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unpack the transpac

Ronnie Simpson breaks down the 49th Transpac fleet for you ocean racing junkies. 
While the America’s Cup hangover subsides, it’s easy to forget that the West coast’s most famous yacht race is already underway. Back for it’s 49th biennial edition, Transpac kicked off yesterday with the slowest boats starting in perfect weather, while the faster boats starting tomorrow and Thursday, respectively.   While the race won’t set any entry records this year with just fifty-five boats signed up, off a tick from year’s past, the fleet more than makes up for it with quality entries from top to bottom.
The world’s fastest monohull, the West coast’s lone supermaxi, a pair of MOD 70s (and two of their progenitors) and a Gunboat headline this year’s race which, if mother nature plays ball, should see both the monohull and multihull race records fall. Behind the big boats that grab the lion’s share of the media coverage, we’ll see battles amongst the west coast sleds, a revitalized Santa Cruz 50/ 52 division, the trans-Pacific debut for the Pac 52 fleet, several interesting handicap divisions, and more.
As usual, Anarchists will be embedded throughout the fleet to bring you some strong on-board coverage, but until then here’s SA’s form guide for the 2,225 mostly-downhill classic from Long Beach to Honolulu:
All-out assault on the records
As we’re all well aware by now, Bruno Peyron and Explorer’s two-decade old multihull record in Transpac is incredibly soft, and has been outright obliterated on multiple occasions by both Lending Club 2 and Phaedo’s sub 4-day runs. Both of those were course record attempts run outside of the race; the official multihull race record stands at 5 days 9 hours and 18 minutes. While the record may be a bit long in the tooth and inevitably waiting to fall, it has thus far proven to be an elusive target. Lending Club’s 2013 attempt was marred by Japanese tsunami debris and repeated collisions, while Lending Club 2′ came up against decidedly atypical el niño conditions which forced them to abandon the race two days before the start, to instead get ideal conditions to break the outright course record.
For 2017, a quartet of ultra-quick trimarans stand ready to finally break the race record, should they get anything other than sub-optimal conditions. Lloyd Thornburg’s world-conquering MOD 70 Phaedo 3 recently sailed the course in a record breaking 3 days 16 hours 52 minutes, some 40 hours under the race record, so we know she’s got the goods. She’ll line up against Giovanni Soldini and crew aboard Maserati, whose MOD 70 is equipped with lifting foils and just last week hit a new top speed record of more than 44 knots in San Francisco. Making matters even more interesting, H.L. Enloe’s ORMA 60 Mighty Merloe has been nipping at Phaedo’s heels – especially in lighter airs during some of the West coast’s offshore regattas – and will have none other than Jacques Vincent and Loick Peyron onboard for the Transpac. She’s the ORMA that was so quick she killed the class (ex-Groupama 2), so no one should count this dark horse out. While all eyes will be on those three, former Waterworld prop boat Loe Real looks to play the role of ultimate spoiler. With legendary west-coast navigator Jon “the Hippie” Shampain onboard and a group of funny talkers from down under, Loe Real is bound to have a trick or two up her sleeve…. She’s not likely to break any records, but will surely be one to watch.
In addition to Transpac‘s burgeoning fleet of multihulls, the monohull record is under attack as well. The world’s fastest monohull – Jim and Kristy Hinze Clark’s VPLP 100 Comanche – is loaded with her usual group of rockstars and ready to take on Alfa Romeo’s 2009 monohull race record of 5 days 14 hours and 36 minutes. If the breeze is heavy enough during the first third of the race, when it typically backs from northwesterly to northeasterly, Comanche may even be able to take a crack at her own 24-hour monohull record of 618 miles. Should Comanche falter in any way, Manouch Moshayedi’s fixed-keel Bakewell-White 100 Rio 100 has shown that she certainly has the pace to break the record as well. In last year’s breeze-on Pacific Cup race, she stormed into Kaneohe in a time of just 5 days 3 hours and 41 minutes to claim a course record in that race. A shorter race track to be sure, but she was nearly half a day quicker to Hawaii than the Transpac record – and that was before Moshayedi signed up Bouwe Bekking to make sure he left no stone unturned.
