Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Transpac 2019 - Part 4: Winning Transpac

Around midnight we were caught in a windshift and wrapped the spinnaker into an hourglass during a poorly executed jibe. It took the full crew to douse and unwrap the spinnaker. We sailed with main only for a while before relaunching our A2.5 and continuing. Spirits ebbed…but the boat eventually settled back in.

During the next squall we caught a tremendous wind shift coupled with great pressure that fundamentally improved our course and VMG. For several hours Hamachi charged at high speed directly at Hawaii. Matt and Lucas piloted her, rocking out to music in the middle of the night, while the rest of the crew slept below.

By sunrise we were still in the lead, and David confirmed this at the morning position report, but there was a sense of despair on-deck: despite our successes, we could feel the rest of the fleet overtaking us. Bretwalda was over 100 miles in front of us and closing in on Molokai and Velvet Hammer was set up in a great strategic position to the northwest of us. We were south and east of where we wanted to be and kept waiting…hoping…for the wind shift that would allow us to cross to the west. We scoured the gribs and saw that our situation was forecast to get worse, so around 9am we jibed west. The winds were light (10-15kts) and Hamachi wallowed along in a medium sea state.

By now we were within 200 nm of Honolulu and in the Yellowbrick tracker “Live Zone”. We watched on AIS as BadPak (Pac52) and Peligrosso (Kernan 70) sailed past us on the opposite board. Seeing these boats abeam of us within 200 miles of the finish made us start to appreciate the magnitude of our accomplishment. It was easy sailing in the lighter conditions so we spent an equal amount of time below tracking our progress against the fleet and our direct competition. Around mid-morning we started getting weird Yellowbrick results and did some on-board trouble shooting as well as contacted the Transpac Race Committee via email. They responded that our race tracker had been going crazy, constantly pinging the Iridium satellite network, and had burned out its battery. We pulled the unit apart and tried to find an old micro-USB adapter that could charge it, but we did not have one aboard. They told us to send manual position reports every four hours, which we did. While this was frustrating to us, we knew it was more infuriating to our direct competitors as well as all of the tracker junkies watching at home!

Not long after jibing the wind, which was forecast to go right, started shifting left. By 10am the wind had come left 5 degrees. By 11am it had come left 10 degrees. This continued into the afternoon by which time the wind had clocked an additional 30 degrees. It had two positive impacts: first, it improved our VMG towards Honolulu; second, it negated all of the leverage that Velvet Hammer had established by going to the right corner of the course. We were now sailing on the favored board to the right corner of the course, effectively cutting off Velvet Hammer.

Around 2:00 that afternoon we watch Bretwalda sail across the finish line, which started a virtual timer. Given our ratings, they owed us 14.5 hours of time. This meant that as long as we finished by 4:30am on Sunday, we could beat them.  However, it was now 4:30 pm on Saturday and we were still 150 nm from the finish, wallowing along at 12 kts of boat speed. The giant left wind shift made it too painful to jibe south towards Molokai, so all we could do was soldier on and “hope” that the wind improved.

It eventually did. 

By 6pm the wind started building to 15kts. Then 17kts…and then slowly shifted back right. As darkness fell we jibed back on to port heading south towards Molokai. Velvet Hammer was safely 35 miles off our stern and we set our sights on catching Bretwalda, whose crew by now was thoroughly drunk. The wind continued right and built to 20 kts. Hamachi was flying south on a mission: the crew confident and highly focused on burning down the miles.

Sunday – July 21th

Around midnight Hamachi came rocketing in towards Kalaupapa, Molokai at 17-19 kts of boat speed under a brilliant tropical night. The Milky Way stood bright behind puffy tropical clouds, providing a backdrop to make out the island of Molokai and the first few lights of civilization. The plan was to have all hands on deck for the final jibes west and across Molokai channel. Everyone took up their positions with Matt and Fred driving. We expected the wind to build to 30 plus knots in the infamous Molokai channel, but it never materialized. Instead we jibed around the west end of Molokai, then across to the Oahu, and down around to the finish. Everyone took turns driving during the final hours and Hamachi ripped across the finish line at 2:21 am to win the 50th Transpac.

Here's what you look like when you haven't slept in days or showered in over a week!

It would be a few hours before we confirmed that Velvet Hammer would not correct ahead of us, and a few more days to make sure that none of the Cal 40s could eclipse our time.

Despite finishing in the middle of the night, the Transpac organizers did a great job organizing a welcoming committee. We were met in front of Waikiki and escorted across the bar and into the harbor where we were met by our Transpac hosts and family members. Our broken tracker made it a stressful 24 hours for them, and difficult to gauge our arrival. Even though most of the crew hadn’t slept in 36 hours, on top of seven days of ocean racing, we were all ready for some real food and the open bar. However, before this could happen we had to undergo the mandatory safety inspection, and then were greeted by the local media. We had no idea what we had just done. We left to sail across the Pacific and engage in a friendly J/125 fleet race. Instead we had just won one of the most prestigious yacht races in the world. The media was eager to hear our story.

Our amazing host committee plus surprise family greeted us and partied into the next day.


