Hassle and the 2009 TRANSPAC

Trans Pac Race 2009 Draft
Larry Malmberg

In the summer of 2009, a small boat with a determined crew set sail from Long Beach, California to Honolulu, Hawaii, taking part in the historic 2009 Transpac Race. A dedicated six trained years for the trip, but only a lucky five made it. Here is our story.

It all started two years ago when Doug Frach contacted me. Doug and I are members, or were at the time, of Shoreline Yacht Club in Long Beach CA. Doug explained to me that the Commodore, Warren Wolfe, was looking for liaison people for the Trans Pacific Yacht Race. Since several of the racers came from far away distances our yacht club was providing liaison people for the racers. Duties were pretty simple; help them find supplies, equipment etc. as many of them didn’t know the area, YEA like I do? I’m from San Bernardino not Long Beach.

I volunteered and was assigned to Lady Liberty a Catalina 36 that was coming down from the Ventura CA area to do the race. The Skipper’s name and a phone number were given to me along with an e-mail address. Lady Liberty’s Skipper, John Wallner, turned out to be a great guy; he really didn’t need any help other than the use of a hack saw a couple of days before the race which unfortunately we didn’t have. He scared one up somewhere, did the race and came in 3rd in his class. We were able to communicate through e-mails during the race in 2007 and watch their progress on line through a tracking site.

John sold his boat in Hawaii, more to come about that; flew home as did his crew and went back to work. I kept in contact via e-mail with John Wallner. Steve Peterson and I started talking about doing the race in 2009 on Hassle, my 1982 Catalina 38. I called John one day and arranged to meet him and one of his crew, Roberto Marchesini, for lunch up in Thousand Oaks. We wanted to know what if anything had gone wrong on the trip, what unexpected things came up and their plans on the race.

John and Roberto were most helpful and provided tons of information, plans, schedules, food issues etc. During the lunch Roberto expressed an interest in doing the race in 2009 so we offered to put him on our racing crew list. Roberto did several races with us in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and was going to do the 2009 Trans Pac with us. Tragically a couple of weeks prior to the race he fell and broke his ankle in several places and could not do the race. He was with us in spirit, came and watched the start on crutches and was sorely missed.

The spark from the lunch meeting set a fire. What would we have to do to prepare Hassle for the race? A new bottom, rigging, safety equipment, provisions, extra water and so on.
It turned out that yes, we needed a new bottom on Hassle, we had her pulled out in Marina Del Rey at Windward Ship Yard, the bottom was in dismal shape, there were blisters all over which was a surprise to us as we had a pull out about 8 months prior in San Diego due to a bad cutlass bearing. While in San Diego we only observed a few blisters on the bottom. So, needless to say, a new bottom was put on at great expense.

While in the ship yard I asked them to drop the rudder for inspection, something the Lady Liberty crew especially recommended. I had heard too many stories of boats doing the Trans Pac loosing their rudders. It was a good thing we dropped it as where the shaft went into the rudder there was pitting all the way around.

So what was one to do? Yup, get a new rudder, I called Catalina Yachts and was referred to their facility in Florida who quoted me a price for a new rudder with shipping. During a conversation with Thomas Lehtonen, the Manager at Windward, he thought I could get a similar or cheaper price by having one manufactured locally. Turns out he was right; a fabricator locally designed a rudder for Hassle that was a bit more elliptical which gave us better downwind control.

Now poor old Hassle, she was built in 1981 and sold as a 1982, needed new paint top to bottom. I had the shipyard paint her from the toe rail down, all the blisters were ground out, sealed, painted etc. Now when I bought Hassle the port of call was Dana Point, since the shipyard had taken off all the paint to repaint neither her the port of call nor her name painted on.

Since I was in Long Beach CA, we had moved there from Newport Beach CA, I decided to change the port of call to Long Beach. This change necessitated a Coast Guard form which of course I filled out wrong and had to re do a couple of times but did get it accomplished. A painter was hired and her name put on and port of call.

