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Record Transpac fleet heads from Los Angeles to Hawaii

SAN DIEGO >> From the deep blue color of the Pacific Ocean to the brilliance of the stars at night, the biennial Transpacific Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu leaves an impression with anyone who sails it.

There’s also the dash for trophies and records as sailors compete in one of the world’s great offshore races.

The first of three starts in the 50th Transpac was Wednesday. The second was Friday and the final divisions, including the fastest boats, head out today. A record 90 boats entered the race of 2,225 nautical miles, but one has already retired due to a broken rudder.

“This race is a great adventure,” said John Sangmeister of Long Beach, who will sail the Transpac for the eighth time overall and the fourth time aboard his Santa Cruz 70, OEX. “If you look at the other ‘great ocean races,’ all are less than 700 miles long. This is nearly 2,500 miles. It’s a long way. You’re out there. When you’re in the middle of the race course, other than other competitors, the nearest human is in the International Space Station flying overhead.

“It’s humbling. You get a real sense of how miraculous it is that we’re here and how significant or insignificant our being here is.”

Sangmeister was first to finish aboard his trimaran Tritium in 2013, has won his class twice and finished third and fourth in his fleet.

“We’ve been knocking on the door for a while. It’s a tough race to win,” said Sangmeister, who owns Gladstone’s restaurant in Long Beach and was part of Dennis Conner’s winning America’s Cup campaign in 1986-87 and sailed again with Conner in 1992.

In 2013 aboard the trimaran, “We were the last to cross the starting line and first to cross the finish line. That was fun.”

Along the way, the boat hit six telephone poles in a debris field from the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. He said the crew had to slow down for 14 hours to make repairs, and missed setting the speed record by 90 minutes.

The biggest trophy is the Barn Door, for the fastest elapsed time for a monohull. Because Sangmeister was sailing a trimaran in 2013, he wasn’t eligible for the Barn Door but did get the Rudy Choi Trophy for the first to finish multihull.

“They hand out a lot of trophies. Everyone can claim a victory,” said Sangmeister, who is trying to sell the trimaran. “Everyone makes a big investment so everyone gets to come back with something.”

These days, to win the Barn Door, “you have to have a ‘b’ associated with your name,” he said, as in being a billionaire. “It’s a big ask. You have to show up with a 100-footer now.”

Division 1 has two 100-footers, Comanche, which in 2017 set the course record of 5 days 1 hour and 55 minutes, and Rio100.

Sangmeister will sail in Division 2, which leaves today.

“I’d like to win the class,” he said. “I consider it probably the toughest class in the group.”

Among his competitors will be Pyewacket, owned by Roy Disney, a grand nephew of Walt Disney, and Merlin, owned by Chip Merlin. “These guys have poured gobs of money into their boats to optimize them,” Sangmeister said. “We’ve worked hard to optimize the performance of our boat and I’m hoping they will provide us a speed edge that our competitors haven’t experimented with.”

There are also four fast trimarans entered.

Along the way to Hawaii, sailors see remarkable sights.

“It’s a lovely race that leaves from a great place, crosses an indigo blue ocean and at the other side, you are warmly greeted by cute girl in a bikini who hands you a cold drink in a carved-out pineapple,” Sangmeister said.

He said the sea “is as blue as I’ve ever seen. The stars are almost like LED lighting, they are so bright.”

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