Skip to main content
Original Issue

Across The Wide Pacific

The ketch Natoma was a luxury liner among flat-out racing machines in the 1981 Transpac, the classic 2,560-mile run from Los Angeles to Honolulu, but she managed to hold her own at sea and her crew was unbeatable ashore

For the record, no boat in the 75-year history of the Los Angeles to Honolulu yacht race has ever reported being assaulted by a whale. But if such an encounter were to occur, some boats would stand a better chance of surviving than others. The speediest of today's entrants, most of which are built of fiber glass, probably wouldn't have a prayer. But were a whale to bully Natoma, a 58-foot ketch with a cold-molded spruce hull 1¼ inches thick, that whale might find it had bitten off more than it could chew. Natoma is a noble craft.

Christened in 1975, Natoma was one of the last boats designed by the esteemed naval architect Phil Rhodes, who died without seeing her sail. Her owner and skipper, Donald B. Dalziel, had commissioned Rhodes to build a fast ocean cruiser that would be comfortable and durable, and Dalziel got what he wanted. He named the boat after a street in San Francisco. "I looked up while I was waiting at a red light and saw 'Natoma' on the corner," he says. "A beautiful name! We subsequently found out there was an operetta called Natoma, and it was a flop. An absolute flop! But out of it came one song everybody knows: The Dagger Dance." Dalziel does a little dagger dance: "Da-da-da-daaa...."

Natoma, which sails out of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, has had a romantic and colorful career. She has scored her share of firsts in short-course competition in San Francisco Bay and local offshore races, and there have been some good dinner parties on board—Dalziel enjoys dinner parties, especially if there are costumes or favors. There has also been a lovely wedding on board, and there were two nice funerals. One was for John Murphy, who had raced to Honolulu with Natoma and had left instructions that his ashes be scattered under the Golden Gate Bridge from her deck. They were.

Natoma's first race was the 1975 Transpac, as the biennial L.A.-to-Honolulu competition, which gets underway again this week, is known, and she came in sixth among 15 boats in Class A. One week later she raced some Transpac boats from Honolulu to the Hawaiian island of Kauai and set a record that still stands. "It was sailed in stormy conditions, and we just flew," says Dalziel.

The next year Natoma was first to finish (after 21 days) in the LA.-to-Tahiti race. True, there were only four boats in the race, but then it's such a tough race that they were the only boats willing to tackle the 3,700-mile ocean crossing. Natoma finished ninth in Class A in the '77 Transpac, and in '79, the year the wind vanished for a week—that race came to be called the Great Pacific Parking Lot—she finished third in Class A, demonstrating her versatility. "I've never been in a race with this boat where my crew and I weren't ready to go on after the finish," Dalziel says. "Just restock the galley and set sail again." The general feeling, not only on the part of Natoma's crews but also her opponents, is that she isn't a bad racer for a luxury liner.

The 1981 Transpac was more than a race for Natoma. It was the first leg of a 13-month voyage from San Francisco to New Zealand and back. She would continue sailing southwest after the race and make port calls in Pago Pago, Samoa and the Fijis before reaching Auckland in October. She would return to the U.S. the following summer via Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas, but would not enter the '83 Transpac.

In 1929, when he was 18, Dalziel shipped out with the merchant marine as an ordinary seaman. In five years with the Dollar Steamship Line he made half a dozen trans-Pacific voyages and two trips around the world, visiting places like Alexandria, Singapore and Shanghai. Dalziel's zest for adventure has diminished little in the half century since; if it has changed at all, it has merely evolved into an old man's zest for life.

Dalziel, who turned 72 on May 26, speaks in exclamation points and gestures as if he were drawing them in the air. There's a watery film over his eyes and the lids have grown puffy, but for one who has spent so much time squinting to windward, there are few crow's-feet. After a lifetime of squeezing his 6'1" frame through hatches and passageways, he seems to be perpetually ducking. He has a narrow white mustache trimmed to a mere stubble and silky white hair that blows when he's at the helm of Natoma.

He thinks nothing of changing sails in a heaving sea or stumbling onto a slick and heaving deck in the middle of the night. "I like it when the bow dips down into the water, like a knife scooping up frosting," he says.

