Wow, What a Journey! Transpac 2023

By Bob LaBine

48th overall
3rd in Division 8
2nd in Aloha Class
1st in Oldest Average Age of Crew

Now for “the rest of the story.”

Aaron Wilker had invited me to come and have dinner at the Shoreline Yacht Club in Long Beach whenever I brought a group of students over for sailing certifications. On one such occasion, Aaron tells me he is doing the Transpac. I told him that if they need another person or someone cannot make it at the last minute, call me. Well, a month before the race, one of the crew had an eye checkup, and it turns out he could not see at night. Aaron called me, and 24 hours later, I was on the crew list.

Time to start packing, practicing, and getting some additional certifications. There are requirements for the boat and crew before doing a Transpac. On the crew side, the boat needs crew with First Aid, AED and CPR certifications; I had those. Also, we needed a percentage to have Safety at Sea Offshore certification. I did an online course and then the opportunity came up for me to do the live class, so I went to San Diego for certification. What an experience to go through emergency drills with a life vest, flares, life rafts, fully clothed, and more.

Bob is at the helm and all smiles!

Emails back and forth regarding food, equipment, arrival dates, practice days, etc., ensued for the next month. Then it was time to pack up the boat and prepare for our voyage! There are three start dates with the slowest boats – us, starting on Tuesday, the next start was Thursday, and the fastest boats leaving Saturday. The idea is they all reach Hawaii at about the same time. Ya right! The Trimaran Mod 70’s made it in under five days averaging about 20 knots! In comparison, we averaged 5.5 knots.

It was a slow start for us, tacking back and forth to get around the west end of Catalina Island before settling in for 3-4 days of close-hauled sailing (starboard tack only) in 15-20 knot winds (gust to 25) and 6–8-foot seas with the occasional 12-footer thrown in. Only Greg and I have bluewater ocean sailing experience, and we quickly fell behind the fleet as we learned the boat, sea conditions, and each other. We never could make up for lost time.

Next came the “slot car lanes.” That is where you are on a starboard broad reach for a week or more, flying the asymmetrical spinnaker. Being on the same point of sail for days on end was a new experience for most; we chose to fly the jib at night and avoid “broaching” the boat in the dark. The winds usually pick up at night, and we did not want to blow out the spinnaker. The repeat racers flew their spinnakers 24/7 and had backups if they blew theirs out. Although the race is scheduled for a full moon, we did not see it until the final days and only glimpsed a quarter or less. It was cloudy, cold, and dark. Once it cleared up, we finally got to see the stars. It is absolutely beautiful out in the middle of the ocean at night when you can see the heavens. You have never seen so many stars.

We were in Division 8, Aloha class (slow boats and newbies). We quickly moved into 3rd in our division and 2nd in Aloha. Hold the excitement because, by the time we crossed the finish line, there were only three boats left in our class and two Aloha boats. We are very proud of what we accomplished because the other boats broke down or turned back to CA, unable to finish. TO FINISH IS TO WIN! (motto from my Great Race Road rally days).

The shifts were four hours on- four hours off, and it was exhausting after a while. The first few days, some of us did not eat much while trying to acclimate to the motion of the ocean. Once we started eating, we ate well, thanks to all the meals Chef Robin prepared ahead of time. On the Independence Day holiday, while most of you enjoyed grilled meats, libations and fireworks with family and friends, the 52 teams of 455 sailors on the Transpac racecourse were still progressing west towards Hawaii. The sailing angles start turning from reaching to running for most of the fleet. We celebrated the 4th of July with hot dogs. We had been on the water for seven days and were about halfway there. We were getting used to each other and settling into our shifts. Can we get a shower soon? I have never been able to grow a 5:00 shadow, but I had one after 16 days at sea!

Around this time, we spotted a Pasha Hawaii container ship on the radar (also one of the sponsors). We called out to them with our position, heading and speed and asked about their intent. They responded, “You guys have pretty good equipment; I don’t even see you on my radar.” I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad. While on shift, some crew saw whales, dolphins, birds, fishing vessels, and more container ships. Greg caught a 3’ Mahi-mahi which he threw back.

The days went by as we made our way to Hawaii. Aaron did a great job of navigating and charting our positions each day. Tony, our medic, was finally starting to feel better until he broke a toe. Ouch! Justin did a great job at the helm and would help on the foredeck when needed. Our Skipper, Larry, kept all systems working and was always on call. Greg (aka squirrel) was always moving around, checking pins, rings, and shrouds, and willing to fix anything to eat 24/7. Robin managed to stay dry in the forward cabin as constant spry came across the deck on the first few days. It was like having a rain shower in your bed. Put more rags around the hatch!

