After a slow start in just 4 knots of wind, the fleet look forward to better conditions on their journey from the California coast to Hawaii

Eight Aloha Division entries launched the 41st Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii yesterday in an agonisingly slow start off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Struggling against a current in a weak onshore breeze of 4 knots, the fleet took more than 18 minutes to cross the line and head towards the west end of Santa Catalina Island some 20 miles offshore and into the open Pacific.

Nevertheless, all of the crews were smiling and in high spirits to be under way on their anticipated adventure. Brad Avery, a watch captain on Jim Warmington’s Pedrick 75 Shanakee II from Balboa, Calif., reported late in the day by telephone, “It’s beautiful out here now. We expect calm weather the next few days. Right now on board we’re having cocktail hour.”

Shanakee II was first to pass the west end of Santa Catalina Island – the only mark of the 2,225-nautical mile course – 3 hours 45 minutes after the start.

Racing divisions III and IV will start Saturday, followed Sunday by the larger Division I and II boats, all at 1 p.m. In all, 33 boats will be challenging the 2,225 nautical miles to the Diamond Head finish line.

Catalina was obscured by a haze in the San Pedro Channel but a clear sky made for shirtsleeve sailing. The Aloha boats ranged in size from Shanakee II down to Al Wheatman’s Erickson 35 Sea Dancer from Marina del Rey, Calif.

Stardust, Peter and Patricia Anderson’s Wylie 46 from Laguna Beach, Calif., and Barry Ruff’s Wylie 39 Axapac, Vancouver, B.C., followed Shanakee II past Catalina.

All of the boats mistimed their approaches to the starting line because of the light air and adverse current. “There was a heck of a lot of current,” Avery said. “We barely cleared the committee boat.”

The blue-hulled Stardust was first to cross 1 and a half minutes after the gun, followed by Sea Dancer at 3:50, Shanakee II at 6:15 and Jim Fabrick’s Tartan 41 Gecko, Laguna Beach, Calif., at 7 minutes.

It was six minutes more before the next wave managed to work its way upwind between the committee boat and an orange inflatable buoy – the ponderous 65-foot Moody yawl Bonaire at 12:55, Josef Sedivec’s Erickson 41 Seda, Bonita, Calif., at 15:10, Axapac at 15:38 and finally Transpac veteran Wendy Seigal’s Cal 40 Willow Wind at 18:10.

Oddly, the order of start soon became insignificant. Axapac, though starting next to last – with an inexplicable reef in its main sail – shook out the reef after it crossed the line and climbed smartly to windward on a strong layline toward the west end of Catalina. The earlier starters tacked to port and headed up the coast, apparently in search of breeze, where instead the current swept them sideways toward shore.

Sea Dancer tried a drifter headsail for a while, with negative results, and finally started to regain ground when it switched back to a genoa on starboard tack. By then, Axapac was long gone, pursued closely only by Shanakee II as the sea breeze steadily filled to 7 and 8 knots. Then Shanakee II slipped ahead.

Avery said, “Axapac tried a headsail change and that really cost them.”

Bonaire had all three of its working sails set, but it was apparent the older boat would need stronger wind to threaten the leaders in the days ahead. No matter, those aboard seemed to be enjoying themselves as they cruised out of sight at about 5 knots.

Bonaire’s crew knows well what’s ahead. All are Transpac veterans – three over 70 – and include two former Transpacific Yacht Club commodores, Gil Jones and James Eddy. The average age, Eddy said, is “fiftysomething.” Eddy’s daughter Beryl, who is doing her fourth Transpac, is the cook.

“She fixes all the meals from scratch,” Eddy said proudly. “We go in style. Gil doesn’t know it but we have filet mignon for the last night.”