Steve Peterson, a right handy guy to have around, decided that the top side needed painting too and said he would undertake that project while Hassle was in the boat yard. This “project” turned out to be a very major project and subsequently Mike Elliott who had raced with us a few times assisted along with a buddy of his JJ. Turns out that JJ used to do boat painting for a living and he was a god send on the project. Mike Elliott expressed an interest in doing the Trans Pac with us so he was on for it. Thing were going great, new bottom, new paint top to bottom, new rudder, new boom vang, new blocks here and there, new well the list goes on and on.

Steve also took on the task of doing the “bright work” the exterior and interior wood that needed varnishing, turns out Steve was a real workhorse and all of his hard work is deeply appreciated.

The topside paint also has an additive called “non skid” which is small glass balls placed into the paint so you have great footing while the decks are wet. Well, Steve put on the “non skin” glass balls, if you took a tumble on the decks you are going to loose some skin for sure. I will say this; you do not loose your footing.

I had put out an e-mail to all the guys that race with us about doing the Trans Pac and got several replies of interest. Keeping in mind that this race takes 15-20 days from Los Angeles CA to Honolulu HI many of those that expressed interest lost their interest. Work schedules; commitments etc. caused most to drop their interest. Those that stuck to it were, Roberto Marchesini, Steve Peterson, Dennis Ponsor, Mike Elliott, John Herne and me, six of us.
Six seemed to be a good number for the race and we decided to keep it to six at the most, four at the least which is the minimum per Trans Pac rules.

Since some of the readers of this don’t know all these guys I’ll give you a little background on each.

Steve Peterson came to work for me several years ago, was with me when I bought Hassle and never thought he would be a sail type guy, he was used to power boats. Well the sailing grabbed him and he is an accomplished sailor, maintenance man, electrician well kind of a Jack Of All trades if one will. He currently has his own Private Investigator License and we share office space.

Dennis Ponsor is a local attorney and long time friend of mine; he’s one of the people that got me into sailing back in the 80’s with a two week bare boat charter in the British Virgin Islands. Dennis has been on several races with us on Hassle and his wife, Janice, did all of our provisions. None of us lost weight on the race, enough said about the provisions?

Roberto is another story, was born and raised in Italy, holds a Doctorate in Physics, is an Electronic Engineer and now a US Citizen, we call him Bob now. Roberto has done several races with us and is an accomplished sailor, navigator, star gazer, pasta preparer, etc. he’s always good for some pepperoni, bread, cheese etc. on a race. He was the weather man and watch-captain for Lady Liberty’s 2007 Transpac run, and was instrumental in their great finish that year.

Mike Elliott is a well respected general contractor in Wrightwood CA, turns out he and I went to the same high school in Fontana, he was two years behind me and we share the same birth date, October 5. Mike has a sail boat in Alamitos Bay, we first met him about four years ago while doing the Catalina 38 Nationals in Long Beach and Mike crewed with us a day or two. He’s a very accomplished sailor, foredeck guy, improviser and all around great guy.

John Herne, well what can I say about John? A Formula Atlantic, a couple of steps below Formula One, driver at one time, sail instructor, sail salesman, auditor, quality control manager great guy and a great sailor to have on your boat. John lives in Watsonville now so it’s a bit difficult for him to join us in the local races. He’s the only sail instructor I have ever had the yelled at me, just once but still the same. Accomplished sailor, foredeck guy, is not the words for it.

So now the reader has a bit of information on the crew.

And me? Most of my responsibilities were finding the money to do the race, obtaining all of the safety equipment needed, communications equipment etc. This was not an easy task; we were able to come up with a major sponsor that wishes to remain nameless that helped us with the finances. New paint, bottoms, rudder, boom vang, holding tank etc. are not cheap but we were able to do it all. The only thing I wish we had money for was new sails but it just wasn’t in the cards, maybe next time if there is a next time.

