The magic of Disney has entertained millions, but when Roy E. Disney takes to the sea, there's another kind of magic at work: that of the ocean and wind, the sun and moon.
"We're sailing over to Catalina at sunset one Friday afternoon," the Disney vice chairman recalls, "and it's a warm day with a good breeze. The boat's just cruising along and there's an enormous sunset dead to the right and big orange trail of sun on the water. And there's an enormous moon that has just risen 180 degrees on the left, and there's a big silver trail on the water.
"The orange trail and the silver trail are coming right together at the boat and both of our daughters, who were 11 or 12 at the time, are sitting behind me with guitars singing 'Puff the Magic Dragon,' and I was sitting there saying, 'It just doesn't get any better than this.' "
But then the subject of the Transpacific Yacht Race is introduced and Disney's smile grows wider, an indication that his passion for casual sailing is at least matched by his passion for racing.
Indeed, the nephew of the late Walt Disney wouldn't have traded his ride during the 1999 Transpac for any at the famed amusement parks. Aboard his 73-foot Pyewacket, he and his crew, under the masterful guidance of navigator Stan Honey, sailed into history by covering the 2,225 miles from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 7 days 11 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds.
It was the fastest time by a mono-hull vessel in the 93-year history of the race. Perhaps fittingly, the record Disney broke was set by his son, Roy Patrick Disney, also aboard Pyewacket, in the previous Transpac in 1997.
The father was supposed to have been at the helm in 1997, but bowed out after breaking his leg in a car accident a few weeks before the race.
The son had only two years to savor his triumph, having broken a record--of 8:11:01:45 by Bill Lee's Merlin--that had stood since 1977.
"He said if anyone had to break my record, I'm glad it was you," the elder Disney said of his son.
Mother Nature cooperated during the 1999 race, providing ideal sailing conditions almost throughout, although Honey deserves much of the credit, having plotted a course well to the south of rival Zephyrus, which got stuck in the doldrums and had to settle for third place.
Pyewacket, a Reichel/Pugh maxi-sled, reached its highest speeds near the finish. Disney recalls an almost idyllic final afternoon, being swept up by trade winds and riding at 20 knots atop a beautiful blue sea and beneath "big puffy clouds that were beginning to turn a radiant pink and all these other colors.
"I remember steering with one hand and chatting with the crew," he continued. "It was just unbelievable, and I said to somebody that if I could only, right now, rent a big helicopter and bring every friend I know out here and just plunk them down on this deck for five minutes, nobody would ever ask me again why we do this."
Pyewacket, named after the witch's magic cat in the movie, "Bell, Book and Candle," passed Diamond Head in the dark of a moonless night, all but invisible, a ghostly black image going so fast, "I remember thinking, 'How are we going to stop this thing?' "
With the 41st Transpac at hand--the slower Aloha Division (formerly Cruising Class) boats started Monday, Division III and IV boats start Saturday and the elite Division I boats, including Pyewacket, start Sunday--the question remains whether any of the entries will be able to top Disney's storybook finish of 1999.
"Sure the record can be beaten," he said. "I think the right year's going to come along where somebody's going to break seven days. But it's going to be scary as hell going that fast. You're talking 370-mile days."
Disney could not have timed his record run in the last Transpac--the race is run every other year--more appropriately. It landed him a prominent role in the video/DVD documentary, "Transpac/A Century Across the Pacific."
Produced by Disney and Leslie DeMeuse, it takes viewers on an entertaining excursion through time, following the world's most enduring long-distance race from its conception by King David Kalakaua in 1886 (it wasn't run until 1906) as a means of bringing tourists to Hawaii, to Pyewacket's ride to glory.
Using old footage and interviews with past competitors, the stories behind the races are told. The first race in 1906, for example, was supposed to have started in San Francisco, but when Clarence Macfarlane sailed La Paloma there from Hawaii, he found the city devastated by the great earthquake and fire.
The race was moved to Los Angeles with only three entries. La Paloma's navigator, reportedly drunk on brandy-soaked cherries, missed Hawaii entirely and reasoned the same earthquake had sent the islands crumbling into the sea.
The two-hour documentary is broken into segments that deal with everything from wartime interruptions, to evolution in equipment, to emergencies at sea, to seasickness to inroads by women.
The latter category includes a story of wealthy Beverly Hills socialite Sally Blair Ames, who bought Constellation in 1959, pronounced to the press: "People think I'm a bitch with a big boat, but the hell with them," and proceeded to finish first in her division. Soon thereafter, at 33, Ames died of an overdose of sleeping pills.
Ultimately, viewers are treated to a tactical battle easily won by Pyewacket over Zephyrus, and a triumphant Disney proclaiming his victory to be "a life-enhancing experience."
"Transpac/A Century Across the Pacific" is available through the Web site http://www.transpacificyc.org.
The race to Hawaii will feel like a sprint for three crew members aboard Bengal II, which will start with Divisions III and IV on Saturday. Yasuharu Ando, Fumihiko Tominaga and Masaki Takasu sailed the vessel 5,200 nautical miles, the equivalent of two Transpacs, from Japan.
The Osahi 52 is among two Japanese and five foreign entries, but the only one that wasn't shipped to Los Angeles because, "We have no money," Ando said. The trip took 32 days, averaging 162 miles a day sailing mostly downwind and through two storms.
Bengal II's owner-skippers, Yoshiko Murase and Yoichi Ito, were not aboard for that marathon.
Most of the week, it appeared Pyewacket's record would be safe. The eight Aloha Division entries experienced a dreadfully slow start Monday, the winds had remained calm throughout most of the week and the important trade winds on the southern track had not materialized.
But the two-day forecast issued Thursday brightened considerably: "Stronger trades expected between 20-25 north latitude with more than 20 knots possible south of 20 NL." Boats are not expected to venture as far south as 20 NL, but 25 is on course.
It'll be just a matter of time before the longer, faster Division II and I boats overtake those in the Aloha Division, but they might have trouble catching Shanakee II.
It has a strong lead and is in position to benefit first from the trade winds. Stardust was running second and was hardly slowed Thursday by a collision with a whale described as a "glancing blow."
Pyewacket's two biggest rivals, vying for the coveted Barn Door trophy awarded the finisher with the fastest elapsed time, are Bob McNulty's Chance and Phillippe Kahn's Pegasus, the latter considered the race favorite.
Joining them in Division I are Robert Lane's Medicine Man and Al Micallef's Merlin's Reata.