Newport Ensenada Race in a down year

In a normal year, the Newport- Ensenada Race, from Newport, Calif., to Ensenada in Mexico, is billed as the world’s largest international yacht race, with up to 400 boats lining up for the 125-mile contest. This is anything but a normal year, however, and entries are understandably down. Still, an impressive 125 boats will start the 62nd race today, making the race one of the world’s biggest international yacht races. Next time, we hope it regains the title of world’s biggest.

From the press release: It’s not the best of times, nor will it be the worst of times when a couple of thousand sailors on 272 boats start the 62nd Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race at noon Friday with spectators cheering them off from Balboa Pier.

It’s a new start line—a half-mile up the beach from the entrance to Newport Bay—for the traditional 125.5-nautical mile race down the Southern California coast to Baja California, featuring an array of sailing craft from 18 to 80 feet and sailors ranging from hardcore to casual.

The forecast is for a so-so southwest breeze of 5 to 10 knots but, realizing there are two things they can’t do anything about: the economy and the wind, all hope to make the best of both over the weekend as they set sail for a smooth race and the Fiesta del Vino hosted Saturday night by the colorful resort town 60 miles south of the border.

The numbers are down for what the organizing Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA) has long called without argument “the world’s largest international yacht race,” averaging more than 400 entries in recent years. But the competition stands to be keen, from first to last place.

The awards ceremony in the courtyard of the Bahia Hotel Sunday afternoon will distribute awards to the best finishers in about two dozen classes, including the half-dozen “Cruz” classes for cruising-type boats that comprise, as usual, about a third of the fleet.

Others will race to PHRF handicap ratings, led by the Maxi class of the biggest and fastest boats in the first start at noon. Subsequent starts will follow every 10 minutes until the last boats go off at 1:50 p.m.   

One of the biggest winners over the years is John Szalay, a 73-year-old retired engineering executive from Corona del Mar who will be sailing his 45th Newport to Ensenada Race on Pussycat, a Peterson 34, in PHRF-I for smaller boats in. Szalay has won his class the last three years and eight times overall.

“I like to win,” he told Orange Coast Magazine.

Some may have sailed more than 45 of these races—Dick Lawrence of Orange County claims 50—but records are sketchy.

Szalay’s tip: “The race is really won at night 80 to 90 per cent of the time.”

The fastest-rated boat is Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80, an Andrews 80 from Long Beach that has finished first the last two years and held the record for one year before the current record for monohulls of 10 hours 44 minutes 54 seconds was set by one of Roy E. Disney’s Pyewackets in 2003. This time son Roy Pat Disney will sail Pyewacket II, the Santa Cruz 70 on which he broke Merlin’s 20-year-old Transpac record in 1997.

But Mag 80’s strongest contender may be David Janes and Bill Turpin’s Akela, a Reichel/Pugh 77 with a wolf logo that finished only 11 minutes 36 seconds behind Mag 80 last year and won race honors as first overall on handicap time.  

The multihull record is 6 hours 46 minutes 40 seconds set by the late Steve Fossett’s 60-foot Stars & Stripes catamaran in 1998. It’s the only boat ever to finish before sundown, and nobody has come close since.

At the other end of the scale is the competition for the coveted Brass Spittoon. For many years it was awarded to the last boat to finish before the deadline at 11 a.m. Sunday, making for some convoluted contests. Now the prize goes to the PHRF boat with the slowest corrected handicap time.

The defending champion is Patty and Don Murray’s Locura from Chula Vista, which finished early Sunday morning in PHRF-B class with a time of 40-plus hours. This year’s contenders include At Ease, a Vagabondia 38 heavy displacement, center-cockpit cruising ketch sailed by John Haupt of San Diego, who bought it on Chesapeake Bay in 1987.

Haupt said, “At Ease has the distinction of being awarded the last-place trophy in the Newport to Ensenada, the San Diego to Ensenada and the Ancient Mariner’s Regatta all in the same year. No small feat! We are looking forward to bigger and better things this year.”

By Ocean Navigator