We have posted an extended cut (25 minutes!) capturing our magical ride across the Pacific Ocean and taking first overall in the 50th edition of Transpac. We captured this video to compete in a new Transpac award class for best race video produced on the water. After Hamachi sailed into first place half way through the race, all thoughts of producing a video disappeared. Enjoy this cut of extended clips, b-roll and out takes that attempt to capture the sights and sounds of being on a 41ft (12.5 meter) racing boat ripping across an ocean.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Transpac 2019 | Part 3 - The Race

Part 1 - The Journey to Transpac

Part 2 - Preparing the Boat and Crew

Part 3 - The Race

Part 4 - Winning Transpac

The Hamachi Transpac crew began arriving in southern California on July 6th ahead of our July 12th start to attend mandatory crew briefings. While perfunctory, looking around the room made it clear that this was not your local race - in attendance were some of the best crews and skippers from around the World. We enjoyed the pre-race party and connected with crews from t Draconis (Rogers 46 from Japan) and Comanche (100ft from Australia). Afterwards we returned to Marina Del Rey and the California Yacht Club for final Hamachi preparations.

The first order of business was to pack the boat for minimum weight. By now we had learned that the other three J/125s were sailing with five crew. We were going to sail with six. An additional person amounts to 300 lbs of additional weight between the body, gear, food and water. Someone had already calculated that 1 additional pound of weight amounted to 30 seconds in your finish time, so an additional crew member meant 150 minutes (2.5 hours), which is significant. As a result, we attempted to make up this excess by cutting everywhere else. We stripped the boat clean and looked at every piece of gear, and only put it back on board if it served two or three critical functions. We had enough weather insight to select final sails, and decided to forgo all light weather gear. We agonized over final sail selection and decided to go with our lighter inshore main (with one reef versus our older offshore main with two reefs), all purpose (AP) J1, reefable J3 (capable of reefing to a J4), spinnaker staysail, genoa staysail, Code Zero, and the following spinnakers: A4, A3, A2.5A (older), A2.5B (newer) and A2.0.  We left the A1.5 on the dock and rounded out the sails with obligatory storm trysail, storm jib and heavy weather jib.

Hamachi had sat in her slip for almost two months and was in dire need of a hull cleaning.  We had arranged for a final haul out at a local boat yard and were surprised to see a heavy coral-like growth covering her entire bottom from local tube worms. Scrubbing was not effective, and we wound up sanding her bottom clean. This last-minute gear optimization and hull cleaning proved critical as she came out of it light and fast. She went back into the water two days before our designated start on Friday July 12th and we motored her down to San Pedro to be with the rest of the fleet pre-start.

Not fast...

Definitely not fast...

 We spent a full day of hard labor preparing Hamachi

Hamachi motored out to observe the first Transpac start on Wednesday July 9th.  This was our last training sail and provided a great opportunity to understand the start and start tactics. We flew the drone and had great video of the first day starters. We then put up sails and wound up on a crossing course with Comanche (a 100ft sled and the fastest monohull on the planet), who was out for more tune up. Relishing the opportunity, we hastily launched the drone for more video.  Unfortunately, in our rush we did not wait for GPS lock, and the drone went crazy once airborne. It switched to visual flight references and was confused by the wave pattern in 20 kts of breeze so went rocketing down-wind past our backstay, nearly missed our main sail and crashed into our spinnaker, which sent it careening into the Pacific Ocean. The crew was crushed, but we vowed to buy another for our sail across the Pacific. We finished up our test sail, calibrated our speedos, and parked Hamachi till the start.

Our expensive encounter with Comanche.

The last day was spent checking weather, packing food and buying a new drone (hint: you can buy a MavicAir at Best Buy).

Friday – July 12th

We went to bed early and awoke the morning of the race with a list of final activities. We had a large breakfast, although pre-race nerves made it hard to eat, and went to the boat for final packing, a quick bottom cleaning, and crew pictures. We wished our fellow J/125 competitors luck (each team put $125 into a purse for the first boat to reach Hawaii) and motored to the start line. Leaving the harbor our impressive fleet of 40-60 ft sleds motored past the final day starters, which included all of the big sleds (e.g.Comanche, Pyewacket, Merlin) and multihulls (e.g. Maserati, Argo), knowing they would come to chase us down the following morning.

For the 50th running of Transpac 92 boats made it to the start line, which was a record (by a large margin). As a crew, we had three goals: be safe, have fun, and win (in that order). “Winning” meant beating the other three J/125’s and taking the Transpac award for best on-the-water reporting by submitting a video prior to finishing the race. We had no expectations of doing more than that.

Team Hamachi departing for Hawaii!

The morning June Gloom (low clouds and haze) was starting to lift for our noon start and the wind was out of the northwest at 6-8 kts. Unfortunately we were having instrument issues: despite calibrating both speedos the night before, the port speedo, which is the most critical for the race, was suddenly non-functional. We spent the entire pre-race troubleshooting, to no avail – it was non operative the entire Transpac.  As a result, we never had a good sense of our boat speed, which given the final outcome is ironic.

Hamachi was officially in Division III, which consisted of 13 boats, and was part of the second start, which had around 40 boats. With the exception of Longboard (Riptide 35 from Vancouver, BC), we were the smallest boat in the day 2 start. Our strategy was to avoid the log jam of larger boats at the favored pin end of the long line and instead start near the middle. We found a clear lane amongst our J/125 fleet and started on starboard. We were almost immediately fouled by the J/125 Snoopy, who tried tacking across our bow on port in search of clear air, and were forced to duck them when they didn’t yield. Annoyed, we continued on, pointing high and fast with full main and J1AP, quickly establishing a lead on the J/125 fleet while even passing a few Santa Cruz 50s.

