Under a whisper of a breeze, the third and last start of the Transpacific Yacht Race was held Sunday, July 15th, and now all of the 74 yachts in the 44th edition of this contest are bound for the shores of Hawaii, 2,225 miles away.
For most people interested in this storied 101-year old race, this start was the most anticipated, with Roy Disney’s newly redesigned and modified 94-foot Pyewacket at the center of attention.
Disney, 77, a California Yacht Club member and holder of the monohull speed record for the course, retired a couple of years ago and donated the boat to the Orange County Sailing Academy, saying he was getting too old for the level of competition he was accustomed to.
But in a not too surprising turnaround, Disney chartered the boat from the school this year to do Transpac one more time. Pyewacket was built for Transpac and Disney is famous for his love affair with the race.
The yacht racing community was abuzz with Disney’s return and the rumor mill was open 24/seven when it was leaked that Pyewacket was being fit with custom modifications that were supposed to make the boat considerably faster then it already was.
When the billionaire finally unveiled his creation, the Reichel Pugh Z 87 sled was seven feet longer and had four-foot-wide wing-like extensions off the cockpit that would enable the battalion of crewmen to get farther out to windward, keeping the boat flatter and increasing speed.
On the start line everyone stared at the custom racer that seems destined for line honors. The only boat that could challenge Pyewacket is thought to be Loe Real, the 60-foot trimaran that starred in the famous Hollywood flop, Waterworld.
With all the attention given to that the boat’s modifications, combined with his coming out of retirement, it was a shock when, hours before the start, Disney dropped a bombshell announcing he would not be aboard Pyewacket for the ocean crossing. He had started filming a documentary called Morning Light last year about one of the youngest crews ever to do the Transpac and decided to concentrate on that instead of doing the race himself.
“I just decided to let the younger guys do it,” he said Sunday morning, “and I’m making a movie, anyway.”
“It’s been on my mind for several days,” Disney continued, expressing concern about trying to follow Morning Light’s progress and sail Pyewacket at the same time. “I’ve been apprehensive about it, and when you’re worried, maybe it’s not the smart thing to do.”
The elder statesman handed the reigns to his son Roy Pat, who has skippered the boat to Transpac victory before.
“It’s very sad,” said the younger Disney, who also filled in for his dad ten years ago when Roy E. broke a leg before the race. “With these kids, he has a lot on his mind. He was just going to feel too isolated.”
Also on the start was the formidable Doug Baker sailing Magnitude 80. He just recently broke the longstanding Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta Race speed record.
Philippe Kahn was sailing his new Pegasus 101, an Open 50 doublehanded with Richard Clarke. This boat, given strong wind conditions, can reach some very high speeds and is a boat to watch. Their goal is to break the Transpac doublehanded speed record.
From Marina del Rey, Doug MacLaurin’s Pendragon, a Davidson 52, loaded with a very experienced crew including Bill Petersen and Scott Dickson, started Sunday and Chris Slagerman was at the helm of Cheetah, a Choate 68, with a crew of eight, none of whom have ever done the race.
At Argonaut press time Pyewacket was out in front in its division (1) with Mag 80 in second and Cheetah in fourth place, with Pendragon having dropped to seventh place in Division 3.