We've heard of some pretty incredible sailing achievements in our time, and ranking right up there near the top is the voyage of the Express 27, Light'n Up , in the 1984 Pacific Cup Race from San Francisco to Kauai. It's a story that for some unknown reason has largely gone untold.
In short, it's the tale of a nearly unbelievable achievement; two guys sailing a stock 27-foot boat across 1,100 miles of the Pacific in just the first four days of the race. That's an average of more than 11.50 knots--all day and all night for four days!
Like finishing a Lightbucket Race in just a little bit over two hours.
Like finishing the 86-mile Silver Eagle Long Distance Race before 4:30 in the afternoon.
Like doing a Windjammers Race to Santa Cruz in less than six hours.
Like doing the Oakland to Catalina Race in just over a day.
Like doing a MORA Long Distance Race to San Diego in less than a day and a half.
And remember, we're talking a stock Express 27 with just two guys aboard. The two were the boat's owner, Gary Clifford of San Rafael, a sales executive, and Jonathan Livingston, a Richmond architect.
Before the wind eased up and they came off their 96-hour balls out plane, Clifford and Livingston were only 50 miles behind Merlin , the TransPac record holding 67-foot ultralight that was being fully crewed. Merlin went on to set a new Pacific Cup elapsed time record of 9 days, 7 hours, and 45 minutes. Little Light'n Up crossed the finish line just two days later, hot on the heels of another fully crewed entry, the Petersen 36 Surefire .
Clifford's victory in the doublehanded fleet was not unexpected. He and Jonathan had been part of a crack Midget Ocean Racing Club team on Light'n Up which won just about everything on the Bay and ocean in 1983. What astounded shoreside observers, however, was their ability to go so fast for so long. San Francisco Chonicle writer Kimball Livingston even suggested that perhaps they were under the influence of a controlled substance which was screwing up their position report.
"We had cocktails the first night out," said Clifford recently, still stoked on the experience and eager to go again this year. "The bottle never came out again. A glass of alcohol required two hours of rest and we couldn't afford the time. The cans of beer we brought disintegrated in the bilge and we threw them overboard!" The only substances Gary and Jonathan indulged in were caffiene and adrenaline, the latter produced out of stark racing fear. "At night we were in total blackness," says Gary, "and the boat was just going VRROOOOOM! It was like the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland, only you could never get off!"
Fortunately for posterity, Gary and Jonathan, who's also known as "Bird," made a series of tape recordings during the race. Following ar the annotated transcripts of those tapings, beginning with the trip out to the starting line at Golden Gate on July 8th, 1984.
To those who've never gone fast on a long ocean race the transcripts may sound like just so much meaningless babbling. To those who have, it will make all the sense in the world.
Jonathan: All right! Here we are on the way to the start. Clifford's on the helm. We're right by Southhampton and it's blowing about 20 out here. There are a couple of Soling's nearby going crazy. We're going awfully crazy ourselves here . . .
Gary: (in the background) OOOUUUUUUWWWWW!
Jonathan: We got shit all through the boat. It doesn't look bad now, but I don't where it all went. We'll find out on the first tack! We just had a pretty good send off. Squad Car (A Hotfoot 27 also entered in the doublehanded division) is under sail and fully powered away. They've got a blade and the full main up.
Jonathan: Anyway, it's noon on July 8th and we've got a one o'clock start. We'd better hustle. Fuck! Put this thing away and let's get going.
Gary: Yeah, let's go!
Jonathan: Bird out.
(break in tape)
Jonathan: We last left this effort on the way to the start.
Gary: We made the start with ten seconds to spare! (laughs)
Jonathan: We headed out the Gate over-powered in about 30-knots of wind. It's gnarly and we're starting to get good ocean racing conditions. We're making about nine and a half knots and we have porpoises on our stern. It's about 7:30 and I'm going out to fix the tiller. The screw's coming loose a little bit. Clifford's been driving about an hour and a half. We were both feeling kind of queasy to start with, and we both almost puked.
Jonathan: We almost had technicolor all over the cockpit. This dodger is great man. I'm going to quit jawing before I get sick down here, and go out to catch the last of this wonderful evening.
(Break in tape. During the first 24 hours, Light'n Up averaged over 12 knots, covering almost 260 miles with just the storm jib and double reefed main up. At one point the main halyard broke, as did a bolt on the lower shroud. Gary fixed the latter by himself, a task he says was one of the low points of the race. The main was jury rigged on the jib halyard, but eventually Jonathan had to climb to the top of the spar to affect repairs. "It's only a 2000 pound boat," said Gary, "and we were putting 150 pounds at the very top of the spar. I tried to keep the boat under him, but we were swerving all over the ocean. If we had to do it again, we would have left the chute up for stability.")
