With Invisible Hand and BadPak taking the top two spots in division one and overall corrected mono hull in this years Transpacific Yacht Race and Invisible Hand cleaning up in this years So Cal 300, any question on the class’s pedigree has evaporated faster than a mai tai at the end of the Transpac.
An enthusiastic Frank Slootman was ecstatic with results after reaching Diamond Head following a 2,225 nm full on charge across the Pacific from Pt Fermin in Los Angeles. ‘ I think we have officially served notice that these boats are all we thought they would be’ Frank gleamed. But these results were not without a lot of hard work and preparation. ‘The SoCal 300 gave us a lot of insight as two what to expect from the boat and some where we could make improvements’ He notes. ‘ Most importantly on how we could make seamless transitions during watch changes, getting in and out of bunks, feeding the team and working in harsh conditions while maximizing boat speed!
Under the guidance of Gavin Brady, considered the guru of all things PAC 52, Invisible Hand went on a hardcore efficiency program in the weeks that led up to the Transpac, fine tuning the rig, optimizing sail inventory, crew training and a few changes in personnel. The end result, a focused program and little wasted energy and effort. That effort began to show just hours into the race as the noticed their advance of a fraction of a knot of boat speed every hour.
‘In a boat like this, it’s the little things that add up’ Frank explains, ‘ A tweak here, weight shift there, heading adjustment etc, all are critical, and the focus of the drivers is an absolute, and we had that with Gavin and Jonathan Swain as watch captains, their ability to concentrate was outstanding, as well as the crew doing main trim early on and the kite trim further down the track. It’s hard to do that 24/7, but it’s crucial to getting the most out of these machines.’
It wouldn’t be a Transpac without some gear drama, and Invisible Hand had some of their own. While blasting along on an A2, the boat slammed into the back of a wave and blew up. “The blow up tore a big chunk of the clew right off. We had to settle for burial at sea as we could not winch it in at the speeds we were going. There was little time wasted and the crew had a new sail up within minutes’ Frank says ‘ We were probably taking the A2 too far out of its range, and we sailed with an A4 for a while until the conditions moderated”.
Another mishap occurred during a gybe in the dark. It looked like a batten had broken, but a top batten had wiggled its way out of the luff fitting, and was protruding from the sail at the mast. They sent the bowman, Benny Allen up to retrieve the batten as the main could not be lowered with the batten in that position. They lowered the main to the deck and new addition, Spencer Loxton whipped out his tool box, started emergency surgery and produce a carbon fiber replacement for the sail fitting in a few hours time! You would expect that during that period, The Hand’s VMG would drop like it had a rock tied to it, but that wasn’t the case. Sailing with just the kite and staysail, the boat stayed on course, occasionally hitting at 17-18 knots all the while. ‘It was a bit sloppy, keeping the boat under the kite’ Frank recalls, ‘But to keep up that kind of speed with no main was amazing!’
The first couple days were rough for most of the late starters in this years edition, and on the PAC52’s, it was no exception. ‘It’s like riding a wild bronco’ Frank exclaims ‘Nobody felt like eating and when down below it could get downright violent. These boats in those conditions are no place for the meek! I’m no spring chicken, but I was expecting a rough start. Having the young bulls on board makes a difference. Sailing the Tanspac in the old boat (R/P 63 Invisible Hand, now Aszhou) was like being on a cruise by comparison.’
When asked about routing, Frank worked closely with Navigator Christopher Lewis studying the hourly scheds boats and weather gribs as they came in. ‘We mixed and matched the different weather models as we went along, a constant topic of discussion. Lew had done a ton of work in preparation for the race. Our bunk was next to the nav station and we could discuss the information together and make decisions, it worked out really well. Our philosophy was to not try to be smarter than the models, but to take small digs and not make huge leaps’.
When queried on the potential of the PAC52 in the Transpac, Frank is unabashed, ‘We beat Samba Pa Ti’s 2009 record by some seven hours, and it wasn’t a particularly windy race. We feel these boats have a lot of room to go yet. We had only one 380 nm day, if you stitch three or four of them together, who knows?’
It should be noted that Frank likes to run his sailing programs much like he runs his businesses.’ We believe in developing strong clarity of purpose, hiring great people and letting them do their job and that, even when you have become the best, there is no time for complacency, only time to work at getting even better’
We also caught up with Tom Holthus, owner of the PAC52 BadPak for a bit of Q&A on this year Transpac:
PD: First of all, congrats on the second place finish in Division and second Overall corrected! When you first considered jumping into the PAC52 Class, did you imagine the boats could do so well out of the box?
TH: Thanks and congratulations to Frank and the Invisible Hand crew. They sailed a fast race and we just could not keep pace. The two Pac52 boats getting first and second place corrected overall is awesome for the Pac52 Class. Our hope was that the TP52 hull with some modifications would work well for West Coast sailing. Sometimes what is thought out on paper does not always perform in reality. We think we hit the mark this time.
PD: Some of the highlights of the ride across the Pacific?
TH: The first two days were upwind sailing with the J2 and a reef in the main. There was a lot of water on the deck and it was full foulie mode. It wasn’t real comfortable. Later when we put up the kite the ride was much more tolerable.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of debris in the water. We had to take the kite down and go head-to-wind to do a back-down three different times. Each time we had fisherman’s rope caught on an appendage. Otherwise, at 15+ knots of breeze, the boat would barely skim the water and we would match the breeze.
PD: PadPak and Invisible Hand were built in offshore configuration with more freeboard and room down below for crew doing overnight jaunts, how did the accommodations work out for you and crew? Any surprises?
TH: The higher freeboard was worth it as there was plenty of room down below and perhaps a bit drier on the deck. The only surprise was the front hatch seal failed us so we had to constantly bail water. We will fix that for the next offshore race.
PD: With little creature comforts, you need a hearty crew willing to bust ass from start to finish, how does one vett the crew in advance to assure that kind of commitment?
TH: The younger strong guys are certainly good to have on the boat. We used many of the same crew that we use for buoy racing so we had a pretty good idea if the guys could keep up. It seemed everyone had been going to the gym and was ready for the demands of the boat.
PD: Reports are that you son Kelly was a great addition and did a stupendous job and remained focused, that has to make Pops proud. Your thoughts on sharing this experience with your son?
TH:Kelly was fantastic! It was pretty tough going for the first two days and he had a great attitude throughout. The guys were great with Kelly teaching him the ropes all along the way. The race will be something he and I will always remember.
PD: BadPak is now being shipped to San Diego, then being trucked to SF to get ready for the Big Boat Series and the Season Championships, How soon will the crew arrive and get familiar with conditions on SF Bay? Any additional family members jumping on board for those races?
TH: We decided to ship the boat rather than sail it to San Francisco just to save wear and tear. Big Boat Series is next and we will get the boat back into inshore mode right away so we will be ready for the big breeze on the Bay. My oldest daughter Brittany lives in San Francisco so I am hopeful she or her husband will join us. Unfortunately school will get in the way for my three younger kids to sail.
PD:The PAC52’s had a pretty ambitious first season, what are your ambitions or expectations for 2018?
TH: We are planning on doing the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta race in March and then we will get the boat back to inshore mode for SDYC’s Yachting Cup and the remainder of the Pac52 schedule of races. Manouch, Victor and Frank have been great working together to form the Class and sail our first year. We have proven that we have the right boat and a group that can work together, now we just wait for others to sign up.
by Erik Simonson