Ocean racing is a matter of compensations. Sometimes it is mostly good, and the compensation is victory. Sometimes it is mostly bad, and the real joy is solely that it finally ends. These thoughts were very much in my mind a fortnight ago as I prepared to join the crew of Nam Sang for my second Pacific race, the run from San Diego to Acapulco. In prospect, this coastwise slant to the south and east seemed likely to be as different from the sleigh ride to Honolulu as two phases of the same sport could be. The latter was a westward passage across open ocean, riding the steady winds of a relatively fixed high-pressure system. There are no such probabilities on the San Diego-Acapulco run. Anything in the way of wind—or lack of it—may be expected. The meteorologists predicted that we might at first get strong northerlies, from cold fronts originating in the Aleutian weather factory. But they quickly warned that for most of the distance it might be necessary to depend on thermal currents, winds which flow from the cold land to warm ocean by night, reversing during the day as the sun heats the shore.
The start was inauspicious. At the signal, hardly a vessel had more than bare steerageway. But by nightfall we were running down the coast with a breeze that struck in before sunset. I began my log with a feeling of confidence:
Monday, January 18
All day we have slid along under spinnaker to a light sea breeze, the wind shifting westward as the sun rose. Our night ride close to shore paid off. Nam Sang is now second in the fleet, astern only of Pursuit, one of the two class M sloops sailing the race. At 83 feet over-all, they are the closest things afloat to the giant J boats which formerly raced for the America's Cup. It is a foregone conclusion one of them will be first to finish, and despite huge handicaps they should be hard to beat even on corrected time if anticipated conditions prevail. In size, the 37-vessel fleet ranges from the 89-foot ketch Novia Del Mar to the 32-foot sloop Risque. Some of our Honolulu Race competitors are back, such as Escapade, Kamalii, Kialoa and Patronilla, but added are such good boats as Legend, Transpac winner in 1957, and Carousel, a 40-foot sloop which has been first in both the Acapulco and Ensenada events.
Already I can see that luck will play a large part in determining the outcome. Various boats are certain to get slants of breeze while others sit becalmed, waiting for their numbers to come up in the great celestial lottery, to take off with a rattle of winch pawls and a ringing of verbal bells as the crew optimistically exults: "This time, this is it."
Wednesday, January 20
Two things landsmen do not realize about sailing long races are that light, fluky conditions are harder on a crew than heavy winds, as there are more changes of sails and trim, and that after a while sleepiness can become a form of torture. It seems that for countless hours I have not been off my feet during watches on deck, and now tiredness is compounded by spending part of my watch below helping Bruce Hutchins resew the clew of the drifter, pulled out as this breeze freshened. My judgment as watch captain was at fault; I was reluctant to slow the boat by changing to a less efficient headsail, and the light nylon let go along the stitching about two feet ahead of the cringle. As chief architect of the disaster it was up to me to do my best at repair, although by temperament and experience I am better at disintegrating than creating sails. Credit for returning the drifter to service must go to Bruce Hutchins and to Frank Atkinson, our capable rigger and masthead man.
Thursday, January 21
After a day's run of 136 miles Nam Sang is off Cape San Lazaro, more than halfway down the peninsula of Baja California. The watch has shed flannels and soaks up the sun clad in shorts. We have ghosted past giant turtles sunning on the surface and seen the dark triangles of manta rays beneath. Water snakes wriggle away from the bow, huge schools of porpoises give spectacular exhibitions of steeplechase jumping, a big hammerhead shark nosed the remains of breakfast, and Bill Crawford and I watched a marlin make an even dozen leaps clear of the water, falling back each time with a tremendous flurry. It is a wild and intriguing part of the world, one of the last areas near population centers to remain untouched, perfect for cruising.
But it is giving us a hard time racing. Watchmate Ben Collins agrees he has never experienced such frustration trying to keep a boat moving. No wind seems to last. By the time sails and trim are adjusted to one set of conditions, these no longer exist. Even the thermal winds seem to be off duty; we have moved mostly at night and remain always on the port tack.
Saturday, January 23