The Ultimate Test for Sailors


Caroline Cooper, journalist/editor

Once every 2 years, one of the toughest regattas known to sailors happens. This regatta is called Transpacific or Transpac for short. It’s a 10+ day-long race from San Pedro, CA all the way to Diamond Head, Hawaii. This journey is almost 2500 nautical miles and requires racers to only use their sails, as the engine is taped up and cannot be used.


Transpac was started in 1906 and has since gained popularity. During this time, it has become one of the most famous sailing races in all of history. Hundreds of sailors train every year so they can win and earn the coveted title of best sailors for the next two years. In 1977 a record was made by Bill Lee for a time of 8 days, 11 hours, 1 minute, and 45 seconds. This was the longest standing record, as it held up for 20 years.  In 2009, Alfa Romeo || set a new record of 5 days, 14 hours, 36 minutes, and 20 seconds.  


Now you might be asking, what does it take to compete in Transpac? Well, I have a family friend, Kyle Collins, who has done this twice and even won the second time! Here is an interview that I did with him. 

Q. What is transpacific?

A. Transpacific is a yacht race that began in 1906 and runs every other year. We begin in San Pedro, CA, and sail to Hawaii, for a total of  2500 nautical miles. We are only allowed to use sail power and no engines, so it’s a very grueling journey.

Q. How many times have you competed?

A. I competed twice, Two were actually sailing in the race.

Q. How old were you when you first competed?

A. I was 17 years old and celebrated my 18th birthday during that crossing.  The following time I was 19 and turned 20.

Q. What do you do when not sailing?

A.We stand watches, sleep and hang out on deck and look at the stars. You get 4 hours of sleep at a time, which doesn’t sound like much but, you learn to get used to it.

Q. How long does it take to do the race?

A. Record is 4 days, but the average is about 10 days.

Q. What are the jobs on the boat? 

A. The helmsman, or the driver, the trimmer, adjusts sails to the wind direction, the spinnaker,  adjusts the spinnaker sail. When you have to make a sail change, the entire crew has to help. 

Q. What are the challenges you encounter during your trip?

A. The race itself is a challenge, but getting the boat and the crew prepared is the biggest challenge of all.  It’s important to have all the safety equipment ready, as well as keeping the morale of the team up. 

Q. What do you do for drinking water?

A. We have to carry a couple of gallons for emergencies, but we use a water maker that converts salt water to drinkable water by desalination.

Q. What is your reaction when you see other sailboats at sea and the finish line?

A. We only see people and boats on the first day of the race.

Interestingly enough though, in  2019 we have a system on the boat called AIS that tells us where any other boats are. Well, it went off during the night and told us that there was a boat that was directly in front of ours, and we were scared we would hit it. We rushed up on deck only to see that it was a guy on a stand-up paddleboard in the middle of the ocean!

Q. What was it like going through the finish line for the first time?

A. Seeing the finish line is one of the coolest parts of the race. It’s so rewarding because of all the work you did to cross the ocean is so worth it. It’s the best part of the race for me.

Q. Do you have entertainment on the boat?

A. Some boats listen to music, but you have to be quiet for the crew who is sleeping. Some people bring a book but we try and keep the boat as light as possible for speed so really we don’t have much.

Q. Are you guys allowed to carry medication?

A. Yes. One of the guys I sailed with has diabetes so he had his insulin with him.

Q. Is there a monetary reward for winning?

A. The only rewards you get are bragging rights for two years and the satisfaction that you completed the race. It does cost a lot to race though, the boat itself almost cost a million dollars. 

Q. How many people participate and from where?

A. People come from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, Japan ….There are usually around 100 boats.

Q. What was it like on your 1st trip at the starting line?

A. You get up that morning and know it’s the last time on land for a while and you jump on the boat and that’s it… some nerves, adrenaline, and at the start, there are so many boats … it’s exciting.

Q. Are there arguments on the boats and how are they settled?

A. Yes there is tension, but we remember we are a team and it’s important to communicate to ensure our safety. This is why morale is important and taking your sleep breaks.

Q. What is the biggest fear out there?

A. We dealt with two emergencies on my first trip. Our steering cable broke and we needed to repair it. I guess the biggest fear is not making it to Hawaii, but we push our fears to the side and you trust your team.

Q. Where are you today and what are you currently doing?

A. I am studying at cal Maritime and I will get my license to drive any size ship in the ocean. Transpac has shown me that success comes from always trying and never giving up.

Q. Do you think that someone who never sailed in their life could do Transpac with some training? 

A. Seems like a daunting and challenging task but if you put your mind to you could do anything. 

I, myself, have gotten the chance to sail with Kyle and you can see how he has learned from Transpac. I think if I had the time and money I would compete in Transpac!