A Movable Feast- Latitude 38 Ensenada Race

After a shaky start, Newport Ocean Sailing Association's (NOSA) 53rd Newport to Ensenada Race turned out to be a pleasant and relatively quick trip. The 441 boat fleet didn't threaten the all time record (675 boats in 1983), nor was the old Pyewacket 1998 monohull course record of I I hours, 54 minutes ever remotely in danger, of being broken. But as Ensenada Races go and some of them have been pretty grim this was certainly one of the better ones.

With a weather forecast calling for 15 20 knots from the northwest, hopes were high for another year like '98 In an effort to get all 27 classes underway quickly beginning at noon on Friday, April 28, the race committee endeavored to set three simultaneous end to end starting lines for the first time (instead of the usual dual lines). Unfortunately, some of their marks wouldn't stay set in the bouncy conditions, resulting in a one hour, 20 minute delay. The crowd milled around with increasing impatience, watching the wind evaporate as the RC played with the starting line. Some sailors had obviously started partying a bit early, as they vented their frustrations on the VHF radio not a pretty thing to hear.

Eventually, the fleet headed south under hazy skies and in an 8-10 knot westerly. As the afternoon wore on, the wind came aft and most boats had kites up as darkness approached. As always, the question was how far offshore to sail in search of better wind - rhumbline or great circle route? Inside or outside the Coronados? And, more importantly, what's for dinner? For some reason, this race lends itself to gluttony - and most boats pull out all the stops at mealtime for this relatively short 125 mile 'moveable feast'.

We had the pleasure of sailing aboard Jim and Heather Madden's new J/ 160 Stark Raving Mad, the scratch boat in PHRF A. The mood on board was optimistic, as the race conditions allowed us to make good use of our long waterline and gigantic asymmetrical kites. The 'new' Santana album and other CDs played on the deck speakers, cold beer flowed, we were going 9 -10 knots straight towards our waypoint five miles off the Coronados life couldn't get much better. A dinner of lobster tails, steak, and all the trimmings - including a seemingly endless supply of primo wines - completed our happiness.

In the dark, everyone took their best guess as to the optimal route. The evening was warm, dry and not particularly windy - a nice night at sea. When the fleet converged in Todos Santos Bay the next morning, Roy Disney's R/P 75 Pyewacket was still leading. Doug Baker's Andrews 70+ Magnitude was just behind, and caught a shift that got them around Pyewacket in the final moments of the race.

Magnitude's time on the course was 15 hours, 57 minutes four minutes ahead of Pyewacket. Adding insult to injury, Don Hughes' R/P 70 Taxi Dancer snuck across the finish line half a boatlength ahead of Pyewacket as well.

Remarkably, Ron Kuntz's 1990 Andrews 53 Cantata, finished just 32 minutes after Magnitude to claim overall honors by a huge margin almost an hour over the next boat. Kuntz's 'slingshot' strategy worked perfectly, as Cantana revelled in 20 knot winds that most boats never saw. "The weather forecast called for gale force winds offshore," said Kuntz, an Oceanside service station operator. 'We stayed about seven miles outside Coronados, and resisted the temptation to head in toward Ensenada too early. We had a game plan and stuck to it."

The sea 'glassed off as day broke, and Stark Raving Mad took several agonizing hours to crawl the last five miles to the finish. We saved our time on all the boats in our class except Dennis Conner's new (and subsequently sold) J/ 120 Stars & Stripes, which beat us by 11 minutes after the handicaps were applied. Conner won PHRF overall, and we were pleased to be second. DC chose to sail in PHRF rather than the 11 boat J/ 120 class, as he had a non class Code 0 and more MIRs - including '99 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Eric Doyle - than the rules allow. Ironically, Scott Bimberg's Indigo beat DC to Ensenada, having started at the same time one starting line to leeward and using their 'B' sails. Needless to say, Indigo crushed the other 120s.

Boats dribbled into Ensenada for the next 24 hours, some right up until the Sunday noon cutoff. About 75 of the smaller boats took DNFs, victims of light winds that worsened as the weekend went on. But eventually everyone who wanted to get to Ensenada made it down most under sail, some under power, and some in cars. The weekend long party culminated in the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony, where truckloads of trophies were presented. Dana Point YC distinguished itself in three categories: most boats, most trophies and last boat to finish (the Catalina 30 Bon Vivant).

The Ensenada Race generates a million more stories each year, but it's virtually impossible to cover this event coherently. Our advice? Check it out yourself some time love it or hate it, this is one race that every sailor should experience at least once!