On July 16, I will be starting my 10th sailboat race to Hawaii.
Seven of those races have been aboard Santa Cruz 50s, and this year I will be a watch captain aboard the Santa Cruz 50 Horizon. Because of my passion for this race and these boats, I looked back into history and found the first Trans Pac these boats raced in was 1981, and it was a race to remember.
Seven Santa Cruz 50s made it to the starting line in 1981, and they were the talk of the waterfront that summer. All the boats at that time were very similar, and it quickly became a race within a race among Chasch Mer, Night Train, Hana Ho, Oaxaca, Octavia, Shandu and Secret Love.
Two of these boats were from Newport Beach. Hana Ho and owner Morrie Kirk were sailing for the Balboa Yacht Club, and Michael Braun sailed Shandu for the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club/ Newport Harbor Yacht Club.
These crews were among the best sailing talent our harbor has ever assembled — fierce competitors all. Now blend in the personalities.
The crew aboard Hano Ho was made up of Kirk, skipper; Peter Isler, navigator; Dave Ullman, watch captain; and Bill Herrschaft, Tom Willson, Kevin Kirk, Jim Laws and Dennis Riehl. Aboard Shandu was Michael Braun, owner; Peter Willson, watch captain; LJ Edgcomb, navigator and MacGyver; Dennis Durgan, watch captain; and Bob Burns, Marshall "Duffy" Duffield, Rex Banks and Gordo Johnson.
To get a better feel of what happened during this epic battle, I was able to contact Kirk, Isler, Ullman, Riehl, Durgan, Duffield and Johnson.
The race started July 3. The boats had a westerly breeze of 12 to 15 to take off on. By the time the boats reached Catalina, the breeze was at 15 to 18 knots and had lifted the fleet around the only make in the course without tacking. Of the SC 50 fleet, Chash Mer was first to round the west end of Catalina in 3 hours 12 minutes, followed by Shandu, Secret Love, Octavia, Oaxaca and Hano Ho at 3:19.
On July 4, the breeze had eased some. The night before, Shandu's cheek block on the steering quadrant broke and the crew had to use their emergency tiller. Navigator Edgcomb quickly put on his MacGgyver hat and went to working fixing the problem.
The whole time Edgcomb was down below in the very back of the boat, the boat moved along at 11 knots with a reefed main and No. 2 head sail up. His repairs to the steering system lasted for the remained of the race. This is not the only time Edgcomb would need to throw on his MacGyver hat for Shandu to make it across the finish line.
On July 7, as the sun was setting, the SC 50 fleet wanted to make this race a party and start a boat-for-boat race until the end some 1,217 miles away. Shandu and Secret Love had been in contact from the second night out, and at sunset, Hano Ho appeared from the north and the party started.
That pitch-black night, the fleet started noticing trade wind squalls forming from behind them. This is when the nights of terror started, Duffield and Johnson recalled. After the first night of squalls, Shandu and Hano Ho pulled out in front of Secret Love by some 35 miles.
Duffield said, "This is when the winds started a blowin'."
Ullman recalled, "There was carnage everywhere across the fleet that night." Oaxaca was 20 miles farther south than the two lead boats.
|Dennis Riehl talking with Gordo Johnson|
Dennis Durgan said, "That's one of the best Trans Pacs as competitive sailing goes. You needed good drives and trimmers."
The Santa Cruz 50s were new to the race course at this time. Later deeper and better-designed rudders were added, and these have made the boats much easier to control. In 1981, these babies were a handful, and both boats were pushing hard to gain an advantage.
Ullman said, " It was like being in a one-design race, on a short course. It was getting pretty tiring. No one would even get a lead over a mile. You would just push, push and push then get nothing."
At this point, the boats were 940 miles from the finish.
"The only way we are going to take the big spinnaker down is if God takes it down." Duffield remembered thinking.
Riehl the decision was made to let only the four best drivers take the helm that night..
Duffield said, "Night was so intense."
Durgan remembered, "Scary, scary sailing pushing the boats that much harder. It was nuts, crossing gybes on those nights of terror."
At morning's light, there was Shandu right next to the Hano Ho, Riehl recalled.
Keep in mind both crews are from Newport Beach and most of them where all good friends and had grown up together. From my understanding, this is when the crews picked up the VHF radio and started talking to each other. The conversion started something like this. Shandu: Hey, did you guys keep up your big chute last night? Hano Ho: Yeah we were hoping you would do the smart thing and change down to your smaller spinnaker. Shandu: Was it scary? Hano Ho: Ya think!
|Dennis talking with Michael Brau|
Over the next three days and nights the boats rarely lost sight of each other. If one boat jibed the other boat would follow. If the other boat would change spinnakers and set a staysail so would they.