Dalziel is notorious among West Coast ocean racers for his public wassailing with his crew members, some of them teen-agers. In restaurants he's a patriarch whose leadership is somewhat loose. He has faced down the police, the offense on one occasion having been dancing after dinner against the wishes of the establishment. He says he would have liked the dancing to have been on the tables.

His reputation as a skipper is also well established. Other Transpac sailors don't know exactly what goes on aboard Natoma during a race, but they see the results: respectable placings and an unmatched spirit. They realize Natoma must have a special skipper. His philosophy of sailing in general and the Transpac in particular is simple: "If you have a good boat and a good crew, you'll have a good time." That's much easier said than done for most, but after 54 years as a seaman, Dalziel has it wired.

1245 hours, July 3, 1981, off Point Fermin, San Pedro, Calif. It's 15 minutes before the start of the Transpac, and 74 yachts are milling about near the line. Boats are cutting and weaving, tacking and jibing at close quarters in a 20-knot wind. There are craft with cryptic but euphonious names, like Zamazaan and Shandu and Tuia; with magical names, like Merlin and Oz and Moonshadow; with bold names, like Jubilation and Temerity, Audacious and Regardless; and with names that might be personalized license plates, e.g., Sumark. The hulls are long and short and sleek and bulky, fiber glass painted brightly, wood varnished darkly. And the boats are all trying to be in approximately the same spot at the same time.

"This is our approach!" shouts Captain Dalziel in his raspy voice as he mans Natoma's helm. "We're approaching!" It's just two minutes and 15 seconds before the start, and Natoma is in good position. The 36-foot sloop Gryphon is heading toward her off the port bow, but Natoma is on starboard tack and has right of way. Gryphon keeps coming. A Natoma crewman shouts an alarm from the foredeck, but Gryphon veers too late. The boats' hulls come within feet of each other, and when Gryphon enters Natoma's windshadow, she straightens up. Her shroud tangles with Natoma's mizzenmast and there is a steely sprooinngg and a long clamor of aluminum.

It's no contest. "Well, he's out," says Jean Armstrong, the captain's daughter. Gryphon's mast has toppled; her sail has dropped like a collapsed tent. One bewildered crewman kneels on the aft deck and looks forlornly toward Natoma as she speeds off undaunted toward Hawaii.

"One forty-five before the start," says Armstrong.

Natoma crosses the starting line at full speed, just seconds after the gun, the best start she has ever gotten in a Transpac. Close off her starboard beam is Christine, an owner-built 84-foot sloop expected to challenge the two fastest boats, Drifter, which finished first in 1979, and Merlin, which holds the race record of eight days, 11 hours, one minute and 45 seconds. By sunset, Christine will have drawn away from Natoma and disappeared over the horizon, while Natoma, beating toward Catalina Island at her nine-knot hull speed, will have separated from most of the other boats. Natoma will sail around the northwest tip of the island that evening and hook south for the run to Honolulu.

Until the Transpac boats broke into the northeast trade winds, the seas were choppy. Natoma reached all that first night, blown by 15-knot winds. It was a long night for Michael Yarnold, 39, Natoma's mate and the only professional sailor on the crew; he was employed full time by Dalziel to maintain the ketch. Yarnold has been sailing since he was 14. He has a walrus mustache that droops with ocean spray and makes him look like Teddy Roosevelt. Storms at sea lure Yarnold on deck and draw a salty exuberance from him.

Twelve days earlier, when he left San Francisco on Natoma, Yarnold knew it would be more than a year before he'd return, because he planned to stay with the boat through the winter in Auckland. "I got into sailing because you always end up in a different place," he says, looking as if he thinks it's about the smartest move he'd made in a life in which not all the moves have been smart.

Yarnold's night was long because he spent part of it crawling in the bilges, drawn there by an ominous sloshing sound. He came back up with bad news: One of the two 100-gallon water tanks was leaking. This didn't constitute a crisis—the leak wasn't that severe—but at breakfast the captain announced there would be short water rations; no hot coffee for the night watches would be the worst of it.

Every morning the escort vessel, Jubilee, held a radio roll call, and within minutes after all competitors had reported their positions, a computer on board Jubilee would determine the standings on the basis of projected finishing times, including each boat's handicap. After the first night, Natoma was third out of 23 boats in Class A and 13th in fleet. "If we could stay at this point of sail with this wind, we'd win it," said George Freyermuth, the navigator. "Reaching in heavy seas like this is what Natoma does best."

