Comanche on the warpath for Transpac record
Jim Clark’s 100-foot Comanche has recently joined the fleet of 62 entries currently preparing for the 49th edition of the Transpacific YC’s biennial LA-Honolulu race, with one goal: to set a new race record.
This 100-foot carbon fiber ocean greyhound designed by VPLP/Verdier and built by Hodgdon Yachts in 2014 was created to be quite simply the fastest sailing yacht in the world, with a design brief s to not only capture offshore race line honors – as she did in the 2015 Sydney Hobart Race – but also set race records, as she did last year in the Newport-Bermuda Race.
And without the structured timing of a race start, Comanche has also set out and won new course records as well: such as last summer when she knocked off a full day from Mari Cha IV’s Transatlantic course record set in 2003 for the Sandy Hook to the Lizard sailing course. The new mark stands at 5 days 14 hours 21 minutes 25 seconds, and may be there for a while.
She also holds the current monohull 24 hour speed record of 618.01 miles – an amazing average of 25.75 knots of boat speed.
The 2225-mile Transpac is next in her sights, with the goal to get to Honolulu in less than five days 14 hours 36 minutes 20 seconds, a mark set in 2009 by Neville Crichton’s Reichel/Pugh 90-foot Alpha Romeo II. To achieve this level of success its no surprise both boats had on board one of the most successful ocean racing navigators in the history of the sport: Stan Honey.
Stan’s success as a navigator in transpacific races (Transpac, Pacific Cup, Victoria-Maui) is unparalleled: in 22 races he and his teams have won line or class honors 10 times – an impressive record in itself. And he may have made that 11 had he not sustained a head injury while on board Comanche shortly before he was due to compete on Wild Oats XI in the 2015 Transpac, and was ably replaced by Nick White who guided the mixed Pyewacket/Aussie crew to line honors – but no record due to the light weather in that year’s race.
We spoke with Stan about Comanche’s prospects for the Transpac record while he was cruising the coast of Mexico with his wife Sally on board their Cal 40 Illusion.
“I think this record time is achievable without having to have unusually windy conditions, but just stable breeze along the course,” he said. “The year we did this on Alfa the breeze was not particularly strong, it was just relatively steady throughout the trip.”
This is not just a hunch. Not only is Comanche capable of stunning speed – her 24 hour record of 618 miles dwarfs Alfa’s record on the Transpac course of 480 miles – but using weather data and routing software, Stan came to this conclusion after an exhaustive analysis of digitally sailing this race over the past 13 years.
“I’ve routed Comanche on the race course using historical GFS weather data for 143 starts. I ran routes starting every day 1 July through 11 July, from 2004 through 2016. Statistically we’ve got a reasonable shot at it starting on any given day, but obviously there could be rotten enough weather to make it pointless to start on the sixth”… meaning, there is a scenario where Comanche might do what the 104-foot trimaran Lending Club II did in the last race: sail the course on a different start day in order to optimize their chances of achieving a course record, thereby giving up the opportunity to win any race trophies.
“Given that Comanche is out of the hunt on handicap or for the Barn Door, if we had terrible weather for a start on July 6th it would be fruitless to just sail the course for no reason,” he said. “If the weather forecast was much better for a nearby day, giving us a good shot at the passage record, I suspect that Ken and Jim would go for that.”
Comanche’s unusually wide hull form is different than both Oats and Alfa, since she is designed to be more stable to carry more sail area in a wider variety of windy conditions. Comanche also has an unusual multiple option sail plan that can carry a large and diverse array of headsails and even spinnakers on furling systems on the foredeck. The position of the mast very far aft in the boat allows for this powerful feature.
Her wide hull form, however, also makes her trim sensitive to weight and can be a limiting factor in her performance should the air go light. “We will be on a strict weight budget for this race, and have to make important sail and crew selection decisions in order to optimize performance for weight.”
One sail in the inventory that is particularly effective when in its range of reaching angles is her A3 sail, which is too narrow to be recognized as a spinnaker but also too wide to be a rated as a headsail in the ORR rating rule system used in Transpac. Comanche petitioned TPYC to allow them to use this sail nonetheless, and permission was granted with the application of a significant rating penalty. Not interested in corrected time honors, this was acceptable to the Comanche team since their only interest is in going as fast as possible to the finish at Diamond Head, regardless of rating.
TPYC Technical Committee Chairman Alan Andrews said “These ‘large width headsails’ are common in oceanic racing designs, but not used in general fleets like we have in Transpac. TPYC wants to keep a level playing field within the rest of the fleet and not ignite an expensive sail development war shortly before the race. However, we have been historically supportive of innovation and speed, so Transpac would rather allow the fleet to use these sails with the addition of a significant additional rating assessment than not allow them.”
This was good news for Commanche. “That A3 has proven to be an extremely versatile and fast sail for us,” says Honey, so its likely it will make the cut when deciding what to have on board when they start off Point Fermin on July 6th.
Stan also said the array of foils and boards on Comanche will also get evaluated carefully to find trade-offs in their weight and addition to performance through the course of a “typical” Transpac, which includes a small amount of beating, a little more reaching, and a lot of running. The decisions the team makes on this and the sail selections will very much depend on Stan’s expertise in weather forecasting and route modeling to simulate what the team will encounter on the race.
Armed with the right sails and foils, a world-class crew, Stan’s experience, and the right weather, Comanche will have a very real shot at taking another scalp by putting a new time on the beautiful Transpac Honolulu Race Elapsed Time Record Trophy (aka, the “Clock Trophy”) donated by one of its winners and long term patron of the race, Roy E. Disney.
“Winning Transpac is not an easy achievement by any measure, and setting records is even more difficult,” says TPYC Race Chairman Bo Wheeler. “This is what makes this race have such enduring appeal for offshore sailors from around the world, and we’re pleased to have a superb team like Comanche come give this a try. We wish them and all our entries good luck in their preparations during these final few months remaining to the start.”
by Dobbs Davis