Young isle sailor sets scene for Transpac film
FROM THE sound of it, Roy Disney
's "Morning Light" movie, set for release next year, will appeal to audiences far beyond the world of sailing. Members of the Rotary Club of Honolulu enjoyed a sneak peek on Tuesday from Punahou graduate Mark Towill
, who sailed aboard Morning Light
as part of the youngest crew in Transpacific Yacht Race history.
During rigorous "wet and wild" training in the high winds off Hawaii, Towill set the boat's speed record at 29.5 knots. Everyone had a shot at steering. But nobody bested his mark.
Thanks to support and flexibility from his Punahou teachers and dean, he managed to graduate on June 2 (despite spending two weeks per month out of the classroom to train). The next day, he flew to California to prepare for the July race, where the crew discovered very different conditions.
COURTESY MORNING LIGHT / SHARON GREEN
The Morning Light Transpac team at the Waikiki Yacht Club, just after finishing the race. Among the crew was Punahou graduate Mark Towill, second from the left. CLICK FOR LARGE
"It turned out that the weather was crap," he said. Three knots of wind barely moved the sleek vessel. "We drifted out to Catalina Island. It was really crazy; it looked like a lake. It was not good."
They budgeted food and supplies for eight or nine days. Instead, their journey took 11 days and 16 hours, so they ended the journey with "no food."
Minimizing weight on board was paramount, so they'd brought nothing extra. They used a desalinization unit rather than carry fresh water, and added dietary supplements. The menu included several freeze-dried meals.
Towill, in charge of monitoring the supply, rationed two meals per day at the end: Breakfast at 6 a.m.; dinner at 6 p.m. On the final day, each person was permitted one Power Bar. The already lean Towill lost 15 pounds.
GIVEN THE physical demands and lack of sleep, it's a wonder they were still standing. The crew rotated in four-hour shifts on deck, where race mentality was expected every minute. Each day, one person cleaned up after meals and emptied the bilge. Two shared navigation duties as well.
In addition, the many sails stored below deck always needed to be stacked on the "high side" to avoid tipping the boat. Each time the boat tacked or altered direction, the high side changed. So the crew had to transfer the weighty sails from one side to the other -- sometimes every 15 minutes. Day and night. Bodies had to move, too. If the boat shifted directions and it was your turn to sleep, you needed to leave your bunk and move to one on the other side.
Unexpected excitement came in the form of a hull-to-hull match race with Samba Pa Ti, a Transpac entrant full of professional sailors who later acknowledged the prowess of the "kids" who made them work so hard.
The highlight, according to Towill, arrived at the finish. "I remember seeing Maui for the first time after not seeing land for 11 days. It was kind of emotional." The sun rose at 6:03 a.m., and Morning Light crossed the line just off Diamond Head at 6:09 a.m. "Everyone thinks it was planned," laughed Towill. "But it wasn't." He didn't mention the impressive result: Third in their division.
THEY DIDN'T even notice the constant filming. "For us, it was all about the race, all about the sailing." One part they couldn't miss, however, was the 125-foot catamaran that followed them from California to Honolulu, full of cameras, directors and producers. The young crew began calling it the "death star" due to its stealthy approach and because "it just looked like this monster ship coming at you."
Beyond the thrill of finishing, Towill's fondest recollections revolve around the team. Despite living together for months, "there wasn't a moment where I was sick of anybody," he said.
The already accomplished Towill has created fresh goals. He's aiming for a collegiate All-American title at Brown University, where he starts classes this fall, and he plans to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly called the Whitbread) around the world. Along the way, he hopes to "inspire kids to get a passion."