The Transpac fleet must round the northern tip of Catalina Island and we missed laying it by 100 feet, which forced us to tack upwind in light conditions. We lost our lead but focused on our strategy, which was to sail north and get high on our competition heading into the first night. This would allow us to transition early to our Code Zero and, with more speed, “zoom down” onto our fleet, hopefully passing them on Day 2. Our goal was to get below (south of) them before entering the “slot cars”, the critical middle portion of the race. A southern position kept us away from the high pressure and its lighter pressure, but also gave us the option to sail north if there was better pressure.

Our watch rotation was 4 hours on/off with short 2 hour shifts between noon and 4pm.  This allowed the watches to alternate every day, so no one watch was stuck with the dog watch (midnight to 4am) the entire race. We stood our first watch at 4pm with Port (Jason, Fred and Lucas) taking the helm while Starboard (Shawn, David, Matt) went below to rest. As the sun set on Friday (night #1), the wind built and slowly moved right to a true wind angle of 55-60, which allowed us to deploy our genoa staysail inside the J1AP. Hamachi rumbled along at 8-9 kts in 15-20kts of wind through wind chop on top of an ocean swell, which made for uncomfortable conditions and some crew succumbed to sea sickness. The first night watch with extremely wet, rough and dark conditions was a shit show with the crew in survival mode. Welcome to Transpac.

Saturday - July 13th

The port watch came back on deck at midnight and we found ourselves abeam of Snoopy (J/125). The clouds parted to reveal a waning near-full moon and the fresh crew put the hammer down, steadily pulling away. While initially concerned about the weight of our extra crew member, we discovered after the race that having an extra person was instead a clear advantage. The other J/125’s were sailing with a navigator and two 2-person watches. With three crew on deck we set up 45 minutes rotations between driver, main trim and jib/spinnaker trim so that everyone remained fresh and alert. The other two person watches could not do this and we wore them down over the course of the race, making our biggest gains at night. In addition, the other J/125s only had one navigator that would alternate between the two watches.  On Hamachi David was the primary navigator with Jason in a supporting role and serving as tactician (with Fred). They were intentionally on opposite watches to maintain continuity and situational awareness.

Hamachi hammered through the night and into the morning, alternating between full and reefed main with our J1AP and genoa staysail (GS). We struggled early with race situational awareness as all boats slowly switched off their AIS transceivers, and it took us a bit to figure out how to download Yellowbrick position reports via our Iridium GO modem. Because we didn’t know where the other boats were (yet), we sailed our race.

We sailed fast with the J1AP and GS and probably should have shifted to our Code Zero sooner than we did. However, as soon as we set the Code Zero around 3pm on Saturday, we came roaring down and over Snoopy, who had sunk to the south. We blasted along beam reaching at 11-12 knots in 16-20 kts of wind through the afternoon and into the evening. That night we bombed along under broken clouds thoroughly enjoying the majestic stars and near full moon.

Sunday - July 14th

By the midnight watch change the wind was shifting farther and farther right. We decided it was time to peel to the A3 spinnaker and sailed high and hot until 5 am, at which point we peeled to the A2.5B (the newer of our two used A2.5s). By daybreak the wind was starting to lighten.  Further, the weather gribs were showing areas of further lightness to the south, so we sailed hot angles to climb into the slightly better wind to the north. We spent all day working to keep the boat rumbling in 10-15 kts of wind.

Now under spinnaker and in lighter winds the boat flattened out and we were finally able to open her up and dry her out. By now all the crew had their sea legs and were finding their groove. We were also starting to get our communication rhythms down: pulling gribs on a regular basis, downloading yellow brick position reports, and sending out email updates out to our Race Boss Janet Laffitte for reposting on the Hamachi Facebook page and sailish.com. While our primary race positioning was still coming from the Transpac morning position reports, we were starting to get a sense for where the other J/125’s were, as well as the leaders in Division III. We spent most of Sunday watching Velvet Hammer, who had appeared from the north sometime in the night, pass over the horizon off our stern.

It was on Sunday that we decided to do our first (and only) rig check. We launched both the drone and Matt Pistay up the rig, capturing great footage of him jumping over the spinnaker to clear a trapped spinnaker halyard. 

Monday – July 15th  

By Day 3 of the race we were into our routine of sail, sleep, eat. As we approached the trade winds the solid marine overcast was breaking up into puffy clumps of clouds and the water was warmer. The wind was slowly clocking further right, but we were under our A2.5 spinnaker and in our “slot”, meaning our position on the course was mostly fixed: we couldn’t sail any deeper (i.e. south) and could only work up towards boats to the north. That was our original plan: keep our competition to the north as we entered the “Slot Cars”; and we were happy that it worked out.

As a result we slowly turned right to match the wind and maximize boat speed. The crew of Hamachi sailed hard, fast and fun. Each watch was pushing the boat aggressively to find planning conditions. Our goals for the race were modest: we were more focused on getting to Hawaii and enjoying the adventure than any results; and I believe this became one of the team’s key strengths. We had invested in real food having pre-made and frozen individual meals that were stored in Styrofoam coolers organized by day. A fun and well fueled crew is a very fast crew, and it paid off during this portion of the race.

Tuesday – July 16th

We woke up to learn that Hamachi had climbed the ranks and was now second in Division III and third overall. We were frankly shocked. “What…??!!” was the general response. “Can you double check that?” We had, to date, spent our efforts tracking the J/125s, not really caring about the bigger picture. Continuing with that approach, the team shrugged it off and went back to sending it across the waves.

