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Green Buffalo
Jim Quanci on the Cal 40 Green Buffalo was the first-place singlehander in the SSS LongPac. ©2017 Kristen Soetebier
SSS LongPac

July 18, 2017

While world renowned professional sailors set off from Los Angeles to Honolulu on this year’s Transpac Race seeking glory and unbelievable speed, a much more modest and eclectic fleet of boats sailed by merely mortal sailors departed the Golden Gate Yacht Club on their quest for local glory and a few words in the Northern California sailing press.

The Singlehanded Sailing Society’s Great Pacific Longitude Race, more commonly known as the LongPac, is a biennial race run on odd-numbered years. Potential SSS TransPac skippers use the race as a qualifier for the singlehanded Hawaiian race run on the even-numbered years. There’s also a LongPac doublehanded division for boats thinking about the Pacific Cup or who just want to improve their ocean sailing skills.

Safety equipment and skipper training requirements are about the same as for the Hawaiian races, so a skipper contemplating a singlehanded race to Kauai is pretty much prepared for the longer race. Spending several nights sailing on the ocean tests the skipper’s resolve and tests the boat and its equipment, often turning up issues in the older boats that typically sail this race.

The race is 400-miles long with a 'turning mark' anywhere along the 126º 40' longitude line. That’s 200 miles out and 200 miles back, meeting the SSS TransPac qualification requirement of a 400-miles sail reaching at last 100 miles offshore.

This year’s Long Pac started at GGYC Wednesday, July 5, with 12 singlehanders and one doublehanded boat headed for the empty ocean 200 miles west of San Francisco.

The GGGYC race deck was not available, so the SSS race committee started things on the breakwater in front of the clubhouse. Shotguns going off in the parking lot attracted the S.F. Police Department’s attention, but the race committee's explanation was accepted and two singlehanded divisions and the Columbia C32 Six Brothers with Chris Kramer and John Fryer onboard as the lone doublehanded entry began their quest for glory.

The 10:00 start time was one hour after a max 2.4 flood, so even though boats faced 400 miles of ocean sailing, tactical decisions began with the starting gun. Eventual overall winner Jim Quanci, sailing his vintage Cal 40 Green Buffalo, considered a port-tack start, but ended up short-tacking along Crissy Field on his way to the South Tower, where he decided a southerly exit near Mile Rock was the way to go, anticipating a current lift as he exited Lands End. He was joined by Greg Ashby, sailing his first LongPac aboard Nightmare, his Wilderness 30, after an incoming ship forced a southerly tack near the bridge.

Joe Balderrama, sailing his Express 27 Archimedes, chose the north side exit along the Marin headlands and its convenient coves to avoid the flood. Joe was joined by Chris Kramer’s Six Brothers and dueled with them under the Golden Gate Bridge, but was passed by the faster boat near Point Bonita. Most boats opted for the Point Bonita side, tacking in and out to avoid the inbound current.

Beyond Point Bonita boats found what Carliane Johnson, of the Freedom 38 Kynntana, called “the kind of sailing conditions that make these sorts of things fun.” She reported light wind (10-12 knots), calm sea state, sunny weather and tons of sea life including mola mola, humpback whales and hundreds of murres. Tom Boussie sailing his Capo 30 Jou Jou also reported ideal weather for the sail out.

The first night began to test skippers and crew when the wind picked up into the low 20s and #1 genoas were changed down to #3 jibs. Carliane reefed at 22:00, finding a problematic reefing line and some sail-track problems. She found the seas really confused and said it was hard to manage down below so she ended up sleeping in the cockpit most of the time. Sailing his Wyliecat 30 Crinan II, Don Martin got some sleep then "came on deck to find the boat rocking and rollin'."

