Roy E. DISNEY'S Pyewacket led Philippe KAHN'S Pegasus 77 past the West End of Santa Catalina Island and into open ocean as the great match race of the 2003 Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii unfolded Sunday.
"We're about a mile ahead of Pegasus, which is dead astern,"
Peter ISLER, Pyewacket's navigator, reported by phone. "I can't see anybody else right now in the haze."
The two lead boats passed the island 23 miles off the Pacific Coast a bit more than 2 1/2 hours after the start.
The last 12 of 57 boats, surrounded by a sun-splashed spectator fleet at the end of the Independence Day holiday weekend in the U.S., started in light wind off the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Their destination is the landmark Diamond Head finish line 2,225 nautical miles away.
Meanwhile, two smaller boats that started Friday dropped out. Lucky Dog, a J/125 being sailed doublehanded by Peter PUTNAM and Len BOSE of Newport Beach, Calif., returned to its home port at noon Sunday because of a leak in the steering column of its rudder.
The Cone of Silence, a Super 30 from Australia and the smallest boat in the race at 31 feet, withdrew reporting "structural damage." Skipper James NEILL said he did not require assistance.
Putnam said, "We got out 150 miles and found Saturday afternoon that the rudder was letting water into the boat. We thought it would be better to withdraw. We're OK but disapppointed."
One boat did transmit an automatic distress signal early Sunday morning---apparently accidentally. A Coast Guard C-130 responded to an EPIRB alarm sent by Nick MARTIN'S Schock 40, On Point, from Wilmington, Calif. On Point reported later that it had taken a wave over the side that activated the alarm but caused no damage.
Among the final starters, the oddity was that all boats started on port tack, with the wind at 5 knots from the south and coming over their left sides. Normally, boats prefer to start on starboard tack, which has right of way over port tack, but the wind direction was such that everyone was able to sail straight up the course.
James MCDOWELL'S Grand Illusion, the race's overall handicap winner in 1999, was hugging the line headed toward the committee boat as the gun fired, but the race committee hailed "all clear." However, at the other end of the line, Bill TURPIN'S Alta Vita appeared to be trying to start on starboard tack but realized too late that it couldn't clear the inflatable buoy marking the "pin" end. As the gun sounded, Alta Vita, a Transpac 52 from San Francisco, was sailing the wrong way to turn around and start properly.
The best start was claimed by another Transpac 52, Karl KWOK'S Beau Geste from Hong Kong that has Gavin BRADY and other world-class New Zealand sailors on board, all sailing their first Transpacs. Beau Geste started to windward of Alta Vita and slightly ahead of John MACLAURIN'S fire engine-red Pendragon 4, the Davidson 52 prototype for the Transpac 52s.
Pyewacket started near the middle of the line directly windward of Pegasus 77, which then played the puffs and zephyrs expertly to sail higher and faster until Pyewacket was directly behind. That changed in mid-channel, and Pyewacket seized the lead as a fresh westerly breeze of 9-10 knots arrived, allowing tacks to starboard for the first time.
"It was pretty fickle,"
Isler said. "It kept teasing us halfway across [the San Pedro Channel]. But we're easily laying the West End by about four miles."
Isler, talking within earshot of Ben MITCHELL, also a teammate with Team Dennis Conner's America's Cup team last year, said, "Benny Mitchell used his vast experience to position us to the right of the enemy. He said the right side has always paid off in every test we did, and he finally had his chance to prove it."
To some observers, it appeared that Grand Illusion had jumped the gun. But a race committee official said, "They were within two inches of being over. We started to write down their number but they just got back."
Among the boats already at sea, Peter JOHNSON'S Maitri, a J/160 from San Diego that started Friday, had the best 24-hour run of 246 miles, averaging 10.3 knots, to stretch its lead in Division 3. The frontrunner was still Roger and Brenda Kuske's Dynamique 62, Lady Bleu II, from San Diego that started Tuesday in the Aloha fleet. Lady Bleu II was almost halfway, 1,271 miles from Honolulu.
Daily position reports, charts, news summaries, photos will be posted on the event website at the address below, until the completion of the race.