The Harbor Report: The Holy Grail of yacht racing is underway

The Transpacific Yacht Race, simply known as the "Transpac," is the Holy Grail of yacht racing on the West Coast. The course starts in San Pedro and ends at Diamond Head, which is outside of Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu —2,225 nautical miles away.

There is a tremendous amount of history to this event and much of this history centers around Newport Harbor. Monday, July 4, marked the start of the 46th biennial race to Hawaii. The first race was in 1906.

I went around town this week and asked questions about the race to a few of the Transpac veterans we have in our harbor. I first stopped by to see Dave Ullman. He was getting ready to make his 11th Transpac crossing aboard the Holua, a Santa Cruz 70.

"This is the best crew I have ever sailed this race with," Dave told me. "The race plays out within the first 36 hours. And if you hook up with group of boats on Day 3 and you are in the lead, it only gets better."

Dave sailed his first Transpac in 1963 aboard his father's boat, the Legend, which was recognized as one of the first "light displacement" boats to a first in class and 10th overall. The yacht had a long history at the Balboa Yacht Club and won the 1957 Transpac with Charles Ullman at the helm.

When I asked Dave what keeps bringing him back to the race, he replied: "It's the premier race on the West Coast and I have had some exciting finishes over my 11 races."

My next stop was with Tom Corkett.

Tom won the race overall in 1963 aboard the Islander. His Transpac victory that year is one of the classic stories. The way I understand it, Tom walked out of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club one afternoon, recruited five of his friends, and won the race. He was only 21.

Tom has raced in 14 Transpacs and has won his class many times over the years. He was aboard the Windward Passage in the famous 1977 race, and was dismasted in 1967 aboard the Salacia, his Cal 48.

"We were winning the race with 700 miles to go and we stuffed the spinnaker pole into the water," Tom said. "We jury-rigged the boat and still beat a couple of boats to the finish line."

When I asked him about what was his most memorable part of the race, he replied: "Your first land sight. There is nothing better."

My last stop was with Bob Dickson who has sailed in 16 Transpacs. He started in 1953. Bob's most memorable race was in 1965 aboard the Ticonderoga.

"We won the race, first to finish, with a 29-year-old," Bob told me.

The 1965 Transpac was one of the truly great Honolulu races with one of the closest finishes. Only five minutes separated Ticonderoga from the runner-up, the Stormvogel.

When I asked Bob what was the best part of the race, he replied: "Just finishing in Hawaii."

I will be back next time — my column now runs every other week — with an update of the race and the start of one of the classic battles in Transpac history. For more information on this year's race, go to and look for the race tracker.

Sea ya!

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.

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