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!