Transpac 2007: Linsey Austion tells how Cirrus won

Saturday, 28 July 2007

A glance at a chart suggests that the Transpacific Yacht Race is a straightforward matter: pass Santa Catalina Island just offshore and head straight for Hawaii. There's nothing in the way but ocean. 

In truth, success swings on a series of critical decisions, and the 44th running of the 2,225-nautical mile classic was that in spades. Those who made the best decisions were to receive their awards Friday night during a banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Alas, a few others will still be at sea, but that's the kind of race it's been: slow and tricky.

The final winner was Cirrus, a 34-year-old Standfast 40 in Aloha B class that finished late Thursday night, after 17 days 22 hours 18 minutes 54 seconds, a long time for any boat in a Transpac. 

Cirrus was sailed by a Hawaiian crew of five women and owner Bill Myers, who appointed Lindsey Austin, 21, the youngest of them, to be skipper. The others were Austin's mom, Donna; Caroline Heinrich, Nancy Piper and Christin Shacat. Putting Austin in charge wasn't just a sympathetic gesture, after Austin missed the final cut for the Morning Light team, and his confidence in her was validated throughout the race. She made the calls. 

Austin said at the dock, "We kind of came into this as an underdog. Ulli [Ulli Steiner, Myers' fellow nuclear physicist in Germany and long time friend] wrote a weather tracking program for us. A couple of days into the race the program said to go south for 2 1/2 days. I didn't think that was the thing to do and we talked about it for a full day. Finally, I decided to go south as the program said, but for only 1 1/2 days. We weren't sure if that was the right thing to do but... Oh! Let me tell you how we found out it was the right move!”

"Early one morning Bill was listening to the headphones of the morning reports and he accidentally left the speaker on, so we all could hear everyone's position reports. When they came to Aloha B, we all heard 'Cirrus in position one.' We went crazy! We couldn't believe it. From that point on, since we had worked so hard to get in first place, we decided to do whatever we could do to stay there."

Myers said, "Just before we crossed the line, Lindsey said, 'I'm not crossing the line without a spinnaker.' So we turned down, brought out a brand new spinnaker we were saving for the finish and surfed across the line. I think that was the most speed we had the whole race."

Myers also commented on the boat's noise level. I've always been on these races with guys and they're usually stuffy. These ladies were upbeat and laughing most of the way across. Every one of them is a member of WYRA [Women's Yacht Racing Association based in Honolulu] and they made me an honorary member."

The Minnow, a Catana 52 catamaran sailed by brothers Bob and Mike Webster of Pryor, Okla., had a different kind of navigational decision to make. Mike Webster said, "We were sailing toward the finish, had the GPS self-steering on, playing our Souzas on deck for crossing the finish line, just like I did when we started the race, when I asked Bob, 'Hey, which side of the buoy are we supposed to be on?' Bob didn't know, and I sure didn't, so we checked the GPS on the boat's self-steering. It showed a track right over the top of it. I said, 'Well, that can't be good,' so we took it off self-steering and crossed on the left of the buoy."

Mike then asked a reporter, "That was right, right?" It was; boats must finish outside the buoy on a line extending seaward from the Diamond Head lighthouse, which is on all the sailors' minds.

"This is an awesome ride toward the lighthouse," Philippe Kahn wrote from Pegasus 101 before finishing Thursday. "We hooked onto a massive squall monster, saw 32 knots of wind and sustained 18 knots of boat speed for the longest time. [Our keel is] fully canted, water ballast in the back and all the weight that we can find in the boat stacked astern." Later: "For the final hours of the race we saw up to 36 knots of wind and sustained 20 knots of boat speed easily . . . these [Open 50] boats plane so easily. We jibed at the tip of Molokai in one of those extraordinary moments when the whole universe seems to be in focus, and we pulled it off."

But it wasn't a year for records, for Pyewacket or Pegasus 101. The double handed mark is 10 days 4 hours 4 minutes 19 seconds by Howard Gordon and Jay Crum in 2001. Kahn and Richard Clarke missed it by about 20 hours. 

Nevertheless, Kahn said, "It was awesome, the boat was awesome, the whole team was awesome, and Richard fantastic. Things don't get much better than this. The wind and the weather were strange this year. The sailing was stunning: bright moon with Jupiter right at its side and massive Pacific Ocean rollers. You can understand why the sport of surfing was first conceived in Hawaii . . . the sport of the great Polynesian kings and navigators."

Meanwhile, the water problems on Locomotion, Ed Feo's Andrews 45 from Long Beach, appeared to be of less concern as the wind increased to rush them toward a finish Friday afternoon.

"We're currently surfing down huge waves, gliding east toward the Kaiwi (a.k.a. "Molokai" channel) in the final sprint to the finish!" the boat's blog reported. "Had a spectacular night with solid 20-22 K breezes, no squalls and great moonlight to enable the surfing action. As far as our water situation goes, we are going to make it with zero reserves, finally finishing the emergency water somewhere in the channel."

Fred Detwiler's Transpac 52 Trader from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. finished early Friday morning while dealing with a problem of loose keel bolts at the finish line.

Rich Roberts

Last Updated ( Saturday, 28 July 2007 )