by Rich Roberts
None of the big guys wanted to be left at the starting line of the 125 nautical mile Lexus Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race.
The Maxi class was keyed on aggression led by two venerable ocean racers, Bob Lane's Medicine Man from Long Beach and Taxi Dancer from Santa Barbara, who made the most of a seven knot southeasterly breeze to seize the early advantage in the Newport Ocean Sailing Association's 65th edition of the traditional event.
Five of the six Maxis congregated at the pin end boat looking for a windward advantage. First, the bright yellow Taxi Dancer, owned by Jim Yabsley, Tom Parker and Dick Compton, forced Tom Holthus' big black Bad Pak from San Diego past the committee boat before heading up to the line, but in the meantime Medicine Man had timed its start perfectly to leeward, with clear air just ahead of Staghound, as Bad Pak struggled to tack and gain speed.
It's OK, the Tres Gordos LLC entry from Balboa YC, followed close behind while Andrew Rasdal's Valkyrie from San Diego chose to stay out of the fray in the middle of the line. They all headed south on starboard tack, although some slid away to close reaches closer along the coast and one even popped a spinnaker.
Earlier, as Parker and the crew prepared Taxi Dancer to cast off, he was concerned that 'it looks like [the wind] is getting lighter. But the [pre-race] party last night was great. Look at them. One turned his ankle, another hurt his hand. We may have to re-think the parties. The good thing is we went through all the alcohol, so they're sure to stay sober.'
There were 213 entries, starting with the Cruising class crowd that started earlier. What weather conditions they would find along the way appeared to be iffy at best. According to the North Sails Weather Forecast prepared by Sailing Weather Service, LLC, light swirling eddy effects following moderate rainstorms Thursday were to be most noticeable near Newport Beach. They would become less pronounced farther down the coast, especially south of San Diego, and from the Coronado Islands south the northwesterly gradient component reattaches to the coast. From there, other than morning coastal cloud north of San Diego, mainly clear conditions were expected to prevail, with seas of less than a 1m. swell near Newport Beach, increasing to 1-2m. south of San Diego.
How would the strategists deal with all this?
Artie Means, a San Diegan who has been doing the race for nearly two decades, first must adjust to a strange boat. He was due to sail on Per Petterson's Alchemy, which was the third boat and second monohull to finish last year's race. But the Dencho 70 was a late dropout subsequent to enduring a rough and windy race from Corona del Mar to Cabo San Lucas earlier this month.
'We had a little bit of carnage in the Cabo race so we decided to kick back,' Means said. 'As windy as it was, we needed to give the boys on the boat a little bit of time off.'
So Means was driving the Reichel/Pugh 50 Staghound, a smaller Maxi class entry whose owner, Alec Oberschmidt, recently injured his back and was looking for a replacement.
But the same strategy will apply. 'I think some of the guys are a bit optimistic that we're going to have 18 knots [of wind],' Means said earlier. 'With the pressure building on the backside of the front [that came through] Thursday it's going to have the eddy effect and keep the big breeze offshore and keep it fairly light on our course. Unless that breaks up we're not going to see much above 11 knots.'
So where does one go from the start---offshore or along the coast?
'It depends on the [wind] angle,' Means said. 'If you have the angle fully south to get offshore then it's a no-brainer. But if you get too much west component, it's too expensive to go offshore. Nobody in their right mind's going to do that, and it turns into pretty much a rhumb line drag race until the breeze starts to come around [from behind].'
Then, is it inside our outside the Coronado Islands at the border?
The direct (rhumb) line to Todos Santos Bay is inside, but . . . 'I've always felt that if you're within five miles of the Coronados you have a pretty big problem with a wind shadow,' Means said, 'so with a six or seven knot race I'd say you want to be just outside and sailing as short a distance as possible without getting stuck in the lee [of the islands].'
Finally, the finish line has been moved to the north side of the bay offshore from the Hotel Coral and Marina, the new Ensenada headquarters for the race.
'Finishing at the Coral takes a lot of stress out of our jobs this year,' Means said. 'It's inside the harbor but all the way to the north side, so you don't have to dig as far into the bay [where] there are a lot of big hills.'
All points considered, it didn't look like anyone would challenge the monohull elapsed time record of 10 hours 37 minutes 50 seconds by Doug Baker's Magnitude 80 in 2009, let alone the virtually untouchable multihull record of 6 hours 46 minutes 40 seconds set by the late Steve Fossett on the 60-foot Stars & Stripes catamaran in 1998---the only boat ever to finish before sundown on the same day it started. Both of those record races enjoyed highly favorable wind conditions.
Among the entries, returning class winners from last year include Dennis Ponsor's Airwaves in PHRF-B, Larry Leveille's Rush Street in PHRF-D, James Devling's Campaign II in PHRF-F, David Basham's Cimarron in PHRF-G, Scot Tempesta's Anarchy in Sprit-B and, in Cruising classes, Walt Gonzales' Summer Wine, Theo Mavromatis' Aegean, Puzant Ozbag Zorayan's C'est La Vie, Nigel Turner's Salacia and George Biddle's Prometheus.
Another notable participant is John Szalay (sha-LAY) of the Bahia Corinthian YC sailing Pussycat, his Peterson 34, in his 47th N2E in class PHRF-E. He won his class in 2006, '07 and '08.