Transpac hype starts early

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 02/22/03)
By Ray Pendleton

The many local sailors who participate in such events were unquestionably forlorn, but so too were the 500-or-more volunteers who normally get involved handling shore-side logistics ranging from race officiating to party planning.

The 10-day social whirlwind surrounding this kind of regatta -- along with the free T-shirts, sea bags and ball caps -- can be rather habit-forming.

So, you'll have to forgive them all now if the waterfront scuttlebutt starts to focus somewhat prematurely on this year's California to Hawai`i, Transpacific Yacht Race. The racers won't begin to arrive here until early July, but it's still something special to plan on.

Transpac, as it is commonly called -- nearing its 100th birthday -- is one of the oldest blue water sailing races in existence. Except for taking time out for two world wars, it has been run biennially since 1906.

In its early days, Transpac was dominated by large schooners, each vying for the honor of crossing the Diamond Head finish line first. That tradition continues to this day, as somewhat smaller and considerably faster and lighter 70-foot sloops race for the "Barn Door" trophy awarded to the first-to-finish yacht.

But to encourage sailors with smaller vessels to participate in Transpac, race organizers in recent decades have established numerous classes and they handicap the entire fleet. Often, the race's overall winner may not be the first-to-finish yacht.

Such is the case of the venerable Cal 40 boat class that apparently will be making a comeback appearance in this year's Transpac.

In 1965, Don Salisbury's Cal 40 Psyche won Transpac overall on corrected time against such legendary yachts as Ticonderoga, Stormvogel and Kialoa II. That was followed by another Cal 40 scooping up the same trophy in 1967, and to only to be outdone in '69, when the top four corrected time finishers were Cal 40s.

What made the boat such a good match for Transpac? According to Transpac veteran Tom Corkett, "(It was the) new lightweight fiberglass Cal 40 with a flat bottom, thin keel, spade rudder that really had great surfing ability."

This year Long Beach school teacher Wendy Siegal is encouraging Cal 40 owners to form a Transpac class. Siegal placed first in the 2001 race's Aloha Class with her Cal 40 Willow Wind.

Another notable sailor who has already entered the Cal 40 class is Stan Honey, best known as the record-setting navigator aboard Roy Disney's Pyewacket and Steve Fossett's 125-foot catamaran PlayStation.

Also famed America's Cup skipper Dennis Conner recently purchased Persephone -- the first Cal 40 built -- and it is rumored he may enter this year's Transpac as well.

One thing is certain for anyone who enters, after having nothing to do in 2002, Transpac's Honolulu Committee of hundreds of volunteers will provide this year's racers the biggest aloha that's been seen in years.

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