Byline: Rick Roberts
Bill Gibbs couldn’t stop smiling when he said, “We’ve done this race 14 times and we’ve never seen the wind this good.”
Max Phelps said, “It took us four hours to sail the last 2 miles.”
Was this the same race? In this year’s Lexus Newport-to-Ensenada Yacht Race, it depended on what boat you were on. The fastest finished soon enough to seize the glory; the slowest suffered some agony of windless drifting, but only near the end.
At mid-day April 27, about 180 of the 203 starters had finished. That remarkable tally was largely attributed to the wind holding strong well past the border until entering Todos Santos Bay. The 66th running of the 126-nautical mile race from Newport Beach to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula teased several boats with visions of records.
Howard Enloe’s Loe Real, a Jenn 60 trimaran, became the only boat besides the late Steve Fossett’s 60-foot Stars & Stripes catamaran in 1998 to finish before sundown April 26, just after 7 p.m. — but it missed Fossett’s record of 6 hours, 46 minutes, 30 seconds by 17 minutes, 21 seconds with a clocking of 7:03:51.
Not only that, but with its minus-205 handicap, Loe Real owed Gibbs’ Afterburner about an hour and 40 minutes — and the 52-foot catamaran blew in about 43 minutes later, with plenty of time to spare to claim the race’s biggest prize: the President of U.S.A. Trophy for best corrected time overall, including multihulls and monohulls.
In addition to the trophy, Gibbs won a two-year lease from the title sponsor on a 2014 Lexus IS F Sport.
Later April 26, Tom Holthus’ Bad Pak, an STP 65 designed by Reichel/Pugh, was the first monohull for the second consecutive year. It finished under a brilliant full moon just before 11 p.m. — in 10 hours, 58 minutes, 30 seconds. That was 20 minutes, 40 seconds shy of Doug Baker’s mark of 10:37:50 aboard Magnitude 80 in 2009.
“Good breeze all the way,” Holthus said. “We went around the (Coronado) islands with 18 to 20 knots a couple of times, then into (Todos Santos) Bay you hit the transition about 3 miles from the finish … the wind went to under 5 knots for a while and switched. We had the spinnaker up and then the jib to go upwind.”
The crew sensed that wasn’t good.
“No one said a word,” Holthus said. “We all knew the situation, but no one was talking about it.”
Ah, so near, so far. But someone has to win.
Gibbs said of Enloe’s team, “They have a good boat and they sailed it well. They crossed us near the border and went inside the Coronados. We kept going” … and went outside?
“Actually, we went through the islands,” a crewmember said, revealing an uncommon strategy.
NorCal Meanie Takes Maxi Class Win
While over the past 66 years, Newport-to-Ensenada Race participants and winners have been mostly a Southern California fraternity of friends and family, that changed this year.
Tom Akin, a St. Francis Yacht Club member from Sausalito, had sailed several Ensenada Races before this one, but none since 1987. However, he slipped back into the scene this year with a boat named Meanie, to win the Maxi class for serious ocean racers.
The new bright blue Reichel/Pugh 52 was somewhat overlooked among the 203 entries in 16 classes, all but 18 of which reached Ensenada — a positive tally attributed to the wind holding strong well past the border until entering Todos Santos Bay — but Akin seems back to stay.
“I had to take time off to raise two children,” he said.
That duty long past, he has returned in force with a solid crew, building a resume of success with a win in the 2006 Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Hawaii and a close second overall in the 2009 Transpacific Yacht Race on the TP52 Flash, with another San Francisco sailor — Paul Cayard — on board.
Meanie was not the first Maxi to finish — that was Bob Lane’s Medicine Man less than 10 minutes ahead. But the Andrews 63 from Long Beach that won the major President of U.S.A. Trophy last year owed him six seconds a mile in corrected handicap time. That gave Meanie a final clocking of 15 hours, 29 seconds to the rival’s 15:02:14.
“They were really a class act,” Akin said of Lane and his team. “When we finished, they applauded and cheered us, knowing we had just enough time on them.”
It was a satisfying effort considering that “we had the worst start in the fleet,” Akin said. “We got pushed up into irons (head to wind) at the line and couldn’t move. We finally left two minutes after everybody else.”
