Many years ago, when I first started covering on-the-water news in Marina del Rey, I kept coming in contact with a young French sailor named Jerome Sammarcelli, who avidly sailed a small sportboat in nearly all the local races.
The boat, a Martin 243, was built for speed and loaded with sail area and big outboard racks where the crew would sit in an attempt to counter all the horsepower the boat packed. Sammarcelli was often on the top of the leaderboard and I would have the chance to interview him after the various local races.
Since then, Sammarcelli has started a local company called Open Sailing, which builds high performance boats – one of which he will be sailing single-handed from San Francisco to Hawaii in the Single Handed Transpac at the end of the month. The kicker is that the boat is only 21 feet long.
Crossing an ocean on any boat is an accomplishment. Doing it solo is infinitely more difficult. But going solo on a 21-footer is, by most sailors’ standards, off the charts. However, Sammarcelli doesn’t quite see it this way. For him, this journey is about proving the boats he builds (Pogo 2 mini-transat boats) are what he advertises – solid, open-ocean capable pit bulls that will not only endure the punishment of the menacing Pacific Ocean, but excel in it.
When I came to interview Sammarcelli at his shop in Marina del Rey he was on his knees with a power drill in hand, working on a spare bow sprit – one of many spares he’ll be taking on his voyage. Within arms reach was a box full of dehydrated food that will be his sustenance for the approximately two weeks he will be alone at sea and a reminder that this trip is not for the feint of heart.
But Sammarcelli is competitive and he’ll look to employ the same techniques that nearly landed him an Olympic spot on the French fencing team.
“I see myself starting, going under the Golden Gate Bridge, checking my positions, going to sleep – I’m visualizing everything now.”
The 38-year-old sailor says he knows the first couple of days will be difficult while his body adjusts to this radical new lifestyle, but after the routine is accepted, things will become easier.
“It takes a few days to get into your routine,” Sammarcelli said. “Getting out of San Francisco is going to be super tough, but after that hopefully I’ll hook up with the tradewinds and just surf along.
“If I get 20-25 knots (of wind) the boat’s just going to love it. I’ll be doing between 12 and 15 knots (of boat speed) – I’ll be covering 250 miles a day.”
While he speaks of these optimum conditions, the truth is Sammarcelli is prepared for the worst. He’ll be packing a month’s worth of drinking water, spare parts including an extra auto pilot and has all the necessary survival gear – emergency beacon, satellite phone, AIS (automatic identification system), spare rudder and many more safety related pieces of equipment.
Although he is seeing this race mostly as a promotion for the boats he builds, Sammarcelli is still looking to compete as hard as he can. At first, he admits he was satisfied with the idea that he’ll be sailing the smallest boat in the fleet and the only mini-transat boat to ever sail the race, but now he’s more focused on being competitive.
“I’m in this race as a business promotion,” Sammarcelli said. “What’s important for us is for me to get there. But it’s a race. The first three days I probably won’t sleep – I’m going to push. Everyone has waterline on me, but if I push the boat and keep up with those guys to the tradewinds and get on a plane before them, I’ll pass some of them.
“At that point I’ll try and relax a little bit and see what happens. If I’m still in decent breeze, and in a good position in the standings and I see I have a shot, I’ll push in the last week.”
Sammarcelli recently sailed solo 700 miles from Marina del Rey around Guadalupe Island and recently circled Catalina Island in gale-force winds gusting to 40 knots. He says he is very comfortable on the boat and hopes to see the shores of the Hawaiian Islands sooner than later.