Tuesday was a truly epic day as the wind built to 20+ kts and the crews kept the boat on the ragged edge, working to milk every last knot of speed. We were rocketing along in our slot with no thought of jibing south, since we were clearly on the favored board. It was all about boat speed and the ride was wet, wild and loud. We blasted through the afternoon and into the evening. While more casual during the day, there was a strict life jacket and harness policy from sunset to sunrise, and the night watches clipped in and kept the hammer down.

Team Hamachi in the groove.

Wednesday – July 17th

The morning fleet report had Hamachi covering 327nm towards Hawaii in the previous 24 hours, which propelled her into first place in Division and Overall. This could be a J/125 single day record.

We suddenly realized that something special was happening.

That morning we crossed in front of t Draconis, our newfound Japanese friends on a Rogers 46, and were in the vicinity of much faster boats from our start. Around noon we calculated that we had crossed, or were at least close, to the half-way point, and frankly shocked that it happened so fast. We pulled out our small flask of Knob Creek bourbon, put on the tunes, launched the drone, and had a short but epic dance party in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Hamachi Transpac video captures the crew dancing to YCMA and truly enjoying the moment.

Ripping across the half way point - 1100 miles from land.

We continued ripping along in 15-20 kts of wind while trying to assess the weather and where the rest of the fleet was. Our lead over the other boats was 20 to 50 nm. The gribs had been showing more pressure to the south, with about 2 kts more wind. While minimal, Hamachi’s boat speed had been averaging 2 kts less than wind speed. If one of our competitors had two more knots of wind, and hence boat speed, it meant they could gain 50 nm on us over a 24 hour period, which would erase our lead. Around noon we downloaded Yellowbrick data and saw that both Snoopy and Velvet Hammer had jibed south, presumably to go after the better breeze. We also knew that these position reports were four hours delayed, so it was conceivable that they were already 50-75 miles to the south of us and half-way to the better wind. Complicating matters, it appeared that the wind would start backing off, beginning from the north, as the fleet sailed closer and closer to the high.

Historically, we have been the underdogs and love the pursuit role. Hamachi was now the lead boat and everyone was gunning for us. Transpac was our first ocean race and we felt very uncomfortable being 1250 miles from the finish and engaged in a high stakes chess match to cover a fleet spread over hundreds of miles.

The tactical / navigation brain trust of Jason, Fred and David talked it over and we were split. We had reached the point in the race where you transition from “slot cars” to “downwind to Hawaii”, meaning that the wind was even on either board to Hawaii (one direction was not favored versus the other). Based on what we knew, Bretwalda (the race favored Rogers 46 in our Division III) was still on our board but the trend was that all J/125’s would correct ahead of them. Fred and David said we should continue and push for the far (right) corner of the course, which has historically proved to be the advantage. Jason was concerned about the easing local breeze and stronger pressure to the south, and felt we should cover the other J/125s. In the end Fred said it best (to Jason), “you are writing the big check, it’s your call”.  Jason chose to go south, so we jibed.

As soon as we jibed south the instruments, which were most likely being impacted by the non-working speedo, showed that we were now on the unfavored board.  Regardless, we said we would sail south through one watch and reassess. As we moved south the wind did build into the low 20s, along with the sea state, and the Starboard watch had some epic blasts down massive ocean swell. We spent eight agonizing hours sailing south, second guessing our tactical calls, before jibing back west onto the (maybe) favored board at the 8pm watch change. Hamachi sailed into a dark night and the wind increased further.

At 17 kts of wind, Hamachi can jump onto the step and race down a wave at 16-18 kts. You can then surf in the trough but can’t typically get up and over the next wave. As a result, the boat temporarily slides off the step until the process is repeated on the next wave.  At 20 kts of wind Hamachi will race down a wave then climb up and over the next wave at speed. That night the wind cranked up into the mid-20s and Hamachi was an out of control freight train. At those wind speeds the boat would rocket down the face of the wave and plow into the back of the next one or, if unimpeded, race up the back of the next wave and launch off the top, crashing many feet down into the trough of the next swell. Both scenarios produced walls of water that engulfed the boat. During the day, when you can see the waves and position the boat, it’s exhilarating. But in the pitch black, with the moon and starlight erased by a heavy cloud layer, you are sailing by brail and it was a little terrifying. Our one working speedo was out of the water half the time, which made the wind instruments useless, so we are not sure of the actual conditions, but we went back and saw GPS boat speeds of 23 kts. It took all our energy and concentration to keep the boat from wiping out and thankfully the wind backed off after two hours of crazy conditions.

Thursday – July 18th

We were now in the final phase of the race: the downwind into Hawaii. We were also out of frozen food and into the freeze dried, which meant we were ready to get to Honolulu. As forecasted, the wind was down to around 15 kts that morning and we were heading back south on a port jibe. As the sun cracked into the eastern sky Fred decided to go fishing. He REALLY wanted to catch a Mahi Mahi and this seemed like the time to try. We towed a lure for an hour, but conceded that we were going too fast.

As the day developed lines of rain squalls appeared on the horizon and the sea state increased. These squalls presented a new challenge because they can bring intense favorable as well as unfavorable winds. The cloud bands themselves travel with the trade winds. The rain bursts create downdrafts that work to increase or negate the prevailing tradewinds.  The key is to get in front of the squalls to grab the good wind, and then “bail out” on a port jibe to avoid the dead zone behind. We spent the day rocketing downwind with the deck awash from the big seas, chasing and avoiding squalls and occasionally getting a much needed freshwater soaking.

