Fans in a small fleet of spectator boats honked their horns and cheered as Roy Disney drove Pyewacket across the starting line Friday with clear sailing ahead in Del Rey Yacht Club's 17th biennial race to Puerto Vallarta.
After stormy and gloomy starts for smaller boats the previous two days, Santa Catalina Island was visible in the distance in brilliant sunshine and 7 knots of headwind---such a pretty day that it was a shame that Pyewacket, the sole member of the PHRF-AA class, was the only boat starting. The race committee offered a special salute with a custom class flag: Mickey and Minnie Mouse holding hands and wishing everyone a happy Valentine's Day.
Disney said before casting off, "I just hope we aren't over early."
He wasn't entirely joking. Pyewacket was still four boat lengths below the line when the gun sounded. The crew hoisted a monstrous Code 0 sail for a few minutes before the start, but with a south wind blowing they decided they wouldn't be able to lay the tip of the Palos Verdes peninsula and switched to a small jib for better pointing ability.
Pyewacket's target is not only to overtake the boats that started earlier but to run down the 18-year-old record of just under five days set by Richard and Camille Daniels' MacGregor 65 Joss in 1985. Disney, vice chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Co., was confident it could be done. Joss enjoyed extraordinarily ideal conditions, but Pyewacket is a more powerful boat.
"The average speed for that record is 9.6 knots," Disney said. "This boat does that easily in almost any kind of wind."
And yet, not even the fastest boats can sail in no wind at all, a nagging anomaly in races to Mexico, as navigator Stan Honey cautioned. They'll know more when they approach Cabo San Lucas for the final charge across the Gulf of California.
"It looks like it will be good at least until Monday morning," Honey said. "Then it's possible that it could get really light, but anything can happen. There are a lot of land effects, and the [weather] data isn't that good down there. But we have a cloud of sail on this boat. We need just consistent sailing weather so we don't stop too long."
Since setting records in the Newport-Bermuda and Chicago-Mac races last year, Pyewacket has been "turbocharged" for downwind performance. The mast is 10 feet taller, the keel bulb is 4,000 pounds lighter at 8,000 pounds and the new spinnaker pole is 43 feet to accommodate special oversize spinnakers called "runners." The pole was only 27 feet when it set the Transpac record in 1999.
"We ought to notice the difference," Honey said.
Also encouraging was that the two Santa Cruz 50s that started in the PHRF-AA fleet two days earlier---Bay Wolf, under charter to Richard Parlette, and Jack Taylor's Horizon---logged 196 and 202 miles, respectively, in their latest 24-hour reports. Also, Locomotion, an Andrews 45 starting Thursday, averaged 9.2 knots through the first night. Better yet, the wind was from the northwest, made to order for flying spinnakers.
Immediately after the completion of the race, North Sails and the Mexican Sailing Association are sponsoring a new five-day regatta in Banderas Bay called Vallarta Race Week. All Marina del Rey-Puerto Vallarta participants were invited to take part.