Philippe KAHN'S defending Barn Door winner, Pegasus 77, and Roy E. DISNEY'S record holder, Pyewacket, will be the only boats starting in Division 1 of the 2003 Transpacific Yacht Race tomorrow, truly in a class by themselves.
Ten other exceptional Division 2 ocean racers, a few with world-class crews, will start alongside, but even they will have eyes on what rates as a blockbuster contest between two of the swiftest downwind sailing vessels on the planet. They'll sail 2,225 nautical miles from the edge of the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the Diamond Head volcano east of Honolulu in quest of the 3 1/2-by-4-foot slab of native Hawaiian koa wood that goes to the monohull with the fastest elapsed time.
If the trade wind conditions are favourable, the record of 7 days 11 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds set by Pyewacket in 1999 also may be at risk.
And when it's over, both boats will sail into the sunset, at least for their present ownership. Pyewacket has been sold to an Asian buyer as Disney awaits the fall delivery of a new maxZ86. Pegasus 77 is currently listed at $1.45 million.
How do they match up? Both boats were designed by John REICHEL and Jim PUGH of San Diego and, with their guidance, configured to rate dead even but more than half a day faster than in 2001 when Pegasus 77 finished 63 minutes in front, though about 15 hours slower than Pyewacket's record.
"The boats should be very, very close, forgetting crew and sails and stuff,"
Pugh said. "We made those boats as fast as we could with those fins and rigs, maintaining acceptable safety factors and making the boats as identical as possible in speed.
"I suspect they'll be a minimum of 13 hours faster and maybe quite a bit more. If they had really good weather, they could get under seven days."
Their only recent contest was in last month's Coastal Cup from San Francisco to Santa Catalina Island. Pegasus 77 ran away in record time, averaging 13.6 knots for the 360 nautical miles. Pyewacket got stuck in light air and dropped out.
If either boat has an edge, it may be the Pegasus 77 crew of professional sailors including navigator Mark RUDIGER, who last week charted Zaraffa's course to first place in the 3,618-mile DaimlerChrysler North Atlantic Challenge from Newport, R.I. to Cuxhaven, Germany. Afterward, owner Skip SHELDON called Rudiger "the best navigator in the world."
Pyewacket will be without its usual navigator, Stan HONEY, who is racing his own Cal 40 and currently rates first overall on projected corrected handicap among the 45 boats that started Tuesday and Friday. Honey's replacement is Peter ISLER, who was navigator for several of Dennis CONNER'S America's Cup campaigns.
Pyewacket also has augmented its long-standing crew with Dean BARKER, skipper of the Team New Zealand AC team. Except for Coastal Cup, he hasn't raced since the Kiwis dropped the Cup to Switzerland's Alinghi after their boat broke down in two races of a 5-0 sweep.
"This will be my longest offshore race,"
Barker said. "I've done three Fastnets and a Sydney-Hobart. From everything I've heard it should be a lot of fun."
More fun, certainly, than the AC and the vicious post-mortem that followed in a TNZ internal review and New Zealand media.
"It was a very harsh review,"
Barker said. "We are very attached to our sporting teams because we are a small country and anything other than winning you get criticized. It was tough."
He was looking forward to the change of pace, even if it is another match race.
After Pegasus 77 and Pyewacket, the next fastest boat is Transpac veteran Bob LANE'S Andrews 61 Medicine Man, which started life as an Andrews 56 in 1991 but has undergone more facelifts than Michael Jackson---new rigs, new keels, water ballast and even a new hull.
It is rated fastest in Division 2 and within 10 hours of Pegasus 77 and Pyewacket. Its strongest competition could come from a pair of Transpac 52s: Hong Kong businessman Karl KWOK'S Beau Geste and Bill TURPIN'S Alta Vita from San Francisco.
Gavin BRADY, already signed on as helmsman for Oracle's next America's Cup campaign, will be on board Beau Geste with other top New Zealand talent.
"No one on our boat's ever done a Transpac,"
Brady said, "but we've been doing our homework. The boat accelerates quickly and is very nice to control . . . a beautiful boat to sail downwind. A couple of times at night in the Coastal Cup we got above 30 knots. I thought the Volvo 60 was nice to sail downwind but this makes that seem like a dinosaur."
As for the ships at sea, Roger and Brenda KUSKE'S Lady Bleu II, a Dynamique 62 from San Diego, remained the frontrunner at 1,482 miles from the finish. Among Friday's starters, the J/160s Maitri and Innocent Merriment from San Diego had the best first day's runs with 168 and 162 miles, respectively. Several boats, including Cal 40 leader Stan and Sally HONEY'S Illusion, appeared to be building leverage to the south to avoid the Pacific High area of light winds.
Barking Spider, a Catalina 38 sailed by David Kory of Point Richmond, Calif. in the Aloha-B class, was out of contact Friday because of a radio problem but later was able to report its position by e-mail. Saturday it was able to contact another boat, which relayed its position information to Alaska Eagle, the communications vessel accompanying the fleet.