It is 4:55 p.m. July 4th, and Nam Sang lifts to the restless swells of the open Pacific. Abeam to leeward lies the tip of Santa Catalina Island, a plume of cloud drifting like smoke from the highest of the sere-brown hills. The spectator vessels which have followed this far salute us with a blast of horns and sirens, for it is also a moment of triumph as we round first in fleet. Astern, a long procession of receding white triangles stretches toward the California mainland, some already lost in the gathering haze of late afternoon.
As we slice past the offshore rocks the spectators drop away one by one to return to a snug harbor for the night. For us and our 40 competitors, there is only lonely ocean ahead, more than 2,000 miles of it to the finish off Honolulu. Nearest boat is Chubasco, a powerful yawl but sailing without a mizzen. Perhaps she found under the shore of Catalina the same williwaws which knocked Nam Sang down to bury the life rails as we passed, savage blasts of wind funneling through the valleys. Behind Chubasco are other vessels of our class—Jada, Skylark, Criterion—and well up among them the smaller Kialoa, which has gone magnificently since the start. Escapade and Good News are well back, while the monster of the fleet, Goodwill, towers among a group of sails difficult to identify.
It is hard for a newcomer to realize the great concentration of boats of all types based in the Los Angeles area—there are 5,000 by actual registration moored in Newport Harbor alone—and everything afloat seemed to have come to watch. Patrol craft darted and helicopters hovered, chivying strays back into the herd. At noon the cannon fired, and we were away as one class, big and little starting together.
As near as I could tell it was Chubasco and Criterion of the larger boats which got the start. As had been predicted, the wind was almost dead on the nose for the western end of Catalina. Most of the fleet short-tacked under the Point Fermin beach; Escapade, first to come out on starboard tack, seemed to be ahead when she tacked back, but suddenly from far inshore the 49-foot Kialoa of John Kilroy appeared to cross everyone, a masthead genoa drawing beautifully.
Gradually Nam Sang worked through the leaders, finally crossing on a long hitch to the Catalina shore as Sailing Master Ed Grant declared he knew a groove where the wind always blew—which it did, setting us on our ear in one williwaw. And now, as I finish this log entry before my first wheel trick, a veil of clouds is sliding in. Chubasco, only boat in sight, holds up to windward as Nam Sang reaches down on a southerly course. We of the crew sit along the weather rail like damp crows, in oilskins and heavy shirts. A lumpy sea rolls in from the west. Spray curls over the bow and spatters on deck. Occasionally the genoa scoops. San Clemente Island fades on the port quarter, our last sight of land.
Monday, 6 July, 8 a.m. Position: latitude 310�, 44 minutes north; longitude 119�, 29 minutes west. Run to 8 a.m. 155 miles.
We reached through the night first under genoa, then under balloon jib, then back to genoa, roaring along at better than eight knots. Coming on deck for watch at 3 a.m., before dawn, I wondered if I was in the wrong ocean—it was more like a transatlantic passage than my notion of a transpacific sail, with a chill damp creeping through thick clothes, reminiscent of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Yet my shipmates bid me be of good cheer. Sunshine and warm full breezes lie ahead. "Bucket baths on the foredeck on the fourth day," is the prediction. Pacific weather, apparently, plays by the script. Sitting almost athwart the great circle and rhumb-line courses, the shortest route to Honolulu, is the Pacific high, one of the world's dominant semipermanent pressure cells. To sailors it is as real and solid as a mountain of granite instead of atmosphere. It may move within fairly fixed limits either north or south, east or west, but down its slopes air flows clockwise in approximately a 15� spiral. The higher the pressure, the steeper the mountain and the harder the flow of wind. Unfortunately, however, in the center there is no wind at all, and woe betide the vessel which gets becalmed in the stagnant eye. As a rule of thumb, navigators try to stay at least 300 miles from the middle, a trick made difficult because the high not only moves capriciously but far faster than a sailing yacht can evade. Therefore the rhumb line is a dangerous gamble.
Ed Grant, veteran of five Transpac races, not only favors a southerly route—it paid off for Nam Sang in 1957 with a first in class—but believes in getting down without delay. Last night we steered 180�, despite a rhumb-line course of 239�. Thus, at the 8 a.m. roll call, Nam Sang was the most southerly yacht in the fleet. Our playmates of yesterday—Chubas-co, Good News, Criterion and Kialoa—are bunched some 30 miles nearer the rhumb line, while Escapade, holding even higher, is over 60 miles above our position.
Somehow I suddenly realize the vastness of the Pacific when a fleet can scatter so quickly after the start. And, more than in any other race I have sailed, I have the impression of the ocean being an immense chessboard, where individual pieces are moved in relation to the prognostications of the meteorologist and the positions of competitors as revealed by daily radio reports. In a sense, strategy can be more important than sheer speed through the water, equalizing the chances of all. It can be a thinking man's race—provided his crystal ball and rabbit's foot are also in good order.