Jenny Mooney – Single Handed Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac)
Preparing for the Challenge of a Lifetime
2012 Article by D Gallant – Feb 25, 2012
Jenny did not complete her qualifying run due to an injury, Officially not part of the race she raced with the Official Entrants of the Transpac, sailing with another female. They arrived safe and sound In Hawaii, bringing awareness to the “Because I’m a Girl” Organization. Jenny Sold “Bo Peep” in Hawaii and will be preparing another Sailboat for the Next Singlehanded Transpac.
“I’m attracted to the Independence of it…” says Jen, “I think I will have a bigger sense of accomplishment doing it alone than if I was on a crewed boat”
Jenny in Sunny California on her Ericson 27′ Sailboat “Little Bo Peep”
EDMONTON – The Singlehanded Sailing Society’s 18th Biennial Singlehanded Transpac Offshore Yacht Race 2012 starts on Saturday, June 30th. It seems like a long way off, but not for Jenny Mooney, who has much to accomplish between now and the time she crosses the starting line near the Corinthian Yacht Club in San Francisco Bay, California USA. The race starts at the
famous Golden Gate Bridge. She will then set her course to the finish line located near Pu’u Poa Point at Hanalei Bay, island of Kauai, Hawaii – a calculated distance of 2,120 miles.
Little Bo Peep is a Fitting Name for the Small 27 ft Boat Jen Purchased in the Fall for the Transpac. A nice boat, yet small for an offshore ocean crossing never mind doing it solo. She says it’s the right size for her and similar in size as the boat she learned on. She is a pretty petite blonde of 5″1″ and 110 lbs soaking wet – with gear on, a sheep and horse rancher; equestrian endurance rider, from land locked Alberta, not to mention the only woman skipper in this transpacific singlehanded race.
Jenny Learned How to Sail
in Alberta Canada About 2 Years Ago at the Edmonton Yacht Club (EYC) with Sindbad School of Sailing located on Seba Beach, Lake Wabamun Alberta. Mentored by ISPA instructor Paul Kantor, a seasoned racing champion in his own right. Jen says “It was the first time I’d ever been on a sailboat. It was fun! Totally out of my comfort zone but after a few lessons I was fine” she chuckled. She started with ISPA Competent Crew and Day Skipper in May June 2010. Won her first local “Jack and Jill” race taking the helm on Whispey, a San Juan 24 with knowledgeable and experienced racer, skipper Cary crewing the sails. She went out again with Sindbad in October of the same year to Vancouver’s Pacific West Coast sailing for a week out of Nanaimo BC, on a 40 Ft. Oceanis crossing the Georgia Strait, sailing the Sunshine Coast for her coastal navigation and coastal skipper practicals. She then crewed a couple races in the Spring Series whichWindswept won (Photo left by Olly). Then started practicing her singlehanded skills on a Reinell Cheetah 27 sailboat, owned by another female skipper Dilara at EYC.
That’s How She Caught the Infamous “Bug”. She’s an outdoor woman and sailing just fits with that. “I started to think about racing while taking lessons, for the challenge, to see if I can. The dream started about 2 years ago when I started sailing and developed from there. You learn how to sail and then you have to figure out the challenge to test your sailing skills.” So the challenge for Jen is the “Singlehanded Transpac” ocean race, and Jen says she was drawn to it all the way from Alberta. She caught the bug alright! Once the love of sailing gets inside of a person, it can change their whole life around. Kantor stated it well when he said “Sailing is not just a hobby, its a way of life! – Even in land-locked Alberta!” He’s absolutely right and he’s definitely passing the “sailing bug” around, also known by another notable name, “Sea Fever” and it goes something like this:
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking.
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life
to the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And All I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover;
And quiet sleep and sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
by John Masefield (First Published 1902)
The Singlehanded Transpac provides the “means,” “opportunity” and “support” while people like Jenny provide the “determination,” “will” and the “boat”. Add a case of sea fever and it’s a potent mixture for someone with a strong desire to prove something to themself.
