In the 2008 documentary Morning Light produced by none other than avid sailor, Roy E. Disney, a crew of young, enthusiastic mariners go up against some of the best in the world during the 44th Transpac, an iconic 2,225-mile race that traverses the waters of the Pacific from Los Angeles to the shores of Hawaii. Coming from diverse backgrounds, with varying levels of experience, the rookie team puts up a fight for the ages, only being passed by the mostly professional crew aboard the Samba Pa Ti on Day Fiveafter more than a thousand miles on the water.
Now, 14 years later, as the next installment of the renowned race takes off this month, another crew of self-described “scrappy” sailors is looking to mimic the spirit of the Morning Light story aboard the Seattle-based Sonic, a 3rd generation TP52 owned and managed by Marek Omilian.
Omilian purchased Sonic, his first-ever boat, in 2018 after his passion for racing was ignited during the Clipper Round the World Race in 2017-2018. Omilian grew up sailing center boards on the lakes in his native Poland during his childhood, but then didn’t sail for decades until moving permanently to Seattle in 2013. He joined the Seattle Sailing Club, heading out on weekends and participating in a few races, but soon felt the need for more speed. “I envied those faster boats,” he recalls. “I would see those crews get out there, get done fast, and then sleep in their own beds at night. I promised myself that if I ever bought a racing boat, it would be one that can finish the race before last call at the bar.”
Thus, the decision to sign up for the Clipper. At first, Omilian thought of trying just one leg, but then decided to take the plunge and participate in the full race. Four weeks of intensive training, a few what-have-I-gotten myself-into moments later, Omilian set sail on what he calls the most “life-opening experience” he could ever imagine, citing the Australian leg from Sydney to Hobart that skirts the western edge of the continent as his favorite just for the sheer challenge. He was hooked and took yet another plunge by purchasing Sonic in late 2018 after his return.
“People were kind of looking at me with really big eyes, like this is your first boat?” he says, with a laugh. “I did a little bit of research, probably not enough. But sometimes you just have to do it.”
Sonic herself is a 52-foot-long TP52 designed by Farr Yacht Design and built by Cookson Boats in New Zealand, and Omilian has now spent the past three years racing along the West Coast and building the team that will take her on Transpac 2021. He recruited Scott Smith, who has perhaps the most experience sailing TP52s of anyone in the area, dating back to the original MedCup series in the early 2000s. Smith acts as the master tactician, and Omilian, in somewhat of a rarity, is both owner and boat manager aboard. The extended crew numbers 17, composed of sailors with differing experience levels, but all who sail for the love of the sport in between family, work, and general life commitments. (Omilian himself is the Managing Director of Value Prism Consulting in downtown Seattle.)
“It’s like building any organization, one must fill key roles, create backups, make sure people align with core values and culture,” he explains of the process. “This is very true for team Sonic.” Everything is viewed through the team’s four core values of safety, respect, teamwork, and commitment, tenets that Omilian took away from his own Clipper race experience.
Though it’s Omilian’s first Transpac, and even the first race ever for several members of the crew, the enthusiastic, competitive bunch has been carefully selected to guide Sonic on her journey. “We have a lot of dinghy sailors since this boat is so light,” he says. “It’s the same mentality to sailing single-handedly, you have to be on your toes, and have a 360-degree vision of what’s happening at all times.”
In addition to building the team, Omilian has been building relationships with non-profit partners in an effort to give back and raise awareness for certain causes. “I feel like we’re really missing an opportunity here in the U.S. to leverage these big boats for some good.” Thus, for the 2021-2022 racing seasons, Sonic is looking to raise $100,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and will brand the boat with the organization’s banner.
July 17th is the big start date for the race, and Omilian is like a kid at Christmas describing his excitement over the thrill, the speed, the team, all coming together in culmination. “It’s like the Rose Bowl of sailing,” he says. “And you’re sailing downwind at what feels like light speed, gybing in the squalls, surfing across the waves. There’s nothing like it.”
Time will tell how the crew of Sonic fares as she makes her way to Waikiki, but perhaps they have a little history on their side as they race against more experienced teams (and even a vessel sponsored by that Roy E. Disney again). Remember the Samba Pa Ti that charged by Morning Light in 2007? Well, Sonic has one of her sails aboard, recently borrowed from another boat to fill a gap in their wardrobe ahead of the race. Perhaps a bit of its competitive spirit will prevail again, flying high above Sonic.
>> Live tracking of the race will be available via transpacyc.com, and for more information on Sonic, the crew, and the latest news, visit sonictp52.com.