The safety equipment list went on and on, we had to have a specific set of flairs that no one makes in a set so we ordered flairs. A single side band radio, so we had to get HAM Radio licenses, an EPIRB which is a electronic locating device should we sink, a 6 man survival life raft, new lifelines without any coatings, Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s), jack lines, safety lines, just to name a few. It was all accomplished and we passed our first inspection of the boat. The inspector, as it turns out, was the Chief Inspector for Trans Pac, he complimented us and told us that we were set not only for 2009 but our safety equipment met the new guidelines for 2011, sure like I’m going to do this in 2011?

Insurance became an issue, seems like most marine insurers are not fond of insuring sail boats going to Hawaii from California. I was finally able to obtain insurance at what I considered a pretty hefty fee, so if you are thinking about doing this race, keep that in mind. The insurer not only wanted a in and out of the water certified Marine Survey of but a Rigging Survey as well. Fortunately we had Hassle surveyed when she was in the boat yard, our rigger; Rick McCreadie of UK Sailmakers did the rigging survey for us and insurance was obtained.

Now here we are, new this and that but we needed a “shake down” race so we decided to do, again, the Newport Beach CA to Ensenada Mexico race, commonly referred to as NB2E. We entered the race in the Cruising Spinnaker Class which we had done the past two years. We started the race on Friday April 24th, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. and finished at 9:08 a.m. Saturday April 25th, 2009. Once we had a spinnaker up we never took it down until finishing the race, it was a record year for all boats in the race and we placed second in our class!

We all felt good regarding Hassle’s performance, the new bottom and rudder, life was good.

We happened to catch another Catalina 38 at the finish line, they had started 40 minutes ahead of us in a different class, WOW we felt good. But, when we were heading home I checked the bilge and found a small amount of oil in it. Checking the engine revealed a small leak at the rear main seal.

OK so we now have an engine that leaks oil, not good. I talked to another Catalina 38 owner at Shoreline, a live aboard. Al, the live aboard, I knew had his engine pulled and rebuilt. I asked Al about it and he said that he would never do that again, for what it costs to have the engine pulled, rebuilt and put back in one could buy a new engine and have it installed.

Al referred me to a guy in Costa Mesa that had a new engine sitting in his shop, I bought it and had Chris Girardeau and his friend Tom pull the old engine and install the new one. The new engine is much smaller and lighter with more horsepower but needed several modifications for the exhaust etc. But all in all it was a good decision, life again was good.

Late April, May and most of June were spent in preparation for the Trans Pac Race and our jobs.

Janice Ponsor came down to the boat, measured the refrigerator and made casseroles in a pan just the size of ours. She froze them solid, wrapped them in foil and we stacked them, we took one out per night for dinner, the top one of course. I do have a full menu if anyone would like it, just send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to share it. We ate very well; I don’t think anyone lost any weight on this trip.

Steve Peterson was busy installing the Ham Radio, antennas; new chart plotter etc. and Bill from Ham Radio Outlet came down and went through the e-mail and radio system with us. Turns out the two whip antennas Steve put on were not really that good, he improvised and pulled 14 gage wire up the port spinnaker halyard and we used that for the antenna, worked well too, well most of the time. It was cheaper than having our backstay cut and insulated.

I had obtained a first aid kit and water storage bags from a great guy in Upland and Dr. Wildon Lin, now on our crew, complimented the first aid kit with big Motrin’s and antibiotics, we also had lidocaine, syringes and a surgical kit etc. Thank heaven we didn’t need any of that on the race.

Three days before our start we were hectic. Check this, check that, busy, busy, busy, run Woody (one of our crew members that didn’t make the race) up the mast to check this and that. All systems were a go.

Fill up with water, we hold 35 gallons in our tank and filled 45 two gallon containers, a water maker would have been nice and if you are going to do the race I would encourage you to have one, it just wasn’t in our budget. We had scheduled one gallon of water per day per person or about 105 gallons. Somehow the foot petal to the salt water pump in the galley got broken off. This necessitated washing dishes in fresh water, YIPES, not good as it ate up a lot of our fresh water, we still had plenty when we finished though.

John Herne came down a day early and we went through all the sails patching here and there, he had also sent down a hand pump water maker, good thing to have around. We had one very old .75 oz. spinnaker that we took bets on, when would she blow out and she did on the third or fourth day. She did make a comfortable seat at the helm though.

