Thursday, April 27, 2017

On the Harbor: 2017 Newport to Ensenada preview

This Friday April 28,2017 will mark the 70th Newport to Ensenada yacht race run by the Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA). I stoped counting at thirty on how many of these race’s I have participated in.

So why do I continue to race year after year? Simple answer, because it is fun. Yes, there are the years that the forecast is dismal with the lack of wind and the thought of not finishing until Sunday afternoon leads to the question “Why do I do this to myself?” But then there are the years when I have finished on Friday night and have completed 135-mile course in less than 11 hours and I feel like an eight year old getting off Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for the first time.

In reflecting back over the years I have many exciting moments along with the “Tell me why we are still doing this race.” moments. The first memories that come to mind are the intoxicating ones for example when you are first leaving the harbor and you look down the jetty entrance and it is jammed with competitors like the 405 at 5:30 PM.

This is when it first kinds of hits you that we had better put on our game face and make sure we do not run into another boat before the start of the race. There are always many distractions, saying hello to old friends on other boats, the religious folks preaching through a hand held megaphone’s in boats that should not leave the breakwater. The photographer in a boat that looks like an old woody wagon.

In all crowds you always find the characters. I recall one year a good friend showing up in a boat name “White Ford Bronco” and the crew were in OJ masks. You have the competitors that still have not gone to bed from previous night send off party. It only took me about the first seventeen years to figure out that maybe it was not such a great idea to party like the big dogs before heading out to sea the following morning. I can recall some doozies, not feeling at top performance, with a rolling sea state, no wind and the boat just slating back and forth for hours. It still sends a shiver down my body on what not to do before a race. Somehow, with time, it all works out and before you know it the race has started and the fleet thins out.

The forecast for this years race has us starting a “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” race with the wind projections toping out at thirty knots. I am writing this column 96 hours before the start of the race so no telling yet what we will really end up with. For fun let me try to describe what we will be doing aboard the Santa Cruz 50 Horizon should the wind fill in as forecasted.

You never want to get wet so I would see myself fully suited up in my foul weather gear and life harness already on before leaving the harbor. Make sure you have the reef lead through your main, this allows the main sail to be reduced in size, before you start just incase the weather turns to the extremes. Things will be intensified ten times at the starting line with all the traffic around. We will have our number 3 jib up, small headsail, and it looks like we will be heading well outside the Coronado Islands in an effort to stay in the wind longer. Normally with this much wind at the start one would take the straight line to the finish, unfortunately the wind is forecasted to dissipate to nothing sometime between 20:00 and 00:00.

The crew will gather all the sails from down below and stack them neatly in two large bags. This maneuver is called stacking. Once this is completed we will all dig in and sit on the weather rail and take the occasional cold wave to the face.

The forecast appears that we will spend half the race close reaching out towards San Clemente Island before setting a spinnaker. Should we find the 20 knots + wind out side this is when it get sporty and we set our spinnaker and start surfing down the waves. All of our crew are very good drivers in these conditions and we take 30 minute tricks at the wheel. This alone is a competition between the crew members on who can get the boat going the fastest. Aboard Horizon we refer to it as the highest number on the fun meter.

As the sun starts setting I will head down below and throw in the large pasta bake, my wife Jennifer had made a couple nights before, and start heating it up for dinner. Warm fresh food always feels good going down while at sea. Four people will stay on deck sailing the boat, the other four crew members will eat then head back on deck to rotate the other crew.

I am hoping we will be just past Coronado Islands by 21:00 all eight of us will have our fingers crossed that we can make it to the finish line before the wind stops. The odds are good we will not achieve this goal and watch the sunrise still at sea. These mornings quite often feel like Christmas, you wake up hoping you get everything you wished for and you never know until you look through the binoculars hoping to see larger boats than you. Should you find the larger boats then the energy level jumps up by 110 percent. If it is smaller boats we received coal in our stocking and it is a tuff slug in to the finish.

No matter how you look at it you just spent the last 24 hours at sea, hopefully with good friends still around you. If you think fisherman tell whoppers you need to hear sailors stories talk around the pool at the Hotel Coral after a few cerveza’s .

Wish us luck!

Sea ya

Saturday, April 15, 2017

2017 Baldwin Cup Recap "Lightning comes before Thunder"

My father always told me that Lightning comes before Thunder and they both come from the same source. This was proven true for the first time in three years with Newport Harbor Yacht Clubs 2017 Baldwin Cup teams, Lighting and Thunder.

