Payson Man Enters Legendary Sailing Race

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When he was 17 years old, Al Lehman's father -- Al Lehman Sr. -- took him on a journey. They sailed together across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii in a tiny 20-foot boat.

His father was 43 at the time and the two men -- father and son -- spent 20 days together on the open ocean.

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Narrow Escape is a 40-foot sloop owned by Payson resident Al Lehman Jr.

"I guess it was a kind of rite of passage for me," Lehman Jr. said. "Neither of us knew what we were doing."

His father grew up in Iowa and didn't start sailing until he was in college. Lehman Sr. started teaching his son how to sail when he was 10 -- on lakes in Arizona. Lake sailing is the hardest way to learn because the wind is unpredictable. On a lake, you learn to read the water and see the marks the wind makes ahead of you. You learn to be prepared.

"My father taught me, if you are going to sail, do it properly," Lehman Jr. said.

As the father and son sailed across the Pacific, the elder taught the younger the value of being self-sufficient.

Once the coast disappears and you are 1,000 miles from shore, "you have to solve your own problems. You have to be resourceful," Lehman said. "You can't turn back if you forgot something. It's just you and Mother Nature.

"It's the closest thing to going into space."

That first father/son trip took place in 1982. Now, the two are preparing to do it again. This time, on a 40-foot sloop called the Narrow Escape. They will be racing in the 44th Transpacific Yacht Race from Long Beach, Calif. to Hawaii.

Lehman Jr. is 42 now -- a year younger than his father was on their first journey. His father is 68.

"It will be his last big race," Lehman said. "It's his last chance to do this kind of thing."

The Transpacific Yacht Race is legendary. For 100 years, in every odd year, boats from all over the world race the 2,225 nautical miles from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

This race has preoccupied Al Lehman Jr.'s spare time for more than a year.

They bought a 40-foot sloop called "LawnDart" from a sailor in Vancouver, British Columbia. The boat was called "LawnDart" because it is long and narrow --an 8-foot beam. It cuts through the water like a torpedo.

The boat was designed by Alan Adler, a professor who is best-known as the inventor of the Aerobie flying ring, a disc designed to be thrown long distances. The LawnDart is the only boat he ever designed.

Lehman Jr. trailered the boat to Payson, where it has been for the past year in his back yard under a shed, being refitted and overhauled.

"It did look a little out of place in Payson," Lehman said.

They stripped the boat of anything that was unnecessary, cutting its weight by 350 pounds.

"We stripped it down to a single burner stove," Lehman said.

The renamed "Narrow Escape" will be the lightest boat in the Transpac race, weighing only 5,000 pounds. The next closest boat weighs around 10,000 pounds.

In many ways, the tiny boat is entering a David-and-Goliath competition by attempting to win the Transpacific Yacht Race.

Seventy-seven boats have entered the Transpacific Yacht Race.

They will be racing against the likes of Roy Disney, whose custom boat is worth millions of dollars.

Disney hired "the youngest crew ever to sail Transpac" --some as young as 18 -- and is making a feature film about them called "Morning Light," to be released later this year.

Once the boats are underway, they will raise their spinnakers (a voluminous sail that looks like a balloon at the front of a boat) and head straight for Hawaii -- fast. The race is entirely downwind.

"It's like surfing a big wave," Lehman said. "It will be like riding a 40-foot surfboard for 12 days."

Al Lehman Jr. will be the skipper for this race. His father will navigate.

They will take two-hour shifts, day and night, for the 11 or 12 days it will take them to complete the race.

"Fatigue will be our biggest enemy," Lehman said.

They supplied the boat with a gallon of water, per person per day, and plenty of ready-to-eat food.

"The fanciest meal we will have is a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew," Lehman said.

Lehman left Payson on Wednesday for California. The race begins July 9.

The Lehman family will fly to Hawaii to meet them at the finish line.

When they return, the father and son will write an article for the Payson Roundup about their adventure. It will publish in mid-August.

To follow the race online, visit fastracking.com/ or www.transpacifyc.org/.

"Root for us," Lehman said. "We'll need it."

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