For the past four years, local yachtsman Gary Burton has had a goal to sail his boat more than 2,100 miles across the Pacific Ocean, all for a belt buckle.
Burton will soon depart on the "Elizabeth Ann," his 1973 Westsail 32 sailboat, en route to San Francisco to compete in the 19th edition of the Singlehanded TransPac Race set to begin on June 28.
The race, which is a single person, sail only, handicapped race spanning 2,120 miles from San Francisco to Hanalei, Hawaii, is known throughout the sailing community. Similar to climbing Mount Everest, the Singlehanded TransPac is a test of endurance and strategy, which is part of the attraction to experienced sailors.
"It's a big adventure in a lot of ways. It's very challenging, but that's what is rewarding about it," said Burton. "You are very much face-to-face with a lot of danger out there. There are fears and concerns, but what you do is prepare yourself and your boat as best you can. The more prepared you are mentally the better equipped you are to overcome those challenges."
According to Burton, boats are handicapped based on the type of boat and speed at which they can travel. A faster boat could finish the race in 13 days but may lose to a boat that finishes several days after that once the handicap is figured into the equation. There is also a weather system located on the race route called the Pacific High, which creates a no-wind zone the sailors must avoid or risk being set adrift for days.
"You have to negotiate that so you don't sail into this area and sit there for days, or sail too far around it and lose time," said Burton regarding his strategy. "The Pacific High will dictate how the race goes. My boat is a slower boat so I will have to sail the shortest possible route, more so than the other boats, because I can't make up the time like some of the other boats can."
Burton will be competing in the biennial race against 22 other skippers. Completing the race earns each skipper a belt buckle embossed with the race name and logo, a prized trophy in the sailing community, considering that many do not complete the race.
"There have been quite a few withdrawals of people that have run into exhaustion problems or bow out of the race early," said Burton. "I'm not a risk taker inherently; my thing is to prepare myself as best I can and then go out there and try and sail the boat well."