We generally worked “downhill” towards Hawaii jibing with our three person watches on favorable wind shifts. We later learned that the other J/125’s would only jibe at watch changes because they felt they needed full crews on deck. They were all following us on the Yellowbrick tracker and our constant jibing was driving them nuts. We attribute our boat handling skills to the amazing crew and the long Pacific Northwest sailing season, which provided more on-the-water experience with our boat.

By Thursday evening we were still holding onto our overall and divisional lead, but everyone was maneuvering to get leverage on us.  We were most focused on Velvet Hammer (J/125), but our cat and mouse games were allowing Bretwalda (Rogers 46) to start legging out on both of us, which reduced our lead.

We had been pushing the boat and the equipment to the edge. Due to overly aggressive sailing, and general lapses in concentration, we had numerous wipeouts and many more spinnaker collapses over the previous five days.  Around 10pm on Thursday evening our A2.5, which had transported us 1500 nm across the Pacific (and a veteran of a previous Pacific crossing), suffered one too many indignities and blew up trying to refill from a spinnaker collapse. The pieces of the sail settled into the water, and immediately submerged, creating a giant boat anchor. The off-watch crew jumped from their bunks and on deck in their underwear and it took the full crew to wrestle the spinnaker remnants into the boat. It was blowing 15-20 and Hamachi wanted to continue on at 8-10 kts, which made this effort extremely difficult. Knowing that we were pushing the gear, we had the A4 spinnaker packed and ready to go. We got it deployed and the boat settled, but the sail did not fly nearly as well as the A2.5.

Friday – July 19th

The Port watch came on deck for the Dog Watch and sailed with the A4 for a few hours. The wind started to fade and we decided to put the reserve (even older) A2.5 up. This helped with boat speed but we lost many miles to our competition during this period. Our misfortune continued with the Starboard watch when they got overtaken by squalls in the darkness, which becalmed the boat. By the time the Port watch came back on deck everyone was tired and frustrated, and the morning fleet position report showed our lead narrowing. Our happy fun boat was feeling the stress of trying to hold off the entire Transpac fleet for 1000 miles.

We were slowly closing in on Hawaii and the fleet was both converging and positioning for the approach to the Molokai channel. We were split between chasing Bretwalda, who was making gains on us via a direct course to Hawaii, and Velvet Hammer, who was now pushing towards the western corner of the course, setting up for a final flanking maneuver into the finish. Throughout the day we tried to jibe west, but the favored wind angle kept pushing us back south.

Based on our boat speed and Expedition routing we thought we would finish in the next 24 hours (by Saturday afternoon or evening). Everyone was tired, but Fred pulled us together for a rally speech. Having sailed seven races to Hawaii previously, and having finished second overall, he appreciated more than anyone the unique position we were in. He highlighted the fact that “Some people spend 20 years and millions of dollars trying to win Transpac, and never do.  Here we are – it’s ours for the taking. Let’s close this out.”  Despite running a seven day marathon, this crew was suddenly energized for a 24 hour sprint. With the finish in sight, our highly structured watch rotation was effectively thrown out and it was a case of all hands on deck. If you felt good, get on deck and sail fast; if you need to recharge, go below because you will be needed soon.

By Friday afternoon spinnakers began appearing on the horizon and sliding ahead of and behind the boat, which provided entertainment and lifted spirits. That evening we were treated to a brilliant sunset with a vibrant pallet of colors irradiating tropical skies. As darkness fell the on-watch crew kept a lookout astern to navigate the incessant squalls. Some allowed us to go west, others pushed us back south.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Transpac 2019 | Part 2 - Preparing the Boat and Crew

