A perfect ending to Vic-Maui yacht race

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (07/15/00)
By Ray Pendleton

The finish of the Victoria, British Colombia, to Lahaina, Maui, transpacific yacht race couldn't have turned out better if it had been scripted.

Not only was a new Vic-Maui course record established, but the overall winner on corrected time was, without question, the sentimental favorite.

James McDowell's Santa Cruz 70 Grand Illusion needed no illusions to eclipse the 1996 record of Roy E. Disney's Santa Cruz 70 Pyewacket by nearly 17 1/2 hours.

Grand Illusion (racing under the Lahaina Yacht Club burgee), covered the 2,308-nautical-mile course in 9 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes and 27 seconds, and just possibly has set a record future racers will find hard to beat.

And at least part of the reason was due to the weather.

At the start, the fleet had favorable winds to get out of the Straight of San Juan de Fuca quickly. Then, with a strong Pacific high pressure ridge centered somewhat further north than usual, the racers were soon able to follow the rhumb line - a course straight for the Islands.

For an experienced downwind sled like Grand Illusion and her crew (she was also the 1999 Transpac corrected time winner) this meant setting her spinnaker, riding the 25- to 35-knot tradewinds, and hoping nothing would break.

"It seemed pretty slow the first half of the race," McDowell said. "We didn't think we were going to make any record.

"But when the trades picked up, it was incredible. For three days straight we were doing like 350 (nautical miles) a day, so after two days of that, we knew we could do it."

And, the breakage was kept to a minimum.

"One night, we blew up our spinnaker - it just disintegrated," McDowell said. "But we had another kite up and we were back in our bunks in five minutes...everybody pushed together so hard."

As for the sentimental favorite taking the corrected time trophy, few entries, I think, could be more compelling than the Canadian Navy's 102-foot ketch-rigged training vessel HMCS Oriole.

This was no ultra-light, surf-sliding, downwind rocket, but rather, a wood-planked, deep-draft, 79-year-old, low-tech lady of the sea. And her crew consisted of 10, somewhat inexperienced, cadets from the Royal Military College and a number of volunteers from Canada's various military services.

Nevertheless, this year's extra strength trade winds seemed to breath new life into Oriole's elderly sails.

"We had an absolutely great time," Oriole's skipper Scott Crawshaw said. "When it took us less than a day to get out of the Straights, we knew it was going to be a lot of fun.

"Oriole doesn't perform well in light airs, so the Pacific High was set up magnificently for us," Crawshaw explained.

When asked about the accuracy of Oriole's handicap rating that allowed her enough time to even beat Grand Illusion's record run, Crawshaw laughed and said he was waiting for that one.

"I'm sure they'll change it for the next race," Crawshaw said. "But, you know, everybody had the same winds."

And, of course, how could anyone really question Oriole's handicap when it is based on a 25-year performance history, longer than any other vessel racing the Vic-Maui?

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