It’s been a couple of weeks since the finish of the Single Handed Transpac and with the boat loaded onto a ship for it’s journey back to California things are starting to return to normal. Of course this experience of a lifetime will linger much longer…
It is July 14th and I just stepped foot on the island of Kaua’i. My son Luca, almost two years old, is only 10 feet away and is looking at me like he doesn’t know who I am. Suddenly, a huge smile lights up his face and with open arms, he runs towards me. Before I knew it, I was crying with emotion. This is a moment that I will never forget, one of those where it seems like a little video camera was set up on my forehead. It is not a fancy video camera, this is not a wide angle and all I see and remember is Luca in the frame running towards me and embracing me with all his baby power and love. My wife Alisha is slowly approaching. It almost seems like she knows that something magical is happening and she doesn’t want to be in the way. I reach out for her as well as I am holding Luca and for minutes, time stops and I realize how lucky I am to share my life with these two individuals who were so worried for the past 14 days, and what an eventful 14 days it was!
30 seconds before the gun: Why not? I know there is over 2,000nm to go but taking a port start sounds like the only and best way to cross the line. I look one more time under the boom to check the other boats. I have plenty of room and launch the Pogo 2 on port, at the pin. I am clear ahead, with plenty of time to tack back to starboard. I win the start by 5 boat lengths. I have one reef in the main sail and full genoa. I have to reef the genoa down because I am already overpowered. As I do so, the Olson 30 passes me which is actually perfect. I have never sailed out and under the Golden Gate bridge. With the fog and traffic, it is great to have the Olson 30 in sight to guide me out. I am sailing out of San Francisco, on a boat that, according to some, should be only sailed in a lake because of its size. It is the first time a 21 foot mini transat is participating in the Singlehanded Transpac. I am very proud to be there. Although I am very confident in the boat and my skills, there is also a lot of anxiety. I have never been alone at sea for longer than 7 days. I am not sure what another 7 days will be like. It is a business trip with a goal of promoting the boat. There’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders but I keep thinking about one thing: Luca, Alisha and safety. What’s most important for me is to finish, and I just can’t wait to see them both. Hopefully our timing will work out and they will be watching as I cross the finish line.
300NM: It is the 4th day of beating to weather and little bit of close reaching. I’ve been going so slowly and I can’t believe there is still another 1,800nm to go. Despite the numerous times I’ve changed my GPS way point to Marina Del Rey breakwater I just can’t quit right now. I just can’t. It is very tempting though. I am soaking wet. The weather is awful, rainy, overcast and cold. Getting wet outside, I bring the water back inside and it is just not what I was expecting. I might as well be racing in northern France during the winter. Luckily, the autopilot is doing a great job. The dark clouds prevent the solar panel from charging the batteries. The fuel cell kicks in and I am thrilled to have it on the boat. After 4 days of using the autopilot and other instruments, both my batteries would have been flat dead. The fuel cell is keeping them charged, so at least, I can spend a lot more time inside, where it is not as wet. The plan was to get position reports from the RC and weather information via the satellite phone. Unfortunately, it seems that it can’t get any network. I am left alone with no weather forecast and no idea of my position within the fleet. Finally, two days later I get the first position report. Unfortunately, I left the fleet and everyone else has sailed south of me. The only thing I can think of is all my friends on shore being mad at me because they “told me so”. I am sorry my friends. I will do better next time
4:00 AM, 1,000nm left to go: The boat is sailing along with full main and Code 2 up. The autopilot is set for the wind conditions which are about 12 knots, sometimes gusting 15 knots. The boat sails well. Out of nowhere, the boat lays on its side. It happened before, no reason to jump out of bed right away. However, this time, it is not self righting. Getting out of the bunk is tough. Finally I am outside and it is blowing 25 knots. A dark squall is going over and it’s a mess. I quickly get the boat righted. The boat is over powered. Something manageable in day light is a lot different at night. I ease the mainsail and bear away as much as I can. I am sailing at 170 degrees off the wind on a full planing mode at 12 to 15 knots in the surf. I didn’t have time to put my foul weather gear on and the wind is not calming down. After 30 minutes, I am starting to get cold, and with the amount of sails up, I know the autopilot will have a hard time keeping me on a straight line with enough time for me to take one, ideally 2, reefs in the main. I decide to take the spinnaker down, which is not an easy task single handed in these conditions. I need to reduce the load on the sail. Without being able to see, I jump on a wave that “feels” bigger than the other ones. The boat speed is now up to 15 knots. I grab the spinnaker sheet, free up the tack line and halyard both at once. The spinnaker flies aft and down at the same time, just in the shadow of the mainsail. I am safe. I gather the spinnaker under the boom and into the cockpit. Practice is finally paying off! I finish the night with a jib and one reef in the main, cruising at 9 knots. The sun was up before 6am, and with it, the spinnaker too
500nm to the finish: The “trade winds” as they have been described to me finally show up but with them, some huge waves from a combination of Hurricane Emilia and Tropical Storm Daniel. I have the Code 2, 2 reefs in the main sail and the jib up. It is blowing 18-25 knots of wind and at 155 degrees off the true wind direction, the boat is loving it. The waves make sailing trickier but the boat is going fast enough that we can choose which waves to surf. When I mean “surf”, I really mean it. Since the waves are very steep, we have to ride them down, exactly like a surfer, something I have never done with a sailboat. I have to slow the boat down so we don’t crash in the bottom of the wave. It works, I am having fun but also spending a lot of time at the helm, slowly but surely getting less sleep than I’d like to. Under autopilot, the boat gets a max speed of 22.31 knots. Amazing. What a great time!
80 nautical miles to the finish: After another clean gybe in the dark and 20 knots of breeze, the boat powers up at 12 knots to the finish. I am on a starboard gybe with 2 reefs in the main sail and the Code 5 up (my breeze spinnaker). In +20 knots, at night, I got used to reducing the sail area because it is a lot harder to negotiate the waves, for me or the autopilot. Everything is great. My ETA to the finish is about 3am PST which means I will correct on the Olson 30 by 6 hours. I’m stoked. The Hobie 33 has just finished the race. I am also very happy to finish ahead of 3 other boats in my class and even if I owe them about 24 hours, they should not correct over me. The last 2 days I have been racing the boat to its polars, with tighter angles but with great speed. Sailing a little more south, I now had great speed and perfect heading to the finish. Less than 10 minutes after my gybe, the weather guy supporting the 8 foot articulating bowsprit breaks. The bowsprit violently rotates to leeward and the nightmare starts. It takes over 30 minutes to get the sail down. Every single line is tangled, the leeward running backstay wrapped around the boom, the spinnaker sheets are all over the place and under the boat, with the tack line…it’s a mess. A quick inspection confirmed what happened; it is something I can fix in 2 minutes but the night makes it difficult to assess if something else has suffered. I decide not to put the spinnaker back up. The wind is still strong in the low 20 knots. With a double reef main and jib, I decide to finish as is believing I will still come in 2nd in my class. When I woke up from a long nap – the first of the race – I realize that I lost all my advantage. I put the spinnaker up for the last 10nm of the race, push the boat but still lose by 4 minutes to the Olson 30. In the last 80nm, I went from 2nd to 4th, I am really disappointed. I complete the race in just under 14 days and am the 6th boat to cross the finish line out of 23.
A few days after finishing the race, Alisha asked me if I will do this race again. My answer was yes, and this time with a fleet of Pogo 2 racing along with me!