Transpac 2011 - The Grand Illusion

Ed McDowell’s SC 70, Grand Illusion
Transpac 2011: It was on the third or fourth morning of the race, James McDowell says, that 'the breeze lifted, and we had three days of wind at 10-15 knots, the most amazing sailing I've ever experienced, and we woke up one morning and there we were, 1-1 in the standings. That's when the pressure came on.'

1-1 as in first in division and (probably) an overall win in the 46th Transpacific Yacht Race, Los Angeles to Honolulu, for McDowell's Grand Illusion.

Grand Illusion is a Santa Cruz 70, designed by 2011 Transpacific Yacht Club Commodore Bill Lee and a turning point in the development of a new type of boat, the 'sleds.' These boats were aimed at being fast and controllable in downwind Pacific racing, but they went on to have great success elsewhere, in the Great Lakes, for example. It was an SC70 that, in 1997, finally beat the 20-year-old breakthrough record of Merlin, also a Lee design. Grand Illusion has been campaigned hard over the years by James McDowell and by his father, Ed, who met the boat dockside at the Waikiki Yacht Club. 'The boat is raced all the time,' James said. 'Our goal coming in was to beat Alchemy and win our class season championship, and we've done that now.'

And to do it for the Waikiki Yacht Club.

McDowell, 2nd from left, and crew - Transpac 2011
Kimball Livingston/Transpac
But when your boat is 1-1, you start to want more than the class season championship. You want to keep what you have. You want to win the Transpac on corrected time, overall.

'It looked as if Philippe [Kahn] was taking Pegasus all over the place, trying to pass us,' McDowell said when he finally had a shoreside chair to sit down in. We stayed focused on sailing the shortest distance, and sailing on the favored board. For a while, Pegasus was looking fearsome in the south, but we were able to stop the bleeding.'

Pegasus, an Andrews 68 reconfigured for this race, was the first of seven sleds to finish, but lost out on corrected time.

'On the last day,' McDowell said, 'we started getting squalls with winds in the twenties, and we realized that all we had to do to win was finish, so we went conservative. We have a boatload of good drivers, and we could always keep a fresh driver on the wheel.'

Among the weapons that Grand Illusion brings to the hunt: A seasoned core crew that knows the boat from great experience. Navigator Patrick O'Brien, for example, has been on this boat or the previous boat for 20 years. Also finishing in the predawn dark were Alex Farrell's 1D35, Alpha Puppy, and Charles-Etienne Devanneaux's Beneteau First 40, Naos Two. First light streaked the eastern sky as the Naos Two crew came ashore. The new day promises to be fast-paced with arrivals.

Transpac website