IMU's Joel Buffa Races in Transpacific Race
August 17, 2017

At IMU, our employees are passionate about the marine industry, and not just commercial marine insurance! In fact, one of our employees - Joel Buffa, a senior underwriter in our California office- recently accomplished a major maritime milestone. He competed in and completed the 49th running of the classic Transpacific Yacht Race.

A historic event

Although this was his first time competing in the race, Buffa has a long family tradition with the Transpac, his Great-great Grandfather, Louis Sylvester Comyns, Great-Grandfather, William Louis Comyns, Grandfather, Lou Comyns and mother, Cindy Comyns Buffa have all raced before. While Louis and William and his mother each raced once (1928 and 1973 respectively), his Grandfather Lou raced in 10 Transpacific Yacht Races between 1957 and 1983.  Joel definitely had some big sails to fill this year when he raced, becoming the first 5th Generation participant in the history of the race!

The Transpacific Yacht Race is one of yachting's premier offshore races and attracts entrants from all over the world as they compete for the fasted time across the Pacific Ocean. The race begins in San Pedro, Los Angeles at the Pt. Fermin buoy, and ends off Diamond Head Lighthouse in Hawaii.

(Sort of) smooth sailing

Joel sailed as part of a 7-person crew aboard the “Rapid Transit” a custom Antrim 49 racing Yacht. Joel and four of his crewmates, Bill Schopp, Ian Bower, Greg Clark, Dave Shoemaker, are all California Maritime Academy graduates. Also on the crew was Jim Partridge (boat owner) and Rob Benjamin. The team became a tight-knit group through the experience, and it wasn’t all smooth sailing. On the 6th day of sailing, as the crew was trying to maneuver around debris in the ocean, Rapid Transit hit a semi-submersed dock (likely debris from the Japanese Tsunami). They were hit twice, the second time damaging the boats rudder (used for steering the boat), which slowed them down significantly for the last three days of the race.  And they were not the only ones, two other boats competing in the race suffered damaged rudders, one from a telephone pole floating in the ocean!

But these are the dangers, and excitement, you expect to face when completing an open ocean crossing, says Buffa.  And he was glad he was sailing with a group whom he trusted and knew could handle whatever the race threw their way.

“When you are crossing an ocean, you can’t do it without a team working together,” said Buffa. “It was a cool environment to be a part of and I just hope I can do it again someday!”

The finish line

Joel’s team finished the race in 9 days, 6 hours, 44 minutes and 57 seconds, 7th out of 9 in their Division 1 (for the fastest boats). And while the owner of the boat is typically who navigates the boat across both the start and finish line, it was Joel who drove the finish for his team. The owner, James Partridge, wanted to recognize the historic sail for Joel and his family and surprised him at the finish by asking him to drive- the highlight of the experience for Joel.

Congratulations to Joel and the Rapid Transit crew for your amazing accomplishment!

Read more about Joel’s sail and his family history in this article that was featured in a local California paper.