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Winning both ways

by Betsy Senescu May 17, 2023

 

There are so many amazing things about the May images in the 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar! The sheer power of this mighty machine as it eviscerates the Molokai Channel on the way to Diamond Head. The concentration and dedication of this crew: many who have raced together for decades. And the legacy that started nearly half a century ago and continues to this day. Pyewacket 70, pictured here, crushed the 2021 Transpacific Yacht Race, coming in first-to-finish in just five-and-one-half fast and furious days.

But I’m going to tell you a secret … this isn’t the actual finish photo. No: Pyewacket 70 finished at almost 3AM, making it impossible to capture photos. But owner/skipper Roy P. Disney agreed to Sharon Green’s offer to shoot a reenactment for reasons you’ll soon understand. 

  

Flashback 2019: the 50th running of the Transpac race. The Andrews 68 Pyewacket along with 80-some other boats – a record number of entries – was geared up to start this legendary race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. For skipper Roy Disney and teammate Gary Weisman, the 2019 race was especially significant because they would both be breaking the record for having the most Transpacs under their belts (25). Pyewacket’s rockstar crew, for what they hoped was a record-breaking run, even included sailing legend Paul Cayard.

 

On July 13, the last of three starts, the biggest, fastest yachts took off from Point Fermin. But early in the morning of July 15, about 200 miles from shore, the unthinkable happened. 

Aboard Orient Express (OEX) – a Santa Cruz 70 – skipper John Sangmeister recounted that around 2:30AM, “We were reaching along with a reef and a jib and genoa staysail doing between 14 and 17 knots, close reaching: the boat felt in good shape. And then we heard a loud ‘Bang!’” The helmsman reported he’d lost steering and they quickly realized they were rapidly taking on water. On swift inspection it appeared the entire lower rudder bearing had blown off the boat and the rudder was “can-opening the bottom of the boat” with seawater gushing in “as if it was a geyser,” said John. The crew mobilized, trying to stop the ingress, radioing for help, and getting life rafts ready.

Pyewacket was thankfully still relatively close: it was early in the race and boats were only beginning to fan out on what each thought would be the swiftest lane to Hawaii.

So when Roy and the crew aboard Pyewacket heard the urgency and desperation of the radio call, they immediately diverted. “Rule number one in the race handbook is ‘save lives.’ There were no other choices for us, it’s the obvious thing,” said Roy:  commending both crews for being composed and handling this dire situation so well.

As Pyewacket arrived on the scene, OEX was eerily sinking into the Pacific with her mainsail still peeking out of the waves. The two life rafts full of OEX crew were taken aboard Pyewacket.

 

 

“I felt really confident that Roy and his remarkable crew would take good care of us; they were more than gracious hosts,” said John, adding, “Roy I’m really sorry we ruined your race – and I’m sincerely grateful.” 

Both skippers reported they had an excellent dinner and camaraderie that night, “all 19 of us,” as they returned to shore.* Later Roy and his team were awarded US Sailing’s Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal.

 

 

But thus ended Pyewacket’s 2019 Transpac campaign. Although they didn’t sail that complete race, we still consider them winners. So when Transpac 2021 rolled around, and they DID capture first-to-finish, you can understand why Sharon and the Ultimate Sailing team couldn’t resist a chance to get these images of Pyewacket crossing the finish line. Because they are winners in many ways.

“Navigator Peter Isler had calculated they would finish in the night,” explains Sharon, and we were there when they pulled up to the dock at the Aloha Tower in the wee hours of July 23. “But Roy had put so much into this campaign: to not have those iconic photos of this spectacular boat screaming down the Molokai Channel was just so disappointing. Doing a re-shoot was a big ask, but so vital, I felt.”

“When I made the call to ask about a re-enactment, I knew it was a huge request, but the team understood the importance for Roy and Transpac to have these images,” Sharon explains. Still, these boats are hard to sail and we needed the full team’s commitment to sail, as they had already busted their buns more than 2,200 miles to win first-to-finish!

The team agreed. Peter designated the coordinates, then on the 25th, with a double reefed main and #4 jib, Pyewacket 70 bashed upwind 20 nautical miles in 25 knot trade winds and 8 foot seas in the Molokai Channel. “The conditions were totally ‘fresh to frightening’ with those massive seas,” Sharon recounts.

“Peter navigated the boat to the coordinates 21 14n 157 30w about mid channel in the Molokai Channel (Ka’iwi Channel). They had to sail 20 minutes past the spot, so they could shake out the reef and bear off and set the full downwind inventory,” Sharon tells. “They gybed onto starboard, on the final layline to the Diamond Head finish, and came powerfully ripping down the channel at 2.5 times as fast as they went upwind. Once the sails were set it would be just minutes before they crossed the finish line.” 

“I was in an R44 helicopter, texting with Peter aboard the boat, and he was giving me the rundown of what they were doing. We had a photo boat on the water too: struggling to keep up with Pyewacket 70!”

“We actually restaged it two times, to pass the R2 buoy that marks the end of the race, where the on-the-water photo team was positioned to capture the Diamond Head finish.” Sharon continues, “I will be forever grateful for this incredible day and opportunity to capture these images that I had envisioned.”

Sharon shot these iconic photographs with a Canon 1Dx Mark 2 with the 200-400 f/4L 1.4 ext. ISO: 400 Aperture 5.6 Shutter 1/3200. These images, in the 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar, depict the newer, modified Volvo 70 Pyewacket 70 which Roy has been since be using to smash records around the world. Recently Sharon had a chance to sail this turbo-charged Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed yacht during the recent Les Voiles de St Barth Richard Mille in the Caribbean. 

“I was excited enough to be invited to sail onboard Pyewacket 70 during their practice day in St Barth; and then Roy just handed me the wheel!” Sharon exclaims. “What a thrill! It was a gorgeous day, blowing probably 15 knots, and the boat just moves! I am so grateful to Roy and the crew for having me onboard, and for sharing and facilitating our vision of capturing the Ultimate Sailing images.”

 

Here's a sneak peek of some of those shots: including you-know-who on the helm!

 

- Betsy Senescu

 

 

 

 

 * Listen to Roy Disney and John Sangmeister’s dock arrival comments from that fateful night here: LINK

 




Betsy Senescu
Betsy Senescu

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