Part 4 - Winning Transpac

Dreaming of sailing to Hawaii is one thing, actually embarking on the journey is entirely different. The amount of details that go into such a campaign is truly overwhelming.  Such an endeavor takes time and money, and we were short on both. This segment focused on what it took us to make Hamachi race ready and get her to southern California in advance of the race.
Many boats start preparing for a race like Transpac a year in advance. Due to life circumstances we committed to this adventure late, only four months before the start. We signed up on March 2nd, which was the last day before you had to pay a late penalty. Our start was July 12th.
Our boat Hamachi has been raced to Hawaii twice before so it was “offshore ready”.  Still, preparation requires recertifying all of the safety / survival gear, checking all of the equipment on the boat and replacing many items. Then there is the logistics of moving it from Seattle to Southern California. On top of this is the process of selecting the crew and doing enough training events to make sure everyone is ready to race hard for 7-10 days across the Pacific Ocean.  It took one person full time, and others contributing, for two and a half months to get the boat prepped and to Southern California, and even then there is a lengthy list of small To Do items.
Boat, Sails and Rigging: Our sail inventory was built for the 2014 Pacific Cup and saw use in the 2015 Transpac and a few other offshore events.  It was state of the art when produced and since purchasing the boat in late 2016 we have hardly used the offshore sails, so they were in good condition.  We struck up a partnership with Samson Rope and replaced key lines: new jib, spinnaker and main halyards, as well as new spinnaker sheets. We also replaced key through deck hardware and then tore the boat apart and resealed everything to minimize water incursion.
Safety Equipment: The offshore racing community has learned from previous tragedies and developed a rigorous set of standards for inshore and offshore races. As a result there is a lengthy checklist of required sailing safety equipment that each boat must possess.  For Hamachi, this includes a six man life raft, a Man Overboard Module, life slings, flares and other signal equipment, jack lines for clipping into the boat, safety tethers, self inflating life preservers equipped with lights, whistles, and electronic personal location beacons, an EPIRB (satellite communication device) to notify the USCG if things really go wrong. All of this equipment needed to be checked, certified, and/or upgraded. In addition there is mandatory MOB (Man Over Board) training that the crew must perform and at least one third of the crew needed to have Safety at Sea and First Aid / CPR accreditation.
Navigation Equipment: It’s 2250 miles (as the crow flies) from Los Angeles to Honolulu. When you cross the halfway point, you are one of the farthest distances from land on the planet. It’s easy to get lost out in the Pacific.  As a result Hamachi has six different GPS based location devices which feed different systems for calculating position, speed, heading, etc. Winning a race like Transpac requires navigating the shortest route with the most wind. This is done by looking at weather information and optimizing a route that has the most “pressure”. We installed an Iridium GO satellite modem to communicate with shore and download publicly available weather information.  This information is fed into two new (used) Panasonic Toughbook Tablets which run the Expedition navigation software, which is the race standard. This system requires a lot of integration and testing, which we accomplished on our transit south from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Crew Selection: Transpac is one of those epic races that everyone dreams of racing in.  However, finding crew members who can dedicate the time and money to participate can be challenging.  Your biggest contribution to boat weight is crew, and all of the food and water it takes to support them.  Less is more. Most J/125’s race with five or six total crew. We decided to be conservative on crew size given it was our first crossing, so we went with six. Given our experience level we wanted to have one very experienced “salty dog” on board, and then a lot of youthful energy with sailing expertise. Our crew is comprised of the following: 
  • Jason and Shawn: The owners of Hamachi who have spent the last 2.5 years learning the boat and dialing her in.  We have been working up to Transpac by doing the VanIsle 360 (race around Vancouver Island) in 2017 and crewed a J/109 for the ChicagoMac (race across Lake Michigan) in 2018. 
  • Frederic: Our “salty dog” with over 250,000 ocean miles on his resume. He was the bowman of the French America’s Cup boat in the 1970s and has many Pacific crossings.
  • Lucas: Fred’s son who grew up on boats in the South Pacific. He’s an accomplished local racer and boat owner as well as satellite builder.  He has been a member of the Team Hamachi racing program since the beginning.
  • Matt: Longtime family friend of Fred and Lucas. Matt has been sailing his whole life and is a world class small boat sailor.
  • David: Our Navigator and alumnus of the NC State sailing team.  He’s a local software programmer and regular member of the Team Hamachi racing program.
Crew Training: Despite being 41 ft long, a J/125 is still a small boat.  It is long and narrow with low cabin ceilings so the interior is not much bigger than a minivan.  As a result, crew chemistry is critical when you are going to live together for 7-10 days in cramped quarters driving a boat and yourself to its limits.  We set two training events to test out this chemistry: a local overnight race called Protection Island and then a crew sail down the California coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  As luck would have it mother nature delivered for both events and we had heavy weather (high winds) at times to test our collective boat handling skills and observe how everyone worked together in sometimes stressful situations.  This crew is ready to go.
Moving the Boat: There are many ways to position a boat for Transpac.  We have a trailer so we decided to disassemble the boat and drive it to San Francisco, then put it back together and sail it the rest of the way as a crew training event. We pulled the boat at CSR Marine and put it on its trailer, which was a first for us. Once out of the water we discovered several items that needed attention, which delayed our drive south several days and required heroics on the part of the team. The boat comes apart fairly easy but the first time is always an adventure. Mike Leslie sailed with the previous owner and has been with the Hamachi program for many years and was invaluable in getting the boat disassembled, down to California, and reassembled. He and I drove it down Interstate 5, which was a 20 hour adventure, using his Chevy 3500HD and then spent another 30 hours putting it back together at KKMI in Richmond, CA.

Trailering Hamachi to the Bay Area – At 14ft 3in tall and 10ft 6in wide we were an oversized load and getting gas was a challenge (not to mention getting under all of the overpasses)
Late night adventures in Oregon – Or modified tow vehicle had to be elevated to take on fuel.
Reassembling Hamachi at KKMI in Richmond, CA
Mike Leslie and I rebuilding Hamachi’s rig in the KKMI yard (Richmond, CA).

The boat was launched and the mast stepped, but we were delayed in moving it by large regattas in the Bay Area that had all of the marinas at over capacity. We were able to stash the trailer to await future transport to San Diego, from where it will be shipped to Hawaii. Mike drove the truck north while I stayed and was eventually able to move the boat to the Richmond Yacht Club, where it sat for a week next to the other J/125’s Velvet Hammer and Reinrag2, waiting for the crew to arrive the following weekend for the delivery south.

Hamachi going back in the water at KKMI.
Hamachi with sister J/125’s Velvet Hammer and Reinrag2. Spoiler Alert: these boats would finish 1st, 2nd and 5th overall.