June 29th was upon us, the start date. We cruised over to Rainbow Harbor, just around the corner from us at Shoreline, got announced, applause, photos etc. and headed to the start line off Point Fermin. We were early, much better than being late though. We knew that we were the highest handicapped boat in the race meaning we were supposed to be the slowest.

The start was pretty uneventful, we got a good start and our objective was to get out and past Catalina Island as fast and as far as possible. Fortunately Dennis Ponsor had attended a Weather Seminar at which he learned of the up to 8 knot current that can be around the island. This caused us to change our route a bit which was to our advantage. We cleared the island, had good winds and were off for the adventure of a life time.

Trans Pac Rules; every morning at 6:00 a.m. Pacific time you have to take your position and at 8 a.m. radio to the chase boat, Alaska Eagle. Now keep in mind we had a transponder on board too which showed our position.
The chase boat would then give a status report of each boat, their longitude and latitude and their position in class, first, second, etc. The second day we were not only first in our class we were first in the fleet that started on the 29th, now we were feeling really good. Winds were good, we were heeled on a starboard tack and hitting 7-9 knots consistently, life was very, very good. This worked out well to for sleeping which I did a lot of. Out cabin table makes into a good size bed and it’s on the port side of the cabin, no rolling off there. The single bunk on the starboard side became a location to stack sails, almost to the cabin roof.

Steve took on the responsibility of the check in, reporting etc. we had two laptops on board, mine and Steve’s. Steve wanted to use his as he was more familiar with it, bad decision. I was in the galley when a wave hit us broadside on the port side, it knocked me across the galley and into the navigation table where Steve’s laptop was and I hit the screen breaking it, laptop retired, mine put up. I also knocked down the VHF radio but it was put back on by Steve, funny no one asked me about my head. But life was still good, we were cooking.

The third of fourth day, I’m not sure which the old .75 oz spinnaker started to go so we took it down and put up the 1.5 oz, we were still cooking but there was a weird noise, it sounded like something rubbing and rubbing. Steve, John and Mike went to the foredeck and couldn’t make out where it was coming from but it was there. Oh well, we are all certain we would find out what it was, sooner or later.

July 4th was upon us, we were way out, no land in sight. Given it was Independence Day and we were not having a picnic, no fireworks, none of the usual celebration activities for the 4th of July we all decided to take the day off, and after all it’s a Holiday! We decided to go sailing.

We had a minor, well major problem with our holding tank, seems like some of the guys had brought handy wipes and were putting them into the holding tank. I will tell you, the macerator doesn’t like them and they will plug up the macerator. For those that don’t know what a macerator is I’ll tell you. It’s an electric grinder that grinds sewage and pumps it overboard. Now if you can’t use the toilet the next option is a bucket.

Steve, Jack of All Trades, was on it, he did a plumbing repair job under sail in heavy winds; thank heaven for the bilge pump because that’s where the holding tank had to be emptied. Now if you are going to do this race I would suggest a direct overboard flush of your toilet. Another problem solved and life was good but we had dropped to second place in our class.

We have a 1500 watt inverter on board which converts 12 VDC to 120 VAC, handy thing it is too for making coffee etc. Of course the only problem with making coffee was the pot was broke the first day out and later the filter carrier got too close to the stove and melted. Dennis had brought an electric 120 VAC water heater as he’s a tea drinker and we needed 120 VAC for the laptop and printer so it seemed reasonable to use the big inverter, WRONG.

That puppy eats up the batteries like frogs on June bugs. After three days Steve figured it out and we switched the laptop and printer to a much smaller inverter we had installed for the TV. When the laptop etc. was not in use the inverter was turned off! Batteries much better after that, we had to charge and charge and no more electric water heater for tea.

Now in the head there is a shower, no we didn’t shower but it has a sump. Also in the sump is a sump pump. We all know how to work a marine toilet and I’m to blame for this one, I was the last one to use the toilet. I apparently didn’t shut the toilet valve and it overflowed into the shower sump and bilge. We were able to bucket out the water but the sump pump went south on us, a little bleach here and there works wonders though, always keep a bottle of bleach on board.

