By Len Bose
Sunday July 17 is the start of the 81st Flight of the Lasers and when people like Brett Hemphill, David Beek and Gator Cook call me up to ask me to write a story about “The Flight” I am all over it.
First call I made was to Seymour Beek to find out as much about the race as I could. Beek first sailed in the race at the age of seven, I did not happen to ask Beek what year that was but the race started in 1936. The race first was known as the Flight of the Snowbirds, which is 11 foot monotype sailing dingy. The Snowbird was a class in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Beek’s best finish’s were in 1948 and 49 with two-second places to Gil Kraemer and Dick Deaver respectively. These were the years when as many as a 160 boats would be on the starting line at the same time. To finish in the top fifty would be quite the accomplishment, but to finish second during this time,with all the past Olympians 0n all those boats, needs some serious respect and acknowledgment.
Beek refers to the race as “The Flight” because over the years the race has been sailed in the Snowbirds from 1948 to1970, Kites 1972 to 73 and now Lasers from 1975 to present. The Laser also happens to be an Olympic class boat.
In 1954 Tom O’Keefe won The Flight and I had a chance to talk to him over the phone. “ At that time The Flight was the largest one design race in the world. I recall once I got into the lead there was a news reel boat filming the race and later played the news reel in the theaters.” O’Keefe said. “ I also remember all the power boats in the bay blowing their horns at the finish line when I won the race. It was a big deal at that time. O’Keefe recalled a story about a competitor who's boat did not measure in to the rules and this person had won a number of different regattas that summer. There was someone who took offense to this competitor and swam from Balboa Island and tipped the boat over just before the start of the race. O’Keefe recalls the harbor department following the swimmer back to the beach he had come from. “I still have the silver plated bowl I won as the take home trophy that year, I will always remember all those boats.” O’Keefe said.
Next I checked in with Chris Raab who had won The Flight in Lasers in 99, 02 & 03. “ This race meant everything, I needed a new sail really bad and the winner received a new sail. My father was at work and he did not have time to trailer my Laser down from Long Beach so I remember sailing my boat from Long Beach to Newport, at the age of 15, so that I could practice a couple of days before the event. Dude this race meant everything to me, it was huge!” Raab said.
I had to pick up the phone and call the man himself Jon Pinkney who has won The Flight more than anyone else with seven wins. Like all the past winners the first thing he said was “ It was the big event, the biggest race on the bay at the time, and I wanted that new sail. Out of the 100 boat that started the winner was the king.” Pinckney said.
Pinckney recalls the 1990 Flight, which was one of the windiest, as the one that got away from him. “ Phil Ramming and I came off the starting line ahead of the fleet. Ramming had just tacked off of O mark to starboard and lee bowed me back to the right side of the course. Ramming then made it in front of the ferry, that was headed into Balboa Island, and I had to sail around it. I was never able to catch him after that.” Pinckney said. This was some twenty-six years ago and Pinckey was telling the story as if it was yesterday.
When I told Pinckney and Raab about the winner of this years Flight receiving a new sail they both got rather quite. I’ll let you know if I see Raab on his Laser this week before the start. Sailing Pro shop is donating the new sail along gift certificates, the entry is free thanks to the Newport Chamber of Commerce. There are several categories that people can enter, such as the youngest skipper, parent child, couple, oldest skipper, and bragging rights.
Entry and information can be found on the website, www.flightofthelasers.org
Boat name of the week “ Chill Vibe”
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist for the Daily Pilot.