Duluth Native, Eric Thomas, Wins Class and Second Overall in his First Singlehanded TransPacific Yacht Race
2,120 Miles across the Pacific, San Francisco to Hanalei Bay, Kauai
By Thom Burns

The TransPac started on July 12 from the Corinthian Yacht Club in San Francisco Bay, and finished at beautiful Hanalei Bay, Kauai - a tropical paradise in every sense. This is not your ordinary sailboat race. This is the Singlehanded TransPac, with 30 years of style and tradition.


Eric aboard his Olson 30, Polar Bear, finished in 14 days, one hour, 53 minutes and 27 seconds. On day 13, his wife Sarah flew over to meet him at “The Tree” on the beach at Hanalei Bay, Kauai. This is one of the time honored traditions of this grueling race.

All was not easy for Eric. The race started in light air, rain, fog and plenty of shipping off San Francisco. After several days the Pacific High settled in which increased the wind and brought routine squalls with their associated winds and rain followed by light air. This combination caused troubles big and small with one boat returning to San Francisco, another dismasted but still proceeding to Hawaii under a jury rig at press time, and several hair raising experiences.

On his online log Eric describes the sailing side of the game seven days into the race, “I just got run down by a squall, I was dozing in the cockpit and could feel the boat accelerate. We had 25-31 knots of wind for about an hour. It was pretty nerve wracking. I managed to keep the boat under the kite the whole time, got to 17.1 knots three times. The swells are moving about 13-14 knots is my best guess so we spent most of the time going that fast. Now the sun has come out for a bit, I think the squalls kind of suck up the clouds locally and give a bit of sun before and after. The wind is now in the teens and we are doing 8 knots. It seems so serene.”

The equipment side of the race is frustrating and necessitates constant vigilance. The autopilot is battery driven and the power comes from solar panels recharging the batteries. Around day seven, Eric reported making 10 amps of solar power, “now that the sun has come out.” From his log, “I have the (auto) pilot set pretty high as there is sun to burn and it is back there sawing back and forth. It actually has two speeds so it kicks into high gear back and forth back and forth. It drives a lot better than me because I tend to fall asleep at the helm and crash jibe the boat.”

Eric ThomasAs part of the daily routine for safety, “I am clipped on whenever I am out of the cabin. My big worry has been the rig and the fact that losing it would make this a really long downwind race. Luckily the wind blows towards Hawaii and one would eventually get there. Enough rambling, it is time to tighten the tiller head fitting on the rudder post, it’s starting to work loose. I’ve got to get done before dark and do a general scout around the deck before night fall in order to remember where the halyards are and straighten up for the coming squalls.” By mid-race many people had had some sort of break down or scare. Some are starting to be more conservative realizing how far from anywhere they are and the consequences. “I was doing all those calculations in my head a few days ago and it really gets you down. Not that they are bad, they are real. So, one has to calculate the risks in all actions.”

Little tasks take on a bigger meaning when you’re a thousand miles from any land. Eric had a bit of trouble setting up the genoa for wing and wing for the night. It wrapped on the headstay for a few minutes while getting the pole up and aft. He found the next morning that the ring had come off of the genoa halyard snap shackle. Only friction had managed to keep it up all night. He was glad to have that back in one piece. He also rigged a temporary second backstay off of the main sail halyard while he had the main down in the morning for chafe patrol.

Once you’re settled into the ocean routine, the sea animals take on a new appreciation. “The same white bird with a long white straw for a tail flies slow and watches the wake. The water is an amazing blue purple color, interspersed with colorful plastic bits about every three or four minutes that pass by the boat. Some of these are covered in little barnacle things. I saw several more albatross yesterday and little flying fish that jump in and out of the waves pretty close to continuously.”

Many of Eric’s twenty one competitors commented about the skies at night once the overcast conditions cleared. “The stars tonight are awesome, I watched a plane fly towards the mainland, and it looked really low even though it was at 35,000 feet, the stars are just much higher, and the photo luminescence in the wake is great. It looks like the fire flies we have in Minnesota, kind of darting around but not too fast, very similar.”

Lest the romance of the moment lull you to sleep, the morning can bring a new list of projects and concerns. “Morning rounds found the track for the spinnaker pole coming loose. It had stripped a number of the fasteners out of mast. I put an industrial hose clamp around the mast, track and ring car and synched it all down. I did have to put a small slice in the bolt rope of the mainsail to pass the clamp through. The wind wand was lost off the mast head. ItPolar Bear looks like the wand itself broke as there is a bunch of wire floating around up there. I saw it hit the water late yesterday. It was nice to have and I have a spare wand but at this point I can tell you the wind is blowing hard from the stern. So it is definitely not worth a trip up the mast.”

“The mission was to clean up a bit but I found some remnants of the monster cookies my sister sent out with me weeks ago and I had to stop and eat the rest of them, then on to cleaning. Well I found another dried Italian salami! I still have triscuits so more use for the rigging knife, bless the guys who built this boat with a cutting board. If the family size Italian salami says ‘refrigerate after opening’ on the package, must one eat the entire salami without delay when on a boat with no icebox? I got through about half the salami; I will likely have a sodium nitrate hangover for days.”

It pays to have good humor,”I took a bath and washed some clothes this am. I felt pretty clean, then took a full on wave while steering this afternoon and am again a damp salted nut.”

Eric finished on Saturday just as he expected. He had a great race on Polar Bear, a fast, fine boat. He displayed diligent attention to detail, quick problem solving, good seamanship, good humor and he was blessed with some good luck. This is the first time anyone from the Midwest area has even competed in this grueling race. First in class and second overall is a great achievement. At thirty-seven years old, what’s next?

Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes and SailingBreezes.com magazines.