There was only one boat in view that afternoon, and she was miles astern of Natoma, her orange sail bobbing in and out of view behind the swells. Soon it would be out of sight, and no other boats would be visible for nine days. By evening Natoma's only company was three dolphins, which swam circles around her. The captain played the tape of an operetta, and Yarnold, who calls himself the "marine maintenance man," celebrated the Fourth of July by lobbing a cherry bomb enclosed in a coffee can over the side like a depth charge.

The '81 Transpac soon turned into a rough race. The second night out, Drifter, surfing down swells with Merlin and Christine at up to 20 knots, dropped her skeg and was forced to limp back to the mainland, out of the race.

But the most provocative report from Jubilee came on the first morning and concerned the plight of Chat d'Eau, a catamaran competing in a separate race. Some catamaran sailors, miffed that the Transpacific Yacht Club excluded multi-hulls from its race, having deemed them too flimsy for a transoceanic competition, had decided to stage their own race to Honolulu. Starting near Point Fermin at the same time as the official Transpac entrants, the multihull sailors intended to prove their boats as seaworthy as—and faster than—monohulls over a long haul. Chat d'Eau failed the seaworthiness part of the test. "We were sailing away sweet as can be, only on the mainsail, when the right pontoon lifted over a swell and just fell off," Skipper Mike Leneman said afterward. "Fifteen seconds later we were all in the water."

Chat d'Eau's crewmen stood atop the wreckage of their craft in the cold Pacific in the middle of the night more than 200 miles from land. Their emergency strobe lights were spotted by Westward, a Transpac boat, and within 45 minutes the crew was safe. Now carrying 14, Westward continued to Hawaii, arriving to a grand reception.

In just 48 hours at sea, Natoma had averaged more than eight knots. In those two days her crew of 12 struggled through more than a dozen sail changes to squeeze out maximum speed. Natoma carried 22 sails—genoas, bloopers, spinnakers, fore staysails, mainsails and mizzens. With her two masts, she could fly five sails at once if need be. There were more combinations than anyone cared to calculate, and finding the best sails for the situation was an unending task that demanded strenuous effort by the crew. The wind could be infuriatingly capricious, shifting faster than the sails could be changed. On one morning there were five sail changes in one hour. The fine-tuning was constant. The change of a sail often gained only seconds—sometimes not even that—and it was tempting to think of those seconds as insignificant over a 10- or 12-day period. But hard sailing had to be done, for this was a race.

The very idea of being carried across something so vast and deadly as an ocean in a tub propelled only by the wind gives a landlubber pause, and there's comfort merely in the progress made, however slow it might be. In truth, a relay team could run to Honolulu in less time than it takes the fastest Transpac boat to sail there. It's 2,225 nautical miles, or 2,560 statute miles, along the rhumb line from Point Fermin to Diamond Head; 2,560 athletes each running a four-minute mile would best Merlin's record by 32 hours. Even 97.7 fast marathoners could come close to breaking the record.

Such hypothetical notions give definition to the Pacific Ocean's vastness. It is huge, but it's also finite; you know there is a boundary 10 days over the horizon. The horizon represents permanence: Your challenge doesn't get any bigger than that. You know where you stand, even if it is only a delusion. It makes the ocean seem almost cozy.

But about the time you've come to that conclusion, the sea will usually rise up like that silly shark in Jaws and take a bite out of your back. Nature's assault might come in the form of a squall or a rogue wave. It might strike in the middle of the night, when the sea is at its most frightening, and inflict a quick knockdown. The boat will heave and tilt and shudder, and the mast may even be dragged underwater. After the squall or wave passes or some brave crewman takes in the sails it's back to normal, just like that. But afterward the feeling of coziness is diminished.

