The 50th California-to-Hawai‘i Transpacific Yacht Race Sets Sail For Honolulu

The golden edition of the Transpacific Yacht Race brings a record number of racing yachts­—and yacht parties­—to Honolulu.



The Mighty Merloe as it crosses the finish line in 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Green, Ultimate Sailing



In the fall of 1886, with his 50th birthday only weeks away, King David Kalākaua invited members of a San Francisco yacht club to race their sailboats to Honolulu for the festivities. As tempting as the invite was, the yacht club declined, unable to pull off such a big race in such a short amount of time.


Kalākaua died a few years later, but his idea for a California-to-Hawai‘i race persisted, and in 1906 the first Transpacific Yacht Race was held. It was to start in San Francisco, but 1906 is the year the city was destroyed by an earthquake, and the start was moved to Long Beach, where it remains today. With few exceptions (mainly world wars), Transpac has been held every other year since.


This year marks the 50th edition of the 2,225-nautical-mile race, and a record number of boats—more than a hundred—have registered.


Transpac is famous both for its downwind spinnaker sailing and its rollicking post-race parties. In addition to three bashes hosted by O‘ahu’s three major yacht clubs, each boat is assigned an “Aloha Welcome” team, which fetes finishers at the dock with mai tais served in hollowed pineapples. “It doesn’t matter if a boat arrives at 4 p.m. or 4 a.m., we give it an Aloha Welcome unmatched by any other race in the world,” says Carl Geringer, chairman of Transpac’s Honolulu Committee.


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Handicapping allows a wide range of sailboats to compete, from the new breed of blindingly fast high-tech multihulls to plodding old family cruisers. Staggered starting dates, beginning July 10, give the slower boats a head start so that all boats finish around the same week.


Winner of the first Transpac, the 86-foot schooner Lurline, made the passage in 12 days, 9 hours, 59 minutes—an astonishing speed at the time. In 2017 the 60-foot trimaran Mighty Merloe set its own astonishing record, finishing in just 4 days, 6 hours, 32 minutes. All eyes this year will be on Maserati, the hydrofoiling 70-foot Italian trimaran that might have beaten Mighty Merloe in 2017 had it not crashed into debris and lost a rudder.


Among the mountain of honors up for grabs is an enormous sterling silver cup for the boat with the best time after adjusting for handicaps—the grand prize. Kalākaua himself, racing his yacht Healani in Hawai‘i waters, was first to win this trophy (for another, pre-Transpac race). As Transpac lore has it, he then filled it with Champagne and shared it with his competitors so that all might drink from the cup of victory. Officially it’s named the Hawaiian Challenge Cup. But sailors commonly refer to it as the Kalākaua Cup—an homage to the sailing king who dreamed big.




For tickets to Hawai‘i Yacht Club’s Mount Gay Transpac 50th Golden Anniversary Shirt Party, July 24, call 949-4622.


For tickets to Waikīkī Yacht Club’s Mount Gay Rum Party, July 25, call (808) 955-4405.


To volunteer, contact Janet Scheffer:, (808) 521-1160.


To inspect the fleet, stroll Transpac Row (makai side of the central dock) at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.



For satellite tracking of the boats’ positions go to