Magazine article Sunset

Chasing a Dream: It's Exhausting. It's Exhilarating. and It Comes with an Epic Party at the End. It's the Transpacific Yacht Race from L.A. to Honolulu. Gretchen Reynolds Reports on the Allure of This Hundred-Year-Old Event

Magazine article Sunset

Chasing a Dream: It's Exhausting. It's Exhilarating. and It Comes with an Epic Party at the End. It's the Transpacific Yacht Race from L.A. to Honolulu. Gretchen Reynolds Reports on the Allure of This Hundred-Year-Old Event

Article excerpt

For Patricia Garfield, the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii has the allure of a homecoming. "I have a photograph of my dad holding me when I was about a year old," says Garfield. The photo shows father and infant daughter on a sailboat in Hawaii, where the family lived at the time, with Diamond Head and Waikiki in the background. "You only see one or two hotels," Garfield says and laughs. "It was obviously a long time ago." Not so long, though, that all vestiges of island-girl identity have disappeared. Six years ago, after Garfield bought a yacht brokerage in San Francisco, she felt again the tug of Waikiki, the memories pulling at her as inexorably as the tide. "I thought, I'd love to be sailing in Hawaii," she says. "And that made me think of the Transpac. There's no better way to sail into Waikiki."

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The Transpacific Yacht Race--or Transpac, as it's more familiarly known--may provide the greatest, most celebratory entrance into any harbor anywhere on earth. The race, held every other year, sets craft of all sizes on a ripping, sometimes blustery, always roistering downwind run for 2,225 nautical miles from the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles to the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Waikiki.

This year's Transpac, which begins in mid-July, has special significance. It will mark 100 years since the event's inaugural running in 1906. Organizers expect a near-record number of entrants, many of them first-timers, all of them fulfilling a seafaring dream. The Transpac is an aspirational race. Unlike the America's Cup and other exclusive yacht races, any crew that meets certain qualifying standards can compete in the Transpac. So sailing fans aim and plan for it for years, piling up the requisite experience (and treasure chest, as an ocean crossing is expensive).

"This is the one event that every offshore racer hopes to do someday," says Urban Miyares of the Challenged America team, made up of sailors who are paraplegics or amputees or blind. "There's no other event in sailing--or in most other sports--where regular racers, even those who are disabled like us, can be in the same field as the best in the world."

Yacht racing's top boats are indeed here, including Pyewacket, a sleek, stripped-down, ultra-high-tech vessel owned by Roy Disney, nephew of Walt. Pyewacket set the record in 1999 for fastest elapsed time by a monohull, completing the crossing in a brisk 7 days, 11 hours, 41 minutes, and 21 seconds. Pyewacket's competition over the years has included yachts skippered by captains who have won the America's Cup or sailed multiple times around the world.

But the Transpac is just as famous for the quality and exuberance of its welcome committee as it is for the caliber of its racers. Every boat, as it docks in Waikiki, is greeted by a group of whooping, hula dancing volunteers. They cheer, hug crew members, drape them in leis, and thrust mai tais into their weary hands. They do this no matter what the hour. If a boat arrives at 2 a.m., its greeters are there, refreshments at the ready. "It's phenomenal," says Bill Lee, who won the event back in 1977 and currently serves as the Transpac entry chairman. For about 48 hours in July, Waikiki harbor is awash in mai tais, mimosas, Gatorade, and joy.

Racing the Transpac is not without risks. …

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