Ray Pendleton Water Ways

Ray Pendleton

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Greetings mean
a lot to harried racers

AS I've noted before, the just-concluded Transpacific Yacht Race is historically significant, as it has been run biennially, except during the World Wars, since 1906.

Only one other blue-water regatta -- the much shorter Bermuda Race -- can make that claim.

But Transpac has always had another claim to fame that no other yacht race in the world can match -- the well-known aloha greeting that welcomes every boat's owner and crew.

The greeting begins as each finisher passes by the Hawaii Yacht Club on its way to the 500, or "Transpac," row of slips in the Ala Wai marina.

"Alooooha!" echoes across the water from the club's loudspeakers, followed by the boat's name and a personal greeting to every sailor aboard.

Then each boat is directed into its assigned mooring, where -- thanks to the non-stop efforts of HYC's veteran organizer Barbara Silvey -- dozens of people await to celebrate the crew's completion of this 2,225-nautical-mile contest.

Day or night, rain or shine, volunteers are there with armfuls of leis, coolers full of mai tais, tables full of pupus, and, of course, local music to make every participant feel welcome.

And undoubtedly there is a therapeutic decompression quality in the aloha for the racers because often, the last few hours of Transpac can be the most harrowing.

After days of pushing their boats and themselves to the limit in their downwind run from California, to finish the race they must sail the Kaiwi (Molokai) Channel, where the tradewinds funnel through at an even greater velocity than before.

All too often, boat gear that has functioned quite well for over 2,000 miles suddenly falls apart.

Take for example this year's first-to-finish boat, Barry Ault's 61-foot Lady Bleu II. With the Diamond Head finish line in sight, its crew had to feverishly replace a spinnaker that had suddenly disintegrated in the heavier wind conditions off Koko Head.

In another instance near Koko Head, the stress level of the crew was raised dramatically aboard Dan Doyle's 35-foot Two Guys on the Edge.

Picture, if you can, running before 30 knots of wind and 10-foot seas, in the dark of night, with no auto-pilot, and having the spinnaker wrap tightly around the head stay. Remember, there's just two people on board to deal with the problem.

Somehow Doyle got his lone crewman, Bruce Burgess, up the mast to cut away the wrapped sail and then set another kite, but it surely wasn't done without major bursts of adrenaline.

Still, perhaps the most memorable example of gear failure -- and crew stress -- in any Transpac finish was when, in 1969, the main mast of the 78-foot ketch Mir abruptly collapsed about 400 yards from the finish.

The crew managed to cut away the broken mast and rigging and then back the boat over the line, stern first, using just the remaining mizzen sail, for a third-place finish.

Think they weren't just a little bit hyper when they finally tied up at the dock?

Combine the additional stress of the Kaiwi Channel with a certain amount of sleep depravation and you can understand why Transpac racers so appreciate our aloha welcoming committees.

As one heavily lei'd and mai tai'd sailor told me with a grin after an early morning finish: "I think we've sailed into heaven."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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


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