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Keahi Ho crewing aboard the renowned Merlin in 2017 Transpac Yacht Race

By Staff | Jul 13, 2017

The 2017 biennial Transpac sailing race from California to Hawaii is fully underway. The final three divisions with the fastest and biggest boats, including two 100-footers among them and a fleet of five multihulls, crossed the starting line last week Thursday afternoon with hopes of breaking records in the journey from Point Fermin on the Los Angeles coast to Diamond Head on Oahu. There are many Hawaii connections among the racers in the last group, including James McDowell and his yacht, Grand Illusion, from Waikiki Yacht Club, the 2015 Transpac overall winner and a three-peat champion of this race; Pyewacket, skippered by Roy Pat Disney Jr., of Waikiki Yacht Club; and Aszhou and her crew, half of which are locals from the islands. Merlin, skippered by noted sailor and yacht designer Bill Lee, has Maui native Keahi Ho on crew. PHOTO COURTESY OF DOUG GIFFORD/ULTIMATE SAILING.

LAHAINA – Keahi Ho, Maui firefighter and owner of GungHo Sailing in Lahaina, is crewing aboard the legendary 67-foot racing sloop Merlin in the 2017 Transpac Yacht Race.

Merlin and other fast, ultra light displacement boats left San Pedro, California, on July 6 for the 2,225-nautical mile race to Diamond Head on Oahu.

This year marks the 49th race in this biennial event that started in 1906 and has 55 entries this year.

Staggered start dates from July 3-6 allow all sizes of boats to compete.

Transpac is one of yachting’s premier offshore races and attracts entrants from all over the world.

Keahi Ho (right) and boat designer/builder Bill Lee will sail on Merlin during the 2017 Transpac Yacht Race.

The race, organized by Transpacific Yacht Club, is famous for fast downwind sailing under spinnaker in the trade winds.

In 1977, Merlin smashed the Transpac record by 22 hours with an astounding finish in eight days, 11 hours and one minute, setting the sailing world on fire. This record stood for 20 years.

Merlin set course records in other ocean races, including the 1978 Vic-Maui with a first-to-finish time of ten days and two minutes.

“Fast is fun” is the mantra of Bill Lee, who designed and built Merlin as well as the popular production line of Santa Cruz sailing boats.

The first and now the eighth owner of Merlin, Lee will be on-board for this year’s race.

Lee has removed a previous owner’s canting keel and fitted the boat with a new bulb keel and high-aspect ratio rudder.

Often criticized for his ultra light designs, Lee’s response is there are only two divisions of sailing: “Racing men who want to go fast in heavy weather, and cruising men who want to feel safe in heavy weather.

“Actually, they’d be safer in medium-to-light boats. One of the safest things you can put in the ocean is a ping pong ball.”

Ho is excited about his second Transpac race and ninth ocean crossing.

“Sailing on Merlin with the legendary Bill Lee will be epic! I am excited to bring back new skills and experiences to share with my students at GungHo Sailing,” he said.

The race can be tracked online at www.transpacyc.com.

A Junior Sailing coach with Lahaina Yacht Club, Ho competed for the University of Hawaii Sailing Team.