Division 1
In addition to the 100-footers listed above, Division 1 encompasses a wide range of yachts which should prove to be exciting, though practically impossible to handicap fairly. Fresh off her Vic-Maui triumph of last year, David Sutcliffe’s Vancouver-based TP 52 Kinetic V joins two brand-new Pac 52’s, who this year make their Transpac debut. Frank Slootman’s SF-basd Invisible Hand squares off against Tom Holthus’ So Cal-based Pac 52 Bad Pak for a highly anticipated battle that could go down to the wire. Steve Meheen’s R/P 63 Aszhou won this division last time she raced in Transpac (as Invisible Hand), and with a proven and thoroughly optimized platform, she should hang tough both on the water and on handicap, though she struggled against the new, smaller Hand in a breezy So Cal 300.
Division 2
Headlined by the return of Bill Lee’s 68-foot Merlin, a hearty fleet of 8 sleds have entered this year in a division that frequently produces the overall winner. Re-fit and more thoroughly optimized from her canting-keel days up on the Great Lakes, Merlin has been modernized with the fitment of a TP 52 keel and a higher-aspect ratio rudder. With top-tier talent like Morgan Larson onboard, Merlin hopes to hang tough against the competition which includes James McDowell’s Santa Cruz 70 Grand Illusion; the most successful syndicate to ever enter this race, having won it overall three times, including two of the last three races. (’11 and ’15) Defending J/70 World Champ Joel Ronning has entered the fray with his SC 70 Catapult, which recently claimed overall victory in California Offshore Race Week. John Sangmeister’s OEX and Roy Disney’s Pyewacket, both class stalwarts, have returned for ’17 with ultra wicked-up crews that make their intentions clear. Division 2 should be a barn-burner all the way to the islands.
Division 3
Essentially the HPR/Fast 40 division of Transpac, six quick 40-something’s are on the line for 2017. J/125’s are notorious for their success offshore and on the way to Hawaii. Two are on the line, including Tim Fuller’s Resolute, which has been winning hardware for years and has some top-tier talent on board. Chris Hemans’ Rogers 46 Varuna always puts up a good fight, and with recent optimizations that include a lighter keel and longer bowsprit, look for the stealthy black boat to find another gear downwind in her long-fought battle against the J/125’s. They’ll all have their hands full with Naomichi Ando’s R/P 45 Lady Kanon VI (ex-Criminal Mischief). The “wet pussy” is back, this time with a group that includes some strong talent from both the USA west coast and Japan. Last time she entered Transpac, she took the division win by just 3 minutes and 47 seconds, underscoring how closely these boats are likely to race. Coming up from behind, keep an eye on John Raymont’s Andrews 40 Fast Exit, the slowest-rated boat in division.
Division 4
The largest division in this year’s race, 2017 Transpac sees an impressive fleet of 10 Santa Cruz 50’s and 52’s on the line, in what is always one of the most hotly contested divisions. With a good mix of both amateur and professional talent dispersed throughout the fleet, and a large group of well sorted and evenly paired boats, Division 4 often produces some of the closest racing in the fleet. No clear favorites emerge in this fleet, though John Shulze’s Santa Cruz 50 Horizion has historically done extremely well in Transpac and most other west coast offshore races. Bill Guilfoyle’s Santa Cruz 52 Prevail, another class stalwart, has been going well as of late, and it’s from this good ship that i’ll be sailing and logging onboard reports during the race. Michael Moradzadeh’s SC 50 Oaxaca is hoping to rely on girl power to help power them to a division win, acquiring the talents of both Liz Bayliss and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Dee Caffari. By our math, something like 5 to 6 boats entered in this division could realistically win. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Divisions 5-7 encompass a wide range of handicap divisions including mostly racer/ cruisers with the odd Hobie 33 or J/105 thrown in the mix. There’s also a 1-boat cruising multihull division and a 5-boat performance multihull division which includes the four trimarans listed above plus John Gallagher’s quick Gunboat 62 Chim Chim
With quality battles throughout the fleet from top top bottom, Transpac 2017 is shaping up to be epic. Start dates are July 3, 5, 6. Head to for more info, and stay tuned to SA’s front page throughout July for all the dope on this biennial classic.
-Aloha from Ronnie
Gorgeous finish photos from 2015, props to the one and only Lauren Easley