When sail changes were, necessary on Natoma, Brad Armstrong, no kin of Jean's, was usually first to the chore. Armstrong, who celebrated his 25th birthday on the eighth day out, kept a sharp eye on the sails, always looking for more speed. The first footfalls heard on deck after a knockdown were often Armstrong's. On the morning of July 5, he was hoisted to the top of the 72-foot mainmast to retrieve the end of a halyard that had parted. The light from the rising sun made his body a swaying silhouette against the sky. That same morning—morning was often the liveliest time in Natoma's cabin—Armstrong blithely ordered a hero's breakfast: huevos rancheros with hot sauce, a shot of tequila and an ice-cold beer—none of which was available on Natoma. "The crew's getting spoiled!" shouted Dalziel in mock dismay. "The cooking's too good! If all they ever got was mush three times a day, they'd probably love it."

The captain was certainly right about the crew's eating well. Jean Armstrong and Kathy Walker, the only women aboard, ran the galley. They alternated days on watch, both standing stints at the helm as well as at the stove, but they lacked the muscle to control the boat when the seas were heavy, so most of the time one or both could be found at the gimbaled stove, sometimes literally strapped to the adjacent bulkhead.

Armstrong and Walker had to be more than excellent cooks able to turn leftovers into minestrone; they had to be attitude adjusters as well. Their territory extended into the cabin, and the cabin was Natoma's heart. The crew mixed there, and, Natoma's nobility notwithstanding, the way the crew mixed was what gave this vessel so much style. Armstrong and Walker took it upon themselves to ensure that the atmosphere in the cabin was congenial; they put themselves above moodiness. By so doing, they pulled the others up with them.

Posted in the cabin were the Ship's Rules, written by Dalziel. Rule No. 1, lettered in block capitals, was NO BICKERING. The Natoma philosophy recognized that no bickering is no breeze. In observance of the spirit of the rule, six dinner parties were held on Natoma during her 11 nights at sea, each one celebrating an actual occasion. On the evening of July 6, it was Jean Armstrong's 36th birthday party.

Natoma's crew members are fond of saying they may not win every race, but they never lose a party. The flippancy contained in that phrase belies their seriousness about sailing, though it accurately reflects the Natoma crew's image: a rowdy bunch. At the dinner during which race instructions were given, two nights before the start, in Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel ballroom, Natoma's table looked like a scene from Animal House Goes to Sea. The maitre d' finally came to the table to confiscate the butter and demanded to know the identity of the skipper. Dalziel pointed at Yarnold, who pointed at the crewman next to him, and so on. Only Walker wasn't indicted; how could she be? She was crawling around under the table.

Whatever the Natoma image ashore, her crew is known for good seamanship. The 1981 crew had a total of 44 Transpac races to its credit, the Dalziel family accounting for 17 of them. The captain had eight, Jean Armstrong three, and her brother, Alec, six. Alec, 42, owns and operates the family's San Francisco plumbing supply business, which was founded by the captain's grandfather. Altogether, the captain's family consists of four daughters, two sons and 10 grandchildren—not to mention his wife, Mary, who would meet Natoma in Hawaii for the sail to New Zealand. "All good sailors, every one of them," Dalziel says.

The most conscientious crewman—the rest of the crew would vote him rookie of the year—was Jim Jervis, 47, a chemical company executive on his first Transpac. Called Bruto by Yarnold because of his brawn, Jervis was also gentle, and he spoke with an occasional stammer. When he was on watch, his brow was usually covered with perspiration from the exertion of doing whatever needed to be done; off watch he could be found with an awl in his big hands, making a twine key chain for each crew member. He had brought along 11 stainless-steel tags engraved with NATOMA on one side and TRANSPAC '81 on the other. His thoughtfulness said as much about Natoma's atmosphere as the Biltmore food fight.

On the morning of July 7, Natoma's fifth day at sea, the port watch rose to the odor of French toast and the hearty notes of a Baroque overture. Jubilee's computer made Natoma fourth in class, a good recovery after having slipped to a 14th-place standing the day before. That alone would have made it a good morning; the warm sun made it even better. Four sails strained in the 15-knot wind, the blue blooper billowing into a curve shaped like a boomerang. Bob Dietrich, 36, an architect, Ted Kraus, 22, a college student, and Ron Raddatz, 42, a bank vice-president, hopped naked and sudsy on the foredeck, pouring buckets of seawater over one another. Walker sewed a patch on a spinnaker that had torn during a knockdown the night before and knew that only Yarnold could have put the lemons in her bikini top as it hung drying in the head during the night.