One rule we didn’t implement that we should have and that was, “No standing in the head, sit down on the toilet for everything!” It would have made for a much nicer head, well the smell anyway if everyone would comply. We did do cleaning in there with Lysol spray which worked really well and we kept a large bottle of hand sanitizer in there with paper towels available. No one got sick so it worked. Of course Dennis, who prepared all the food, did not have head clean up duties; we didn’t want to take too many chances.

We did shifts at the helm, Dennis was a floater, initially Mike and I were a team, John and Steve a team and then we switched around. From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. we did four on and four off, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. it was 6 on and 6 off. This worked well other than the weird dreams we all talked about, I’m told they are a sign of fatigue.

I won’t go into course planning etc. as everyone has their own ideas of how to run the race, where to go and how to do it. Typically one goes south west and catches the trade winds to HI, then it’s a run to Honolulu.

At least one of our competitors hired a meteorologist for three possible courses for the race. I know this; the boat that won our class did the rheum line, a virtual a straight line from LA to Honolulu and had little or no concern for where the high and low pressure areas were, is there a lesson here?

Now when you dump sewage into your bilge I guess you should expect problems with the bilge pump and we got them. Seems like the flap that actuates the pump was not doing its job, no problem, we have a spare that’s brand new. Well wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t work, didn’t want to float up to activate the bilge pump. Now you know those key floaters you get everywhere? Keep them, we put a couple of wire ties on the flap with a float and it worked just fine. Life was good again, we were still cooking.

We played tag with Far Niente a Catalina 42 for a few days, we would see them behind us and then in front of us, they finally went out of sight heading further south than we were. The only other boats we saw were another sailboat that we could not make the name out and two tankers.

Interestingly at the 1500 km mark we did see birds on occasion and tons of jellyfish, I think the birds were frigates, so much for birds being a sign of land close by. No whales, no dolphins but we did get a small flying fish that washed up on our deck, too small to eat and I’m not sure they are good eating anyway. We could have used it for bait but no one was fishing.

The winds died down a bit for about three days, I guess we caught a bit of a high pressure area which we had wanted to avoid. Our only weather service was via e-mail when we could connect to a radio station that handled e-mails.

Some reports were a day old. Suggestion, if you are going to do this race get satellite weather and e-mail, it costs but will be well worth it.

Our new Garmin Chart Plotter worked well for the first half of the race, Steve noticed that the screen had a question mark on it, he exclaimed with bloodshot blue eyes “It’s broke, you have to send it back, it’s not working, it can’t find it’s self!” I suggested putting in the Hawaii charts and taking out the Pacific Coast Charts, they are on cards. He did and the question mark was still there. Oh well, so much for new equipment, we shut it down but had redundancy with my Garmin 478 which has not only the Pacific Coast but HI charts too.

The next day I turned on the Chart Plotter and it worked just fine, I think it was in an area where the Coast Charts and HI Charts gapped. So much for a bad chart plotter and of course we had paper charts too. John Herne did do some sighting with the sextant but you have to have the sun for them, most of our trip it was cloudy or overcast with little sunshine at all.

We went on and on and to be truthful, it all starts to run together so please bear with me on these events. At one point the wind really came up and we had to take down the 1.5 oz spinnaker, while taking it down we had unfurled the jib, I was at the helm and lo and behold the jib went into the water! I was able to head up into the wind a bit and not get it tangled under the boat; we got it up and on the boat. Seems like a keeper pin on the furler head had come out and the pin had fallen out causing the jib to come off. Fortunately we had a spare and it was fixed with haste, jib back up and life was good again.

The winds calmed down a bit and a spinnaker was back up, but that same old rubbing sound was there and we soon found the cause. Our spinnaker went flying into the water! Seems like the block had failed and the shackle for the block had worn through the bale up the mast hence spinnaker in the water. Fortunately we got the spinnaker out of the water with little or no damage, figured out what had happened we decided to put the spinnaker up using the starboard block. This went fine until the same rubbing sound which indicated another fouled block was heard.

