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Twice a Winner, Restored Ragtime Races in Transpac : A Legend Is Still Fit Enough to Sail Away

July 01, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Pat Farrah recalls his teen-age years, when he would go to the water and stare at his dream and then dream about how to own it.

His dream was a boat called Ragtime, a 62-foot legend of a sloop that is now docked in front of Farrah's home on Alamitos Bay.

Thursday, as in any fairy tale, Farrah and Ragtime will sail into the sunset, but they won't be alone. Fifty-four other sailboats will join them for the 34th biennial 2,225-mile Transpac race to Hawaii.

Ragtime has been the first boat to finish the prestigious event twice, for other owners in 1973 and 1975, but she remains an anomaly, not only for her age but her origins.

Ragtime is a wooden boat, which sets her apart from her modern-day fiberglass rivals, and she isn't even a native of the Northern Hemisphere. She is one of a kind, launched from John Spencer's boatyard in New Zealand in 1966 for her first owner, Tom Clarke, who christened her Infidel and painted her low-profile hull not a traditional white but a defiant, glossy black. Perhaps Clarke sensed she would be something special.

However, it would be a while before she proved herself. Clarke just wanted a fast, light boat for sailing the bays around Auckland and didn't envision her as an ocean racer. But by her strong construction and a happy accident of design, she became the forerunner of the ultralight displacement boats (ULDBs) that would become the rage of downwind racing.

In the late '60s Clarke built another boat, Buccaneer, and sold Infidel to John Hall of Newport Beach for $25,000.

Until Hall bought her, Infidel's only source of power was the wind. He installed an engine and re-christened her Ragtime--not the most original name for a sailboat--but did little else with her. It remained for a syndicate of Long Beach sailors to recognize her potential and turn her into a serious sailer after they bought her from Hall for $27,000 in '71.

From there, the record of her ownership is like tracing a family tree. The syndicate was organized by boat dealer Stan Miller and included Barney Flam, Bill Dalessi, Chuck Kober, Mort Haskell and Jack Queen--all well-known in Southern California sailing circles.

"The plan was we would go through the Transpac (in '73) and sell it," Flam said. "We didn't do any modifying at all."

All they did was install a new radio, buy a new spinnaker and go racing.

They were first to finish in every race they sailed, starting with a series of Mexican races late in '71.

In that whirlwind span, they established records that still stand, and they climaxed it with Ragtime's successful debut in the Transpac in '73.

In that one, they sailed past Diamond Head 4 minutes 31 seconds ahead of the formidable 73-foot ketch Windward Passage, winner of the previous two Transpacs. It was the closest finish ever and opened the era of ultralights.

Until Ragtime, Flam said: "There weren't any other real light boats that big. We shocked everybody when we beat Windward Passage."

Since then, designer-builder Bill Lee has cranked a series of record-breaking "sleds" out of his Santa Cruz yard. Those include Merlin, which succeeded Ragtime as the Transpac winner in record time in '77 and will be her strongest rival.

"Lee checked out Ragtime before building Merlin . . . measured her inside and out," says Mike Elias of Long Beach, who as watch captain and crew organizer will be sailing his third Transpac with her. "Lee built Merlin to beat Ragtime."

Although Ragtime is 21 years old, which is getting up there for contemporary ocean racers, she has kept up with technology through frequent modifications.

Only two years ago, steered by two-time Congressional Cup winner Dick Deaver, she was first to finish the Newport-to-Ensenada race--by five seconds over Christine, a modern ULDB boat. This year, she won her class.

Bud Tretter, who runs the Long Beach Marina Shipyard where most of Ragtime's maintenance and modifications have been performed, says: "It's almost like a cult, the Ragtime following."

But the Long Beach syndicate subdued its sentiment and stuck to its plan to sell Ragtime after her '73 win to Bill Pasquini of Long Beach and Dr. Bill White of Altadena for $50,000. As is usual before a sale can be completed, the boat was hauled out for inspection by a marine surveyor.

Flam recalled: "When we hauled the boat for the survey, I was up on deck and the surveyor was way back by the transom inside. I heard him call to his assistant, 'Hey, come on back here. There's something I want you to look at.' I thought, 'Oh-oh, something's wrong.'

"But then he told his assistant, 'This boat's just been to Honolulu and back and there isn't a sign of working anywhere. It's amazing.' "

Flam said the hull is extremely strong, and credited it to the New Zealand workmanship involved in laying up two layers of plywood around a layer of linen with epoxy, with longitudinal timbers for bracing.

The boat also is fast, Flam said, because of its hull design: "Very sharp forward with the beam well aft."

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