One week to go before the start, Stan and Sally Honey aboard Illusion in Portsmouth, R.I. (Sean McNeill photo)
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NEWPORT, RI (June 9, 2022)—Speaking with Sally and Stan Honey in the cabin of their Cal 40 Illusion, the conversation is as easy and breezy as the gorgeous day topsides in Portsmouth, R.I. The ocean-racing couple, who’ve racked up many victories racing from California to Hawaii, is preparing for the 52nd Newport Bermuda Race, some 11 days away.
 
The Honeys, from Palo Alto, Calif., are well advanced in their preps. The crew is set: 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Carl Buchan (Seattle, Wash.), fellow Cal 40 owner Don Jesberg (Belvedere, Calif.) and the redoubtable Jonathan Livingston (Richmond, Calif.) are all experienced and legendary West Coast sailors in their own right.

One week to go before the start, Stan and Sally Honey aboard Illusion in Portsmouth, R.I. (Sean McNeill photo)

The boat has been stripped of its cruising amenities: the dining table and floorboards are removed, the heavy anchor and chain are gone, and the heater has been disconnected and removed. The safety inspection has occurred.

And then Sally, the two-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, drops the mic. “Basically, we’re looking forward to our last hurrah racing,” says she, who has co-owned the record-setting Cal 40 with Stan for 34 years. “We’re buying a powerboat… transitioning to the dark side.”

What?! The Honeys, one of sailing’s most beloved and revered couples, who anyone would jump at the chance to race with, who came together racing 505s first against and then with each other, who have pushed and prodded each other across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii many, many times, are retiring to powerboating? Say it ain’t so!

“We’ve sold the boat to my nephew, John Vrolyk,” says Stan, the global record-setting navigator who needs no introduction.

Imagining Illusion without Sally or Stan aboard is a bit like imagining vanilla ice cream without chocolate sauce. Or a Dark ‘n’ Stormy with ginger ale. Or an efficient government. They’re illusory.

The Honeys aren’t the first owners of Illusion. That honor belongs to America’s Cup-winning skipper Bus Mosbacher and legendary Long Island Sound racer Vincent Monte-Sano. Mosbacher and Monte-Sano raced Illusion in its first Bermuda Race in 1966, placing second in class and overall to another Cal 40, Thunderbird.

The Honeys bought Illusion in 1988 after some 20 years of winning championships in the high-performance 505 dinghy. They progressed to Illusion because the “five-oh” was becoming a bit more physical than was needed. “We bought Illusion as a cruising boat because we’d been racing 505s for 20 years. But somehow, we couldn’t stop racing,” says Sally.

They both recounted, laughing, the preparation for their first double-handed race, the 1990 West Marine Pacific Cup, from San Francisco to Kaneohe, Hawaii. It was just the fourth time they sailed the boat together, and the inspection officer wasn’t convinced they were ready.

Stan and Sally Honey’s Illusion, surfing in the Pacific (Latitude 38 photo)

“So, the safety inspector comes down to boat,” recalls Stan. “We’d raced a lot and had everything ready for inspection, but we were rewiring the boat and the electrical system wasn’t finished. There were a bunch of wires sticking out. You could twist them together and turn on running lights or anything you needed, but it wasn’t finished yet. So, at the end of the inspection, the guy says, ‘Well, I need some advice. You people have been around a lot. You’ve passed the inspection; you got a check in every box. But, you’re not ready!’”

Despite the inspector’s trepidation, Stan and Sally assured him they were ready and then went out and placed second in class in their first double-handed offshore race.

“That first race was really eye-opening. It was the first time I’d ever been alone on watch in the middle of the night with an autopilot steering,” says Sally, a former sailmaker. “I spent the week before the race building four new spinnakers for the boat.

“The ’96 double-handed race also was very memorable. We sailed really hard in that race; I think we jibed 15 times one night. We pushed really hard and won overall. That was fun from the opposite side of 1990, when we were barely ready.”

Stan recalls crushing the fleet in the 1994 Singlehanded TransPacific Race (San Francisco to Kauai), where he set a course record of 11 days and 10 hours, an elapsed time that is also faster than all Cal 40 efforts in the crewed TransPac Race (a longer course). He also enjoyed pulling a similar horizon job in the 2003 crewed TransPac with Sally.

“The 2003 TransPac with Skip Allan and John Andron was just a hoot,” says Stan. “The boat was perfectly prepared and it was a great year for the race. The crew was unimaginably good. We beat the next Cal 40 by something like half a day. That and the singlehanded race would be my highlights.”

While the memories were flowing freely of past achievements, the Honeys are also squarely focused on the next race, their last race on Illusion—the Newport Bermuda Race. For Sally, it’ll be her third race to Bermuda, following on from 1970 and 2010; for Stan, his seventh race. In 2016 he navigated the 100-footer Comanche to a course record of 34 hours and 42 minutes. It was the second time he navigated a record-breaking entrant, having done the same for Pyewacket (53h:29m) in 2002.

“I suggested to Sally we do one more major race on the boat, the Newport Bermuda Race,” says Stan. “Sally said it’s fully crewed, who would we get to crew for us? I said, imagine the best crew you could imagine, would you go if we could get them? She said sure, but we’re never going to get them.

“Sally decided the best crew in the world would be Carl, Don and Jonathan. So, I sent out an email to all three and within 10 minutes each one said, ‘I’m in.’”

Illusion cruised in Maine for two summers after the 2020 Newport Bermuda Race was cancelled. (Stan and Sally Honey photo)

The march of time leaves no one behind, however, and as Sally and Stan progressed from the 505 to Illusion, now it’s time to make another shift. Although they’re selling Illusion, they won’t be far away from the creator of the breakthrough Cal 40, George Griffith, who also was a good friend. They’ve purchased Griffith’s old powerboat, the 48-footer Sarissa.
 
“We’d been thinking about transitioning to the dark side for a while, but we never saw anything we liked,” Sally says. “Sarissa is a sailor’s powerboat. She’s 48 feet long, 11 feet wide, weighs 12,000 pounds and goes 20 knots. George died in 2012, but his daughter, Mary, is a good friend of ours. We spent a weekend on the boat with her last summer and we thought, if we go to a powerboat, this would do it.
 
“It’s not bittersweet. I’m looking forward to it,” Sally says of the end that is nigh. “You can always do more, but we feel like we’ve checked most of the boxes on this boat. This will be the last big race. I’m really happy that it went to Stan’s nephew because one of the conditions of his buying the boat was that whenever we’re in the Chesapeake Bay area we have to go sailing with them. So, it’s not like the boat’s going to disappear from our lives.”
 
And that’s no illusion.

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Sean McNeill

Sean McNeill is a contributor to What'sUpNewp and a professional PR Consultant. Among those clients that he works with are Volvo Ocean Race, America's Cup and Rolex Yachting.