Fading winds left Pacific Cup fleet at near standstill

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (07/22/00)
By Ray Pendleton

It's said timing in life is everything. And for the crews racing in this year's West Marine The Pacific Cup regatta, it couldn't be a more appropriate saying.

Less than a month ago, yachts in the Victoria, British Colombia, to Lahaina, Maui Race, better known as the "Vic-Maui," experienced some of the best weather conditions in its 32-year history. As a result, the elapsed time winner eclipsed the previous record by some 17 1/2 hours.

Now, in the Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Kaneohe, with the largest starting fleet (80 boats) ever to set sail in a trans-Pacific yacht race, the normally ever-present tradewinds have all but disappeared for the first half of the crossing.

"This is the first time in this biennial race's 11-event history it has suffered through such a lack of wind," the Pacific Cup's Ray Sweeney said. "In fact, it has seen record-shattering crossings in the last two races."

The Pacific Cup began on July 10 for the smaller and slower boats in the fleet and has had subsequent daily starts for the bigger and faster yachts. The fastest boats started on July 13.

The object of such a staggered start is to compress the finish time for all of the boats. But, it also gives the boats in each day's start different wind conditions. For this reason, the race was lead by the early doublehanded entries for over half the race as they got away from the West Coast before the winds lightened.

Unfortunately, for this year's racers, Mother Nature's wind machine - the Pacific High - apparently weakened and wandered a bit closer to the islands since the Vic-Maui, and for a while, turned the Pacific Cup race course into a parking lot.

For many trans-Pacific racers, that meant they had to decide whether to continue the race, drop out and continue under power, or just turn back for the Coast.

"While there seems to be an image of yacht racing as a rich man's sport," Kaneohe Yacht Club's Lou Ickler said, "both boat owners and crew members have jobs and responsibilities. For many, their annual vacation is the Pacific Cup and they have to get back to work."

So, by midweek, due to winds in the five-knot range, five boats had opted to retire from the Pacific Cup, but to continue on to Kaneohe. Four other yachts turned back for San Francisco.

And yet, in a show of the vagaries of conditions along a 2,070-mile race course, a report by Bruce Schwab, while making 13 knots aboard Steve Rander's Wylie 70, Rage, makes it apparent not everyone was windless.

"The watch on deck was yucking it up as they usually do around 2 a.m.," Schwab said, " when the discussion turned to the spinnaker up at the time - our 'whomper'," Schawb said.

"Campbell had just said, 'Dudes, I think we'll have this baby up 'till the finish,' when there was an explosive BANG.

"Those of us below rushed on deck to see the entire 4,000-square-foot spinnaker floating, mostly in the air, along side of us. Miraculously, we pulled it aboard without a single tear or scratch.

"It turned out the halyard had been munched by a sharp spreader base."

So now, as Rage and Philippe Kahn's Andrews 70, Pegasus find themselves in a drag race for the finish line offshore of Kaneohe this weekend, another quote in a report from Schwab really says it all.

"The water is flying by...but is it flying by fast enough?"

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