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Race to Hawaii

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For more than a century the lure of sailing to paradise has inspired thousands of offshore sailors to take on the 2225-mile challenge of racing to Hawaii.

Since 1906 the Los Angeles to Honolulu Transpacific Yacht Race (more commonly known as Transpac) has been organised by the Transpacific Yacht Club to give offshore sailors the opportunity to realise this dream.

The 52nd edition of this classic ocean race will have its first starting gun fired on 27 June 2023. On this date and two successive dates – 29 June and 1 July – waves of monohulls and multihulls will set off from the start, off Los Angeles’ Point Fermin.

From here they will sail upwind 26 miles west to clear the first mark of the course at the west end of Catalina Island with the next mark being the finish line buoy off Honolulu’s famous volcanic crater at Diamond Head – 2,200 miles to the southwest.

How they get there is the challenge of this race. Each team needs to do a careful analysis of weather forecasts that, when combined with the performance of the boat, are used to develop an optimal routing strategy around the ever-present but always changing North Pacific High.

Rhumb line or great circle tracks rarely work: the light air of the High can be a trap with lessons in drifting. Sagging south from the rhumb line gets you trade wind breezes that bring speed, but at the price of sailing extra distance.

Main image: Landfall off Oahu at the end of the Transpac Race. After an upwind start, the wind goes gradually aft to give a storming broad reach in perfect conditions for about a thousand miles until the famous caldera of Diamond Head looms over the ocean.

The trick is finding the best balance between the two, and most of the best navigators in offshore racing history have come to race Transpac to meet this challenge.

Clever navigation and routing alone will not guarantee success. You need a well-prepared boat and a crew who can race fast and safe in highly varied conditions.

These conditions are in three distinct categories, the first being high-speed headsail reaching to exit the California coast where the water is cold, the skies are overcast and the waves are high. It’s cold, it’s wet and all you do is hike on the rail.

The second category typically comes after a few days when the wind direction starts migrating aft, sheets are eased and one headsail turns into two. The skies start clearing and the talk on board starts to turn towards spinnakers as the boat heels less and the sea state becomes more favourable. Waterproof outer layers of clothes start being shed as the on-deck experience becomes less of a fire hose and more like an adrenaline-fuelled joy ride.

Then the last phase of the race has the signature conditions of the Transpac: reaching turns to VMG downwind sailing, including surfing down waves and frenetic spinnaker trimming. Everyone wants their turn at the helm to enjoy the fun, which varies depending on the boat type.

Clothes reduce to lighter weight t-shirts, shorts and big hats while everything that was wet now dries out in the subtropical sun. The water colour turns from grey to clear deep blue, and flying fish and flying squid land on deck.

Periodic rain squalls are first welcomed to get a fresh water rinse but then are used as slingshots to harvest their puffs and wind shifts to reduce the distance to Diamond Head which now lies only about 1,000 miles away.

The final approach racing downwind towards Oahu is often bittersweet: the team aboard is now well honed with effortless gybes and sail changes, the nights are lit by the stars and the moon and are warm and comfortable. No one wants this to end, it is truly champagne sailing.

Yet landfall awaits, first with the volcanic outcrop of Coco Head where the northern horizon that was endless sea forever has transformed to steep green topography accompanied by aromas of tropical vegetation. The finish line, a compass bearing taken from the Diamond Head Lighthouse through the bell buoy that warns of the inshore reef, lies just minutes ahead.

Centuries ago, Polynesians used to greet visitors at landfall bearing gifts to demonstrate their spirit of hospitality. TPYC replicates this Hawaiian tradition with parties given ashore for every entry soon after docking, day or night. There is no better finish to an offshore race than the warm embrace of friends, family and supporters at a Transpac Aloha party.

Transpac is on everybody’s bucket list. Come and see what Aloha is all about and be part of this classic and legendary offshore race.

Click here for more information on Transpac 2023