At one point, I noticed something did not look right with the boom vang. After more investigating, the bottom of one of the blocks had blown out, probably during the night during one of our unintentional jibes. After some thought, a fix was macgyvered to get us to Hawaii.

It was finally time to jibe to a port tack and start heading south. The winds were steady out of the north-northeast. Then the spinnaker halyard broke, and the spinnaker dropped into the water while we were caught with our mouths hanging open and stating, “WOW,” then, “All hands on deck!” We brought the spinnaker back on board and let the jib back out. In hindsight, that slowed us down during the final stretch, but we made do with what we had. Also, the whisker pole became twisted and bent at one end due to the stress and constant wave action being put on it, so we had to take that down as well. Those who sail know it is not if something will break but when. Luckily there was no damage to anyone and nothing that could not be repaired or fixed on the boat.

Eat, sleep, be on watch, and repeat.

On the last night of sailing, the lights of the Hawaiian Islands could be seen in the distance. Next, you could smell a strange odor. Is that what land smells like? Dawn arrived in sight of Honolulu, and we could feel the finish line getting closer. Everyone is on deck. I see the lighthouse! Look for red buoy #2. We must leave it to the port side and within 100’. It is spotted. Hey, we might be able to finish in under 17 days. Turn on the afterburners, everybody on the leeward side of the boat, steering starboard 165 degrees off the wind to get there without a jibe. We are almost there. The excitement builds.

The finish line was in site! Yes, we did it! 16 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 34 seconds. Time to spare!!! I was honored to be able to helm the boat across the finish line; thank you, Larry. Smiles and high fives all around! We did it!

From there, a “Follow Me Boat” led us into the harbor and to our dock. Down the sails, turn on the engine, get out the fenders and dock lines. Change into our crew shirts and get ready for the party and celebration.

What a reception as we sailed by the yacht club, boaters, paddle boarders and music blaring in the background. All this JUST for us! Into our slip. Customs come aboard like we stopped at a fruit stand and bought something or picked up an illegal at one of our waypoints. Next, a safety check person comes on board to make sure, among other things, that you arrived with the same people you left with. (Ha, inside joke not suitable for printing). Next comes the lei around everyone’s neck, and you are handed a Mai Tia in a fresh pineapple. Now why they give a Mai Tai to a sailor who has been at sea for 16+ days before they even get off the boat is beyond my comprehension.

The crew of “IMAGINE TOO” celebrated their finish with the customary Mai Tai.

We all managed to walk off the two-foot-wide pier to the reception tent. Hamburgers, Hawaiian pulled pork, fruit cookies, and more drinking ensued. What a job by the Honolulu reception team. They have been doing this for eight days, with us being the only boat to finish on Friday. And another boat was still out there.

Within minutes I purposely lay on the ground (before I fell) and was immediately attended to. Someone stop the world from spinning, please. They put a pillow under my head, legs on the table, ice bag over my forehead, and fed me fruit to get my blood sugar up. They tell me, “Don’t worry; you’re not the first!”

What an accomplishment by all of us. Not many people can say they completed a Transpac. I’m glad I did it. One of the first questions they ask, besides did anything break, is, would you do it again? A friend said, “That’s like asking a woman who just gave birth if she would have another child.” Of course, the first answer is NO. After you have had time to reflect on the accomplishment and what went right and wrong, you start thinking. What could we have done to be better? Could we have gone a different route, tacked more, jibed more, had more sail inventory, etc? Only time will tell; the next Transpac is not until the summer of 2025.

The yacht we raced was Imagine Too – USA 7156, a 2010 Catalina 445 with a blue, red, purple, and pink spinnaker. Crew: Skipper-Larry Goshorn; Engineer-Justin Goshorn; Autopilot-Greg Genemer; Chef-Robin Goshorn; Watch Captain-Bob LaBine; Medic/Doctor-Tony Pearson; Navigator-Aaron Wilker.

Tom (Transpac President), Greg, Aaron, Tony, Larry, Robin, Bob, and Justin.

Among several specialty trophies awarded at Kaneohe Yacht Club was the Ilio Aukai Trophy which recognizes the crew with the oldest average age – of those who would admit their birth dates! IMAGINE TOO won with an average age of 56 years. Our team is proof that age is no barrier to participation in Transpac.

“To Finish Is To Win”   

Check out Transpac 2023 on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook for more pictures, details, and routes.