2003 Transpacific Yacht Race

Latest News as Pegasus Finishes

A full moon lighted the way past the Diamond Head finish line for Philippe Kahn’s Pegasus 77 and a second consecutive Barn Door victory in the 2003 Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles early yesterday. Kahn’s arch-rival later described the path laid by the lunar reflection on the water as “like sailing down the moon river,” but Roy E. DISNEY and his crew aboard Pyewacket were nearly five hours behind in a match of equally powerful sailing machines.

The Barn Door is a 3 ½-by-4-foot slab of carved Hawaiian koa wood that goes to the boat with the fastest elapsed time for the 2,225 nautical miles. Four Aloha boats that started five days earlier finished ahead of Pegasus 77 by as much as 15 hours, but their ETs were days slower.

Finishing at 3:15 a.m. local time, Pegasus 77’s time was 7 days 16 hours 31 minutes 17 seconds, the fourth fastest ever for the race but nearly five hours over Pyewacket’s record of 7:11:41:27 in a windier 1999 race. Pyewacket’s time was 7:21:18:01, the eighth fastest ever.

“Records aren’t something you can control,” Kahn said. “Either the weather was going to cooperate or not. We did break a record for the daily run, and what was interesting about that is we did it without a lot of wind.”

A day earlier, with no more than 18 knots of breeze, Pegasus 77 completed a 24-hour run of 356 miles, breaking the record of 353 set by Magnitude in 1999.

Disney, whose boat has been highly modified since ’99, said, “Both of these boats are much faster than what we set the record with.”

When the wind increased late in the race, Pegasus 77, then in a commanding position against Pyewacket, seemed to have a shot at the record. “We thought about that a lot,” Disney said, laughing. “Quite a lot.”

At the time, Pegasus 77 still had an outside chance of achieving a rare Transpac sweep: fastest elapsed time and first in class and fleet on overall corrected handicap time.

But, ironically, a 40-year-old Cal 40 whose crew included Pyewacket’s usual navigator, Stan HONEY, finished in time late the same morning to correct out on Pegasus 77 by about half an hour. However, Bill TURPIN’S Transpac 52, Alta Vita of San Francisco, has the inside track on the honor with about a two-hour edge and needs to finish before 7:12 a.m. local time Tuesday to clinch it. If the trade winds hold, that is well within its reach.

Illusion, with Honey’s wife Sally and Transpac veterans Skip ALLAN and Jon ANDRON joining Stan, was first overall on handicap time through most of the race but slipped back as the larger, faster boats accelerated in stronger breeze.

The problem was, as Stan Honey said, “If [the wind] picks up from 10 to 20 knots, we go from 7 to 8.”

But, flying a full-blown spinnaker in 30 knots of following wind, they flew down through the finish line, surfing at 16 knots to beat nine other Cal 40s in a revival of the class that dominated the race in the late 60s.

Later, several of the disappointed Pyewacket team, including Disney, greeted their teammate at Ala Wai Yacht Harbour, where Doug Rastello told Honey, “We needed that.”

The outcome of the Pegasus 77-Pyewacket contest was determined early on, not by boat speed but by strategic differences of opinion.

“We led them past [Santa] Catalina [Island] by a mile, but then we went right and they went left, and they were right and we were wrong,” Disney said.

The Pyewacket crew was stunned by the second day’s morning roll call and position report that showed Pegasus 77 100 miles south of them.

“We were surprised how low they went the second day,” said Peter ISLER, who replaced Stan Honey as Pyewacket’s navigator for this race.

Then, when the shift they were expecting failed to produce a lively breeze, they had to eat their mistake and give up a lot of miles to find better wind south. That’s when Pegasus 77 came slightly north to drop into a controlling position directly in front.

Mark RUDIGER, Pegasus 77’s navigator, said, “It was pressure versus angle, and I’ve learned the hard way over the years that the first half of this race you have to go for the pressure and the second half you can start working on angle. So I just tell the guys, ‘Send the boat the fastest way it can go.’ Speed rules.

“Originally our plan was to stay with them, but we decided to sail our own race. Our goal was always to hold at least 30 miles of southing on them to make sure we had a little more pressure but try to put them back on bearing so they had no angle they could get at us with. Crusty did a really good job of masterminding that [plan].”

Crusty is Mark CHRISTENSEN, who was on the winning team in the last two Volvo Ocean Races but had never sailed a Transpac.

“The first couple of days I was having trouble getting a grasp on how far off course we were going,” he said. “Rudi’s [saying], ‘Get south, get south.’ After that, we just had to try to think what they were thinking and do the jibes so we’d always set ourselves up between them and the mark.

“We were pretty confident with all our forecasts. It was kind of scary. We just got every shift. Even today, Rudi would say, ‘Well, the wind’s supposed to go to [a compass direction of] 060 . . . be patient, be patient.’ So we waited and waited and finally jibed on 050 and an hour later it was 060 and we came screaming in. The whole race was like that.”

On the last night, sailing in 26 knots of wind in the Molokai Channel, the wind shifted after Pegasus 77 jibed—a quirk that turned into a half-hour shortcut toward the finish.

“Again,” Christensen said, “Rudi could do no wrong.” The young veteran Morgan Larson said, in a way, the race was routine. “I like it when things go wrong,” he said. “It was too easy.”

Rich Roberts