Ronnie Simpson took his Moore 24 on the Singlehanded Transpac and won his class. The win is something, the story of how he did it is something else.
So my second Singlehanded Transpac is in the books. I battled boat problems, weather problems and an intensely competitive fleet, but in the end managed to come from behind and snag the class win. This race required an incredible effort and it’s with a lot of gratitude and humility that I write this article. Here’s how it went down on the Moore 24 "Hope for the Warriors/ US 101".
The race started on Saturday June 30 in Tiburon, CA. It was another beautiful, sunny summer morning and while I should have been excited, I was secretly a wreck. Part of me was scared to death about heading out into the Pacific on a tiny Moore 24, while another part of me was lost in thought and reflection as June 30 is the anniversary of my Iraq injury; always an emotional day for me. I put on my sunglasses to hide the forming tears and played Rage Against the Machine on 101’s stereo to hide my emotions and fear. My good friend Phil MacFarlane shoved me off the dock and I sailed around in the pre-start area with the rest of the fleet. There were to be 6 boats in my class: a Pogo 2 Mini, 2 Moore 24’s, an Express 27, an Olson 30 and a Hobie 33.
I was completely disorganized and still lost in thought when the race started. Bang! The gun goes off and it’s on. Jerome Sammarcelli on the Pogo 2 "Team Open Sailing" took the pin end on a port tack and dominated the start. He’s the most accomplished buoy racer in the fleet and it clearly showed. I made a quick tack and hid the fact that I was completely zoned out to take 2nd off the start. Jerome’s Pogo 2 was shockingly fast upwind with good point and began pulling away. Moments later, the defending race champion Adrian Johnson rolled me to leeward with his Olson 30 "Idefix". I quickly tucked in a reef as the breeze built to 20 knots. The Moore 24 "Rushmoore" and the Express 27 "Taz!!" were both well behind me, as was the Hobie 33 "Turbo Camper". The Hobie quickly waterlined me while I played cat and mouse with the other Moore and the Express. They both got me. I don’t know what my issue was, but the first few miles of the race were not my best sailing. I sailed out of the Golden Gate Bridge in last place in my class.
Emerging from the dense fog that shrouded the iconic bridge, the fleet found sunshine on the other side, now a few miles offshore. The Open 50 "Truth" rolled by and shortly later, I crossed tacks with Ruben on "Rushmoore". With light SW breeze predicted into the evening, my Commander’s weather routing had me heading north at the start and avoiding making too much westing until the wind shifted to NW. On a port tack, I found myself literally sailing up the coast, making a lot of northing. Ruben tacked away and I crossed 2 boat lengths in front of him after 4 hours of racing. It was going to be a loooong race against my good friend and occasional DH partner Ruben and his Moore 24. Settling into the light conditions, I split my time between port and starboard until the shift came. The weather changed from sunny to pea-soup fog and clouds. The only scary moment of day 1 was when the Wylie 31 "Moonshadow" popped out of the fog on port and I was on starboard. It was a close crossing and served to get my head in the game and wake me up.
The breeze continually built out of the NW and I was able to begin cracking off a bit. On Day 2, I found myself in the back of the fleet, but I wasn’t too concerned about it. The Moore 24 is a downwind surfing boat with only 21 feet of waterline, so I knew that going upwind and reaching at the start of the race would be the most painful part. I was more concerned on how I did in relation to the other Moore 24 and the Express 27 as they are very similar. "Rushmoore" put 3 miles on me during the first day, but as we moved into the "windy reach" section of the race, I was able to put 10 on him during day 2. When Quantum and their West Coast rep Jeff Thorpe designed my sails, they specially designed my #1 and #3 jibs to have two clew patches. By hooking into the higher clew patch and reefing the foot and leech, I was able to effectively have a Jib Top (reefed genoa) and a blast reacher (reefed #3). I never had the conditions for the JT to work quite right, as it was either light enough to use the full genoa or heavy enough to where the blast reacher was faster. The blast reacher ended up being very very fast and has become one of my most common headsail configurations. This sail was extremely effective on the Moore 24 and I started making huge gains on "Rushmoore" and "Taz!!".
By the time that we got to Day 3, I was having some very serious problems. The sun was still not out and my batteries were almost totally depleted. Problems would soon begin a "snowball" effect where little issues would roll together with other little issues to become big issues. First, I was out of power. As a result, I had no weather data. I had an SSB radio modem and laptop onboard but not enough juice to use them. Then, I had issues with my autopilot. I invested in a brand new B&G H3000 set up for the race and up until this point, it had been great.
Unfortunately, I had an issue with the rudder reference sensor and was not able to get the system working again. It’s unfortunate that I have to write this because all of the B&G guys have been so stellar with customer service and support. I installed the entire autopilot system VERY last minute due to various reasons and this race to Hawaii was the very first time that I had taken the system out of the Golden Gate. I was not able to diagnose the problem at the time and to be honest, I didn’t put much effort into it as I realized that I had erred in equipping the boat with a hydraulic drive and solar panels only. Lesson learned, when you install the single most important system on the boat, don’t do it at the last minute! The problem ended up being a loose wire on the rudder reference sensor. I don’t know how it came loose, but it did. Completely my fault, sometimes I feel like my own worst enemy. Like I said, it didn’t matter because I couldn’t power the hydraulic drive anyways. I was quite mad at myself for being so unprepared and behind the 8-ball in my race efforts. For future races, i’m going to ditch the hydraulic drive and probably get a new Jefa electric drive from PYI. (What’s that saying, "Live and learn?".)
And so Day 3 began the "dark" period of my race. Hand-steering with all of the electronics turned off became the flavor of the day for days 3-5. I received no weather reports, no position reports or fleet updates, and made no check-ins. With the Yellow Brick trackers that the fleet used, I would not be penalized for not checking in, so I was stoked on that at least. My Commander’s Weather routing had been spot on up to this point, so I continued blindly following it. I navigated with a handheld GPS in the cockpit and managed to hand steer for just over 60 hours in a 72 hour period. That is a 20 hour a day average. This was one of the hardest physical and psychological challenges i’ve ever endured and I finally hit my breaking point on Day 5. I dropped both sails and drifted for 4 hours to sleep. I had to. I had collapsed in the cockpit and was looking up at the masthead as the boat was rounding up and my new Quantum spinnaker was flogging itself in the rigging for a period of minutes. I dropped the sails and went down below to sleep. Instead, I cried like a little girl. My psychological threshold for pain had been crossed and I was shattered. Days 3-5 were like pure torture for me. Hand-steering and waiting for the sun. My batteries were toast.
It took me a few hours to rest and relax a bit and say "F this- i’m not quitting". Back to the cockpit for more hand steering and on Day 6 I was rewarded for my perseverance. The sun came out. I have never been happier in my entire life to see the sun than on Day 6 of this race. My morale and energy went through the roof and I began enjoying myself. With my batteries charging, I was able to use the tiller pilot into night #6 and carry the kite all the way through. During that day I figured out that I could wire my B&G computer to the Raymarine computer using the NMEA 0183 interface. By doing this, I was able to then go to the cockpit and re-calibrate my Raymarine system. Bam! Now I had wind data going to my Raymarine brain and could effectively steer to apparent wind. Things were looking better on "Hope for the Warriors/ US 101" and I was re-inspired to get back into the race. Part two tomorrow.