Old Times in the Transpac

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by Carol Hogan

At the turn of the century, H. H. Sinclair, owner of the 85-foot schooner Lurline and Commodore Clarence W. Macfarlane proposed a sailboat race from San Francisco to Honolulu. The proposal of the leaders of Hawaii's local yachting set met with more criticism than enthusiasm, however, by sailors who argued that the race itself was too long, and the return voyage too hard. Why, no longer race existed at the time.

Not ones to be discouraged, Macfarlane and Sinclair enlisted support from other local yachtsmen, including Commodore T W Hobron of the Hawaii Yacht Club. Slowly the idea gained momentum.

By 1906 a Hawai`i Promotion Committee, representing the territory of Hawai`i, The Hawai`i Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association, put up a $500 cup to become the permanent property of the Transpacific Race winner.

King Kalakaua, well-known for his enjoyment of deep-sea sailing, was named chairman of the race committee.

After carefully checking weather conditions, the committee chose 3 pm on May 5, 1906 as the start. Entries would sail from Meggs Wharf in San Francisco. A May run, the committee wrote to a San Francisco sailor, "would afford bright moonlight for most of the trip.

Still, the skeptics raised doubts and yachtsmen were slow to enter. Macfarlane decided to end the criticism. To prove the return trip was feasible, the old salt set sail -- against the wind to San Francisco -- on April 6, 1906.

If he could make it into port before the scheduled start a month later, about 30 Bay Area yachtsmen and their crews promised to race him back to the Islands.

Macfarlane's 48-foot schooner La Paloma easily glided out of Honolulu harbor under a clear sky. Although going to weather (against the winds), the La Paloma had a good run.

Twenty-eight days out of Honolulu a weary Macfarlane spotted San Francisco harbor. After a continuous 36-hour watch, he looked forward to a warm welcome, a hot bath and a Porterhouse steak.

Through the binoculars he could see the docks, but no sign of welcoming pilot boats or the little Italian smacks that usually crisscrossed the bay. "Odd, he thought."

Ecstatic over "stealing a trick on San Francisco yachtsmen," Macfarlane pushed doubts aside and prepared for their triumphant sail into the harbor. The La Paloma proudly flew the Hawaii Yacht Club flag as it anchored near the docks.

The jubilant crew furled the sails, then went below to breakfast and await their reception. It never took place.

A somber San Francisco port doctor arrived to care for Macfarlane and his crew shortly after it anchored. He judged them in fine health and spirits. But Macfarlane could no longer contain his disappointment. Accustomed to the usual warm Island greeting bestowed upon travelers, Macfarlane openly voiced his dissatisfaction at the lack of a proper reception.

He asked the doctor if his crew could at least be escorted to the Occidental hotel.

The doctor responded: "Coming in, did you notice anything strange?"

"Yes," Macfarlane said, he had. The harbor seemed deserted during their arrival, but he had not given it a second thought.

The doctor led Macfarlane to the deck and pointed to shore. No buildings could be seen in the distance. Smoke rose from smoldering fires scattered throughout the city. Long lines of people waited near a tent encampment.

Macfarlane had arrived in San Francisco several hours after the devastating 1906 earthquakes. The disastrous tremors and fires that followed had all but leveled the city.

"To find your hotel amidst this," the doctor told Macfarlane, "would be some trip." Then, realizing the commodore had no way of knowing about the earthquake, the doctor politely added. "What kind of a trip did you have?"

"One helluva trip," answered Macfarlane, still unaware of the extent of the ruin. "What kind of a fire did you have.

"One helluva fire," the doctor replied in a masterpiece of understatement.

The rest is history. San Francisco was rebuilt and the first Transpacific Yacht Race began in San Pedro, south of Los Angeles, on June 11, 1906.

Since then, sailors from all over the world have raced from California to Hawai`i every other year, with the exception of the war years. Although it is no longer the world's longest yacht race -- there are now races that go non-stop around the world -- it is still one of the most popular.

When the race begins on June 28 this year, 39 yachts will compete for class and over-all honors.

What makes sailors anxious for a place aboard one of the Transpac crews? According to those who sail across the ocean, it's the spirit of adventure, and the unsurpassed Hawaiian aloha that greets them after nearly two weeks at sea.

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Last modified July 4th '97 1949 Hawaiian Time
Copyright 1997, Carol Hogan for TPYC, all rights reserved