We decided to put it up on the auxiliary jib halyard and it was fine until we needed to take it down. It fouled around the head stay, wrapping up like saran wrap, we could not get it down no matter how hard we tried, no matter what tricks we had up our sleeves. Eventually it came off the head stay but there were still wraps of the halyard on the head stay. We ended up furling it like a jib by twisting and twisting it. It was up that way until we finished the race, have you ever seen a furled spinnaker?

Now we were really limited to sails, we could run a jib and main only. As time went on the light 155 jib we had been using, an old one, started to tear so we were able to get it down and hoist a Dacron 135.

The rest of the race was with the Dacron 135 and our Carbon Fiber main sail. Not being able to run a spinnaker caused us to run off course a lot so we had to make several jibes on the way in to Honolulu which cost us a lot of time.

We entered the treacherous Molokai Channel at night running downwind and experienced an accidental 360 degree jibe, not good at all, it woke me up. We decided to re evaluate our preventer that kept the main sail boom in place. Well of course we had another accidental jibe and took one of the bales off the boom loosing purchase on the main sheet. We finished the race this way.

I do believe we would have taken second in our class and a chance at first on corrected time but it just wasn’t in the cards, this time. Our total time was 427 hours, 26 minutes and 39 seconds, about 17.8 days.

As I write this an old saying from my homicide investigator days comes to mind, the 7P’s of Life; Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Piss, Poor, Performance; no truer words can describe this whole event. Would I do it again, well when I got off the boat at Waikiki Yacht Club I said to myself, “Never again” but, as several friends have pointed out, it’s kind of like a woman having a baby, as time goes on the bad part wears off and you start thinking, next time I’m going to do this, that, and change this and that and I’ll really be in the running.

Dennis Ponsor’s wife Janice, Steve’s wife Debby and family, Mike’s wife Kate and of course my lady Tamara all flew over and met us when we finished. Unfortunately John Herne’s wife, Kathleen, had just started a new job and could not make it.

I almost forgot, Lady Liberty, well it turns out that my lady, Tamara, and I were having breakfast in Waikiki at the Harbor Pub, just below the Chart House. BTW they have great Eggs Benedict there. We were chatting with the waitress, Debbie who is a friend of a friend. Debbie found out I had done the Trans Pac and told us that she and her husband had bought a Trans Pac boat back in 2007, knowing that John Wallner has sold Lady Liberty I immediately asked, “Was it Lady Liberty?”

She seemed surprised that I knew the boat they had bought, and told me it was. I sent John Wallner a e-mail regarding this coincidence, he answered me and wanted to know how his old boat was. Unfortunately Debbie and her husband had sold the boat about a year after they bought it. The rumor was that it was still in the Islands somewhere, but we never saw her.

Tamara and I spent a lot of time in HI. Fortunately my nephew, USCG Chief Petty Officer Nathan Wissmann lives there now and he was a real chauffer for all the crew, wives and families. Nathan also has raced with us and was our “Morale Officer” in the past when he lived in Long Beach CA he was recently promoted and assigned to the Rusk, a Coast Guard Cutter in Honolulu.

I have an old associate from my Sacramento days that lives there, Richard Lucero and his lovely wife Sharon who did a great Mexican Dinner for us and friends. We were assigned to a great gentleman named Dick Troyer from the Waikiki Yacht Club who greeted us upon arrival with a great party, Champaign, food, well you name it.

Dick was kind enough to lend us his car so we could tour the Island, what a guy; he was always Johnny on the Spot to help us out, join us for a cocktail, tell stories and be a companion, he has led a very interesting life.

Another new friend, Keith Chow, was in constant contact with us offering his help, advice and points of interest of Oahu, Honolulu, the North Shore and various great places to visit and eat.

On the whole, it was an amazing adventure, for me, the crew, and Hassle. Am I glad we did it? Yes. Will we do it again? Only time and finances will tell. I often think about what BOAT really stands for, Break Out Another Thousand! I hope you enjoyed our story.


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