By Pat Reynolds
On Saturday, July 6, a small fleet of 21-foot boats called “minis” will be casting off from the docks of the Marina del Rey harbor, bound for the shores of Hawaii. The boats are extremely small but stout and well suited for offshore racing.
The Mini 650 Pacific Challenge is a brand new race for single-handed sailors racing Mini Transat boats, named for the famous and popular race, the Mini Transat. The Mini Transat usually fields around 80 solo sailors in a sprint across the Atlantic Ocean from France to Brazil. Some of the most notable solo sailors in the world have done this race, which is known as one of the more challenging experiences a solo sailor can embark upon.
The Mini 650 Pacific Challenge is the first contest of this kind staged in the Pacific Ocean. Although this first edition is fielding a small fleet, five boats, it’s something that has precedent and could well become a staple race for American mini sailors looking to do what they do – cross oceans single-handed.
“I think for sailors, especially West Coast sailors, sailing to Hawaii is one of those ‘bucket list’ things to do,” said Nik Vale, co-organizer of the race. “It’s not an extreme race, it’s not the Southern Ocean – it’s mostly downwind and it finishes in Hawaii. There aren’t many races with a better finish line than Hawaii.”
Although there’s no disputing the final destination is beautiful and ideal, Vale also acknowledges that the voyage across will likely be a challenge. Solo sailing is not for everyone and these men will have to contend with sleep deprivation, extreme solitude and open-ocean conditions that can rack the nerves. There will be no one else to lend a hand if something goes awry and typically in these long-distance contests, something usually goes awry.
“To sail singlehanded in a 21-foot boat across the ocean – the race is nothing but challenging,” Vale said.
It’s expected that the fleet will be tackling the 2,200-nautical mile course for about two weeks – give or take. They will likely struggle for a few days, pounding upwind, until they reach the tradewinds that should provide them with substantial downwind breezes that will allow for long and fast spinnaker flying conditions. And while that may sound like a good time at the water park, the reality is that open ocean solo sailing can be daunting, especially in such a small boat.
“There are three things I’m concerned about,” said racer Sean McGinn, of San Francisco, as he prepares for his first solo voyage across the Pacific. “One is my ability to push the boat hard and be competitive. I haven’t sailed the boat with the spinnaker up in 25 knots – 20 knots yes, but 25’s a little different – a lot different. Then, commercial traffic is a big concern and of course falling off the boat without a tether.”
McGinn will be competing against Jerome Sammarcelli from Marina del Rey who raced his mini, Team Open Sailing, single-handed from San Francisco to Hawaii last summer. Sammarcelli is also the president of Open Sailing, a company that builds Mini Transat boats – for these reasons he is assumed to be the favorite in the competition. Also lining up at the start are three others who are relatively new to single-handed racing – Argentinean Luiz Eduardo, Przemyslaw Karwasiecki from Poland and Charles Calkins from North Carolina.
All the racers have similar anxieties as the start time nears. Questions of adequate preparation and fear of the unknown are in the forefront of their minds. At the same time, they are considering the competitive element of the journey – the strategy of pushing the boats versus holding back and not risking a breakage. They have been practicing for months leading up to this day and are looking to see this effort reap its dividends.
“It’s hard to feel ‘ready,’ especially when you haven’t done it before,” McGinn said of the impending start. “I think you’re always going to have some doubts about your abilities or what could go wrong – just uncertainty. So, I’m sure I won’t feel ready at the start.” Then he added smiling – “but I’m gonna go.”
The race starts at noon on July 6. It will be just outside the Marina del Rey breakwater and will be visible from the Venice Pier. There is a send-off party on Friday, July 5 on the docks adjacent to the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club on Mindanao Way in Marina del Rey from 2 to 5 p.m., allowing an opportunity to meet the sailors and check out the boats.
More information can be found at www.mini650pacificchallenge.com.
Five mariners to sail solo in inaugural Mini 650 Pacific Challenge to Hawaii
By Pat Reynolds