NHYC continued it’s forth consecutive year as champions of the Baldwin Cup. In 2016 team Thunder and Lighting faced off in the finals with Thunder raising the trophy over their heads. This year it was all team Lighting, with Greg Helias, Bill Menninger, Mikee Anderson, Rob Rader, Mac Mace, Ward Mace, Alex Curtiss and Robert Kinney, with huge smiles on their faces and glasses held high.

For those of you, like me, that don’t understand what team racing is. I defer to the NHYC web site for its definition: “ Team racing, like most traditional team sports, involves strategy, advanced skill, and teamwork. However, unlike other fleet racing, team racing pits a team of four against another team of four boats. This added dimension forces players to have tremendous boat-handling ability and quick reactions.

The key to watching these races and understanding if your team is winning the race is counting the place of each of your team's boats and if that number is less than 18 your team is winning the race. This is why you will see leading boats turn around and try to slow down the opposing team's boats making an effort to have their teammate pass an opponent.”

I have written this before, the excitement level is increased tremendously while attending this event with your friends and informing the umpires of their bad calls. Yes, team racing has umpires on the water similar to an umpire on the baseball field. Quite often you will hear from the gallery, "Come on, ump! Make a call!” This years reported spectator attendance was over 200 sailing fanatics.

I  was fortune to have the opportunity to sit next too many of our local sailing greats which included Jeff Lenhart, Chris Raab, Craig Chamberlain and pit crew member Peter Haynes. All showing different enthusiasm and excitement with the 4v4 team racing format and this event. Many of the local competitors like Justin Law, Jon Pinckney, Greg Helis, Bill Menninger, Alex Steele, Greg Newman and Carson Reynolds. All stoped and had long conversations with me on how their day was going, how fantastic this event is, along with how increasingly competitive the event has become.

Of this group some of my most memorable quotes came from Chris Raab jumping up from his chair and saying “ Put me in coach.” Raab did not qualify this year in the NHYC sail offs, something tells me this event will be moved up on his priority list next season. Alex Steele, sailing for the Balboa Yacht Club, said it best “ This is a great regatta, that had to have been some of the best sailing I have ever sailed in.” Greg Helis sailing for NHYC team Lighting did not say a word he just stopped and looked with a big smile, exuding confidence that this regatta was his teams and already completed in his mind. Helis then nodded his head and proceeded to his boat and out to the race course where team Lighting defeated Team Thunder 2-1 in the semi-finals and then the St. Francis Yacht Club 2-1 in the finals.
As in previous years the list of volunteers for this event was endless and completed like a Dutch shipbuilder second to none. You had to have been on the docks to watch the pit crew jump to work on the final day when the boats needed the mains reefed and repairs made. “Well Done” is deserved to all that made this event possible.

With that being said, I have to make mention of an observation that has bothered me for the last five years during the Baldwin Cup.

During the event NHYC announcers continue to heckle novice boaters, that are passing by the front dock in their boats. Pointing out their lack of skill or boating etiquette is the go to punch line for a quick browbeating. A quote taken in yesterdays press release from event announcers Brooks Clark and Adam Deermount. “Fender counting continued to be a popular sport at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club with “Vegas odds predicting over 72 and 1/2 fenders to be spotted on various Duffy boats and other small craft that also become obstacles on the course.” Proper yachting etiquette calls for all the vessels fenders to be stowed away after departing the dock.

Other negative observations were broadcasted by Clark and Deermount at the expense of the passing by novice boaters over the three day event. These novice boaters can easily hear these comments with the amplified sound system broadcasted out over the water from NHYC main dock. Writing these words will definitely damage me but I have been biting my lip on this topic for over four years and explaining my disapproval to the event chairmen in the three previous years. 

In my opinion the Baldwin Cup is the best thing that has happened to yachting in my lifetime. This small bit of satire is more damaging than productive to our sport and I can only hope it will be discontinued in future events. 

NHYC Responce:
""Len, thank you for your kind words about the Baldwin Cup Team Race and for taking the time to join us during this year's regatta. This iconic event showcases the best in class of team racing and we are fortunate to have some of the most accomplished sailors in the U.S. competing and officiating, including former Olympians, decorated collegiate sailors, in addition to America’s Cup competitors. It brings out the most passionate competitive spirit in all of us, and, perhaps, sometimes we go a tad overboard in our commentary. We take your thoughts to heart and will be mindful of our narrative moving forward,” said Staff Commodore and Event Director, Bill Crispin.”

Sea ya