That afternoon Natoma became a 43,500-pound surfboard. Eight' and 10-foot swells surrounded her, long windrows of cobalt-blue water steep as a San Francisco street, some of them breaking on top. Natoma would catch a crest and ride it. Yarnold, Brad Armstrong, Alec Dalziel and Dietrich hung out in the cockpit, spotting the big swells, some of which rose high over their heads behind the boat. They took turns steering and shouting encouragement to each other: "Yeah! There it is! Hit it! You got it!" Then they would watch the knot meter climb to nine, 10, 11 and more as Natoma schussed down the face of the wave, her bow dipping into the water like a knife scooping up frosting. And when one wave had passed, she would heave and writhe to the top of another. For hours, Natoma was on a roller-coaster ride across the ocean.

The captain, too, would join the whooping in the cockpit; in fact, he often started it. "Look at that!" he shouted one afternoon, steering Natoma down a wave and taking one hand off the wheel to point at the knot meter. "Look at that! 13½! The fastest yet! This thing feels like a freight train: Whoo, whoo!"

With the sun on his face, Dalziel took on the color of poached salmon. At the helm he wore an old fishing hat pulled down so tight against the wind that it squashed the tops of his ears. It made him look comical, but he couldn't have cared less. He would lean sideways to see around the mainsail and throw his head back like a caroler in full song. He wore a look of complete contentment at such moments, like an old dog getting scratched behind the ears.

The captain was capable of being as crotchety as an old dog, too, especially over dominoes. The stakes were dime a point and dollar a game, and he kept a book on everyone, like a rabid baseball fan who compiles his own stats. And he sometimes bent his own no-bickering rule at the domino table, his voice, raspy under any circumstances, becoming harsh and unpleasant. But the crew knew to whom they owed their presence aboard, and if the man wanted to be cranky about dominoes on his own boat, it was O.K. by them.

1730 hours, July 9, more than six days and 1,295 miles from California. Natoma nears the point on the globe farther from land than any other. It's the daily Happy Hour, and soon the halfway-there dinner will be served. The entire crew is gathered in the cockpit. Smoked oysters and paté on crackers are passed around on a tray, and a bottle of California chardonnay is emptied into 12 plastic cups. There's dancing in the cockpit to Hawaiian music, despite the shortage of women. At the helm Alec Dalziel is wearing a tuxedo, complete with cummerbund; the rest of the crew is attired in equally bizarre fashion, most notably Yarnold, who sports a gray pinstripe three-piece suit and hair slicked back with grease. His eyes are covered by a pair of magenta New Wave shades. And the boat's speed never drops below eight knots.

According to the reports from Jubilee, Natoma improved her position to second in class on the seventh day, which was a surprise; the crew members knew they were sailing a strong race, but not that strong. They hadn't expected to be leading all those all-out racing yachts—ultralight displacement boats, or ULDBs, as they are called—especially the seven hot-surfing Santa Cruz 50s, foreshortened clones of the sleek 67-foot Merlin. In fact, Natoma's standing kept Freyermuth awake at night. Every day he cautioned the crew against false optimism. Freyermuth usually used celestial navigation to calculate their position, but the previous day and this one were too cloudy for him to get a fix on the sun with his sextant. So he had to resort to dead reckoning, or plotting Natoma's position on the basis of her speed and direction, a method that leaves room for error—especially when a boat is surfing. Furthermore, one of his hand-held calculators had begun telling him unbelievable things. (When Natoma reached Hawaii, Freyermuth called the calculator company. They told him that calculators wear out, just like people, and that five years' service was all they were designed for. The very thought made Freyermuth, 74, melancholy.) On the eighth day, reality—and the Santa Cruz 50s—caught up with Natoma: She was in 10th place in class. Freyermuth slept better now. He'd suspected all along that the second-place calculation had been incorrect, and he'd felt bad that his report to Jubilee had been imprecise because of the vagaries of electronics and dead reckoning. "I knew it was too good to be true," said Brad Armstrong. "Well, we just have to take it on the chin today," said Dalziel.

Freyermuth, a widower who lives alone in San Francisco, was an executive with Standard Oil (New Jersey) until 1959, when he left to go into the consulting business. He had sailed his first Transpac in 1965, entering a boat that year in what amounted to a college graduation gift to his son, Reed. The crew consisted of four of Reed's classmates, and they sailed on Freyermuth's 38-foot sloop, Mistress II.