A Singlehanded Race of this Magnitude Definitely has its Challenges when preparing to outfit a sailboat for offshore racing. Since hearing about the Transpac Jen purchased the fairly equipped Ericson 27 Sailing Racer/Cruiser. She’s paid the boat yard to bottom paint it, add new double headstays, new standing and running rigging, new through hulls, electrical, tiller and solar panels. Her racing friends have worked with her locally, and she has a good team around her in California including experienced Transpac ocean sailors and racers guiding her though, staying on board giving pointers, advice and answering questions while she singlehands gaining valuable additional ocean experience. Her first time out in the Bay was a little nerve racking and now she says “I’m not nervous sailing in the bay other than ship traffic. I’m gaining more confidence the more I go out. The more good experience you have the better it is. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing. Once I’m out of the Bay its smooth sailing from there.”
More Challenge Ahead. There is still much to do and all on her own dime. To give one a sense of what she is facing, Little Bo Peep still needs a lot of equipment, new sails to meet the offshore race requirements and the list of the costly basics goes on and on with the June deadline looming ever closer.
Then add flying back and forth from Alberta, Canada to San Francisco USA for a week or two stay on her sailboat every month, marina fees, attending monthly race seminars at the Oakland Yacht Club (OYC) in Alameda, California which essentially encompasses race and safety preparation until the date of the race. She’s attended most of them since October 2011. Then there is the valuable practice time and Bo Peep prep is in the fore of her mind. She has the added challenge of entering a few one-day races in March, the Light Ship Race sponsored by the Offshore Yacht Racing Association (OYRA) one sponsored by the the Island Yacht Club (IYC) another near the end of March, Farallones Race sponsored by the Bay Area Multi-Hull Association (BAMA) not to mention a 400 mile qualifying run which should take place sometime in March depending on a good weather window. At the latest it will be in May. She has the opportunity to decide at that time whether or not she will proceed. She tells me there are still quite a few who have yet to do the run and they may do it as a group. As if that were not enough when Jen does fly home, there is not much rest… She goes back to tending her flock of about 200 sheep; then there’s the horses at her boarding stable not to mention her husband, workouts to stay physically strong. Her learning curve is steep, searching for equipment and sponsors, to find the elusive R & R is relished. It can be overwhelming. It’s the old, rest the body but not the soul kinda thing. At least until she gets to the start line, then there will be a whole new set of things to think about. “It’ll be much easier than the prep work that’s for sure” says Jen. “She’s doing all the preparation and I believe she could be ready” Says Kantor
I Wonder How She’ll Handle Weather – the fetch, wind, waves and skill required to deal with it. Those sails and that boom can really pack a whollup in any kind of wind, the spinnaker and pole can have incredible force on it. Using a spinnaker appropriately takes time and skill with a team, let alone doing it solo. I’ve seen a spinnaker almost take her overboard in 20+ knot winds and gusting when crewing a race together on a San Juan 28 named “Windswept” – the sailboat we learned on. We held 1st place that day. I left Windswept the following day due to commitments I had in the 14 race Fall Series on a Capri 22.Windswept finished second in the two day, six race 2011 Johnny Walker Cup Series to Skipper Dan on a San Juan 24. I don’t think Jen forgot that spinnaker incident. I am reminded of it as she moves forward with her Transpac goals.
An Experience to Remember – A month or two earlier learning to race on weekends, we crewed together for the first time in a 20 mile race. Off to a slow start behind the pack due to spinnaker issues, it was gusting hard that day and we were pushing the sails to the max to catch up. (Photos courtesy of skipper from the helm of Whispey)showing Windswept during the gusty downwind leg. We broached a few times tick-tocking back and forth. We eventually dropped the spinnaker to keep the boat from broaching. Instructor Paul Kantor at the helm – a real mad man at the tiller during a race! Guess that comes with experience. I recall our discussion on the boat that day was “show no fear” just take it in and enjoy the ride! We had a blast!
