Jake - welcome.
I am curious about a lot of things, but start with this one:
Did you all talk to any experienced people before leaving?
Yes, we did talk to plenty of experienced people before leaving—no one who knew these owners well, but plenty who knew the conditions of the race, and one (the sailmaker) who knew the boat and the specific sails we had (he had sold the owners their spinnakers and spinnaker net). I also received a full briefing from that sailmaker about those sails.
But the point here is: There was nothing difficult about this crossing, nothing tricky at all. In retrospect, it is completely clear to me that technically, rockDAWG and I could have done it quite easily, just the two of us. The weather was fine, the wind was good when we had it (and almost never too strong for comfort), the boat was solid (except for a couple of things the owner had neglected to fix, or maybe he didn't notice them), and the sails were fine.
What made the crossing nightmarishly difficult was the incompetence, arrogance, bullheadedness, and misguided ambition of the owners.
For one thing, weather routing: rockDAWG had studied previous race routes, we both attended and understood the weather briefing ("Harry" basically slept through it), we both knew how to get and work with GRIB files. But no matter how many times we explained to "Harry" where we needed to go, he insisted, with absolute confidence (i.e. stupidity), that we needed to simply stick to the rhumb line. That's why we got becalmed.
Funny (in retrospect only) detail: At one point, AFTER we'd been predictably becalmed, I explained for the umpteenth time to "Harry" that we needed to head south for a day or so to be sure of decent wind, and showed him the charts with the GRIB files and their predictions for the next several days. About an hour later he told me that he had just tried going south, and that the wind was the same: he had simply turned the boat to 180° and found that it didn't sail any faster than at 240° or whatever our rhumb line course was. The guy simply didn't get it.
Given you say " and it would have been a fun first major crossing for me", RD admits to having never flown a spinnaker, and the owner seems inexperienced *at best*, there was no real way for this trip to go well. Flying a chute at night 2 up is a challenge in anything but near calm weather for experienced crew, let alone people new to chutes and offshore sailing.
I have lots of spinnaker experience, and was the one who showed "Harry" how to set up the chute. He never actually got it, though, and rockDAWG and I were the ones who had to set it up each time "Harry" fouled it.
There was actually nothing difficult about flying the chute at night, even when the wind picked up, and even during the little squalls we encountered.
The only thing is, we needed to use autohelm liberally. In fact, during the periods we used autohelm as needed, there was not one single incident involving the chute. It was only when "Harry" came on and attempted to sail without autohelm that he lost control. (And that happened like clockwork, pretty much every time he turned off the autohelm and insisted on sailing it manually. He was simply unable to maintain concentration well enough, and would spin out after as little as 30 minutes. I believe that rockDAWG or I could have held stable for a whole lot longer, but there was no reason on earth to do so, at night, undercrewed as we were.)
Second question: What exactly should the Transpac RC have done? The Bermuda races I have done had minimum qualifications for crew you all would not have met. They could have - if they were smart - denied your entry. Other than that, what could they possibly do? Seriously? Go out in a plane and parachute more crew? Drop water to you? Or ?????
Good question. Long answer:
At a certain point, rockDAWG and I both realized that, given the cumulative skill level of the three of us who could helm (myself, rockDAWG, and "Harry"), plus our small number, the ONLY way we could get through each night with the spinnaker up (which we needed to do in order to get to Hawaii in a timely fashion, and not run out of water) was to use autohelm liberally.
Again, when we used autohelm, at night or not, there was not one single incident. And each time the owner took over and sailed manually during the night, we had trouble almost immediately—trouble that rockDAWG and I had to fix by going out on the foredeck at night, at our own personal risk.
Now, using autohelm was technically against the race rules, except for double-handed boats. However, it was also clear from the race rules that uses of autohelm would be subject to a penalty, and would not lead to disqualification. This was laid out with great clarity in the race rules. And it was quite obvious that the Transpac would have no interest in disqualifying a boat that was already in last place.
The problem is, "Jane" had a truly crazy attitude about this. For some reason, she believed that we were in the running for some kind of trophy, even long after it was obvious we were in last place by far. She thought were serious racers, headed for glory, and that we should act like serious sailors (like the boats that had ten ultra-experienced crew, I suppose) and not violate any of the rules no matter what.
(Side note: "Jane's" mother "Sheryl" is 86 years old and apparently the oldest person ever to do the Transpac (though all she did was provide ever-cheerful company). "Jane" had arranged with the Transpac to give Aquarius a trophy for this. "Sheryl," however, had no idea of this arrangement, or of the role that she was playing in her daughter's racing ambitions. I found this unspeakably pathetic. More on this later….)
Anyhow, "Jane's" insisted that we, the crew, not use autohelm, even though it should have been clear (even to a non-sailor such as herself) that safety demanded it. She was not open to reason in this regard, and insisted that we would be disqualified, even after I pointed out the specific section of the race rules that prescribed "penalties." (Disqualification was prescribed only for "gross misconduct"—which Jane bizarrely insisted the use of autohelm would be.)
"Jane's" attitude rubbed off on "Harry"; even though he was officially the skipper, he deferred to "Jane" in many regards.
Finally I wrote the Transpac commodore, gave full details of our situation, and begged him to let "Jane" know that using autohelm would almost certainly entail only a penalty. The commodore did not write back at all; when I wrote again with more urgency, he wrote back very curtly that the Transpac could not get involved (for legal reasons, I assume). At one point I called the commodore directly and asked him whether the use of autohelm would indeed be a penalty. He was sympathetic, confirmed that it would surely NOT mean disqualification, and even said "There are no hard and fast rules," but he still refused to address this to "Jane" directly, even when I wrote yet another begging email, indicating the full danger of the situation.
I assume the Transpac had legal reasons to avoid getting involved more. But the fact is, a simple communication to the owners about this would have saved us several life-threatening incidents, our days of struggle, and the physical altercation that rockDAWG describes. We would also not have had to get the Coast Guard involved.
Hope that clarifies it.