Farther out Jim Quanci changed down his #1 to his 155% jib top when he noticed the “halyard was a bit chewed up, so I cut a foot off the halyard and tied a bowline to the jib top head,” something that would come back to bite him later. Joe Balderrama progressively changed down to two reefs and a #4, seeing 20- 25 knots of wind. Along with several others he found the sea state increasingly difficult and upsetting.

Day 2’s dawn, according to Tom Boussie, “was, in a word, glorious, with perfect sailing conditions for hours and hours." Jim Quanci agreed commenting that “Thursday was a beautiful blue sky almost warm day.” However, most skippers reported skipping food as their stomachs settled into the ocean motion.

The first boat to turn back was Mike Cunningham’s Freedom 30 Jacqueline. He decided not to subject himself to the washing machine for three days and headed for the barn about 10 miles past Southeast Farallon Island.

Onboard Crinan II, Don Martin shook out the reef mid-morning. Jim Quanci thought “Thursday was a beautiful, almost warm day, and I ate a bit for the first time.”

Quanci 'rounded' 126º 40’ at 16:00 on Wednesday at 36º 25’ North. Soon the other boats followed, taking a picture of their GPS as it showed their longitude, logging their position, and heading back toward San Francisco.

The “glorious” sailing conditions were soon to change. Boussie, who felt his rudder clank and bind up under the “perfect sailing conditions” on Day 2, now found himself in 25-knot winds with gusts up to 30 on a beam reach that made steering almost impossible. Breaking waves filled his cockpit, spinning his boat helplessly into the wind. He decided to seek shelter at Monterey rather than beat his way back to San Francisco and ended up hand-steering for 12 hours straight. Later he decided he could motorsail the 50 miles left, so he dropped the jib and started the engine.

Onboard Nightmare, Greg Ashby experienced his own issues Thursday when his solar system stopped charging. He hove to for some relief from the large swells, and dug out the tools and the multimeter, eventually solving the problem. On Kynntana Carliane Johnson was having her own problems with reefing lines and the sail track but she got it all "sorta worked out" and continued on.

Friday afternoon Crinan II took a wave with a huge bang and crash. Checking, he found that "The wave had broken my aft reefing line and also blown out one of the windows in the sail.” His speed hadn’t changed and the tiller-pilot was still working well, so he “continued with a batten draped over the wishbone and the top of the sail twisted off.”

At the head of the pack, Jim Quanci was cruising along, letting 'Otto' steer while he slept when he was awoken by a “Bang!” and the jib top's tack sliding up the forestay. A 30-year-old shackle failed, and, after a brief stop to replace it, Jim went back to sleep. Soon he was awakened by a “Zing!” and found the the jib top down and dragging alongside the boat. The halyard he’d shortened earlier failed again. While attaching a spare halyard he, “Got firehosed," which meant he really did have to change his underwear.

Along with equipment failures, almost every skipper reported seasickness as an issue. Scopolamine patches and Bonine tablets helped but didn’t solve the problem. One skipper reported that Day 2’s sea state “jostled my insides, not just the usual up/down, but more the sudden left/right. Puke Festival 2017 just started.” Others said it caused them to act lethargic, and one found that “Trying to text on the Delorme was pretty brutal.”

As many as possible spent Day 3 below in their bunks or on the cabin sole. Carliane Johnson, however, found it impossible to go below, so, with her soaking pillow and blanket, she stuck it out on deck all night.

The wind continued until near Lands End when, according to Jim Quanci, “Just like two ocean races earlier this year, the wind shut off just before Bonita.” Don Martin found himself off Pacifica at 4:30 with his knotmeter at “0” and his GPS showing 1-2 knots pushing him south. As Greg Ashby approached Bonita, “The wind died and I jibed back and forth to keep apparent wind gong, keep the boat in the flood, and avoid shipping traffic."

Randy Leasure's Westsail 32 Tortuga won Fleet B. ©2017 Kristen Soetebier

Three boats dropped out, and nine singlehanders finished along with the doublehanded Six Brothers. Full results are at

— pat broderick

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