Inside 100!

So as I write this on Saturday afternoon, we are inside the 100 mile check in point, about 75 miles from the finish line in Kaneohe Bay on the north side of Oahu, to be precise.  We should finish tonight, or – more specifically – early tomorrow morning,  having made the crossing from San Francisco to Hawaii in the 2014 Pacific Cup in about nine and a half days. Average speed over the 2070 mile course would be a bit over nine knots.  We are the third boat to Hawaii in our class (maybe the seventh or eighth boat overall), however (because of rating differences) a number of boats will ‘correct’ out in front of us, so we’ll likely be 6th in class, and about 12th overall.Those are the stats.  What they don’t show, of course, is the human side of the experience.  As the Hawaiian Islands come into range on the distant horizon and Hula Girl charges along in the late afternoon sun, a whole range of emotions begin to take hold.  And when you cross that finish line, pull into the dock and step ashore after having traversed the Eastern Pacific Ocean, you can at once feel gratified, relieved, excited, exhausted. You have accomplished no small feat, and, most importantly, YOU have accomplished the feat.  This wasn’t any cruise ship.  No one just took you for a sailboat ride. In the past 10 days, each of our team was on watch a total of 12 hours per day, and drove about 4 hours per day.  That means that over the course of the race, each driver drove for the equivalent of a 40 hour work week!

And I can tell you the level of improvement has been just fantastic.  At the start of the race, for plotting and routing purposes, I generally assume we’ll be going about 85% of our target boatspeeds.  I’ll modify this a bit one way of the other depending on a variety of things (experience of the crew, race conditions, etc.) but we were pretty close to that number.  By the time we got to the halfway point, I was using 90%.  The next day I bumped it up to 95%.  That’s pretty impressive.  I can’t really tell you how fun it is to see a team go from just ‘hanging in there’ sailing the boat (and sometimes not even able to do that in the darkness of night and shifty conditions) to full-on efficiency across the whole spectrum, day, night, squalls, and tradewinds.  And, of course, it’s not just driving…  the trimming, the crew work, the understanding of the relationships between all the positions, etc. etc. just became stronger and stronger. and contributed to our increased efficiency day after day….

One of our team mentioned that it’s really like having four coaches aboard:  not only are there three ‘regular’ coaches, but the group has been pro-active at working together, fostering a real sense of unified purpose and experience, and sharing with each other to improve as a whole.  I’ll admit, I might have been premature in calling a group of diversified sailors who had never stepped on a boat together before a ‘team’, but that designation is certainly justified now.  I’m proud of all of them.  Marko, Joe, and Alix came aboard with extremely limited exposure to sailing, and I couldn’t be more impressed with how they have progressed. Dale, Mike and Jimmy all brought more experience aboard and all rose to a high standard.  And, beyond them all just doing great, we had a fantastic time.  I have to say it was an extreme pleasure to sail with each and every one of them, for the first time or again.

So good on you all, team.  We were up against probably one of the toughest fleets I have ever raced to Hawaii against.  Each and every boat in our fleet was immaculately prepared, and the crew rosters read like a who’s who of West Coast offshore racing.  This is the real McCoy, a true grand-prix offshore racing event.  The fact that our young team could even think of competing against these guys was cool.  The fact that we were able to be competitive against them was awesome.

An finally, a huge thank you to coaches Geoff and Jasper.  These guys did a great job.  It’s no small feat to pull together a new crew and head off on a serious adventure like this, and the lion’s share of the credit goes to the great oversight and instruction provided by these two.  I know I consider myself fortunate to have had them both aboard.  Thanks tremendously, guys.

Now I’m going to head out into the cockpit for the final evening and enjoy the warm weather, the trade winds, the good company.  I’m looking forward to getting to Hawaii, to be sure, but I am just as excited about the next couple hours.  Although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a Mai Tai is sounding really, really good about now…

Have a good watch, friends.  And we’ll try to post some pictures in the next couple days.

Wayne Zittel and the Hulagins

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