Southern California Delivery: It’s one thing to sail around the Puget Sound, and quite another to sail in the Pacific Ocean.  As part of our crew training we decided to sail Hamachi from the Bay Area to Los Angeles to test the crew dynamic, boat and boat systems that would be required for the Transpac race. The prevailing southerly winds would provide good downwind training and the distance of 360nm ensured that the crew would establish a watch routine.  There were several official races down the coast scheduled for late May (California Offshore Race Week) but it did not line up with the crew’s availability. We set out from the Richmond YC on Friday around mid-day and headed under the Golden Gate Bridge and pointed south for our delivery.
We beat upwind and then turned left headed south in a light westerly.  The on watch crew was entertained by dozens of humpback whales breaching and frolicing in Half Moon Bay. The westerly continued to fade into a drifter and we motored through the night south towards Monterey before the northwesterly filled in and we were able to set the kite off of Point Sur. Over the course of the day the wind continued to build towards 20 kts and Hamachi rolled along at 14-16 kts boat speed. 
One of the goals of this trip was to test our offshore drone flying. To this point I had never flown the drone (a DJI MavicAir) from Hamachi but wanted to try during Transpac. Hamachi rolls down the surf a few knots below wind speed so the relative (apparent) wind across the deck is very manageable for drone flying. We didn’t want our first attempt to be at sea that afternoon, so surfing downwind in 20 kts on our delivery seemed like a good time to try. I had a lot of anxiety about losing a $900 drone, but also have a “go big or go home” take on things, so we were very happy to get it back on board, as this video shows.

Testing our ocean drone flying skills for the first time.

As afternoon turned to evening we approached Point Conception in building winds and seas.  We doused the A2.5 and stowed the staysail, and hoisted the A4. By early evening the wind was steady at 22 kts and we downshifted to the A3 as we set up to pass beneath the Channel Islands.  The wind continued to build and the waves became steep 6-10 ft rollers as we passed through shallow water. At 25-26 kts sustained Hamachi was overpowered and flying across and through steep waves, easily reaching 18 kts and setting a top boat speed of 20.5 kts. After several successive wipeouts in the gnarly conditions we doused the spinnaker and ran with just a full main, still hitting 17.5 kts surfing down steep 10 ft waves.  The wind was squirrely, dying at times and then building to over 30 kts. We reefed the main and then wound up motoring for a while. As dawn broke the wind clocked around and Hamachi continued on under full main and J1, but eventually had to motor in to Marina Del Rey. The goal of the delivery was to bracket the range of conditions we might see on Transpac, and we accomplished that goal. The crew motored into the California Yacht Club confident in our boat and crew for doing the 50th Transpac.
All of the above must come together to have a successful campaign.  It’s time consuming and expensive. On the Pacific Cup website it says that typical campaigns cost between $20-$60k with the option to spend as much as you want.  The Hamachi campaign, which included: sponsorship, a tremendous amount of goodwill and generosity at all phases, and no new sails; is in the middle of that range.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Transpac 2019 | Part 1 – The Journey to Transpac

Part 4 - Winning Transpac

We are all about adventures. In the world of sailboat racing, participating in a Transpac (Trans Pacific) yacht race from Long Beach, CA to Oahu, Hawaii is one of the ultimate adventures. The bi-annual race covers 2260 miles of distance and attracts the biggest boats and most accomplished sailors from around the world. In March we entered our J/125 Hamachi into the 2019 Transpac, which is the 50th edition of this classic race. 
Our Transpac campaign is the latest destination on a long sailing voyage that began in 2012. In 2011, during a rough patch in our family business, we seriously considered selling it all and sailing to far off destinations with the family. I grew up around water in Seattle and learned to sail on a dinghy skiff during summers in the San Juan Islands. In highschool and college I commercial fished on a small boat in Alaska and after college spent three months crewing on a 120 ft schooner in Long Island Sound. However, neither I nor the family had spent any time on a larger keelboat.  During fishing outings in the San Juan Islands my good friend Shawn and I discussed my desire to buy a sailboat and head out. These conversations lead to each of us becoming one third share owners in a local J/36, which seemed like a good way to explore sailing with the family. This J/36, named Monkeybones, was owned by Shawn’s neighbor and had been in the PNW for 5-6 years. The owner occasionally raced at the Elliott Bay Downtown Sailing Series and was trying to sell the boat. We came in as part owners and breathed new life into the boat, and the program. 
The boat itself was pretty tired. It was shipped up from Houston and had clearly suffered at the hands of a hurricane (or two). The J/36 has a “woody” interior and the cabin had water damage clearly indicating it had been flooded at one point. The engine was recently replaced, but the boat had no working instruments, needed new electrical, and had a meager sail inventory. Our very first local race was the 2012 Race to the Straits, which is a double handed race. I had never been in a sailboat race before, nor ever set a spinnaker. Luckily Shawn spent several of his formative years racing sailboats and even did a delivery back from Hawaii to Seattle. As a result, he drove and I did everything else. The boat had no working instruments so we relied on the wind index for trimming. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have started with a double handed race, but that also defines our attitude towards life” “go big or go home”. We finished bottom third and discovered we both loved the adventure of sailboat racing. 

Monkeybones was a great boat to learn with. We made A LOT of mistakes, but we learned from them and got better each race.

The J/36 was one of the first large keelboats made by brothers Rod and Bob Johnstone. Around 55 J/36’s were produced during 1981-1984 and they quickly discovered that the boat was too expensive to produce.  As a result they kept the same hull mold and modified the rig (fractional to masthead) and steering (wheel to tiller) and renamed it the J/35, which went on to be one of the best selling racer / cruiser sailboats of its era. For Shawn and I, the J/36 was a great learning platform. It had a PHRF rating of 81, which meant we had the same rating as DosDifferent Drummer, and (the original) Absolutely. We chased those boats around the course for years, frustrated that we couldn’t catch them. Only now do we appreciated that those are the best boats in the fleet.  I’m sure our early sailing forays were comical to the rest of the fleet, but it was the best way to get a crash course on all aspects of sailboats and racing and sailing head to head with those top boats made us better sailors. Each year we expanded the number of races as well as participated in bigger and bigger events. 