In second place we had great wind and were and moving up on the lead more than two thirds of the last race leg completed, beating toward an upwind finish. We really got our exercise that day, as Kantor jokes, “the crew was rail meat weighting the boat down” due to the steep heel. Jen and I would jump from the forward rail, tack then back to the other rail with our legs over the side. We were each on a winch in the middle of a tack and just as we sailed head to wind I recall releasing the sheet, when I saw something flying towards us and with a loud crash – the mast hit the pushpit behind me! I wondered what I could possibly have done to make our world stop so suddenly. I couldn’t see Jen – she was buried under the sails. There was a lot of force on that mast – It came down fast and hard! Landed straight aft and dented the center of the pushpit to a small V. Never saw it coming except for that split second. No
time to react or say a word. Shocking to say the least. The whole thing was very surreal. Now Jen was under that mast. I was relieved to discover that she just happened to drop the winch handle on the cockpit floor and had just bent down to get it as the mast hit. Missed her head by a hair and she was alright. The pushpit saved Jen’s life! She took it all in stride. Thankfully no one injured – what a close call. Dilara, the other female crew member crossing the foredeck to the other rail at the time, described seeing it “in slow motion with sails filled like a parachute”. Not for me though! One second we were gaining in a race, the next we were dead in the water looking more like a torpedo or power boat holding a massive javelin, the white sails drooping from it like a huge “I surrender flag.” Just like that we were out of the race – collecting cables, sails, boom, mast, forestay and lines. It took all of our combined strength to pull the mast forward. Gratefully the eventual 1st and 2nd place winners came to our aid but our “all women crew” had it handled. Still shocked and dazed, we bewilderingly sent them back into the race to finish what we couldn’t. The photo inset shows tiny Jen holding the mast down on the fore deck of Windswept so the aft end wouldn’t hit the water as we powered to the finish.
A Lesson Learned for All Skippers That Day. How quickly things can change! Chock it up to experience. We later learned the split ring on the forestay broke causing the clevis pin to thrash its way out under the strain – found the pin on the boat still in tact. Kantor kept it as a souvenir. Luckily no damage to the goose neck, the boom required re-riveting to the mast. We straightened out some bent metal here and there and lost the Windex when it hit the water – it was soon replaced. As sailors do, they all worked together to re-raise the mast. God was on our side that day, especially Jen’s. Probably the only time she’d be glad to have dropped the winch handle in the middle of a tack!
Upon Hearing of Mooney’s Plans for the Transpac, skipper D Cook, who took 1st Place in the race helming “Second Chance” (also a San Juan 28) asked “Does Jenny know what overnight ocean racing is like? She would do well to enter the Swiftsure Race with a team out of Vancouver to at least get some experience with long haul overnight racing”. Cook, a life long sailor is no stranger to ocean sailing, has a second sailboat on the pacific coast. I suggested entering the crewed Vic Maui Ocean Race to get a better sense of the long haul offshore experience. Jen has so far intransigently thought better of it. She says “she would have a better sense of accomplishment doing it alone than if she was on a crewed boat”. The thing that strikes me as I look at that photo is how small she looks on Windswept, similar in size to Little Bo Peep and thinking of her capricious decision to go solo offshore. One thing is I know for certain, Jen is somewhat prepared in the event of a de-masting! I thought instructors are supposed to teach theory on this kind of thing, but our instructor is so good, he gave us the practical de-masting experience!
I can’t help but think of this as she enters this transpacific yacht race. Her small, lean yet muscular frame will be pulling those lines and raising and lowering sails manually. No roller furling for this gal – she removed it! Opted instead for double head stays with hanked on foresails and new rigging. Its definitely not the easiest way. I can see this petite Bo Peep hanking on and hauling down sails with a storm brewing or on a very windy day. She decided the classic sailing technique using double head stays was a better choice over a single foresail down wind or a spinnaker. Considering using two 120% jibs, to achieve better sail shape and a larger sail area for catching wind. The headstays are bolted down so she shouldn’t have a repeat incident. That spinnaker idea was no longer an option! At least not yet, if she wants to stay on her boat!
