Tom Furlong's Report on ELUSIVE's 2,070-Mile Pacific Cup
The Pacific Cup, the bi-annual 2,070-mile race from San Francisco, CA to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, HI, has been an objective of mine for many years. Our preparations for the race began over the winter. Although Elusive is in top form for Bay Racing, a 2,070-mile offshore race requires a significant review of the material condition of the boat and a lot of safety and habitability equipment. Our winter work included new standing and running rigging, a refit of the mast and boom, new topside non-skid, an emergency rudder, larger adjustable driving platforms, a bottom job, installation of a water-maker, installation of jammers on the main sheet, and maintenance on most major systems. Because the race features deeper angles once the trade winds are reached, we decided to utilize the short sprit and spinnaker pole combination. A new offshore main (with two reefs), new J-4, new jib top, and several new or used spinnakers rounded out the major items.
The start for the Pac Cup is by class, with the slower classes leaving early in the week and the faster classes late in the week. We were grouped in ORR D, as one of the smaller boats in a class which featured four Santa Cruz 50’s, boats built to race to Hawaii. They were going to be the boats to beat. The race usually features three distinct phases. The first day’s objective is to get offshore far enough to reach the synoptic wind and avoid the glass off that occurs in the evening. The second is to head for a position to round the Pacific High Pressure, which is usually located offshore and near the rhumb line to Hawaii. This is a reach, usually with fairly good wind depending on your proximity to the high. Ultimately the wind moves farther aft as you pass the high and you can then jibe and enter the trade winds that take you to Hawaii.
We started on Thursday July 14th in 22 to 25 knots of wind and a weak ebb. Although the winds dropped into the teens by the evening, we were able to reach the synoptic wind and make solid progress. The high was moving somewhat North and West and thus gave us a clear shot, slightly south of the rhumb line. By the morning of the Day 2, the winds were back up to the mid 20’s with gusts to 30. We were on a close reach with two reefs and the J-4. The seas were extremely confused, with waves from several different directions, and heights up to about 12 feet. We were taking a lot of water topside, and the boat was launching off of waves and taking a pounding, but I have to say she felt very solid. By Day 3, I had become used to the pounding and was confident the boat would hold together. That afternoon, the winds had moved far enough aft and eased slightly to about 19 to 22 knots to hoist the A5. We immediately saw surfing conditions to near 16 knots. Again the confused seas made consistent surfing impossible. It also made steering very challenging. If the boat was caught down speed, say 8.5 to 9.5 knots, and got hit with a wave from an odd direction, it was difficult to control. We lost count of our wipeouts, and by 5AM on day four had our first wipe out and spinnaker wrap. The kite survived and we re-launched it. Day 4 was much like Day 3, and again, on the morning of Day 5 we again wrapped the A5. The sail survived, and as we were seeing slightly lesser winds, 16 to 18 knots, we set the A4 instead. We were nearing the trade winds and were hoping for slightly lesser winds (they are often 16 to 18 knots) and consistent following seas. We didn’t get either. Winds continued to increase back into the 20’s, and the seas stayed confused. On the evening of the Day 6 we had our most spectacular wipeout in big seas and 24 kts. The A4 wrapped and ultimately shredded. We had to cut it in two to get it down. Unfortunately we also damaged the headstay foil about 15 feet above the deck. As it was near midnight, almost completely dark out, and we were unable to set the J-4, we set the Genoa Staysail to give us some balance and get us to dawn. Much of the morning of Day 7 was unraveling the mess we had forward, including taping over the knife-like shards of the foil. We were ultimately able to launch the J-4 on Spectra hanks over the damaged foil. As we were exhausted, and wind speeds were still in the low 20s we decided to try poling out the jib to wing and wing. This ended up being a very controllable configuration, giving us excellent VMG on a direct course to Hawaii. Day 8 was the best weather we experienced on the entire trip. We had broken cloud cover and winds were in the high teens. We also received messages from the Race Committee about Tropical Storm Darby, scheduled to hit Hawaii concurrent with our arrival.
The Race Committee was recommending we stand off if we would be unable to finish before midnight on the 23rd. Our schedule had us arriving two hours after that deadline. As it was clear that the top three finishers would be the SC 50’s, we decided to slow our progress to finish in daylight at about 10AM on the 24th. Ideally this was shortly after Darby would have passed. We stayed farther North to have some sea room between ourselves and the storm in case it turned North as Cecelia (the previous storm) had done. Late on the evening of the 23rd, we jibed to close on Hawaii. It began to appear that Darby was weakening as it impacted the big Island of Hawaii, but that it would move Northwest to Oahu. It also was clear that Darby was slowing down. Two reefs in the main and the J-4, still moved us quickly in 25 knots of wind. As it developed, we finished around 8:30A on the 24th, essentially arriving with Darby. We were outside of the area of storm forces winds, but still saw 30 knots at the finish, and surfed across the finish line with one reef and J-4, with 16 knots of boat speed.
Our struggles didn’t end there. We discovered the Spectra hanks had cut into the foil and so had to send one of our crew up the headstay to cut them before we could get the jib down. On the two-hour transit to the Kaneohe Bay Yacht Club, the rains came in force. We were ultimately diverted to an anchorage, as the Club had sent all large boats out of their harbor due to the winds. Safely anchored, we were ultimately able to get to shore for our Mai Tai’s and Leis, the traditional welcome.
Overall, this was an abnormal year for weather. The wave state was confused the entire voyage, and coupled with higher than normal winds, it made the voyage uncomfortable and challenging. We had overcast skies much of the trip, rarely saw stars or the moon at night, and had an abnormally high number of squalls in the trade winds. One evening we had at least 9 by my count. The boat was well prepared, and held together quite well, excepting the foil. We learned a lot about its performance in these kinds of conditions. We are planning to do many of the coastal races next summer, so some optimization of the sail plan is likely before that point.
The 2,070-mile Pacific Cup is the longest race a Swan 42 has participated in. For our friends elsewhere, feel good that we have a solid boat, that with some optimization can complete in this type of offshore race. For our part, I think we would have been more competitive in the “normal” somewhat lighter conditions, typical of this race. The SC50’s, with 8 feet of additional waterline and a short rig (only slightly taller than ours), were built for this years race.