Pegasus 77 Finishes On The Fly

Boat Deftly Navigates 2,225-mile Crossing From L.A. To Honolulu To Win 42nd Transpacific Yacht Race By Nearly Five Hours

HONOLULU Coming in swiftly and silently, almost ghostlike as it streaked victoriously past Diamond Head under a moonlit sky long before dawn Monday, Pegasus 77 very much resembled the mythical flying horse for which it is named. In fact, its captain and crew seemed to make a mockery of the cat-and-mouse game its rival crew aboard the Disney-powered Pyewacket had in mind at the July 6 outset of the 42nd Transpacific Yacht Race — when it raised two start flags, one revealing a fairly famous cat and the other a very famous mouse.

There was no such game.

Instead, the boat with the blue horse emblazoned fashionably on its shiny white hull embarked on a much more southerly route and spent all but the first day well out of sight of its only Division I rival, where it found much breezier conditions and built a lead that would prove insurmountable. Ultimately, Pegasus 77 swooped back north along the same basic line as Pyewacket and “covered” a lead that at one point stretched to 77 miles. When all was said and done, Pegasus had negotiated the 2,225-mile crossing from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 7 days 16 hours 31 minutes 17 seconds — nearly five hours ahead of Pyewacket.

It was the fourth-fastest time in Transpac’s long and storied history and the fastest elapsed time in this year’s race, earning software engineer Philippe Kahn and his crew of professional sailors aboard the sleek Reichel-Pugh 77 their second consecutive Barn Door trophy — the ultimate Transpac prize.

The vessel has an outside chance at claiming overall victory based on corrected handicap time — with a top rating, it has to give various amounts of time to entries in lower classes. But late Monday afternoon, the 52-foot Division II boat Alta Vita was well on pace to finish before 7:12 a.m. local time today, which it needs to claim that honor.

For a time, it appeared as though Pegasus 77 would even steal the elapsed-time record Pyewacket set in 1999, when Disney Vice Chairman Roy. E. Disney breezed across the Pacific Ocean in 7:11:41:27.

Kahn entertained hopes of adding that to his impressive sailing resume late in the race after consecutive days of almost flying across the ocean — including a record run of 356 miles in a 24-hour period leading to the Sunday morning roll call.

But those hopes diminished with the winds before they rose again to enable the early-morning sprint to the finish line, which Pegasus 77 crossed at 2:31:17 a.m. local time Monday, its bulging white sails showing the way. ” We were there to race and we had a great race,” said Kahn, 51, whose 13-year-old-son, Samuel, was on board for his second Transpac. “If the record was to be had that would have been great, but otherwise we’re happy — everybody had a great time.”

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for the boat named after the movie, ” Bell, Book and Candle.”

Early problems with the refrigerator left those on Pyewacket with a sour taste that became more bitter as time progressed.

” We had some spoiled milk and some really, really bad turkey, but otherwise it wasn’t so bad,” said Disney, 73, whose official time for his 14th Transpac was 7:21:18:01, the eighth-fastest in race history, which is testament to how fast today’s super sleds such as his Reichel-Pugh 75 have become.

” I saved a big jar of mayonnaise and a few cabbages and we used that later in the race to make coleslaw, which was good because it was something fresh.”

Topping off things, navigator Peter Isler — filling in for the legendary Stan Honey, who left to sail one of the Cal 40s in the Transpac — suffered burns after spilling hot coffee grounds on his right leg.

(Honey flirted briefly with the prospect of beating Pegasus 77 on corrected handicap but failed to do so after coming in a little too late Monday morning.)

Some might have viewed those incidents as bad omens, as Isler and team Pyewacket never could get a good wind in their sails in time for it to amount to anything — despite weather forecasts that led them to take the course they took.

” Sailboat racing is a tough sport,” said Isler, 48, when asked what went wrong. “To a certain extent you want to make a plan and keep sticking to it, but … you have to also be flexible and change your plan part way through.” Disney, ever personable, offered a far simpler explanation.

” They went left and we went right. They were right and we were wrong,” he said. “I don’t know how better to put it.”

* Kahn broke from tradition this year by going far beyond the obligations of the mandatory morning roll call, during which skippers reveal their positions. He kept his position known — as well as a running log — throughout each day on his Web site, www.pegasus.com.

” I think that’s how sailing gets better for everybody because people can watch the sailing and know what’s going on instead of having a bunch of guys sailing and once a day say, ‘Oh, this is our position,’ ” he said.

” So I think what we do is more important because it’s important to make sailing more fun for people to watch.”

Pete Thomas Los Angeles Times