Jen Tells Me They Have 21 Days to Finish the Race, the winners are expected to finish in about 14 and as she puts it “I plan on being faster than 21 days”. Sailing offshore is difficult for a crew due to the rotational watch and fatigue that comes with it. She’ll be going solo meaning she’ll be the only one doing the watch. In the event of a storm fatigue will be one of many concerns such as keeping the boat pointed appropriately into the waves. Anything can happen in that time especially when challenging mother nature. From what I understand she’ll be running or broad reaching downwind most of the way depending on trade-winds, highs, lows, wind shifts, so there’s the added concern of a less stable ride, broaching, accidental gybes and being over taken at the stern or midships. Calm days I get, but what about ships and weather, repairs, fatigue – all very real possibilities that we all hope won’t affect her of course. I haven’t done offshore sailing yet so maybe its just my own cautiousness or common sense. This aspect of sailing is all so new for her.
She’s Been Cautioned by Experienced Sailors to Wait for a Few More Years and Get Offshore Training, but that doesn’t phase this sailor whose stand is ossified. The mental fortitude she’ll need just to complete the race should a situation arise. To do it solo for up to 21 days? She knows the risks of losing her boat or worse case scenario, her life. There are many required safety measures, auto helm and backup systems. She’ll have jack lines, safety harness, good communication systems including Radar, AIS, a Satellite Phone, Single Side Band Radio (SSB), VHF and an EPIRB and GPS with back ups. I know there are many what if’s and part of the key is preparation, education and staying positive. She’s doing that. Preparing the best she can in the little time she has, gaining a better sense of her abilities, receiving training and support from experienced offshore singlehanded racers. She says she’ll enjoy the solitude. I know there will be enjoyable calm quiet days. As usual she had a lighthearted response to my questions, “well I have the wind vane and the auto pilot, let it drive and I will sleep.” She went on to say “Some people have a hard time the first few days sleeping but after while you’re tired enough to sleep. So far no nightmares about not hearing my AIS in the middle of the ocean when I get close to a ship. I’m a light sleeper, not bothered by it” What about weather or storms? Is this still a challenge? You bet it is.
Bo Peep Have You Lost Your… uh, Sheep? Some will say yes absolutely, fool-hearty, hasty and reckless. The obvious question. What is the rush? You’ll find she’s daring, determined, decisive, tenacious and resolute, cutting straight to the chase going from A to Z. That’s Jen. This feisty lady says “I’m not the first to hit the ocean with little experience” and she won’t be the last. She’s made up her mind, for now she remains adamant about chasing this dream and keeping her eye on her goal.
She May be Sailing Solo yet She Won’t be Alone. Her husband, family, friends and fellow sailors, however reserved, respecting her decision, supporting her endeavor to live her dream, test her abilities, and accomplish a goal. Her safety is their number one concern. Some hoping she will re-consider her decision, will be there for her whether she decides to re-evaluate her options or not.
Jenny reminded me that “many people who’ve achieved their dreams tell us how many people said they couldn’t do it”. It’s a good experience for her so long as she comes back in one piece. More Power to her. She always has the option to change her mind. It would be understandable if she does. There would be no dishonor if she did. So far she’s remained undeterred, persevering when at times full of self doubt, wondering what she got herself into, she still marches on… believing she can do it even when her head tells her she can’t – reminiscent of the Little Engine That Could – moving full steam ahead. Triumphing over fears and doubts, independently reaching new heights. Her will and determination see her through. For now this is her path and her choice. The rest will come one moment at a time starting where her sights are now set – there under golden gate bridge.
Wishing you all the best Jenny whatever you decide to do and whenever you decide it. We will continue to watch your progress.
by Skipper D Gallant
ISPA Coastal Skipper
Sindbad School of Sailing Alumn