Some of the newest and fastest monohull sailboats in the world will start the 41st Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii today, but for human drama they may not be able to match their smaller colleagues who started yesterday.

As the other Division III and IV boats crossed the starting line, Dan Doyle, a Honolulu real state investor sailing the smallest boat in the race, appeared to have his hopes dashed for the third consecutive race, this time by equipment failure. But with a little help from some friends, Doyle and crew Bruce Burgess, sailing the 30-foot Two Guys On the Edge as a doublehanded entry, were able to get under way 47 minutes late.

On Sunday, 12 of the largest boats among 33 entries will head out over the 2,225-nautical mile course chasing down the smaller ones, including the eight slower Aloha Division competitors that have been struggling in lighter-than-normal winds since they started last Monday. The three favorites to post the fastest elapsed time are Roy E. Disney’s 73-foot defending champion and record holder Pyewacket and two news boats: former winner Bob McNulty’s 74-foot Chance and Santa Cruz software developer Philippe Kahn’s 75-foot Pegasus.

Pyewacket’s record is 7 days 11 hours 41 minutes 27 seconds set in 1999, when winds were stronger than normal.

Mark Rudiger, a Transpac veteran, is the navigator on Pegasus who charted EF Language’s victory in the Whitbread Round the World Race three years ago. “All we need is 20 knots [of wind] or better to set a record,” Rudiger said.

But that may be asking too much this year when the forerunning Aloha boats are finding only 12-15 knots even in the trade winds a few hundred miles down the course.

Pushing the top three will be Merlin, the Transpac icon that in 1977 set a record that stood for 20 years, and a pair of new Transpac 52s, David Janes’ J-Bird III Yassou from Newport Beach, Calif. and Jim and Nancy Demetriades’ Yassou from Beverly Hills. The latter two have shown uncommon speed for their size in tune-up events but remain untested on a Transpac-type course.

Merlin, on the other hand, along with the legendary Ragtime, will share the record of most Transpacs at 12 when the race starts at 1300 PDT. Restaurateur Al Micallef of Fort Worth, Tex. is the latest of a series of owners but the first to restore the skinny 68-foot boat to its original glory.

Micallef has renamed it Merlin’s Reata – “rope,” or “lariat” in Spanish – for his group of three upscale cowboy restaurants, has completely rebuilt the boat’s deck and interior and given it a flashy 50,000 dollar paint job featuring the mythical magician twirling a lariat.

“If we have light air to start, I think we’ll have a chance to stay up there with [Chance, Pyewacket and Pegasus],” Micallef said. “And with our canting keel and [removable] dagger board, we’ll be fast when we’re on the wind, too.”

Light air has been the order of the day so far. The Alohas had only 4 knots and it was 2.8 knots when the gun fired Saturday, although as a marine layer dispersed and the sun came out the breeze rose to 6 by the time Two Guys On the Edge got going, then to 9 as the fleet disappeared into the haze of the San Pedro channel toward the west end of Santa Catalina Island.

Four years ago Doyle started the race only to suffer a broken rudder, forcing him to drop out. Two years ago a business crisis prompted him to replace himself at the last minute with Les Vasconcellos, who with Burgess outsailed several larger, fully crewed boats.

Saturday, moments after the four-minute warning gun had sounded, Burgess attempted to raise the headsail but found it wouldn’t fit into the groove of the headfoil. He removed his lifejacket — required by Transpac rules to be worn for the start and finish — and slammed it to the deck. Then Doyle did the same, and they slumped together in the cockpit in despair.

Doyle told observers on a press boat, “We broke our headfoil the other day and ordered a