on board down and dirtyRonnie Simpson wraps up his trip to Hawaii. Part one lower on this page.
One of the unexpected challenges of the race involved the head and waste disposal. Most of us on the crew just hung over the transom and went to the bathroom “Volvo style”. A couple of crew members insisted on using the head down below, but unfortunately, they used it improperly and instead of pumping waste overboard, it got pumped into the small holding tank, which began overflowing and leaking all over the bilge, soaking sails and our foulies. It was a really shitty situation. Without the ability to pump the tank overboard, we were stuck with urine and fecal matter as our 7th crew member for the last 2/3 of the voyage. The smell was absolutely unbearable at times.After one day of very fast jib reaching, and a pitch black cloud-covered night where people were getting vertigo and throwing up off the transom, we decided to hoist the A5 and put a reef in. Barreling along at speeds of up to 18 knots, we carried the kite for that entire night. Waking up the next day, we felt sure that we had made massive gains on the fleet, but alas, we hadn’t. The J-130 “Bebe” and the Beneteau First 40.7 “Naos” were our biggest competitors that we were looking to put time on. It became a recurring theme that every check-in we were shocked to find that they had kept pace with us. All through the next day we continued reaching along at a fairly hot angle, eventually shaking a reef and going for the A3.After two days of sailing with the kite up, around Day 7, the breeze went light and up the ass, as Brian and I had feared by not taking the southerly route. Running deep with the A2, I was still amazed at how fast the boat was able to be sailed, but in the end, it was a sailboat race, and no matter how well the boat sailed for a given set of conditions, nothing would have been better than being in different conditions entirely. Alpha Puppy is a fixed sprit/ assymetrical/ planing sport boat and running DDW in light breeze to Hawaii is probably not the fastest way to sail the boat.Being light and dead downwind, we started getting rolled over by the fleet, on corrected time, if not boat for boat. The Hobie 33 “Peregrine” began to establish control of the fleet, jumping out to a clearly defined lead, while “Naos” and “Paddy Wagon” raced hard for second and third. We found ourselves consistently in 5th place, battling for 3rd and 4th and trying to avoid being passed from behind. “Bebe” raced us hard and no matter what either boat did, we continued to be separated by literally just a mile or two for most of the race. The Jeanneau 3200 “Relentless” was ahead of us briefly, but fell back to sixth, while the Santa Cruz 37 “Celerity” followed the original weather forecast, staying north of Great Circle, effectively getting shit out the back of the fleet.During the last 3 days of the race we were constantly gybing back and forth on the shifts, playing the squalls and sailing deep with the A2. The A2 was another weapon. Although it was a lighter kite, and we were told not to carry it in more than 18-20 knots of breeze, it was so fast and fun in 20-23 that it was often too tempting to leave it up that we always hesitated before peeling to the A3. Driving deep at 160 TWA in solid breeze, the 1D35 begins planing with a light helm that allows you to surf every wave and soak down with surgical precision. Motoring along with the A2 was my favorite sailing of the trip.
The breeze began building as we neared the Molokai Channel and the Hawaiian Islands. In a particularly squally night that dumped buckets of rain and brought winds up to 30+ knots, Alpha Puppy absolutely lit up. These were the conditions that 1D35’s were built for.
And then we crashed. During a shift change and driver change, we rounded up out of control and were laid on our side for what felt like minutes. I was trimming and Alex was yelling at me to trim the kite. I couldn’t. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the twinger for the active spin sheet had fouled the sheet in a turning block and as the sheet was winched in, it completely jammed the block, rendering the kite sheet useless. We couldn’t sheet in or out. Alex again told me to grind, so I did and actually ripped the twinger out of the boat. (Twings are run under the deck on 1D’s.) This ripped out some fiberglass and put a small hole in the deck that would allow water in.
Still laid over on our side, the kite was flogging and the boat was fishtailing wildly out of control. We couldn’t drive down, and the wave angle held the boat up, keeping us stuck in this temporary state. Gathering our bearings, we managed to pull off a near perfect letter box douse. I say near perfect because we lost control of the lazy sheet during the douse, and it was a bit ugly, but in the end, nothing was damaged and we cleaned the mess up.
Driving down and hoisting the A5, we were back on our way towards the Channel. With Sean driving and me trimming kite, we saw boat speeds up to 21.9 knots; easily our highest of the entire trip. Alpha Puppy turned into a methed out pit bull, hopping up on the step and planing at speeds between 18-20 for more than 2 hours.
Running 155 TWA with a full main and A5, Sean drove the boat like an absolute mad man. Sean’s driving style is very skiff like; he’s often twitchy on the tiller, yet his movements were very deliberate and always spot on. The fact that he maintained control of the boat the whole time and didn’t crash us a single time was simply amazing.
During a powerful 30-knot puff, we briefly lost the kite and when it re-filled it came down with a bang. Our port side spin halyard blew just before the shackle. (Fortunately, it was the one halyard on the boat that I had not built or re-spliced.) The kite came down on the port side of the boat, and we were miraculously able to bring the kite back on board with the sail still in one piece. Quantum’s A5 was our heavy air work horse. It stood up to repeated flogging, going in the drink at 18 knots, and the abuse of multiple letterbox douses.