"None of us had ever been out of sight of land," Freyermuth recalls. "I bought a sextant and a couple of books on celestial navigation and we sailed off. How my poor wife ever endured it, I'll never know. There went her husband and her only son off across the ocean, and neither one of them knew what he was doing."

They finished 44th out of 54 boats, but Freyermuth had discovered the stars. "In the last 15 years celestial navigation has become more than a hobby to me," he says. "It's a fascinating study. A sailing yacht is the last bastion of celestial navigation."

Aboard Natoma Freyermuth made only infrequent forays away from his navigation nook, squeezed against a bulkhead between the main saloon and the forward head. When he made an appearance on deck, he invariably carried his sextant. Meals were cooked around him, naps were taken around him, domino games were played around him. His bunk seemed always empty—or occupied by someone else. He stood no watches, but he worked as many hours as those who did. He labored endlessly at night, poring over his charts with a cup of cold coffee at his elbow, the hazy light from the small fluorescent tube turning his stubble of silver whiskers and tousled hair a bluish color. He usually retired long after the cabin lights went out, and by dawn his bunk would be empty again. He would jump out of bed before daybreak to take a sextant reading after the horizon became visible and before the stars faded.

Freyermuth planned to stay with Natoma to guide her on her odyssey to the South Pacific and back. Just as navigation has become more than a hobby to him, so Natoma has become more than a boat. "I've become attached to her," he explained, then went on to muse on the ironies of growing old. "It's funny, it all seems out of proportion. There's got to be a mistake somewhere. It's funny how everyone gets older and changes but you."

The ninth morning at sea was balmy, with gentle zephyrs in the air. A tropic bird hovered over the mainsail, more than 600 miles from home, if Hawaii was its home. By noon Natoma had slowed to six knots, and four sails were flying, whooshing in the gusts like leaves in tree-tops. The spinnaker looked as sheer as gossamer when the bright sun shone through it. Only blue sky surrounded it. The day was so inviting it even drew Freyermuth on deck for a while; he rose from the companionway squinting like a prisoner just let out of solitary and walked on wobbly legs white as coconut meat.

The crew members were off watch sunbathing, lounging on nylon sail bags. The shadows from the sails swayed across the pages of the books they read, tales of adventure and faraway places: Tai-Pan, Manchu, Shibumi, Far Tortuga, East of Eden (what could be more faraway?), and the captain's choice, Command a King's Ship, in which, according to the jacket blurb, "iron shot and tall ships will decide the course of an empire."

The balmy weather was wonderful to relax in, but it wasn't getting Natoma to Honolulu; more wind was needed, so the captain ordered the crew to jibe and head farther south to begin the race's final leg. The crew felt relief—and maybe delight—when the sky turned red that night. The sea was black to the horizon, where lumpy pink clouds fit together like pieces in a puzzle. Other clouds fanned skyward in ashen streaks.

The wind picked up to 18 knots that night, and Natoma sped at nearly nine knots straight into the moon, which lay a silvery highway on the sea for her. The waves were confused, because the wind had changed direction, and the swells came at Natoma from odd angles. The moonlight created deceptive shadows in the seas, umbras that spooked the helmsmen. The bright stars bobbed as if yanked on strings; the flapping blooper seemed wraithlike, and a quiet wail came from the mainsail. The captain stood the 2300-0300 watch, as he did every night. "This is not the night to have a democratic cockpit," Dalziel said. "It's a night to have only the best helmsmen at the wheel."

The crew slept fitfully, shirtless and without covers, for it was still hot. With Natoma on a port tack for the first time since the beginning of the race, the lee bunks now became weather bunks; those crewmen who had been rolled securely into their pillows for eight nights now felt how the other half had been living, and they had to put up barriers to avoid falling out of bed. One crewman dreamed he was on a flying trapeze over Manhattan.

It was a noisy night; things that had taken nine days to settle into place on starboard tack were now desperately rearranging themselves, giving rise to visions of a dresser being pushed across a floor; rats gnawing on bedposts; walnuts dropping into plastic buckets; a tin can being kicked down the street.