Monkeybones ahead of the 2015 Round the County race

By 2015 Monkeybones was a regular on the race course and even competitive. Shawn and I had built a crew and settled into our usual roles – he drove and I ran the boat. The highlights of every season were the double handed races: the STYC’s Race to the Straits and the AYC’s Northern Century. As the deck guy these were exhilarating but exhausting events and I began to talk about buying a new boat that would be easier to double hand. I was tired of the heavy spinnaker pole and sometimes dicey double handed spinnaker jibes. “Let’s get a sprit boat,” I would say, “and while we are at it let’s get one that planes.” 
By 2016 we were starting to look around and do serious window shopping. We had also concluded that Shawn and I love racing, and the family does indeed enjoy cruising, but they prefer catamarans in warm tropical waters.  As a result our focus was to find a true racing boat that met our simple design requirements and also allowed us to do bigger sailing adventures. Everyone in the PNW knows Paul Bieker’s Riptide 35 Terremoto and I started investigating what it would take to buy a Bieker boat. We made a run at Terremoto’s sister ship Ripple, which is languishing in Long Beach, but got the same response from the owner as everyone else: “not selling”. We started looking at other J/boats and got interested in the J/125.
Most J/boats are dual purpose racer / cruisers. In the late 1990’s J/boats developed the J/125 as a true racer. It was built entirely of carbon composite with a long narrow “canoe hull” designed to punch through offshore waves. It had a long carbon sprit and a short powerful rig. The boat was many year ahead of its time technologically and an excellent performer. However, it was too expensive for the racer/cruiser J/boat community and true racers looked down their noses at J/boats (it was like buying a sports car from Volkswagen). As a result it was a commercial disaster and only 16 were produced. Since the end of production their value and reputation has steadily increased and they rarely came on the market. In the summer of 2016 we watched Double Trouble, which was a very accomplished Bay Area J/125, go on the market and get sold. Several months later Greg Slyngstad put the local J/125 Hamachi on the market. 
In many ways, we had no business jumping into a program like Hamachi. Greg is a very accomplished businessman who built Hamachi into a world class racing program. He won his class in the 2014 PacCup and 2015 Transpac with a crew of professionals that included local legends Jonathan McKee, Fritz Lanzinger and others. He invested heavily in Hamachi to make it the best boat in its fleet complete with the infrastructure to campaign it all around the Northern Hemisphere. In 2016 he was just launching Fujin, the now famous Bieker 53 ft catamaran, and was turning his sailing focus to that program. 
We completed the purchase of Hamachi three days before the 2016 Round the County Race. We had no experience with the boat, but sailed the boat north anyway and a day later found ourselves on the start line off Lydia shoal in 30-35 kts of wind. We were no longer in the middle PHRF fleet, but instead in the top ORC fleet screaming alongside the TP52s. It was like going from a family sedan to a Ferrari. Shawn and I looked at each other with nervous grins – “go big or go home!” Luckily one J/boat isn’t too different from another and we survived that race and didn’t break anything. 

Hamachi on Day 1 of the 2016 Round the County Race – our second day ever sailing the boat.

Over the next two years we learned the boat and how to sail it, and continued to expand our program and crew. In 2017 we committed to all of the local races and set out on our next adventure: the VanIsle 360, which is a two week 600 mile race around Vancouver Island. We were on a very steep learning curve. The J/125 was built as an offshore race boat and optimized for fast downwind sailing. Unfortunately that is a rare occurrence around Puget Sound so we have spent the vast majority of our time honing our upwind and light air skills. We finally got opportunities to “send it” down the race course on Legs 5 and 8 of the VanIsle 360. Leg 5 was a white knuckled downwind blast in a gale from Telegraph Cove to Port Hudson. Hamachi nearly beat the committee boat to the finish line and set a new course record of 2.5 hours, breaking Icon’s old record by almost two hours. We then got the offshore sleigh ride the boat was designed for from Ucluelet to Victoria.  It was after that race that Shawn and I started seriously discussing a race to Hawaii.

The race that made us want to sail to Hawaii – let’s do more of this!

Knowing that we needed more experience we discussed entering the Newport to Puerto Vallarta race in 2018. Life events conspired to make that impossible. Instead we have a friend who runs a successful J/109 program in Chicago and wound up crewing on Callisto for the 115th race from Chicago to Mackinac Island (Chicago Mac). The race is 330 miles across the length of Lake Michigan and is the largest “offshore” race in America, with over 300 boats participating. The lake has a reputation for nasty weather and the 115th edition delivered. A weather front made it a three day upwind slog in heavy weather with sketchy conditions at the start that unfortunately claimed one sailor’s life. It was great training on boat safety, navigation and establishing a high misery index.
As 2018 drew to a close we began to get serious about Transpac. Timing wasn’t great for either of us, but it was the 50th edition with the largest fleet in race history and what appeared to be the largest gathering of J/125’s in any race to date. We finally committed by submitting our application in the last hour to avoid the higher late entry penalties. And thus began a very rushed campaign to assemble our boat and crew.