Ronnie Simpson tells it like it was from on board the 1D 35 Alpha Puppy on the Transpac.
Transpac 2011 is in the books for the San Francisco-based 1D35 “Alpha Puppy”. We weren’t always fast or pointed in the right direction, but such is the nature of yacht racing. You set off across an ocean, enduring a myriad of problems and changing weather conditions, and if it all goes well, you get to the other side to have Mai Tai’s for breakfast. This is how Transpac went down for Alpha Puppy.
Alpha Puppy sailed with 6 crew. Alex Farrell, the owner, is 1D35 class president and has been sailing AP in pretty much every regatta in the Bay for the past 4 years. His girlfriend Vivian is a longtime 1D35 sailor and crew member. This was to be Alex and Viv’s first crossing. Then comes Brian Caldwell. Brian was the first person under 21 to ever solo circumnavigate, breaking Robin Lee Graham’s record for youngest around back in the 90s. Add in a couple Transpacs, a handful of Sydney-Hobart’s, two top 5’s in the Mini Fastnet, amongst other achievements and Brian was clearly going to be one of our rock stars on the crew. Next was Sean Doyle. Sean was the skipper of “On the Edge of Destiny” when they became the youngest crew to ever sail in the Transpac back in 2007. With a Transpac, 2 Pac Cups, 29er and 420 Worlds and a Farr 30 and 420 National Championship, Sean was slated to be our other rock star. And then you have me and my girlfriend Sherry Smith.
I’ve got a singlehanded Transpac, a couple crossings and some inshore racing under my belt, while Sherry has a couple of Big Boat Series wins, a slew of Express 27 wins and a Hawaii crossing on her resume.
After a rough and difficult Coastal Cup that saw us tear a couple of sails and retire to Santa Cruz, we delivered the boat the rest of the way to Long Beach to prep her for Transpac. Taking time off of work and taxiing back and forth from Nor Cal to So Cal, it was truly a team effort to have the boat ready in time for the start. In the end, we weren’t ready for the start with a lot of jobs still on the to-do list. Oh well; once again, it’s the nature of the game. There’s always stuff that goes undone before a race like Transpac.
The night before the start, we came to a somewhat chilling realization. Something very stupid and minor, but definitely one that could keep us from starting on time. We had no cooking fuel. The person that was running errands in the rental car forgot to buy propane canisters for our gimbaled stove, so we had to set out Monday morning, just hours before the start and buy a Coleman camping stove and propane canisters for it, effectively rendering our sweet galley set up completely useless. Lesson learned. For the entire trip, all of our water was boiled on the cabin sole in a tea kettle that you often had to hold by hand, as the boat was pitching and rolling too much. Quite annoying.
While Viv was out buying propane, Alpha Puppy’s 2-cylinder Yanmar overheated in the slip while charging the batteries. The strainer was clear, the water pump was working properly and the impeller was in good shape.
Brian and I thought it was potentially the exhaust elbow being clogged up with carbon, but we couldn’t take that off until we were under way. With propane in hand, we shoved off and motored out of the slip, hoisting the main in the marina and jib shortly thereafter. Again a bit less than ideal, we were sailing to the starting line of a 2,200 mile ocean race with a non-operational motor. A motor which was our sole means of charging and our means of running the water maker.
Alex and I removed the elbow, I scraped out carbon with a dental scraper and created a small passage for water to go through. It was nearly completely clogged, explaining our less than stellar amount of water flow over the preceding days. Re-bolting the elbow to the motor, we fired it up and immediately saw that we had fixed the problem. We were all absolutely ecstatic about fixing the problem, but we had no time to celebrate as we were running late in getting to the start. Further clearing our carbon-blocked elbow, we motored full throttle just to get to the line, getting there with about two minutes to spare before we were in our sequence.
Everyone in our class was charging the start like it was an inshore one-design buoy race, not an ocean race. With a good but not great start, we sailed close-hauled on starboard tack to the west end of Catalina Island. Under sunny skies with a full main and #1, the pack stayed relatively close, all tacking to port at the island. Normally you could clear Catalina and begin to crack off just a bit, but that was not the case this year. We all sailed off on port, trying to get a bit North and then straight West, to be able to reach the breeze as the Gribs showed a big parking lot south of Point Conception for 3 days.
Our first night out, while about 50 miles offshore, I was driving with Sean as my watch mate when we sailed into a port/ starboard situation. The other boat yelled “starboard”, to which I replied “I see you”, and Sean added “clear ahead”. We cleared them by about a boat length. “I see you” became one of our stupid on-watch themes during the first couple of days.
The breeze began going dead light in the early morning hours and into the next day. It wasn’t the best angle, but we eventually switched to begin carrying our new code zero. That thing was a weapon in light air. We had another boat off to starboard and we could watch ourselves slowly roll him over the next 24 hours. Alpha Puppy was cranking out miles, even in very light air, and we began leading our class and the fleet.
It was more light air until day 4 when we began to actually reach the new offshore breeze and crack off a bit. Here we came to a major “Decision Point”, as mocking George W Bush became one of our biggest themes of the trip. On this particular decider point, we decided that some good strategery was needed to leg out on the fleet and have Dick Cheney shoot the competition in the face,metaphorically speaking. (Inside joke amongst the crew.)
In what was easily the most important decision of the race, we analyzed the gribs and decided whether to go north or south. Most of the fleet was still pretty far north as the original forecast was saying “Great Circle” would pay off. Brian and I lobbied hard to go south; a decision that would add approximately 100 miles to the trip, but would theoretically result in an additional 5 knots of breeze at a slightly hotter angle for the next several days. Alex wanted to go slightly north of Great Circle, as the original forecast predicted. In the end, it was decided that we would compromise a bit and stay pretty far north, but still south of Great Circle. This decision created some tension on the boat, but whatever, things don’t always go the way you want them to. Definitely a learning experience, i’m used to racing solo to Hawaii, where I make my own decisions and deal with my own consequences. Continued tomorrow.
07/20/11 Ronnie & Bj sending it! Last update from the "Alpha Puppy" BLOG: http://alphapuppy.blogspot.com/ In an early sat call this AM, according to crew member Sherry Smith, the crew was “grinning ear to ear, as Alpha Puppy is finally gobbling up the miles.” The mood aboard AP was decidedly upbeat this morning; the lures were pulled in as AP lost a few more strikes today. As Smith pointed out, “We are just going to damn fast!”