The brand new Pac52 Class made their debut at the 45th Yachting Cup hosted by San Diego Yacht Club.
San Diego Yacht Club’s Yachting Cup was the backdrop for the most anticipated yacht-racing matchup in recent history: All four boats that make up the new Pac52 Class faced off for the first time May 5 – 7. The event marked an exciting return of Grand Prix racing to the West Coast.
I was curious how the match-up would go. As the first and only Pac52 skipper for nearly a year, Victor Wild’s Fox team had all the experience on their side. Frank Slootman’s Invisible Hand had been training since their launch two months prior to the race and the uncharacteristic conditions could favor the San Francisco-based owner. Bad Pak and Rio were the relative new kids on the block having launched their boats just two weeks before the race.
Why the excitement? The Pac52s are beautiful racing thoroughbreds built for speed. Lightweight and nimble, they are designed for both ocean and coastal racing featuring a carbon fiber hull, spars, and rigging, and a tiller that can be swapped for a wheel for offshore sailing. They are raced within a box rule similar to the 52 Super Series. The Pac52s are all built using TP52 molds, but have higher masts, larger sails, and lighter engines.
“It’s true mano e mano racing, which is really refreshing. Sailing within the box rule allows for some innovation but really makes the racing about the crew work,” said Slootman. Racing his R/P 63, he regularly went up against a whole variety of boats including Sydney Fischer’s Eliot 100 Ragamuffin, Lorenzo Berho’s Kernan 70 Peligroso, and Tom Holthus’s STP 65 Bad Pak, who also joined the new Pac52 fleet this year.
Indeed, the recipe is working. Photographer Cynthia Sinclair told Sail Couture that on the practice day she noticed Frank racing around the cans with a huge smile on this face all day. It’s clear this man is doing what he loves and he has made a serious commitment to it. Frank really wants to race Invisible Hand, and race he will. Several days after launching his new Pac52, Slootman announced he was stepping down as CEO of ServiceNow. A key business event prevented him from racing the harrowed Transpac race in 2015 and he has no intention of letting business get in the way of this year’s race.
“It’s very exciting to be part of the Pac52 fleet. It’s the first time we’ve had a Grand Prix class based on the West Coast. If you like sailing in close quarters at high speed against similar boats, this is the premier West Coast class to get involved with,” said Rio owner Manouch Moshayedi.
“These boats are very responsive and very light. It’s their speed and agility that sets them apart—it’s especially noticeable when you’re racing on the same course as another class of boat as we did in San Diego. With moderate breeze, we were sailing a sustained 22 knots downwind. That’s something you don’t see in any other class unless you get to multihulls or much larger monohulls.”
Nearly 100 boats answered the call of the Yachting Cup, SDYC’s season opener and it was one to remember. With a steady 18-knot breeze, five-foot swells, and cloudy stormy skies, it was anything but a typical southern California regatta. It was easy to forget I was in San Diego, not San Francisco.
The Yachting Cup is one of SoCal’s premiere inshore events, attracting top boats from California to Hawaii, notably Roy Disney’s Andrews 70 Pyewacket, topping the AA fleet over Edward McDowell’s Santa Cruz 70 Grand Illusion. Michael Shlens’s Blade 2 took a clear victory the Farr 40 fleet with 7 points to Ray Godwin’s Temptress with 12 points.
The glamour class was, of course, the Pac52s, stunning under sail. When they really take off, it’s nothing short of majestic. Rio took the early lead and managed to maintain it throughout the three-day regatta. However, the racing was close, as it should be, with three of the four yachts getting at least one win.
The weather became more demanding each day, progressively cold and blustery, building up to Sunday’s deluge and a threat of lightning. After the lumpy and bumpy first few days, divers noticed some separation between the bulb and keel on Bad Pak and Invisible Hand and thus on the final day, Frank Slootman and Tom Holthus elected not to race.
In a show of unity, the crew of Fox invited Tom to race with them and Frank joined Rio. Fortunately, it turned out the repairs were minor, and both Bad Pak and Invisible Hand are again race ready.
Pac52 racing is friendly but competitive. “The other owners are great. We’re friends at the dock but fierce competitors on the water,” said Holthus, adding that one of the aspects he likes best about the Pac52 is that he can race inshore as well as offshore. Bad Pak, like Invisible Hand, was built with offshore campaigns in mind. They have eight inches more freeboard, so they don’t take quite as much water over the deck.
Assisting Holthus on the crew is his 12-year-old son Kelly, whose position is listed as “Nipper” on the crew list. He said Kelly loves the Pac52 and is looking forward racing with him in the upcoming Transpac. An interesting side note—Holthus’s boat is actually an acronym. Bad Pak is named after his children, created from the first letter of each of their names.
Although one of the newest to the class—Class manager Julie Servais joked that this week the biggest race was getting the yacht to San Diego in time—Moshayedi’s early dominance might not be too surprising. The Newport Beach-based yachtsman owns and skippers the famous Blackewell-White 100 Rio 100.
The Rio racing program is a well-oiled machine: 10 of Moshayedi’s sailors have been with him eight years or more and also have experience on his TP52, which like all of his boats is named after his first, the original Rio. His tactician is the renowned Gavin Brady. Also, although his boat is one of the newest, he was there from the beginning. The design for the Pac52 grew out of a conversion between Moshayedi, Brady, and Victor Wild as he was searching for a new race boat.
