On July 4, off San Pedro, just north of Los Angeles Harbor, 35 of the West Coast's finest yachts will head out on the longest continually scheduled ocean race in the world, the 2,230-mile run to Honolulu (see chart at right). On past performance alone, the favorite for this grueling dash halfway across the Pacific must be Ira P. Fulmor, skipper of the 61-foot Alden yawl Criterion (above). Fulmor, who won two out of the last three Honolulu races (he was first in 1955 and 1953, second in 1951), has spent the entire spring honing Criterion into the sharpest racing trim. His crew has trained like football players so they can stand up to the grind of four hours on watch, then four hours off, from the time they leave California until they arrive at the finish line off Diamond Head some two weeks later. And Fulmor himself is a deadly competitor who believes that sailing may be for fun but races are for winning. For days before the starting gun goes off, he and his navigator pore over all available data on winds and currents. And on the lonely crossing, in which it is possible to travel 2,000 miles without seeing another sail, Fulmor pushes his boat and his crew as though there were an imaginary rival right alongside.
Despite this awesome competitive drive, however, none of the other 34 entries are giving Fulmor a thing until they hit Oahu. For the drawn-out Honolulu, perhaps more than any other ocean race, is what the skippers call a "crap shoot," in which the whim of the weather can have as much to do with determining the winner as any amount of skill or strategy.
The key to a fast crossing is to pick not necessarily the shortest course but the one that will provide the steadiest winds. As the map on pages 28 and 29 shows, there is usually an area of high atmospheric pressure right on the straight-line course between Los Angeles and Honolulu. The winds that push the boats to Honolulu come whirling down off this high. Within the center of the high, however, there is a broad area of calm. The boat that takes the shorter course can win the race provided she doesn't shave too close to the center of the high, where she can be becalmed for days.
In 1947, for example, Movie Actor Frank Morgan, whose underrigged boat had small chance of winning, took a wild flyer on a southerly course. As it happened, that was one of the years when the Pacific high pressure area also moved south. So while the favorites first battled strong headwinds, then pooped along in light air, Morgan and company were flying for Honolulu to pick up the winner's trophy. Two years later the 93-foot Morning Star, after making a superscientific study of advanced weather data of the entire route across, threaded her way along a more northerly course to set a record of 10 days 10 hours 13 minutes for the crossing, which she again lowered to the existing record of 9 days 15 hours 5 minutes in 1955.
In 1953, on the other hand, J. W. Crawford's Dirigo II entered the game of hide-and-seek with the trade winds and took a course that plopped her into the middle of one of the longest, flattest calms in transpacific racing history. Dirigo flopped around only 340 miles from Diamond Head, while Stag-hound won the race and half the rest of the fleet pulled in to get ready for the postrace party. Finally, on July 17, three days after the first finisher crossed the line, the crew of the Dirigo threw up their hands via a radio message that most West Coast sailors consider the classic complaint on the classic race. "Out of wind," said the message, "out of patience and out of beer."
HEAVY WINDS THROUGH CHANNEL
HIGH, SOMETIMES CENTERED HERE
HIGH USUALLY CENTERED HERE
FASTEST COURSE UNDER PERFECT CONDITION
GREAT CIRCLE DISTANCE 2,230 MILES
'MORNING STAR'S' CLASSIC COURSE
STEADIEST WINDS HERE
START AT SAN PEDRO
ENTRIES FOR THE HONOLULU RACE
ALTURA—48', Hugh Jacks; CONSTELLATION—75', Maxfield Smith; DIABLO—60', Frank Wade; NANAIMO—50', William Palmer; SEADRIFT—85', Lyman Farwell; SEA SONG II—45', William Watling; QUASCILLA—42', Martha Baker; QUEEN MAB—78', Brunson & Pringle; VOLUNTEER—59', Jack Broome.
BERUTH—50', Bert Holland; NOVIA DEL MAR—90', John Scripps.
BARLOVENTO—83', Frank Hooykaas; ESPRIT—40', Frank Rothwell; GROOTE BEER—55', Fred Johnson; NAM SANG—66', Louis Statham; ORIENT—63', T. I. Moseley; WATER WITCH—50', Edwin Fuld; YANKEE DOODLE—40', E. W. DeKoning; Y-COMO—40', Gould-Eddy.
BAGATELLE—44', Wilford Zinsmeyer; ELLEN—41', Ralph Montali; LEGEND—50', Charles Ullman; MISTRESS—38', Dix Brow; NALU II—46', Peter Grant; PARI TOO—40', Roy Elliott Jr.; SQUALL—47', Albert Martin Jr.; TASCO II—49', Thomas Short.
CIRCE—62', Ray Cooke; CRITERION—61', I. P. Fulmor; JADA—56', George & William Sturgis; KIALOA—50', John Kilroy; KIRAWAN—53', C. Paschall; KOCHAB—40', I. J. Franklen-Evans; ONDINE—53', S. Long; SILHOUETTE II—55', Edwin Munsey.