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Moving Targets For Transpac and Others

It’s a big deal to organize and stage a long-distance ocean race, but in most years, organizers have fixed waypoints in the process. In 2021, they’re all over the place.

March 4, 2021
Sailboat finishing a race off Hawaii.

2017 TRANSPAC FINISH FINISH 71517

Life was normal in 2017 as Transpac teams rolled into the finish ready to party. Not so in 2021. The race shall go on, but the festivities will have to wait. © Sharon Green / Ultimate Sailing

In the most recent meeting on Transpac Race planning, Transpacific Yacht Club rear commodore Bill Guilfoyle presented a 22-page draft plan, via Zoom, of course. About 40 minutes into discussing page one, Guilfoyle observed, “It’s a 22-page document, but it has 100 pages of work in it.”

What came through loud and clear at that meeting of the Transpac Board of Directors—which includes me—is that we’ll run a race unless we are prevented from running a race. But we need to get the word to skippers and crews that it won’t look like any other Transpac. There won’t be parties at either end unless they’re virtual. There will be testing requirements. And if that peels off any of the 58 entries now on the books, the sooner we know how many, the better we can manage our own risks, which include running the race at a loss. Which we don’t expect, but we’re willing to do.

Your takeaway is, we’ve been working on this for two years, and we’re planning to sail Transpac 51 this summer, Los Angeles to Honolulu, Point Fermin to Diamond Head, because the things that will be missing—the parties and an in-person prizegiving—are secondary to one of the world’s great boat rides. The Molokai Channel beckons.

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The hard-working souls planning Marion-Bermuda share that outlook. Bermuda is their island over the horizon. Race trustee Ray Cullum says, “I work on this every day, and every day there’s something new that we hadn’t thought about. The planning docs get longer and longer. But if we can run the race, we will.”

That much is simple. Nothing else is.

“We have three races all on similar timelines,” Cullum says. “The logistics between Marion-Bermuda and Transpac are 95 percent the same. That’s why we’re talking to each other. When I pointed out to Bill [Guilfoyle] that the big difference is, we’re sailing to a foreign country, he came back that what’s the same is, we’re both sailing to islands, and oceans are helpful barriers in a time of pandemic. It’s important that Bermuda wants us, and they are very willing to work with us. They had a PGA tournament a while back, but they’re strict. You get tested upon arrival, and again four days later, and four days after that.

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The trends are favorable, but does Covid have more tricks to play? Are we fighting the last war/pandemic? We’ll get back to you on that.

“Like Transpac, Marion-Bermuda will have no group gatherings,” Cullum says. “We think we’re touching the right touchpoints—we’re working with an epidemiologist and a public health official—but the touchpoints keep changing. We know what we need to know about the now, but we don’t know what we’ll need to know at First Warning on June 18, much less what we’ll need to know as April slips by and the situation is either clear or it’s not, and we have to make a go/no-go decision. You look at Marblehead-Halifax, and with Canada on lockdown and lagging, maybe their prospects aren’t good. Our criteria for Marion-Bermuda include a vaccinated fleet, but vaccination rates in Massachusetts have been a bear. We’ll need a testing site ahead of the start, but what does that look like? We probably don’t send a few hundred people over to a public health facility, and what about kids under 18? As an OA, we’re not responsible for each skipper’s crew and operations, but we can’t send a fleet to Bermuda without meeting Bermuda’s requirements.

“In our group, it’s the doctors who would have pulled the plug already,” Cullum says, “but things keep changing and opening up, so we’re holding onto our optimism.”

Meanwhile, it’s not lost on anyone that the 2020 Newport-Bermuda was cancelled, and so was a 2020 Tahiti race that would have included the hottest fleet ever to race to les îles Sous-le-Vent. There is a big difference between 2020 and 2021, however. This time around there are opportunities to overcome the obstacles, “and we’re well on our way with that,” as Guilfoyle is quick to point out. The trends are favorable, but does Covid have more tricks to play? Are we fighting the last war/pandemic? We’ll get back to you on that.

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Transpac has had to wonder, will sponsors commit and follow through? What about cutoff dates for reserving hotel space, a convention center, trackers, media contracts? Can we count on the usual, generous volunteer turnout in Honolulu? Per tradition, there will be a warm Aloha Mai Tai for every finisher, whatever time of the day or night they finish, but those large group arrival festivities on the dock will—not—happen.

But did I mention? The Molokai Channel beckons.

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