28 Jul 2015
Crusader, an Elliott 35ss, New Zealand designed and built, has crossed the finish line of the 2225-mile Transpac ocean race from L.A to Honolulu with the fastest elapsed time for boats under 36ft. Starting with much larger 46 to 52ft boats in Transpac Division 4 with a 3 day handicap given to boats of similar size and smaller, the crew fought an 11 day gruelling race with a bow spirit that would not retract due to damage. Despite this the Crusader finished with “the big boys” in her allocated division.
Pre-race preparation was significantly hindered by a large power cut to Long Beach; services were curtailed, Internet access unavailable and the team were unable to charge key navigational equipment. A cyclone approaching from the south set to cross the course had been identified. “Roy Disney has done 20 Transpacs and he says the weather pattern predicted for this year’s race is the most unusual he’s ever seen,” said Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI. Knowing that ultimately the race would be very much a real navigator’s race, the crew packed by torchlight.
Initially having decided to chase the cyclone for a slingshot to Hawaii a change in conditions resulted in the crew’s navigator resetting course to stay north in more settled lighter trade winds. After Catalina Island the breeze softened dramatically and only 4-6 knots of wind could be seen. This was later followed by big squalls carrying up to 30 knots of breeze – at these points the Crusader would be cutting through pitch-black nights sitting on 20-24 knots.
“Crusader is a lot of fun in those sorts of conditions” says boat captain Brett Elliott. “The race was pretty different to what we had expected. We spent much longer on the wind and it was much lighter than is "normal." Our racetrack also took us a long way North which was also not "normal". Luckily for a couple of days we also had some great fast down wind conditions, which were great fun. We regularly sat on 18-20 knots of boat speed for long periods. We had a great team as usual and a very competitive division with all of the boats being over 45ft making the racing very challenging.”
Mid-race a key sail, the A2 gennaker, ripped which was thought would have a significant impact on race performance. Repairs commenced below deck and Kiwi ingenuity saw the sail back up by the next day. The crew’s inventiveness was also tested by the need to continually find new ways to remove floating debris and rubbish stuck in the keel and rudder. Each night brought 4 or more back downs to free fishing nets and other detritus.
Notably the crew are all veterans of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) youth training program. Each member has a long and very personal relationship with Elliott vessels. Since 1987 Greg Elliott, founder and design director of Elliott Marine, has designed yachts specifically for the RNZYS Youth Keelboat Programme. Elliott 7’s are used today in the RNZYS Youth Keelboat Programme and it is seen as a breeding ground for contenders in the Volvo Ocean Race, America's Cup and World Match Racing Circuit. Fleets of Elliott designed yachts are also used in more than 25 clubs throughout the world including the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Royal Yachting Association.
The Crusader itself is an Elliott 35 super sport; with a moderate beam hull form resulting in low hydro drag and a stability enhancing canting keel the E35ss can be sailed at high speed with less crew than similar size yachts. She has previously won the Groupama Race around New Caledonia and the RPNYC Central Triangle Offshore Series based in North and South Islands of New Zealand; all brutal offshore races demanding the very best. “I have now completed something like 6000+ miles offshore in both racing and delivery's on Crusader and am constantly amazed at how Crusader handles offshore conditions” says the captain. “Its a very well behaved yacht that maintains high average speeds in all conditions. Sometimes it is easy to forget its only 35ft long. The canting keel provides plenty of power without having to have 8 guys sitting on the rail the whole time. Its been nothing but impressive in all of the conditions we have been in. Because the boat was designed to be a true offshore capable racing yacht not an inshore type boat that can be raced offshore at a push its comfortable and remains surprisingly dry down below with the whole layout working really well. To get a taste of the crew’s experience at the Transpac, hop onboard the Crusader here:
Photo courtesy of Transpac 2015 Doug Gifford/Ultimate Sailing