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Samba Pa Ti Wins — What a Morning It Was

HONOLULU—Cameras ready – places everyone – cue sun – cue boat – action!

And so Hollywood came to Hawaii, or so it seemed Thursday as Roy E. Disney’s Morning Light project reached its climax when the Transpac 52 of the same name sailed by its crew of sailors ages 18 to 23 finished the 44th Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii.

The year-long documentary from crew selection through the race is scheduled to hit the big screen next spring, but who will believe the ending was for real? Sunrise was at 6:03 a.m. and Morning Light finished at 6:09 a.m. against a flaming orange backdrop of the eastern sky on a nautical set that even Tinsel Town wouldn’t believe.

“Honest, only God could do this at the finish,” Disney said. “He clearly understood the title of the movie.”

It hardly seemed to matter that another TP52, John Kilroy Jr.’s Samba Pa Ti, had finished in the dark more than four hours earlier to leapfrog Brack Duker’s Santa Cruz 70 Holua, the Division 2 frontrunner, for first place in the division, leaving Morning Light in third.

The younger sailors felt no disappointment—”None whatsoever,” said Charlie Enright, 22, of Providence, R.I.—and were happy just to have been in the hunt almost to the end.

Piet van Os, 23, of La Jolla, Calif., who teamed with Chris Branning, 21, of Sarasota, Fla., as navigators, said, Van Os, “The fact that we feel good is an understatement.”

At Friday night’s awards dinner they will share the podium with two strong teams of professionals, including world-class navigators Mark Rudiger on Holua and Nick White, who made the gutsy call that brought Samba Pa Ti a roundabout win. Holua finished less than an hour behind Morning Light, which owed it about 3 1/2 hours in handicap time.

Other finishers Thursday included, alphabetically, Denali, Enchilado, Hugo Boss II, Narrow Escape, Pegasus 101, Relentless, Skylark, Tabasco, Tango and Westerly. Twenty of the 732 starters remained at see as this was written. Five had dropped out.

Kilroy explained Samba Pa Ti’s sudden detour: “We went on the great navigator Nick White’s Pacific tour. Since our boat is optimized for higher speeds, we had to find wind. The wind was too light for our boat. Even still, it was fun to be out of the office.”

White, a New Zealander with a strong ocean racing resume said, “We were sailing our own race. I saw the pressure and knew it was time to go. Some thought we went too far south, but it looks like it worked out.”

Van Os said, “I was trying to think why they did it. We thought it was a flyer. We didn’t think it was going to work. We saw it but it looked too risky. But their boat reaches better than ours, so if I was in that position again I’d make the same call we made.”

Morning Light was accompanied over the 2,225 nautical miles by Cheyenne, a 125-foot power catamaran—formerly Steve Fossett’s sailing PlayStation—carrying a production team.

Kilroy said, “We were all impressed with the kids on Morning Light. Obviously they are talented and were well trained . . . [although] it was actually quite distracting at times having such a large escort vessel around. In an ocean race you’re used to being out there alone. We were glad when we turned down.”

The Morning Light sailors enjoyed the mid-Pacific competition while it lasted.

Mark Towill, a native Hawaiian, said, “One morning we woke up and they were two lengths behind us. It’s a crew full of professionals who have gone around the world and stuff.”

The Morning Light team averaged 21.2 years in age, which put them in step with the local On the Edge of Destiny team of five young men averaging 19.8 years that placed third in Division 5 a day earlier as the youngest team ever to sail Transpac.

The Morning Light skipper was Jeremy Wilmot, a 21-year-old Australian who was elected to the position by his American peers.

“That was the longest, hardest, struggling, stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Wilmot said. “But at the end of the day I loved it.”

Morning Light made an unusual zigzag move of its own when after passing the Koko Head peninsula near Diamond Head it turned into shore, then jibed and sailed back out before jibing again to finish. A cynic might have thought the youngsters were playing to the two helicopters and various photo craft recording their every move for the documentary.

Wilmot explained, with Aussie humor, “We thought we’d get killed by the production team if we ruled out finishing with a spinnaker.”

Van Os said, actually, that “we learned when we were training here for four months that usually you get good puffs coming down that valley, but they weren’t there so we went back out.”

Robbie Haines, Disney’s longtime Pyewacket sailing manager who doubled as Morning Light’s head coach, said, “They practiced that.”

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 27th, 2007 at 4:16 pm and is filed under Main Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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