it finished a week earlier - after starting four days behind Vapor. As Vapor struggled the final miles Saturday, Boyd and Atwood might have seen Disney flying over enroute home in his private jet.

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

The 40th Transpac was sponsored by Iridium North America, the world's first global telephone and paging company. Several boats were carrying the phones and used them successfully in regular communications during the race. Through a constellation of 66 low-earth-orbit satellites circling the globe, customers can make or take calls and receive pages in the most remote regions on Earth. Additional information regarding the Iridium system is available at the web site or by calling 1-888-Iridium.

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

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