2014 Singlehanded Transpac Postscript
On July 14th, I arrived in Hanalei Bay, Kauai after 16 days 12 hours of solo sailing. At 10:30 PM, I was quickly approaching a reef fringed island in the dark to cross a finish line just outside a shallow bay with no navigational marks and few onshore lights to guide me.
Before departing San Francisco, I had carefully marked the pin end of the finish line on my GPS. It now glowed as a small red square on the electronic chart. My boat’s location was marked by a moving white triangle on the screen. I was struggling with 20 knots of offshore breeze. In the cockpit, I kept repeating to myself aloud “Just put the triangle on the square; just put the triangle on the square” It was about all the navigational complexity I could manage at the end of a long race.
The Race Committee was stationed onshore. They hailed me on VHF and asked me to shine a spot light on my mainsail so that they could identify my sail number. A few minutes later they announced that I had crossed the finish line and completed the race. It’s difficult to communicate the sense of relief and accomplishment of that moment. It is something tangible that stays with you for a very long time.
Two hours earlier Ken Roper, another race participant, crossed the same finish line on his boat Harrier. What is significant about Ken is that he was completing his 14th Singlehanded Transpac at the age of 85. I raced against him in 2004 and even then I was impressed that a 75 year old would undertake the challenge of solo sailing halfway across the Pacific. Now he holds two Singlehanded Transpac records: the most completed and the oldest to finish.
On the return trip to San Francisco in 2004, Ken broke a shroud (one of the wires that holds up the mast). He announced this in the evening on a radio net the racers maintained. We were all thinking about him through the night until he came on the radio and said he had climbed the mast and replaced the broken shroud with a spare one that he always carried just in case. When I heard this, I looked up at my own mast and contemplated doing what he had just done. I don’t think I would have been capable even though I was 25 years younger.
My wife Valerie and I were talking about Ken’s accomplishments the evening before the 2014 race began. We were convinced that there must be some secret Ken had. Something he did when he was not sailing that allowed him to do what many other 85 year olds would not even consider. So before the race, I asked Ken what his secret was.
He thought for a moment and looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”