Robb Walker former designer at Nelson/Marek, good sailor and all around nice guy, and his wife Rowena are getting their Cal 40 ready for the double handed division of the Pac Cup (SF to Hawaii) this summer. When we heard they were going to do it, I asked Robb if he could not only send us some on board reports during the race, but more interestingly (at least to us) was to have Robb tell us about how they are going about preparing, both the boat and themselves, for the big race. Here is part one – enjoy.
Rowena and I bought the boat, a 1970 Cal 40, hulll no. 164 (somewhere around 170 Cal 40’s were built between 1964 and 1971 or so) on the East Coast in summer 2006. The previous owner had done a lot of work on the boat and it was in good condition and partially race equipped. We didn’t have a race to Hawaii in mind when we bought the boat, we just knew that we wanted a Cal 40, however we hadn’t sailed the boat many times before we started thinking about sailing/racing to Hawaii. Our goal wasn’t so much to do a race per se, but we felt that it would be an excellent way to prepare the boat and ourselves for some long distance cruising that we would like to do in the future. The double handed Pac Cup seemed like the obvious choice for us and we have basically been working on preparing the boat with the race in mind since early 2007. Our initial guess was that 3-4 years would be needed to prepare ourselves and the boat for the race and at this point in time that estimate looks to be about right.
Our first 2 1/2 years of preparation focused less on working on the boat and more on sailing time in order to learn about the boat, experience double handed ocean racing for the first time (our first double handed long distance race was a real learning experience…but that’s a whole other story!), and begin to understand what changes we wanted to make to the boat to facilitate double handing. Years ago I read Dave Ullman’s book “Championship Dinghy Sailing” and I have never forgotten Dave’s recommendation that when you step into a new class you should sail it “as is” for a year or so before you start making any changes. We have found that advice to be very applicable to our Cal 40 project and I have to admit that in a couple of cases I have made the mistake of changing something too early (or because we assumed that something that worked for someone else would work for us) and having to change it again later after we learned more! Of course we have learned new things each time we sailed and have carefully added equipment and made changes to the boat as we have learned, however most of the time, effort and money in the first 2 ½ years went towards equipment repairs and replacements, and to adding safety equipment (life raft, MOM, radios, safety gear, spares, etc.) that would be required for the race.
We also tapped into the Cal 40 “network” and got a lot of assistance, suggestions and advice along the way from some of the greats like Stan Honey, Sally Lindsay and several other Cal 40 owners and sailors. One of the fun things about a Cal 40 is that you really can’t take it anywhere without meeting and making friends with at least one (often many) great sailor eager to check out your boat and share Cal 40 stories and tips with you (we have found that nearly every sailor over a “certain age” has a Cal 40 story to share!). This has been invaluable as well as a lot of fun!
The last 12 months leading up to the start (since after we finished the Cal Coastal Cup, our “big breeze” tune-up race, last June) have focused more intensely on working on the boat with less emphasis on sailing. I have always been big on boat preparation because I have never been a naturally gifted sailor and have always felt that boat prep was the only aspect of racing that I really had any control over!
Preparing a boat for a Category 1 ocean race like Pac Cup or Transpac is a really big (and expensive) job, particularly the first time! A lot of work is required just in order to bring the boat into compliance with the race requirements (boat prep, safety gear, equipment, systems, spares, etc), however an equal amount (maybe more) has been required in order to prepare the boat to a level that we believe is required for offshore sailing, even if not specifically required by the race rules. We don’t feel comfortable cutting any corners when it comes to being prepared for going offshore (we are the type who take our life raft and ditch bag with us when we go to Catalina!).
In addition to complying with the race rules, we have put a lot of effort into making improvements to the boat that we believe are important for the race and for double handed offshore sailing/cruising in general. The focus has not been specifically on making the boat “faster” (the fundamental speed producing factors were already right), but instead on making the boat easier to sail, more livable and lower maintenance for the two of us over a long period of time. We are planning to sail the boat back from Hawaii ourselves, so we are going to be doing a lot more "hard time" on the boat than many people and it is important that everything works well and is as comfortable, safe and livable as possible.
Clearly the most important piece of specialized sailing gear that we have added is a sophisticated Alpha Spectra autopilot. The drive unit is mounted below deck directly to the rudder shaft, and a computer interface enables a laptop computer to control the pilot and sail the boat to it’s optimum polars (it also includes the more typical compass course or constant apparent wind angle autopilot functions). Stan Honey, also an enthusiastic Cal 40 owner, gave us invaluable advice in selecting and installing this particular autopilot and also made a few custom tweaks to the software for us (he wrote it originally)! Other interesting “tweaks” that have made the boat easier to sail shorthanded include 2:1 main and jib halyards, hanked on headsails, inner forestay with staysail to keep the boat moving during headsail changes, two pole gybing set up, and spinnaker socks (these work really well). We are experimenting with a boom brake device (Wichard Gyb’easy) so that we do not have to worry about controlling the boom during gybes when we are busy with other things. So far it seems like it works well and is a great device, but we do need to gain a bit more experience sailing with it.
All this does not mean that we have unlimited funds to spend or that we have every piece of gear or sail that you can think of on the boat. However, if we decide that a piece of gear, equipment, sail or spare whatever is important we try to get the best available and save the money somewhere else (luckily, with the exception of the boat, the other aspects of our lifestyle are very modest). Continued Friday.