weeks ago, I had the great fortune of joining Ryan Breymaier and the Lending Club 2 team for a hair-on-fire harbor cruise on San Francisco Bay that saw the numbers “39.51” flash across the speedo. Sitting just abaft of the forward crossbeam as Lending Club 2 hurtled herself towards Alcatraz Island, I couldn’t help but fantasize about standing night watches aboard this amazing apparent-air machine en route to Hawaii, on pace to set a new record.
For Breymaier and his crew aboard Lending Club 2, however, this is no corporate-sailing-day pipedream, but rather their reality as they prepare to take on the wide swath of blue that separates Los Angeles from Honolulu. The team’s original plan had been to break the course record in the 2015 Transpac Race, but after realizing that the forecasted weather conditions would not deliver the record-breaking run that Breymaier and co-skipper Renaud Laplanche envisioned, the team has opted to drop out of the official Transpac and instead take advantage of a low-pressure system that could give them the breeze that they need to set their third big ocean-racing record of 2015.
raises an interesting question-namely, what is the more coveted plum: a course record during an official race, or an outright passage record? While both challenges contain their share of magic and mystery, the quintessential difference boils down to windows of opportunity.
When one is preparing for an outright record, the calendar and the bank account are the limits as far as weather windows are concerned. Provided that the team has the time and the wherewithal to patiently lay dockside, just waiting for the big winds to build, setting an outright record essentially boils down to preparation, forecasting, preparation, weather routing, preparation, great sailing, preparation, seamanship, and, of course, more preparation. Apply enough time, skill, funding and seamanship, and the record should tumble, provided that your rig is still vertical, your hull intact and your crew mutually amicable.
Establishing a new course record for an official race, however, relies a lot more on chance, and on the wind gods smiling on a predefined window of opportunity, namely the race dates. As anyone who has ever raced offshore well understands, Mother Nature holds all the cards once sailing dates are inked-usually months before sails are hoisted-making a fast distance race as rare as a week of skiing bottomless powder on a deserted mountain resort in British Columbia: The stuff of dreams.
Not to say that this confluence of wind, weather and racing calendars doesn’t occasionally match up…they do, but not necessarily for the fastest rides.
Case in point: Wild Oats XI-a boat that’s also gearing up for this year’s Transpac-set the course record of 42 hours 23 minutes and 12 seconds from Sydney to Hobart during the 2012 Hobart Race, yet this pace was crushed by Sean Langman’s ORMA 60 trimaran, Team Australia, which sailed the same course in February of 2013 (the official Sydney to Hobart Race takes starts on December 26) in just 29 hours 52 minutes and 23 seconds.
Ironically, Team Australia is not even eligible to sail in the Hobart, which is only open to monohulls. (Plenty of other examples also stand, for example Rambler 90’s 2012 Newport to Bermuda course record of 39 hours, 39 minutes, 18 seconds, which was obliterated by Lending Club 2’s outright-record-setting run of just 23 hours, 9 minutes and 52 seconds in the Spring of 2015.)
Fortunately, Transpac doesn’t suffer this same monohull prejudice, and this year’s Transpac will see a number of Gunboats sailing for Diamond Head. Still, barring some onboard calamity, the entire Transpac fleet-including Wild Oats XI-should arrive in Hawaii long after Lending Club 2 has dried off her sails, and-hopefully-lifted their Champagne glasses.
While I would give almost anything to join Breymaier and his crewmates for their sprint to Hawaii, I will be glueing myself to their race tracker as they attempt to make sailing history. But, because I also love organized racing, I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the Transpac fleet as they continue to write the history book on one of America’s proudest ocean-racing contests.