Jonathan: Here it is folks! Monday evening, twilight, 8:49 and the kite's up. Clifford is white teethed . . . white knuckled! (Laughs) Jimmy Buffet is on (music in the background) and we're rolling. The last 24 hours were wet and miserable . . .
Gary: (From the Cockpit) It's the moon! The moon is up!
Jonathan: What else do you have to say for yourself, Clifford?
Gary: Fucking great!
Jonathan: So here we are. Jimmy singing with us and we're doing about 20 knots now, down the westerlies, towards the trades. The latitude will change your attitude about this ocean. Ha! We blew up a lower a little while ago and Clifford fixed it. The main halyard went, too, and we have it up on the jib halyard right now. Heh, heh. But, shit, we're lipping down the shoulder on the rim right now and hopefully we're going to beat Merlin . . . maybe she'll get stuck in the high. We're averaging about 10 knots from Frisco, not doing bad. (Buffet continues to sing in the background.) We just had ourselves a marguerita. The Sat Nav doesn't work worth a shit, but other than that . . .
Clifford: We have no idea where the fuck we are.
Jonathan: Yeah, but we're going towards Hawaii anyway. Oh yeah, by the way, we broke out the smut magazines tonight. (Pause) I'm amazed, man, what I'm missing back home. This is incredible. Anyway, it's damn near nine o'clock and it's all grey. But our spirits are high. Until next time, out . . .
(In the next section, neither sailor is clearly identified, but it's clear the dialogue is more important than who is saying what.)
All right, sucker! All right, what? (Both voices sound tired)
Let's have a blow by blow description of how doublehanders sail at night going 200 hundred miles an hour. (In the background is the sound of water rushing by the hull) Oh man . . .
Grab the sheet here . . .
It's the blind leading the blind. (The water noise gets very loud.)
210 right on the button. (Water noise increases.) Good wave, good wave! Yeeooooouuuuuw!! Compas is 195 . . . 200 . . . 210. Warp speed! (Laughter.)
No shit, man, no shit. (Water noise increases even more.)
Jonathan: Well, how do you feel tonight?
Gary: I can truthfully say that I've never been so terrified in my entire existence. (More water noise.)
Jonathan: Terrified is the word, eh?
Gary: If this wasn't such a great yacht this would be a horrifying experience! It's pitch black. I can see nothing but the spinnaker and the compass, and we're knocking off 20's . . . (Jonathan chortles) . . . probably never going under 15. (In the background the sound of sails flapping.)
Jonathan: You're at 210 . . . (More sail noise . . . someone grunts . . . sails flog for several seconds . . . sounds of a sheet being winched in.) Well, we just got a round up on tape. (They both laugh.) We have a double reefed main and a kite and we're just winging along here. Every time we round up it comes around like a champ. I guess losing the main halyard was a blessing in disguise. We're clicking off 22 coming down a wave now. Can't see shit . . . just blasting into the night haphazardly.
Gary: We have no idea where we are. My beard is killing me. It's grinding on the velcro strap of my foul weather gear. (Noise of water increases.) Yeeoowww! Help Mr. Wizard! We haven't slept all night, but it's worth it. Steering about 210 for Hawaii. This 10 July, 4:20 in the morning. Bird out.
Jonathan: Hey! Here we are! Speed night! Tuesday night at the drags!
Gary: We are easily going to have a 300 mile day . . .
Jonathan: I was out to lunch, going to sleep, reading Hustler . . . hey, hey. Gary's out here dreaming of big mountains (voice slurring slightly), dreaming of Pike's Peak. We've got froth coming out of the back of the boat . . . steam, smoke. What have you got to say for yourself Clifford?
Gary: A 25 foot rooster tail! I've never gone so fast for so long in my entire life!
Jonathan: I thought that's what you said last night?
Gary: This is better . . . Ha!
Jonathan: (laughs). Anyway, we finally got a fix today and found out where we were. Thank God! The radio doesn't work very good, looks like we might be low on power or something. We'll check it out tommorow. I'm going to heat up some tunes right now and a little chow later.
Gary: OOOOOUUUUUUWWWWW! (Water sound rises.)
Jonathan: Here we go again! Oh, a mere 16. Ha, ha!
Gary: We've got to be averaging better than 16.
Jonathan: Great! Well, to be continued at dinner call. It's . . . (yawns) . . . 7:30 and out.
Jonathan: Okay folks. Here it is (voice sounds very tired.) What day is today. It's July 14th, Saturday at 10:30 in the morning and Clifford is still on watch.
Gary: We just made our morning report and it appears we're right up there with Sir Issac , a Burns 49, the Rhodes 58 Natoma and Surefire , a Frers 36.
Jonathan: Kicking their ass, man.
Gary: We're in this for second boat to finish.
