Most of the world’s grand-prix offshore race boats spend their time in the Atlantic basin or circling the globe well south of the Pacific coastline. However, in a well-orchestrated harmonic convergence, three 70-ft trimarans, the MOD70s Powerplay and Argo and the Multi 70 Maserati, have been tuning up on the Bay getting ready for tomorrow’s 12:55 start in California Offshore Race Week’s CA 500 — a new 500-mile ‘sprint’ from San Francisco to San Diego. It’s a sprint if you’re planning to sail most of it at 30+ knots.
Maserati has been around the world since she last visited the Bay in June 2017. Argo and Maserati last faced off in the Caribbean 600. Just 48 hours ahead of the start, Argo was overcome by a gust and flipped. But the team managed to right her, repair her, and make the start! These oceangoing 70-footers travel the world easily. Despite their thousands of high-speed miles, they are rugged yet delicate. Rugged enough to take severe punishment when clocking 30+ knots in ocean swells. Delicate when maximizing speed balanced with control while maneuvering on a bumpy ocean.
On Saturday we sailed aboard the schooner Seaward as part of the Master Mariners Regatta while Maserati and Powerplay strutted their stuff on a busy Memorial Day weekend. We had raced against the owner of Powerplay, Peter Cunningham, aboard J/29s in the ’80s. So we reached out to him to see if we might grab a coffee and learn a little more about the path of sailing a J/29 to a MOD70. Always enthusiastic, Cunningham said, “Come for a sail.” So we did.
On Tuesday afternoon, the team swapped out the delivery sails, which had brought the boat to San Francisco from Grenada, for racing sails. This process included getting in close to the limited Tiburon wind shadow, then backing the boat down in full reverse to reduce apparent wind, allowing the crew to hoist the four headsails on furlers. Once the headsails were all in place, we zipped up through Raccoon Strait and headed for the Cityfront, where we rendezvoused with photographer Abner Kingman. He had the challenging task of taking photos in windy, choppy seas while trying to keep up with a catamaran going 20-35 knots.
The video below features just a couple of minutes of an afternoon spent burning up the Bay between Alcatraz and Point Bonita. This segment shows a high-speed reach from the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to near Pier 39. What is normally an hour of sailing for us aboard our Ranger 33 Summer Sailstice probably took 10 minutes. We spent most of the reach sailing at more than 30 knots, with a top speed of about 37.
We anticipated being a bit terrified by the power and speed. It didn’t take long to realize that boat captain Charlie Ogletree and a very seasoned crew of professionals had everything under control. (Ogletree has been running Tom Siebel’s MOD70 Orion and his other boats.) The choreography of tacking a 70-ft x 55-ft multihull is intricate. Lots of clutches, hydraulics, links, travelers, winches and other adjusters smoothly link the coffee grinders to the powerful headsails rattling overhead. Upwind you roar along at 18-22 knots over big seas out the Gate, slow to a crawl during the tack, then sheet in and roar off in the other direction.
All three boats will line up to start tomorrow at about 1 p.m. off the Cityfront. If you have a way to get to the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge or up to the Marin Headlands, you’ll have fun watching them start their 500-mile battle. Given their speeds, they won’t be in view for long. But, the rarity of collecting this type of grand-prix offshore multihull on the West Coast could make it a worthwhile lunch break.
The California Offshore Race Week website previewed the expected weather: “During the first 12 hours of the race, weather forecasts show 25 knots of NW wind, with gusts up to 30 knots, and rough sea. It will be difficult for Maserati Multi 70 to fly steadily. Closer to the finish line, in the last 100 miles, the wind will drop abruptly. But at the moment the forecasts vary. The European models indicate a wind between 3 and 4 knots, whereas the American models are more optimistic.”
In addition to the three trimarans, the CA 500 has one outlier. Christian Doegl’s Swan 461 Free from Inverness YC will use the race as a training run for the Transpac.
We’ll get back to how Cunningham went from racing J/29s on San Francisco Bay to challenging race courses and oceans across the planet another time. However, it’s apparent that the excitement and enthusiasm of sailboat racing continues to inspire an inspiring sailor. The new CA 500 race track appears to be a perfect homecoming for Cunningham’s expanded portfolio of racing.