The famed Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race is ready to set sail once again, after being docked last year by the coronavirus shutdowns.
More than 160 boats are expected to depart from just off the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 23.
An estimated 107 boats are expected to race the entire 125-mile route to Mexico. Another 15 vessels will do a “sprint course” to Dana Point and 40 others will also stay in the United States by going around the Coronado Island in San Diego.
The race has been held – except in 2020 – since 1948 when the Newport Ocean Sailing Association started the contest to promote the growing tourist town.
When the first event was held on April 23, 1948, 117 boat signed up, but only 65 made it to the finish line after 25-knot to 35-knot winds stared blowing.
Back in 1983, the event drew a record 675 boats, earning the title of “World’s Largest International Yacht Race.”
The Newport to Ensenada race, referred to as N2E for short, brings sailors from California yacht clubs as well as others who travel even farther for a weekend of racing and rivalry, along with parties and camaraderie both in Newport and Mexico – however this year’s festivities will be watered down due to the pandemic.
Newport Ocean Sailing Association commodore Bill Gibbs was set to do his 20th race in 2020 – his first was in 1999 when he was 45 years old.
Though restrictions are easing, he said he knows there will be challenges as this year’s race sets sail. Two boats coming up from Mexico earlier this week hoping to join the race were turned away by Coast Guard at the border.
“We just have to get through all the hoops,” said Gibbs, now 67. “You just never know how things are going to turn out.
“We had to plan the race with the idea it could be canceled at any time.”
Despite the uncertain times, there’s more boats that signed up this year than in recent years, he said. “I think we’re tapping into the pandemic and the people who want to get out of their house.”
Gibbs said he wore masks at every training session, something he might opt to do during the race despite recently getting his vaccinations, as have four of five of his other crew members.
“I’ve gotten rather used to it,” he said of wearing the mask while sailing. “It’s nice for sun protection, it takes the chill from the wind. I may just keep it on.”
With the ongoing coronavirus concerns, plans for Sunday’s trophy ceremonies at the Hotel Coral and Marina are still being determined, pending the number of revelers and in coordination with the host city’s guidelines. The awards ceremony may have to be conducted in shifts, organizers said.
Temperature checks will be done as they disembark in Ensenada, Gibbs said.
“Ensenada is as careful, if not more careful, as Orange County,” he said. “They have very strict entry, distancing, mask wearing. They even sanitizer people’s shoes as you go in and out.”
Gibbs is hoping people will be on good behavior as they visit the neighboring country. “I told everyone, ‘This is not a spring break party, we’re going to conform to all the requirements.’”
Still, he’s looking forward to having a good time sailing, eating tacos and, of course, celebrating with a few beers at the finish line.
The race itself also has its challenges, whether it’s whipping winds or a breeze so light it barely moves the boats.
“Everyone wants a fast race and hopes for wind,” he said. “Ensenada is famous for no wind at night and drifting. No one likes it, it’s no fun.”
This year isn’t expected to be a record-breaker, but there are some strong winds forecasted.
And if the elements don’t cooperate, “we go back to talking about tacos and beer,” Gibbs said with a chuckle.
“We’re always happy. The random nature is part of the excitement,” he said. “If it was always the same, always predictable, if the big guys always win, it wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Some boats to watch for include the Disney family’s latest incarnation of Pyewacket, a Volvo 70, which will make its N2E debut.
The boat recently smashed the elapsed time record in the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Newport to Cabo San Lucas Race last month, according to event organizers.
Jerry Fiat will bring back Taniwha, a Farrier 32 SRX trimaran built in New Zealand that entered in 2019.
Sailor Steve Dunlap will be returning with his boat, Some Tuesday, with the goal of defending its two-year winning streak, but also to join the fun.
“We’re not hard-core racers, I bought the boat to have fun, but we take the race seriously,” he said in a news release. “There’s a misconception about yacht racing, boat racing, in that some think it’s stuffy, blue blazer boring. … But sailing is a fun passion-based hobby, in which everyone has a story about overcoming adversity. Sailing is really about solving problems. Things break, as boats do, and you figure it out.”
Another boat making a return is the Richley Family’s 39-year-old Choate 48 Amante, a multiple winner that has only missed three N2Es.
Bud Richley and brother, Tim, are carrying on the tradition their parents started decades ago. While their father, Mel, has died, their mother, now 95, still prepares all their food for the journey – likely a lasagna or beef stroganoff, he said.
Richley said his dad started doing the N2E in the early ’60s, originally on a Cal 30. In 1962, he started a boat building company, making mostly Newport 30 boats.
Richley remembers the race’s heyday, when there were hundreds of boats at the start line.
“It was exciting, it was a big deal,” he said.
He wonders, as more people seek outdoor activities, if the pandemic could help revive the race’s popularity.
“Hopefully it gains popularity as COVID goes away – the last recession hurt it a bit,” he said.
For Richley, it’s the friendly competition that keeps him coming back, he said.
“I know a lot of people in the race,” he said. “It’s not only a race against 100 boats, it’s a rivalry against people who have raced it almost as long as I have.”
For more info or to follow the race, go to: nosa.org
Source: Orange County Register