Jonathan: We're hanging in there, man. The boat is pulling out all the stops. Fuckin' Light'n Up has become a real lively critter here. We're down to our last pair of underwear and our butts are really starting to get infected.
Gary: That's the bad news. The good news is . . .
Jonathan: The good news is we found (His speech is very sloppy at this point) . . . we found our calling . . . We're now officially founding members of the Squadbusters . . . No! . . . the Squallbusters . . . The Squallbusters Gang. (He plays the theme music from the movie Ghostbusters loudly in the background.) This is our theme song here. (When the song gets to "Ghostbusters," the two of them shout "Squallbusters!")
That's what we did last night; we busted a few squalls!! How many did we get? (Yelling.) Pig Fucker! Rat Fucker! Mother Fucker! Iron Balls! Panty Radier! They all got us, all those squalls. We took them for a ride! Got them bastards. (He sings "Who you gonna call? Squallbusters!" along with the music.) We ain't afraid of no squalls!! (Voice almost hoarse.) Squallbusters. (Music fades away.) Yes folks, that's how it was last night. From sundown to sunrise, fighting the mighty elements.
Gary: We averaged 16 knots throughout the event. (His voice is hoarse too.)
Jonathan: It was just incredible, bounding from wave top to wave top. In thr morning you wouldn't believe what the boat looked like. It has fish skeletons comeing out of the scuppers . . . We just tore the skin right off of those fish when they got caught. MNan, we had seaweed hanging in the rigging. (Gary is laughing and gasping in the background.) It was just incredible. Our hair was stiff from the salt.
Gary: We looked like a motorcycle gang but instead of bugs we had fish and squid all over the windshield.
Jonathan: Yeah! (Laughs) Man, this poor boat. It's holding up real well. I couldn't believe it. Clifford did the first ever crest-to-crest leap on an Express. He must have been airborn for at least 20 seconds. (Clifford laughs in the background.) We were busting those squalls and they fought back hard. There were heavy casualties suffered on both sides.
Gary: Demon waves and darter waves . . .
Jonathan: Darter waves, man! These demon waves from the dark side of the clouds . . . they come zipping around and they get coordinates from the master controller himself. They'd come and get you right in the face . . . Splot! . . . Water right down to your goulashes.
Anyway, here we are. We've got about 900 miles to ga nad it appears to be a pretty quick trip. Merlin's not setting any record, but we sure are. So this is Bird, Cliff's in the cockpit. Oh! Were we . . . are . . . were we tired. How tired were we? Man, we were tired.
Gary: Actually, I was real tired until we started squallbusting and the adrenaline was awesome. Twelve hours we were steadily in squalls.
Jonathan: We had this great crash. The last squall . . . what was it, Panty Raider? Who got us the last time?
Gary: Yeah, Panty Raider.
Jonathan: We were getting to the end of our adrenaline. We had the Squallbusting theme on and we were giving them a last go . . . we were zooming up to 30 knots . . .
Gary: We looked up in the sky and here was this squall, Lord, the dark side of the squall, Lord, looking down . . .
Jonathan: We couldn't believe it! The cloud had a face with this smile on it, like it was saying (in Cheech and Chong voice) "Hey, Hey, Man, Hey, salami! We're going to get you! Hargh, Hargh." We were laughing at him and saying "Yeah, right! Nothing can stop an Express!" We don't know what happened. He must have sent out one of his demons.
Gary: A demon rogue wave!
Jonathan: . . . and we didn't have our infrared detectors on. We've got these great hats that all squallbusters must wear: World War One flying helmets with big infrared goggles for catching them spitters and them demons and rogue waves. Anyway, we were zipping along in the 30's. Easy 30's right?
Gary: Easy 30's.
Jonathan: (Laughs) We were singing the Ghostbusters theme and I was shooting machine guns at the sky while Gary was steering at 30 with two fingers on the helm.
Out of the blue, man, this fucking demon came up and got in our rudder and just knocked us on our ear. There we were . . . Christ! There we were . . . pinned, laughing, the Squallbusters theme blaring out of the stereo, a thousand miles from any human, any mortal human, any normal, sane human. There we were on our ear and that little fucker took a couple of our drinking mugs right out of the cockpit, and a couple of towels, a couple of pairs of our dirty underwear, and a couple of used rubbers. Boom! Gone! He got us. We were still laughing when we got up. Fucking seaweed hanging from the boat. (Gary laughs in the background.) We were going near 30 when we got going again. What a night, folks, what a night!!
Well, we'll bring you ringside, live activity tonight when the Light'n Up once again joins . . .
Jonathan: . . . joins forces with the light side to meet the dark side tonight around . . . oh . . . the witching hour. About 10 O'clock is when they start getting real mean and heavy. Until then, this is Bird and Cliff, out.