As the world begins to slowly shake it’s hangover from the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 west coast offshore racing season has kicked off with a bang. Champagne sailing conditions, a new course record and a marginally bigger fleet than in pre-pandemic years greeted the Islands Race 2021; a 142 nautical mile offshore race held off the coast of Southern California over the weekend. When the dust settled, it was a brand new locally-built carbon racer that claimed the overall victory. If the COVID virus had shut down much of the sailing world and California had even become one of the world epicenters for it, you surely wouldn’t know it by seeing the success of 2021’s first west coast offshore race.
Sailing from Long Beach and rounding both Catalina and San Clemente Islands before running into San Diego, the race was blessed with steady WNW breeze and solid following seas that provided excellent surfing conditions for the 32-strong fleet. With a course that usually, but not always, includes San Clemente Island due to the Navy’s schedule of war games and training, this year saw the return to the ‘full course’ and with it came a new full-course record set by Roy Pat Disney’s new Pyewacket 70 (the former Black Jack Volvo 70 from down under). Finishing the course in under 11 hours and right at midnight, Disney and his wicked up crew averaged about 14 knots of VMG over the course.
While a course record and a resounding line honors win are nice, they don’t necessarily translate into a divisional win and that was the case this year with Pyewacket 70 claiming fourth on handicap in the premier ORR 1 division. On top of the podium was David Clark’s venerable Santa Cruz 70 Grand Illusion. New owner, same result, GI remains a force to be reckoned with. The Kernan 68 Peligroso claimed second, despite an apparent tracker error that showed them parked up west of the islands for much of the race while Botin 65 Artemis rounded out the podium in the premier division. All 7 of the maxi’s in ORR 1 are entered in Transpac this summer.
Chris Sheehan’s East Coast-based Pac 52 Warrior Won put up some impressive boat speeds in the running conditions on the back side of the islands to claim second on line and first in ORR 2. Formerly known as Bad Pak and based in San Diego, the bright blue Pac 52 has been on a tear on the east coast, having won more than her share of hardware in 2020.
Having claimed 2nd overall in her debut Transpac, Warrior Won should again be a contender in this year’s race especially with some pretty heavy hitters onboard. Another well-traveled boat to taste success in this year’s Islands Race was John Raymont’s new Ker 51 Fast Exit II (formerly Varuna), which navigated their way into runner-up position by delaying their gybe to the finish and coming in on a hotter angle to pass Thomas Furlong’s beautiful blue R/P 52 Vitesse which won this race overall two years ago.
Bob Pethick’s Rogers 46 Bretwalda 3 edged out perennial contender Horizon in ORR 3, while Buzz Blackett’s new Antrim 27C stomped ORR 4 to claim the division win and the overall. The little one-off carbon speedster sailed with Blackett, designer Jim Antrim, carbonologist and renowned boat builder Gilles Combrisson and young rockstar David Leibenberg on board. The smallest and lightest boat in the fleet, ‘io put up big numbers in the bigger conditions but managed to continue surfing when the bigger boats went into displacement mode.
Like some of the boats in the faster divisions, Blackett credits the victory with a good navigational call when lining up the finish, “We were the beneficiaries of the bad luck for most of the big boats and some of our division competitors after they gybed right at the waypoint at the southwest end of San Clemente and found a big wind hole. We held on starboard for 20 minutes after that waypoint and ended up after the gybe with lots of breeze from the almost perfect angle for 90% of that last leg. It’ll take me a week to clean up and dry out the boat after we get home to Richmond Yacht Club.”
Incredibly, the top 4 boats in the overall rankings of The Islands Race came from 4 different divisions, showcasing not just incredible parity amongst the fleet but accurate ratings; that’s quality racing. About half of the fleet in the Islands Race will sail to Cabo in less than two weeks’ time, while two-thirds of the fleet will sail to Hawaii in Transpac this summer. – Ronnie Simpson.