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The 1,430-mile race from San Diego, Calif. to Acapulco, Mexico is sometimes called the world's most scenic ocean race. Along its southward course marlin jump, turtles bask on the surface and porpoises roll, while deep down in the crystal water blue flecks of plankton glow like Christmas tree lights. Yet for the crews of boats being raced hard, conditions are among the world's most frustrating. Wind changes come with the sun, with the moon, with the distance offshore, with the altitude of the headlands and often for no discernible reason at all. Aboard John B. Kilroy's brand-new aluminum marvel Kialoa II (SI, Feb. 3), we soon discovered that progress during any one hour was no guarantee for the next. Headsail changes and variations in trim were almost incessant, until finally a crew member horsing yet another genoa up on deck voiced what was in all our minds: "There must be an easier way to get to Acapulco."
The pattern of the race was set shortly after the start off San Diego at noon on Sunday, February 2. The fleet got away in a light, reaching breeze which soon shifted ahead, presenting each skipper with the problem that was to plague him each hour for the next week: whether to stay close under the beach to play the on-and offshore thermal winds or go to sea in hopes of catching a steadier and fresher slant. As the fleet split, Ashley G. Bown in the 40-foot Carousel worked out ahead of the inshore group, while the 81-foot Sirius II and 73-foot Kialoa dueled farther out. At sunset, there was every prospect for a peaceful night of drifting; a couple of hours later, wind suddenly spilled from Todos Santos Bay like water from a broken dike. In two hours we logged 23 nautical miles, driven along by gusts topping 35 knots. Then nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yet while cigarette smoke hung immobile for the boats inshore, Sirius and others of the fleet which had sagged to leeward during the squalls continued merrily on their way with a sea breeze, opening a big lead before the morning radio roll call.
From then on, Sirius stayed ahead of the pack and went on to finish in eight days, nine hours, 15 minutes, setting a new elapsed time record for the race. Kialoa, a boat so new that a small army of workmen had stayed aboard until the last minute, was second.
Unquestionably, Kialoa is the most advanced ocean racer afloat, and her defeat by Sirius was a disappointment, but it will take time to achieve her full potential. Under the Bermuda rule, Olin Stephens attempted to give her the longest possible waterline and slightly less displacement than Bolero and similar limit vessels. This should tend to make her hull more easily driven and give her a higher top speed than any other yacht eligible for next June's race to Bermuda. "Kialoa should be as fast as a 12-meter," mused Stephens.
What impressed Kialoa's crew even more on the way to Acapulco was that her headsails are approximately twice the size of those on any 12. After a few days, they became heavy, indeed. Yet fortunately, Jim Kilroy had given thought to the comfort of his deck group, and offwatch life centered around a ranch-house type of cooking unit that deserved to be called a kitchen rather than a galley, complete to garbage disposal, huge freezer and a wall oven using magic radar rays—roast beef rare in six minutes per pound, medium in seven minutes. The presiding genius was Bob Harris, an insurance broker who cooks for fun. Bob treated us to such delicacies as filet of sole Florentine and creamed Alaska king crab in individual pastry shells.
The other innovations intended to give Kialoa all the comforts of a home afloat were less successful. Air conditioning is a mixed blessing even when it works, and Kialoa's did not. Indirect lighting, too, has its points, but it is no substitute in a crowded cabin for a shaded bulb over a bunk where one man can read without disturbing those trying to sleep. Yet, despite minor quibbles, all hands felt they were aboard a great boat, while even conservative Olin Stephens termed her performance, "Not definitive, yet not discouraging."
But as the big fellows headed south, tending their new sails and pondering their innovations, little Carousel, which is really a stock Owens cutter only slightly modified in rig and deck layout, was never far behind. Her eight-year-old mainsail teamed up well with an eight-year-old balloon jib, recut from a genoa, and her two men on deck made their changes perhaps a bit faster than the big crews of more ponderous rivals. After the first couple of days, Ash Bown conferred with Malin Burnham, in charge of the opposite watch, and they decided they did not like conditions under the beach: it looked as though wind from the Gulf of California was upsetting the normal cycle. So at San Benito islands, about one-third of the way down, they cut offshore. Six days and 920 miles later, completely on dead-reckoning navigation, they made their next landfall, only five miles in error. The last leg was sailed close to shore, when the thermals worked again, and Carousel crossed the line in seventh place, ahead of three Class A boats and all of Class B, to win the race and set a new record on corrected time.
Having had the honor of being taken for a sail aboard Carousel after the finish, I was not only impressed by the convenience of her layout but the ease and speed with which everything could be done. Efficiency stemming from light gear is one factor the rule-makers cannot equalize with a computer. Nor can they analyze the ability to read the heavens and to keep a boat moving proven by Ash Bown's record of two firsts, a second and a fourth in four Acapulco races.