In by sundown?

Rich Roberts previews this year's Newport-Ensenada Race

Thursday April 24th 2008, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
Approximately 400 boats of a full range of size and description will start the Newport Ocean Sailing Association’s 61st race to Ensenada at noon Friday, counting on the odds and the wind gods to do their best.

NOSA Commodore Gator Cook has been optimistic for weeks, commenting earlier, “We are very excited that with good winds and the number of new larger and faster boats racing on the West Coast that the race records may be challenged. The last two years have seen light winds, and so the odds are in our favor that this will be a fast year.”

The 2008 race theme - “Finishing before Sunrise” - is captured in a painting by Howard O'Donnell featuring the two major record holding boats: Roy E. Disney’s Pyewacket for monohulls (10 hours 44 minutes 54 seconds) in 2003 and Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes, the 60-foot catamaran on which the late Steve Fossett clocked 6 hours 46 minutes 40 seconds in 1998, the only boat ever to finish before sundown.

Ernie Richau, navigator for Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80, the fastest-rated boat in the race, has tried to plot the weather using several programs, with conflicting results.
“At times we’re seeing a windy race, and two days later it says [there will be] a ridge overall with warm temperatures and lighter wind,” Richau said.

Or, he added, it could be windy for some and light for others, depending on their starting times. “A Cal 25, say, could end up with different weather pattern than we have."

The two-part start line will be just outside the entrance to Newport Bay. The many classes of boats will go off at 10 minute intervals, led by the biggest and fastest with the Cruising classes in the rear, comprising about a third of the entire fleet.

One thing seems sure: Whatever wind they find won’t be as frustrating as last year when more than half the starters failed to finish before the deadline at 11 a.m. Sunday.

On Saturday morning Todos Santos Bay was a calm, flat pond, and there was Stark Raving Mad III, Jim Madden’s dark blue Reichel/Pugh 66 from Newport Beach, just a heartbreaking few hundred yards behind Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80 from Long Beach as they struggled for first-to-finish honors in what looked more like an oil painting than a sailboat race. Neither had unpacked a spinnaker in what is traditionally a downwind affair.

“Thanks for reminding me,” Madden said this week.

In the end, Magnitude 80 led him across the line by only 12 minutes 29 seconds.

“I could kick myself in the butt for that one,” Madden said. “We had just ordered a new masthead genoa, but the furler didn’t arrive in time, so we couldn’t roll it up and tack it because it was pretty much an all-upwind race. So every time we had to turn the boat we had to gybe it . . . turn around and go backwards. We probably gybed 15 or 20 times, and we timed it. We lost 22 minutes doing that. Now we have the furler, but hopefully we’ll have a spinnaker up.”

Stark Raving Mad III also had its moments in reaching conditions early in the windy Corona del Mar to Cabo San Lucas Race last month, but when the wind clocked Magnitude 80 ran off to its third Mexican race record in the last two years.

“I’d really like to beat Magnitude,” Madden said. “We like a bit of breeze, but if you’re talking Magnitude, the lighter the better for us.” Madden’s first Stark Raving Mad, a J/160, won the President of USA (aka Harry S Truman) trophy for best corrected time in PHRF in 2001. Now Stark Raving Mad III is for sale, but Madden hopes to hang onto it until after campaigning it on the Great Lakes this year. But first, he’d like to make up that 12 1/2 minutes of last year.

Other notable entries:

Mark Folkman and Mike Galloway’s Ono, an Olson 40 from Redondo Beach, the Truman trophy winner in 2007;

Alec Oberschmidt’s San Diego entry, Staghound, a Reichel/Pugh 50 that won the President of Mexico trophy for first among the big boats on corrected time;

B’Quest II, Challenged America’s Nelson/Marek 43 that is a successor to the 40-foot B’Quest, making its debut in the race where it all started for the San Diego-based disabled sailors organization that went on to make its mark in two Transpacific Yacht Races to Hawaii;

Chris Calkins’ Sabrina, the 50-year-old wooden wonder that swept the board (PHRF, IRC, ORR) in the CDM-Cabo race;

John Haupt’s red-hulled Fantasma de Navidad (Ghost of Christmas), a 1974 custom 36 Ferro-cement schooner purchased on eBay for $780 (Madden will not be selling SRM III on eBay).

Some of the competitors have done most of the 60 races, including:

44 races – John Szalay, UC Irvine Sailing Association, sailing Pussycat (Peterson 34) in PHRF-I class;

40 -- Lew Beery, Balboa YC (with partners Tom Purcell and Andy Rose, aka, Los Tres Gordos LLC), It's OK (Dencho 49) in Maxi class;

38 -- David McMillin, Dana Point YC, Endless Summer (Ranger 33) in PHRF-J class.

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