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Hawaii Opening Weekend

James McDowell’s Corel 45 Heartbeat smashing downwind toward Koko Head at 15 knots.

© 2016 Ronnie Simpson

While the Bay Area continues to creep toward spring and longer days on the water, the sailing season has already kicked into high gear in the winterless Hawaiian Islands. Saturday and Sunday, February 20-21, saw two of Hawaii’s most prominent yacht clubs, Waikiki YC and Hawaii YC, team up to host Opening Day weekend.

Yang Suh and Sean Doyle hosted Waikiki YC’s Junior Sailing Program aboard the Wylie 46 Stardust in WYC’s Opening Day Boat Parade.

© Lauren Easley
It’s a fun family affair aboard the Scott family’s Beneteau First 40.7 Firefly, seen here with a mostly-female crew in the pre-start of WYC’s Opening Day beer can race on Saturday.

© Lauren Easley

With boat blessings, a parade of sailing and power yachts, social events, and two races, Honolulu’s fleet began 2016 with a bang, especially after Sunday’s breeze-on Koko Head Race. Thirteen boats took the start of Hawaii YC’s Koko Head Race to sail 16.7 miles or 28.7 miles, depending on division. Sailed in highly atypical conditions for the Hawaiian Islands, Koko Head was contested in a nuking westerly generated by the same storm system that allowed ‘The Eddie’ big-wave surf contest to take place just a few days later for the first time in six years.

What does a 50- to 60-ft wave face look like? Now you know. ‘The Eddie’ big-wave surf contest on the North Shore of Oahu was held on Thursday for the first time since 2009 as a result of the same storm that built the nuking westerly for the Koko Head Race.

© 2016 Quiksilver / In Memory of Eddie Aikau

With breeze in the low to mid-20s and gusts to 30+ knots, the fleet jib-reached to Diamond Head before setting spinnakers for the very atypical and quick run to Koko Head. In the premier four-boat X Division, James McDowell’s Corel 45 Heartbeat led around the race course, though John Spadaro’s Sydney 41 Boomerang showed impressive speed and depth when running downwind and looked to be the favorite on handicap. After rounding the leeward mark at Koko Head and sailing upwind, however, Boomerang’s #4 headsail and headfoil failed — their race was done. With Heartbeat’s owner James McDowell sailing his other boat, the Santa Cruz 70 Grand Illusion, off the coast of Mexico in the PV Race at the time, guest skipper Steve Martin and crew drove it like they stole it to smash around the course and earn Heartbeat’s first win of the new season.

The most competitive division was PHRF A, which saw all six finishers complete one lap around the 16.7 mile course with John Higham’s 1D35 Kahuna stretching out to a commanding victory over Jim Maynard’s Wasabi and Travis Scott’s Beneteau First 40.7 Firefly. While the conditions on Sunday were tough, they were no match for the smallest boat in the fleet, Joseph Shacat’s bright green Waikiki YC-based Santa Cruz 27 86’d, which proved her merit in the big stuff to claim a resounding victory in a three-boat PHRF B division. See the full results here.

Aboard Chris Frendreis’ modified Humboldt 30 High Tension ripping downwind with Diamond Head to port.

© High Tension Yacht Racing

The first season points race for the Hawaii fleet will be March 12’s Vasconcellos buoy race off Waikiki, which expects a big turnout with X, A and B fleets racing, as well as a Cal 20 one design and a cruising division.

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As the March cover of Latitude 38 might suggest, among the many sailing stories within will be one about the Three Bridge Fiasco.