SAILING RACE FROM LA TO TAHITI SETS SAIL

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First Transpac Tahiti since 1994

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, June 19, 2008) - The Transpac Tahiti Race, which began in 1925 but hasn’t been held for 14 years, will resume on Sunday when five sailboats set out off Point Fermin, San Pedro, in the Los Angeles area for a two-week race to Papeéte.

Doug Baker of Long Beach, Calif., is hoping to set a new record for the race in his 80-foot (24-meter) Magnitude 80, along with Bob Lane in his Andrews 61, Medicine Man.

While the last race was held in 1994, the last one before that was held 16 years earlier in 1978. The race was run intermittently a dozen times between 1925 and 1994. At one point in the 1970s, the Transpac Tahiti Race alternated each year with the Transpac Hawaii Race, which attracted far more boats due to the shorter sailing distance and time away from home for crews.

Baker and Lane will be trying to beat the record set by Fred Kirschner’s Santa Cruz 70, Kathmandu during the last Transpac Tahiti Race in 1994. That record is 14 days, 21 hours 15 minutes, 26 seconds.

That clipped 30 seconds off the record that had stood for 30 years. Robert Johnson set that record in 1964 aboard the Ticonderoga, which covered the 3,571 nautical miles (6,613 kilometers) to Tahiti with an average speed of exactly 10 knots.

But the 13th edition of the Transpac Tahiti Race is expected to be slightly faster, considering that the Transpacific Yacht Club organizers have set only one main condition for entries. The race is open to any boat with a speed rating of a Cal 40 or better. In other words, there’s no limit on how big a sailboat may enter.

There are no separate classes for single-hull and multi-hull boats, with the latter required to be at least 45 feet (13.7 meters) long overall. There also must be a minimum of four crewmembers.

Over the years, one of the deciding factors in each Transpac Tahiti Race has been the doldrums that the boats must pass through on each side of the equator. This is a stretch of calm seas, frequently when there’s little or no wind.

But the latest technology will be used by the five boats in this year’s race, a clear indication that much has changed since 1994 and 1978, according to John Jourdane of Long Beach, an author of popular ocean racing books and a crewmember in the 1978 Transpac Tahiti Race.

The new technology includes Global Positioning Systems (GPS), asymmetrical spinnakers, satellite tracking and e-mail messages from the boats, The Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram reported on its Internet Web site on Monday.

"It won’t be their fathers’ Tahiti Race when sailors" set out Sunday for Papeéte. "With the technology now, they’ll be able to see where the doldrums are and the spots to get through," Jourdane told the Long Beach newspaper. "I used a sextant the last time I did the race (in 1978). We didn’t even have Loran, (let alone) GPS."

Ernie Richau, navigator on Baker’s Magnitude 80, recalled how the racing conditions have changed over the past 30 years. "When you ran (downwind) in an older boat, you sailed a true wind angle of 170 or 180 -- dead downwind. Nowadays, on Magnitude, if it’s blowing 20 (knots), our true wind angle is about 150. We do sail much closer to the wind nowadays," he told the Press-Telegram.

But back in the 1970s, the race skippers "were really big on tracking speed and course, and they had to dead-reckon really well", Richau said.

Jourdane recalled that sailors back then had to rely more on their senses. "It was all sightings. I was praying I would see an atoll when we got there. I was within about five miles," he told the newspaper.

It’s all different today, Richau said. "Now we have the routing programs. We download satellite images where we can actually look at where the clouds are. I don’t ever worry about where we are. I worry about where we’re going to be, strategically and tactically, with the forecasted weather."

Just as the Kathmandu crossed the Southern California starting line in the 1994 race to Tahiti, Kirschner told his crew they were involved in more than just a sailboat race, according to a report posted on the Internet at thelog.com.

"Boys," Kirschner said, according to crewmember Chuck Furey of San Diego, "this is the first day of the adventure of your lives."

Another crewmember aboard the Kathmandu, Tom Fisher of San Diego, recalls it was "the coolest race I ever did. Hawaii’s nice, but (Tahiti) is going across the equator and seeing so many different weather patterns," said Fisher, a veteran of five Transpacs and 10 races to Mexico, thelog.com reported.

During the Transpac Tahiti Race’s 83-year history, some of the big names in sailboat racing who have won this event besides Johnson and Kirschner were famous French sailor Eric Tabarly, Ken DeMeuse and Irving Loube.

As to whether anyone stands a chance of beating Kirschner’s 1994 record, Anna, his widow since 2003, was not optimistic. She told thelog.com, "He’s going to be blowing that wind in the wrong direction so that nobody beats his record."

Fischer recalled Kirschner "had a great time" in his record-breaking effort 14 years ago. "It was sort of his life’s dream to run the race. He was like a kid in a candy store," Fischer told thelog.com.

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