At breakfast the crew wore the look of fatigue that one sees in truck stops at 3 a.m. And on this, the 10th day, squalls began stalking the boat. By dusk there was at least one squall in each direction on the horizon. Looking like columns of sooty smoke, they were small spitting tempests that patrolled the seas and shoved boats around. After dark, they became phantoms.

Shortly before daybreak the next morning, a squall caught Natoma from behind. The wind shot from 18 to 40 knots with no warning. The spinnaker bulged with air and pulled Natoma faster and faster, until she was out of control and moving at 16 knots; then it tossed her on her side. Natoma protested, a long soulful groan from the stressed wood. A drawer flew open and fired a Top-Sider across the cabin; a wayward cantaloupe rolled from the galley; Freyermuth's brass divider and pencils scattered on the cabin sole, followed by the navigator himself, who was thrown out of his nook with a thud and slid into the stove.

Yarnold and Armstrong released the spinnaker sheets and then scrambled forward to pull in the wayward sail. But the squall passed as swiftly as it had struck, and Natoma rocked upright. At the helm was Gordon Hargreaves, 46, the port watch captain, on his third Transpac with Natoma, and the crew thanked their stars that there had been experience at the helm. "The boom must have been in the water this time," said Yarnold, "because I was walking on the portholes, and I can't normally do that."

It was the final knockdown for Natoma in the '81 Transpac. By 1300 that afternoon, July 13, she was a tropical 236-mile sail from Diamond Head. The sun glared white on deck as Yarnold listened to a Joni Mitchell record broadcast from a Honolulu radio station and the finals of the domino tournament could be heard in the cabin. Things slowed down to such an indolent pace that even Freyermuth came up on deck again, for...if not for some sun, at least to lie in the shade of a lighter-weight spinnaker that had been hoisted, staring skyward and pondering—who knows, with his 72 years' worth of things to think about—probably the future rather than the past.

Twenty-four hours later, at 1322 on July 14, Natoma crossed the finish line 11th in Class A and 40th in fleet on corrected time. Her elapsed time was 11 days, three hours, 22 minutes and four seconds. The boat was met by a couple of wandering windsurfers and two cabin cruisers manned by Natoma's official hosts in Honolulu, who threw bottles of champagne and beer to the crew with abandon, undiscouraged by the bottles that missed and sank with a glug.

Merlin, as expected, was first to finish; she had reached Diamond Head at about the same time the squalls were stalking Natoma. Her elapsed time was eight days, 11 hours, two minutes and 31 seconds, only 46 seconds shy of her record. Which seemingly would prove that the ocean's waves never change, but merely rotate around the globe like a roll on a player piano. And that hard sailing is worth the trouble. The overall winner on corrected time was Sweet Okole, a 36-foot Class D boat with a 90-hour handicap. Battered, jury-rigged boats straggled into Honolulu for days after Natoma finished.

Although not her best placing, it was Natoma's fastest Transpac, and it was a respectable showing, not bad for a luxury liner. And as the captain had promised, she was ready to go on after the finish. Freyermuth, Yarnold, Brad Armstrong and Kraus would join the Dalziels on their journey through the South Seas to New Zealand; the others had banks or machine shops or spouses pulling them back to the mainland. But they would have liked to go on.

At the victory banquet each boat's skipper was called up to receive a plaque. When the captain left Natoma's table, his crew sneaked down the aisle behind him and crouched at the foot of the stage. When he was introduced they stormed up to the stage and surrounded him and gave a rousing and rowdy cheer to themselves and to all the other Transpac sailors: "N! A! T! O! M! A! Natoma!" They may not have won the race, but they were undefeated at the party.





Dalziel had a simple philosophy: A good boat and a good crew make for a good time.



Only two minutes before the beginning of the Transpac, the 36-foot Gryphon headed straight into a tangle with Natoma; it ended in Gryphon's dismasting.



In hope of squeezing out a bit more speed, Natoma's crew struggled through numerous sail changes.



All hands turned out for the halfway-there dinner, an occasion marked by dancing, drinking and bizarre costumes.



After a few days at sea, there's nothing a sailor appreciates more than a good sudsing on the foredeck.



With dawn, Freyermuth took a reading before the stars faded.



Armstrong ascended the mainmast after a parted halyard.



At the finish line, some of Natoma's bubbly went blub, blub, blub.