Around 2 a.m., referred to as one of the "nights of terror," Shundu lost a spinnaker crane at the top of the mast that held the halyard blocks. The first thought by the Shundu crew, was to take the spinnaker down and make the repair when they had daylight.
Well Edgcomb did not agree and was not about to lose any ground to his good buddies on the other boat. He grabbed the boatswain chair — a device used to suspend a person from rope to perform work aloft — and headed up the mast.
Can you see Durgan's face as he sat at the helm and Edgcomb said he was going up the mast? Durgan had to have replied, you want to go where? Edgcomb "MacGyver" then went up the mast with a bunch of kevlar line to make the repair.
"It looked something like that osprey next on that power boat on the moorings in front of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club today," Gordo Johnson said.
MacGyver had done it again and as Peter Isler said, "It was all on" from there on in.
Going into the last day, Shandu was in the lead with only 205 miles to the finish, Hano Ho had 211 miles to go. As the boats sailed past the big island, the VHF radio banter continued with the Hana crew asking who was driving and why they did not have their big spinnaker up. Shandu had lost their big chute a couple of nights before and Hano Ho still had theirs.
The sun went down and the two boats split jibes in the dark as they grew closer to the finish line. When the two boats arrived at Kalaupapa point on the island of Molokai they both made their final jibe for the finish line under a full moon with dolphins jumping from their bows.
Riehl, aboard Hana Ho, remembers first surviving the jibe and then looking to his right and seeing Shandu just 200 yards away on their starboard side bow to bow.
Gordo Johnson explained the situation like this: "Have you ever wondered what your boat looked like while surfing down huge waves with the bow of the boat out of the water all the way back to the keel? Water flying everywhere as the boat dropped into its third consecutive wave. Well, he said with a laugh, Hana Ho was right next to us and I can't tell you how many times we exchanged the lead while the other boat caught the next wave."
Morrie Kirk the owner of Hana Ho said, "We were close to those guys that's for sure."
Peter Isler aboard Hano Ho said, "I was on the helm at the jibe at Kalaupapa point. It was very intense and exhausting. Both boats were pumping their mains on every wave and the lead changed a number of times."
This all went on for more than an hour as the boats crossed Molokai channel and approached Coco head when the wind started to lighten up and Hana Ho pulled away with their larger spinnaker. Hano Ho crossed the finish line 1 minute and 35 seconds before Shandu crossed the line. Shandu won on corrected time by more than an hour but as you can guess, they wanted to be that first Santa Cruz 50 to finish.
The two boats had matched-raced some 1,217 miles over the four plus days. What a race.
Let's hope we have wind this year.....
I have always wanted to put this story together and like the end of a movie I would like to tell some of the outtakes of the interview I did.
Marshall “Duffy” Duffield: “ The food Bob Burns prepared was extreme high end craziness, awesome beyond approach. Abalone lunches, large shrimp prawns for an appetizer before dinner, huge perfect steaks. The food was so good it was like being in front of the plane, you never wanted to go back of the plane again.”
“Hewlett Packard had provided the boat with its first GPS system and for the first time we received two fixes a day. The lights would start blinking on the machine and we could look up and see the satellites. Today we have all this on our watch.” he said with a deep laugh. “ Before we could step off the boats the guys with their white lab coats came down and took the machines off the boat and back to the lab.”
“Being on edge in the dark, Gordo and I were on the same watch and he would stand behind me and update me on the apparent wind angle. This was the only way we could keep from crashing on the nights of terror”
“I am glad I got the opportunity to be apart of this crew”
Morrie Kirk was able to sail the race with his 21 year old son Kevin Kirk and had that type of finish. “I will remember that race and it was a lot of fun”
Dennis Durgan: “These boats were like riding in the car wash with all the water going over the boats.” “It was pretty scary with the guy up on top of the rig at 3 in the morning.”
“Talking to the other boat on the VHF if their dinner compared to our Bob Burns special.”, “ The top of the mast was torn off.”
Peter Isler: “This was my first Trans Pac, the first one is always the best one.”
“ We had the Allman Brothers Mountain Jam blazing on the cockpit speakers as we crossed the
Molokai Channel.”, “ The third night out we had ice cream.”
Dave Ullman: “ At the Kalaupapa light house it was flat out, spectacular race, we spent lots and lots of time talking on the VHF.”, “ With this type of match racing we had lots of fun by far my favorite memories of Trans Pac racing.”
Dennis Riehl: “ We ate well, I can’t even explain how fortunate I was to be selected to go with this group.”
Gordo Johnson: “Those Bob Burns sleeper steaks were killer, all those flavors and all that food would just make me want to sleep.”
Lets hope we have wind this year.