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Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, July 3, 1999


Transpac celebrating
40th race

BRING out the champagne! This year's Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu is celebrating its 40th running.

Now, if 40 doesn't sound like much, it must be remembered that Transpac, as it is familiarly called, is usually only raced every other year, and that other human events, like World Wars, have curtailed such ocean-crossing competitions.

The fact is, Transpac is the oldest, ongoing blue-water regatta in the world - it began in 1906 - and it would have been 20 years older had it begun the year it was first proposed.

In September of 1886, Hawaii's King David Kalakaua sent an invitation to the members of the Pacific Yacht Club of San Francisco to attend his 50th birthday party on November 16, by conducting an ocean yacht race from their port to his in Honolulu.

For reasons now clouded by time, those yachtsmen did not avail themselves of the King's hospitality and it was left up to Hawaii businessman and promoter Clarence W. Macfarlane, 20 years later, to take up where King Kalakaua had left off.

In the spring of 1906, Macfarlane sailed his 48-foot schooner, La Paloma, from Hawaii to San Francisco in hopes of attracting some competitors for a race back to the Islands. But on passing through the Golden Gate, he was shocked to discover that the city had been recently devastated by both earthquake and fire.

Undaunted, Macfarlane sailed down to Los Angeles, where he met with local yachtsman, Harry Sinclair, owner of the 86-foot schooner Lurline, and a visitor from New York, Charles Tutt, who owned the 112-foot ketch, Anemone.

The three yachtsmen eventually agreed to a handicap system for their dissimilar vessels and at noon, on June 11, 1906, a cannon was fired off the Southern California coast for the start of the first Transpacific Yacht Race - the Race to Honolulu.

Twelve days, 9 hours and 59 minutes later, Lurline crossed the finish line to become Transpac's first elapsed- and corrected-time winner.

Her passage was so swift that her time was only eclipsed once in the following four decades.

ALTHOUGH there was never any question as to where the race should finish, it took Transpac organizers more than 40 years to decide on exactly where the race should begin. That it originally began near Los Angeles was mostly due to coincidence, but until the start of WWI, the Transpac start remained there, every other year.

For the first race after the war, in 1923, Transpac started off Santa Barbara, primarily due to the organizing abilities of the city's yacht club commodore. After another start near L.A. in 1926, the line was moved 60 miles south to Newport Beach for the 1928 race, to satisfy its chamber of commerce and local yachtsmen.

The starting line was back in L.A. in 1930, but in '32, because of conflict with the Olympic sailing competition there, it was again moved to Santa Barbara. In 1936, the line was moved only slightly, to Santa Monica.

Soon after that race, Transpac organizers decided to conduct their race on odd-numbered years. They also agreed to move the starting line for one final time, north to San Francisco for the grand opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since that 1939 race, the course has remained as it was in 1906, 2,225 miles from L.A. to Honolulu.

The fastest monohulled boats of this year's fleet started today at 10 a.m., Hawaii time. If there is a new record, one of those boats will have to cross the Diamond Head finish before 1:24 a.m. on Sunday, July 11.

So cheers to Transpac. Saturday night is a great time for champagne.


Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at raypen@compuserve.com.



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