Photos by Brett Hillyard
David Dahl and the Newport Beach-based Whittier Trust team renew a 100-year company legacy by competing in the 2,225-mile Transpac classic yacht race from California to Hawaii
The Transpacific Yacht Race is one of sailing’s great traditions. In July, David Dahl, president and CEO of Whittier Trust, and his sons, Michael and Sean, competed in their first Transpac aboard Compadres, representing Newport Harbor Yacht Club and Balboa Yacht Club in the race. The Dahls were part of a crew of 14 OC-based sailors on the yacht, including Dave Clement and captain Tyler Wolk. Dahl and Clement are partners in ownership of Compadres.
The Transpac starting line is off the bluffs of Point Fermin in San Pedro, and the finish is off the Diamond Head lighthouse east of Honolulu. Total distance: 2,225 nautical miles. The crew of the Compadres and the other competitors enjoyed fast downwind sailing as the weather warmed after the first few days. The yachts sailed through squalls, slalomed through debris, navigated near-miss crossings with other yachts in the race, and solved problems on the fly with little sleep.
“Racing the Pacific Ocean, encountering whales, 20-foot swells, debris, and wind speeds at night with families on board. It is a test of the human spirit,” says David Dahl.
This year’s race organizers and participants faced another challenge: COVID-19, which impacted logistics and social events at both the start and finish. The race hired an expert consultant to create protocols for safety and compliance in California and Hawaii.
Transpac has been raced biennially, with few exceptions, since 1906. One such exception was World War I. When the race returned in 1923, the family that founded Whittier Trust was represented at the start, beginning a nearly 100-year legacy with Transpac.
Brothers Don and Paul Whittier sailed the 107-foot yacht Poinsettia in the ocean race. Their father Max Whittier was an oilman who co-founded and developed Beverly Hills. The Poinsettia was built in Germany for Crown Prince Frederick, and had never been defeated in races along European canals. It was confiscated by the Allies during the war, and brought to Los Angeles afterward by the Whittiers.
Poinsettia was manned by a professional captain and first mate, a cook who had spent seven years in the service of Teddy Roosevelt, and a crew of 14 college friends of the Whittier brothers, most of whom had never been to sea. Alas, the 1926 Transpac race did not go well for Poinsettia: A two-day long storm forced her to return to San Pedro. It was the start of a 100-year legacy of the Whittier family competing in Transpac, a legacy Whittier Trust celebrates by underwriting the race as Heritage Sponsor.
“I can vividly remember my uncles racing in one of the first Transpac races,” says Winifred Rhodes, granddaughter of Max Whittier. “We’ve had several family members race over the years. “
The winning yacht back in 1926 was Invader, with a time of 12 days, 2 hours, and 48 minutes—a record that lasted for 23 years. Now, the course record is 5 days, 2 hours, set in 2017. In this year’s race, Roy Disney’s yacht Pyewacket was the first to finish, breaking the record for distance sailed in 24 hours: 506.4 miles, at an average of 21.1 knots of speed.
The Compadres finished fourth in its division. After routinely sailing at 20 knots, the yacht and crew experienced mechanical challenges the last few hundred miles. Some crews might have just proceeded under power for the rest of the race. The Compadres crew chose to finish strong by sailing in on partially repaired sails. Michael, Sean, and David Dahl shared a watch, and found that they got along well on board, “maybe better than on shore,” Michael says. In the long tradition of Transpac, the Compadres crew was greeted with Mai Tais when they arrived in Honolulu, celebrating their perseverance, camaraderie, and teamwork. “We are rewarded with being part of a team,” David Dahl says. “And the thrill of the experience.”
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A harbor cruise aboard Compadres in the weeks prior to the Transpac race
David Dahl, CEO of Whittier Trust, invited a few guests (including Blue Door Magazine publisher Maria Barnes and photographer Brett Hillyard) aboard Compadres for a pre-Transpac cruise around Newport Habor. Also aboard were Compadres captain Tyler Wolk; crewmember Brett Scott, who made the Transpac crossing with her father Bart Scott; Clare Dahl, David’s daughter; plus a few lucky Whittier Trust interns, employees, and friends who enjoyed an afternoon on the water.