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An interview with Jens Jensen on the 2021 California Offshore Race Week

by David Schmidt 27 May 08:00 PDT May 29-June 5, 2021
California Offshore Race Week © Sharon Green / Ultimate Sailing

While 2020 was marked by a pandemic and—for sailors—a dearth of regattas and offshore events, 2021 is happily proving to be a different animal. Vaccinations are hitting arms with ever-increasing VMG, and there are plenty of green shoots in the sailing world. For West Coast sailors, one of the most exciting of these green shoots comes in the form of the California Offshore Race Week (May 29-June 5, 2021), which involves a series of three races that take place between San Francisco and San Diego. Alternatively, sailors can opt to race a single, 500-nautical-mile leg from San Francisco to San Diego during the same week.

The Spinnaker Cup (May 29-30) is being organized by the Encinal Yacht Club (EYC) and the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club (MPYC), and will take boats from San Francisco to Monterey.

The Coastal Cup (May 31 to June 1) is being organized by the EYC and the Santa Barbara Yacht Club (SBYC), and will take the fleet from Monterey to Santa Barbara.

The SoCal 300 (June 3-5) is being organized by the SBYC and the San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC), and its racecourse stretches from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

While the first three of these races are open to vessels that measure at least 23'9" LOA, the CA 500 requires at least 45 feet of waterline for monohulls and multihulls. (N.B., additional entry requirements—including handicap ratings—apply for all four events, so please consult the event's NOR for more information.)

I checked in with Jens Jensen, commodore of the Encinal Yacht Club, via email, to learn more about this exciting West Coast offshore-racing series.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the race?

As of May 23rd, [we have]:

  • Spinnaker Cup: 36 boats
  • Coastal Cup: 24 boats
  • SoCal 300: 39 boats
  • Full Series: 13 boats
  • Average over the last three years:
  • Spinnaker Cup: 42 boats
  • Coastal Cup: 16 boats
  • SoCal 300: 28 boats
  • Full Series: nine boats

We are hoping [that] more boats [that are] registered for the 2021 Transpac Race will use a portion of [our] series to bring their boats to Southern California, or use the SoCal 300 as a tune-up if they are already in SoCal.

At this time, we don't anticipate the CA 500 (San Francisco to San Diego) to occur. It was requested as a big-boat course (specifically long, or wide, or deep draft (>12') that don't fit in coastal marinas easily) in 2019 and was sailed by the 60-plus-foot+ trimarans that year. But there doesn't appear to be an audience for [the 500] in 2021.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off the coast of California in late May and early June? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

The weather is variable but usually breezy. We have seen anywhere from five to 30 knots with flat seas or large swells coming from different directions.The variable conditions test the competitors because you need to be ready for anything.

Typically, the Coastal Cup has the highest winds peaking at Point Conception. As you continue farther East the wind will moderate at night.

The Spinnaker Cup and Coastal Cup are the one-two punch for exciting downwind sailing. The Spinnaker Cup turns the corner at Davenport, where winds can accelerate into the 30-knot range. The pinnacle of Coastal Cup racing is reached at Point Arguello and Point Conception, where boats turn East towards Santa Barbara.

Pointing the bow down into the troughs of large waves with thousand miles of fetch, driven by 20-30+ kts of NW winds, modulated by wind waves and reflected coastal waves, can test the race crews.

Where do I place my gybes, do I stay further offshore and how hard do I push the boat and crew? Answers to these three questions quite often decide the outcome.

Can you please describe the culture of the California Offshore Race Week to sailors and readers who have not had the chance to participate?

The culture is exhilarating and adventurous. The destinations each have a layover day and are fabulous with generous hospitality from Monterey Peninsula, Santa Barbara and San Diego Yacht Clubs. Visit great tourist destinations without being treated like a tourist!

Can you please compare/contrast the different racecourse challengers that sailors can expect to encounter in the SoCal 300?

The SoCal 300 has three defined legs.The first is from the SBYC to Santa Cruz Island. The weather is usually calm at the start and then builds throughout the day.

The second leg is from Santa Cruz Island to the weather buoy ODAS 46047 due West of San Diego. The second leg can be variable but is far enough offshore to stay in the breeze.

The last leg from ODAS 46047 to the San Diego harbor entrance will usually have light breezes during the evening hours, building as the sun rises to provide an exciting finish in San Diego.

In past years, the race used leg scoring, but in 2021 will just be a single start-to-finish race with no leg scoring.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you and the other regatta organizers planning?

We are prepared to reduce social activities shoreside and have a review point for that in late April. As far as conducting all series races, we feel quite confident that we can make it happen under current California health restrictions.

I know it's still early days in terms of entries, but are your eying any perennial favorites for strong finishes? What about any dark horses?

We typically have had a good turnout of Santa Cruz 50s and 52s who are all raced very competitively and often are within sight of each other over long periods.

We always expect a strong contingent of local designs, like Cal 40s and other boats that have their origins in Santa Cruz or Southern Cal.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

For the first time, we will start the Spinnaker Cup from the Golden Gate Yacht Club clubhouse on the San Francisco city front. No diesel burning committee boat required. Safety checks and inspection in Monterey will mostly be conducted onshore, also as a step to reduce fossil fuel consumption on the water.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

When the conditions line up perfectly, the Coastal Cup offers up the most exhilarating downwind racing that the West Coast has to offer.

25+ knots of breeze can see boats on full plane for most of the night. With the finish line moved to a virtual offshore mark, it's possible to stay in the breeze from sun-down to kite-down as you cross the line in the morning.

Looking ahead, we are watching with interest the growing interest in double-handed ocean racing and what the Paris Olympics might present us with in three year's time. We believe the CA Offshore Race Week can be a training ground for future Olympians, and we are willing to optimize [our] race courses to support it.

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