Swapping over to the starboard spin halyard and re-packing the kite, we re-hoisted and continued hauling ass down the channel, headed towards Oahu. Alex is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, (in a good way), and no amount of drama was going to deprive him of his Molokai Channel run. Again hitting 20 knots a number of times, Alex drove the boat like a man possessed. Going through trimmers like a fat kid goes through doughnuts, we were absolutely lit up for another couple of hours. Add in navigating, cleaning things up, and preparing for more gybes, it was a full-on team effort to get the boat to Diamond Head.
Not quite clearing the point and laying Diamond Head, we had to throw in two more gybes; both of which we crashed on. I’ll never forget holding onto one of the windward stanchions as the boat was laid over, and just looking at Sherry. She looked back at me and actually laughed. It was one of our best Saturday night dates yet, working foredeck at the end of an ocean crossing, and crashing repeatedly. On the last crash gybe, we realized that the spin sheet had been captured by the end of the boom and was threatening to tear our new main sail. I grinded on the main while Brian cleared the sheet and we were back on our way.
With the breeze continually moving further and further forward, we were carrying the A5 at a bit too hot of an angle and were fighting off round-ups all the way across the finish line. At 5:02:16 AM on Sunday July 17th, Alpha Puppy crossed the finish line, illuminating the numbers on her main sail with a spot light. The crew let out a massive whoop of joy, and just moments later, Sean’s dad, Dan Doyle pulled up on a RIB with a case of Heineken and six cheese burgers from McDonald’s. Just like last summer, i’m hanging out at Waikiki Yacht Club with Dan Doyle as our sponsor. He even put us all up in his house for a few days. The guy is a class act and an absolute ambassador to the sport and to sailing in Hawaii. I can’t say enough about Dan’s support and Aloha hospitality.
Dropping the main and spinnaker and hoisting the battle flags, we motored towards the Ala Wai Harbor as the first hints of orange daylight began to creep over Diamond Head and reflect off of the high-rise buildings and condos of Waikiki.
Pulling into the harbor, we received our escorted greeting from Hawaii Yacht Club. In a fitting move, there were sounds of dogs barking in the background. The whole crew erupted with pleasure and let out several loud barks in response. Tying up at Waikiki Yacht Club, we were lei’d, given our celebratory Mai Tai’s and treated to a 6 AM luau breakfast. It was absolutely one of the most memorable and enjoyable mornings of my life. After gorging ourselves on Kahlua pork and drinking pitchers of Mai Tai, we all passed out for the rest of the day, looking like a pack of tired but content Alpha Pups.
In the end, it was a good passage. We didn’t win, we didn’t set any records and we definitely didn’t all get along at times, but no one on the boat would consider the race anything less than a wonderful experience.
Hands down, the highlight of my passage was standing watch with Brain Caldwell. That guy is one of the best sailors and best human beings i’ve met in my entire life, and spending 8-12 hours a day sailing with him is absolutely invaluable experience. Still being relatively new to the sport, it’s great to have mentors like Brian. Transpac is much more than a sailboat race. With a guy like Brian, i’m certain that i’ve made a friend that i’ll have for a long time, and that means a lot to me.
My employer, West Marine Rigging Service not only gave me the time off of work to do the race, but also supported the campaign by hooking us up with brand new spin sheets, a spin halyard, a main halyard, jib sheets and a main sheet. I built all of the running rigging in house and also on the boat, not to mention a major repair to a spin sheet due to improper use. As a rigger, there is no better learning experience than rigging a boat to your specs for a major ocean race than having your employer sponsor your campaign. So again, major thanks to West Marine Rigging Service and my boss Ryan Nelson for all of your support. I used New England Ropes Endura braid for spin halyards, spin sheets and jib sheets and was very pleased with the results. New England T-900 Technora was used for the main halyard and it didn’t creep an inch. Between random spectra bits, Antal low-friction ferrels, and Dyneema chafe cover on halyards and sheets, this was a great test bed
Two other companies I would like to thank are Gu Energy and Karver. Luther Strayer from GU hooked up Alpha Puppy with a whole box of GU gels, GU chomps (little caffeine infused gummies) and GU Brew electrolyte and recovery drinks. With the crew religiously downing a GU gel and bottle of GU brew before each shift, we all agreed unanimously that GU’s support helped our performance, as we were all jacked up in the middle of the night, charging towards Hawaii. Now that the race is over, we joke that we’re having GU withdrawals. Hmmm….And also major props to Karver for their support with a code zero furler, ,which allowed us to easily douse and re-set the code.
One last person to thank was Jeff Thorpe from Quantum Sails who came through at the last minute with a square top main for us, the Code 0, and an A2, A3 and A5. All of our sails worked flawlessly, stood up to all of the abuse that we could dish out and still look great. Thorpe also came with us for 2 test sessions in Long Beach just before the race, and helped us tune the rig and get the boat sorted. So a big thanks to him for his customer service and support.
Next up is Waikiki Offshores this weekend and then a delivery back to the main land on the R/P 45 “Criminal Mischief”.
On a personal note, people keep asking me what i’m doing next. I’m planning on racing Singlehanded Transpac again next year. Either on a race boat or on my liveaboard cruising boat. Either way, a major international news source is very interested in filming a full-length documentary about my campaign and airing it nationally. I am currently seeking sponsorship for an Olson 30. If anyone is interested in working on this project, and would like more information, please feel free to contact me. The value for dollar and return on investment are going to be huge, and there will again be a wounded veteran non-profit tie in. Now to go get this boat cleaned up. It looks like a bomb went off down below.