Transpac 2017. ORMA 60 Mighty Merloe. Night one. We are in the gauntlet of beam reaching, racing away from California toward the trade winds. The boat is hurtling through the darkness at speeds up to 35 knots. We are hunkered behind the beams, clutching sheets, soaking wet in our survival suits and spray goggles. The boat rips relentlessly through the cross sea, immersing us in a world of salt spray. Somewhere out there in the darkness Phaedo and Maserati are pushing as hard as we are. If something were to go wrong, odds are that it would happen now, and it would happen fast.
It’s a moment years in the making, years that we’ve spent rebuilding this boat and forming our team, assembling this giant thousand-piece puzzle so that we can push this boat to the limit and ask her to fly.
Days later, we crossed the finish line in Hawaii, winning line honors and setting a new race record of 4 days 6 hours 33 minutes and 30 seconds, ahead of some of the fiercest competitors on the face of the planet. As we sailed down the Molokai channel, helicopters and powerboats in pursuit, owner H.L. Enloe stood on deck, grinning ear to ear.
Enloe is 81 years young. He has always been a man of the sea, but not always a sailor. For many years, he chased game fish in Mexico, but eventually that thrill wore off.
“Once you’ve caught a thousand Marlin, it doesn’t make a difference if you catch one more,” he said. “So I gave myself a sixtieth birthday present and started sailing right then.”
Enloe has always sailed multihulls.
“If I was going to stay associated with the water, I wanted it to be exciting and fast,” he says. “A slow boat to China did not appeal to me.”
Enloe’s program started with Corsair trimarans and evolved upward. In the early 2000’s, he bought a 60-foot trimaran that had been a prop in the movie Waterworld and a rig from France and set up his first ORMA 60, Loereal. (Fortuitously, some adventurous Australians recently bought Loereal and competed in this Transpac along with some legendary California locals, besting the boat’s previous time from the 2007 Transpac.)
Eventually, the ambition of the program exceeded what was possible with a fiberglass movie prop.
Enter Mighty Merloe.
In 2013, Enloe bought the legendary ORMA 60 Groupama 2 and brought her to California.
“What’s so unique about this boat is that it’s basically the boat that shut the class down,” explains trimmer and sail designer Steve Calder. “It was so far advanced. Even today, 14 years later, this boat is cutting edge.”
The training wheels were off.
“Enloe does not want to sail a slow boat,” says navigator Artie Means. “He wants to have the latest, greatest, best thing you can have on the planet, and that’s what he brought us.”
Many of the biggest names in the sport have sailed with Enloe’s team, and the roster is always evolving.
“My idea is that if we can take young people who have good potential and give them to a program that is growing, we can grow these people and the boat program will advance as these young people become more accomplished,” explains Enloe.
As the youngest sailor on the team currently, I can attest to this. Complacency is anathema to Enloe, and he’s not afraid to stir the pot.
With the combination of a legendary boat and a highly vetted crew, Enloe has found himself with a fast horse. But Enloe doesn’t just want a horse in the race, he wants to ride the horse. In the five years that I have sailed with Enloe, he has never not been onboard for a race.
Life at sea on Mighty Merloe is not easy. We live in a spartan carbon fiber tunnel that can quickly resemble a sewer. We eat freeze dried food, if we’re lucky. We’re too hot or too cold, usually wet. All on a platform that bucks around like a rally car for days on end.
And Enloe is always right there with us.
“This race was tough on the best of us,” says Steve Calder, “and he gutted it out. Never complained. It’s really cool to see his passion and enthusiasm.”
“It makes it more than just a race,” says skipper Jacques Vincent.
“It’s a really nice share to sail with a person like this,” agrees helmsman Franck Proffit.
“I’m impressed,” said Loick Peyron. "I don’t know any other owners at that age on earth able to do that. He’s the only one. Hats off to Mr. Enloe.”
By birth or conversion, everyone that sails with Enloe is a multihuller, so this Transpac was a special event for us. It seems to me the fulfillment of a longstanding vision that Enloe has had: a bunch of the wildest multihull boats and crews convening here on the west coast from all corners of the earth to sail this historic race. Here’s to more like it.