Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trans Pac "Back in the Day"


Larry Somers 1981 Trans Pac aboard Jubilee


I am writing this story on Tuesday July 14 and will be starting the Trans Pac race from Point Fermin, San Pedro to Diamond Head on the Island of Oahu on Thursday the 16th. While writing my last story regarding the battle between Hana Ho and Shandu in the 1981 Trans Pac I kept running into the name of Larry Somers while completing my research. Somers was the communications chairman for the Trans Pac Yacht Club for many years and I thought interviewing him would make for a good story.

The Somers family dates back into the early 1900 where his grandfather was the commodore of the Los Angles Yacht Club in 1916 and the Cal Yacht Club in 1925. His grandfather also competed in the Olympics in 1928 in Holland sailing 8 Meters. His mother was also very active in sailing and the family purchased a beach house between I and J street on the Balboa Peninsula where he grew up. As a kid he participated in the Newport Harbor Yacht Clubs junior program.

In the 1957 his father Harvey Somers sailed with the Farwell family aboard their 85’ schooner Sea Drift. During this race the Somers family took the Matson lines SS Lurline to Hawaii. “During the race we were able to make our way into the radio room and obtain the race reports and keep updated on the race.” Somers said.

In 1965 Somers met Peter Davis and sailed with him in that years Trans Pac aboard the 65 foot cutter Orient. Davis later became commodore at the NHYC in 1971 where Somers worked with Davis in the sail fleet committee. During this time Walter Hoffman was the Communications Chairman and he was ready to pass his task over to the next and up coming volunteer. This is when Peter Davis brought Somers into the loop and he started his first Trans Pac as communications chair in 1981. Somers was activated as the Communications Chairman during the 1976 Tahiti Race for the TPYC, he also worked the 1978 Tahiti race.
Sumers, Baldwin & Steele


The communications chair responsibilities are always changing and it’s a very important part of the race. Grant Baldwin, for most of the years Somers was working, was the voice over the radio taking the daily position reports. The person behind the scene was Somers who would be inputting the positions into an Apple computer, yes there were personal computers in the 1970’s, and from there they would have Latitude, Longitude, Miles from San Pedro, Miles to Honolulu,  PET (Projected Elapsed Time), PCT (Projected Corrected Time) and Handicap Positions. What this all means is the competitors and the spectators, back home, would have daily reports on what place their boats are in.

I cannot tell you how hard it was to fall asleep when you just got off watch at 0700 when the navigator would turn on the Single Side Band Radio at 0730. The SSB sounded like going online during the early dial up internet service days and then trying to sleep through all the moans and groans of the navigator while they where plotting out the fleet during roll call. Roll call started at 0800 and by 1100 each day Baldwin and Somers would broadcast your standings. A very important part of your day while racing in the Trans Pac.


Somers did six crossing on different escort boats ranging from 1981 Dick Steele's 60’ motor sailor Jubilee that was later named Jamboree by a different owner in 1989. In 1985 he sailed aboard a 65 foot Hood Motor sailor and in 1983 and 87 sailed on Orange Coast College Alaska Eagle. Somers saved the biggest boat for last in 1991 aboard Hawkeye a 105 foot motor yacht. 

“ All the trips were business like and yet a lot of fun. Like most racers the first one is always the one you remember and the 1981 run aboard Jubilee with Dick Steal, Grant Baldwin, Gary Hill and Billy Buckingham was one of my favorites. We would work in the morning, sail in the afternoon and motor sail at night all the time monitoring the radio.” Somers said.



Both Somers and I agree that with SSB radios being fazed out to emails and satellite phones we are losing a favorite tradition to the race and that is group communications . Let’s just hope that todays organizers can find a way to keep that tradition alive maybe with FaceTime in the future. I have to give a big thank you to Larry Somers for taking almost an hour with me sharing his story.

Right now, on Horizon, the weather is not cooperating. We will be starting the race and if we cannot get into any wind by Sunday we will have to make a tough decision on whether or not to withdraw from the race or slug it out. Keep an eye on us on the Trans Pac website yellow brick tracking system at http://yb.tl/transpac2015.

Wish us good wind and following seas!


Sea ya