Although the Yachting Cup conditions were less than ideal this year, the racing was stellar. “Big breeze, big swells, it was lots of fun to sail in those conditions. We saw 22 knots downwind,” said Holthus.
“The new boats are as fast as we are and crewed by top quality sailors. They are tough to beat—even to keep up with. Fox and crew needs to step up a little,” said Wild. “This class is fast and ultra competitive. It’s a long way from the Shock 25 we were sailing six years ago! All honors due to my teacher and patient sailing mentor David Servais.”
Jenn Garvey, who sails in the pit position on Fox and has sailed on Wild’s previous yacht, too, put the weekend in among her top five sailing days ever. “When Fox is happy, I’m happy, and she was definitely happy! At 14 knots she takes flight.”
Also on Fox was bow girl Sammy Herrin. “Being a small female on a big 52—and there are people who don’t put the two together—my size is an advantage. I’m often the one asked to do things precisely because of my size.”
The San Diego Yacht Club did a great job of welcoming the sailors back after grueling days on the water with several fun parties. My favorite was the festive Cinco de Mayo; racers and guests enjoyed tasty tacos and plenty of margaritas! The club’s signature Patron margarita came highly recommended and it did not disappoint.
It was a beautiful evening and as I gazed past the merriment on the deck to the Pac52s and other boats outlined in the setting sun, I thought… yes. It was one of those perfect après-sail moments that define the sailing lifestyle and why I love it so much.
Where to stay
My home base for the Yachting Cup was the beautiful Kona Kai Resort and Spa. A sophisticated blend of Polynesian and Spanish Colonial decor with the inspiring water views and the effortless luxury Noble House hotels are known for made the decision an easy one. Located on Shelter Island, the beachfront Kona Kai is very convenient to SDYC, and the rooms, which have patios or balconies overlooking the bay or marina, will please any sea lover.
My view was the Kona Kai Marina, which is just as attractive as the hotel. Thoughtful nautical details are found throughout the property, but the decorative metal work on the marina bridges is truly remarkable.
After a day spent covering all the yachting action, it was so pleasant to relax in the Island-toned room and unwind with a glass of wine on the patio while enjoying the waterfront view. Magically, the day after the regatta the weather cleared, and I was able to take advantage of Kona Kai’s lovely outdoor areas. I began with a little cabana time, and then it was on to the pool followed by an alfresco lunch at the resort’s fabulous restaurant Vessel.
It’s easy to why the Kona Kai is the favored hotel for superyacht teams visiting San Diego. It has the sort of understated chic that speaks volumes.
Where to eat
I didn’t have to travel far for an excellent meal. The award-winning Vessel, located at the Kona Kai, is as delicious as it is handsome. Overlooking the marina, the views are spectacular. Picturesque homes on the hills make a perfect backdrop for the yachts in the marina.
Surrounded by the sea, we were inspired to order several seafood dishes. The favorite hands down was the lobster pasta, a bit of heaven in the form of food. The lobster was both flavorful and plentiful blended with clever shell pasta. In a word, delicious. The runner up was the photogenic lobster slider. If you’re in the mood for a lobster extravaganza, Vessel is the place. You won’t regret it.
Another great option just a short walk away on the northern tip of Shelter Island is the famous Bali Hai Restaurant, which first opened in 1954. Family owned and operated for more than five decades, the island’s first “Tiki temple” remains one of the largest in the world and simply a can’t miss—even if only for the legendary Mai Tai.
The waiter warned us that the Mai Tai was strong, which of course I shrugged off—I’m a sailor after all—but only a couple of sips had me requesting a little fruit juice to thin it out. He smiled and said it’s a frequent request. With a tasty drink in hand, it was time to focus on the view, which was inspiring even on the rainy night. On the horizon across the bay, San Diego’s lights twinkled like Christmas lights.
We dined at Bali Hai during the regatta and it was a cold, rainy evening, which actually made it more personal and romantic. It’s a testament to the magic of this place. I can only imagine how gorgeous it is on a typical San Diego night.
It was late and we were in the mood for small plates, so chose several delicious appetizers. Someday soon we’ll have to come back to try their signature Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese-influenced entries in typical San Diego weather, and we’ll be sure to make time to linger over the more than 100 Polynesian artifacts on display throughout the restaurant.
Another rite of passage for sailors visiting San Diego is Fiddler’s Green restaurant. You’ll know you’re in the right place by the collection sailboat half models that decorate an entire wall. It’s clearly a sailor hang out, a place where you run into sailing friends and make new ones; we did both. Most importantly, the fare matches the company! My ahi tuna was perfectly seared and the prime rib deserves high marks, too.
More exciting news for the Pac52s
Just after the regatta, the Pac52 Class got some more exciting news: Hong Kong Yacht Club’s Karl Kwonk will join the class for the Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco this September. Yachting followers will be familiar with the name; Karl has raced and won most of the major regattas and ocean races, including the legendary Rolex Sydney Hobart. The Pac52 Class is off to a great start, and the future is very bright indeed.