From there, with a northwest wind building near the coast, it was a tactical matter.
“Our plan was to stay within 5 miles of shore,” Akin said. “We knew it was going to be a little quiet inside the bay, so we waited and jibed with Medicine Man in 17 knots (of wind). And then, all of a sudden it died, 2 miles out.”
Medicine Man went left looking for an edge, while Meanie went right until it could tack and reach directly to the finish — just close enough behind Medicine Man.
Meanie’s crew included navigator Skip McCormick, tactician Jeffrey Thorpe, bowman Hogan Beatie, trimmers Paul Allen and Ben Mercer, pumps Casey Fitzgerald and Eric Hoh.
Newport-to-Ensenada Race Results
Class Winners (Best corrected handicap time)
MAXI (11 boats): Meanie (RP 52), Tom Akin, St. Francis YC, 11:46:44 elapsed time, 15:00:29 corrected time.
ORCA (6): Afterburner (52-foot catamaran), Bill Gibbs, Pierpont Bay YC, 7:47:11 ET, 13:08:01 CT.
PHRF-A (25): Horizon (SCZ 50M), Jack Taylor, Dana Point YC, 15:18:54 ET, 15:31:24 CT.
PHRF-B (21): Abacus (Flying Tiger), Timothy Chin, Silver Gate YC, 17:20:58 ET, 15:53:28 CT.
PHRF-C (19): Avanti (JNNU 54DS), Jim LaBarge, California YC, 19:41:48 ET, 17:11:48 CT.
PHRF-D (14): Day Tripper II (Hunter 40), Andy Horning, Seal Beach YC, 20:48:12 ET, 17:15:42 CT.
PHRF-E (12): Sea Maiden (Ericson 35-3), Carolyn/Sandra Sherman, Southwestern YC, 20:39:14 ET, 16:29:14 CT.
PHRF-F (7): Hematoma (Hunter 34), Scott Kramer, Alamitos Bay YC, 22:46:26 ET, 17:46:26 CT.
PHRF-G (10): Wiwo Ole II (Chyle 36), Daniel Hodge, Dana Point YC, 22:58:49 ET, 16:18:49 CT.
J/120 (9): J Almighty, Michael Hatch, San Diego YC, 18:00:23 ET, 16:45:23 CT.
CRUZ SPINNAKER-A (12): Tara (Catalina 36T), Nik Froehlich, Newport Harbor YC, 23:08:13 ET, 18:01:58 CT.
CRUZ SPINNAKER-B (9): Inquisitor (ESP 37), Larry Sharpless, Seal Beach YC, 22:00:32 ET, 16:35:32 CT.
CRUZ GENERAL-A (5): Stella Maris (Hylas 46), Tom Madden, Bahia Corinthian YC, 19:23:34 ET, 17:56:58 CT.
CRUZ GENERAL-B (19): Enchanted Lady (Robts 55K), Andy Sibert, Seal Beach YC, 19:52:06 ET, 17:19:32 CT.
CRUZ NON-SPINNAKER-A (9): Blind Date (Morgan 38-3), 23:27:19 ET, 18:27:19 CT.
CRUZ NON-SPINNAKER-B (15): California Dreamer (Catalina 30T), John Baranger, Dana Point YC, 23:22:58 ET, 16:57:33 CT.
First 10 Finishers
1st: Loe Real (ORCA; Jenn 60 trimaran), Howard Enloe, Silver Gate YC, 7 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds (corrected handicap time 14:10:56).
2nd: Afterburner (ORCA; 52’ catamaran), Bill Gibbs, Pierpont Bay YC, 7:47:11 (CT 13:08:01).
3rd: Go Cart (ORCA), Chris Slagerman, California YC, 10:00:50 (CT 13:54:10).
4th: Bad Pak (Maxi), Tom Holthus, San Diego YC, 10:58:30 (CT 13:54:10).
5th: Medicine Man (Andrews 63), Long Beach YC, 11:35:59 (CT 15:02:14).
6th: Meanie (Maxi), Tom Akin, YC unlisted, 11:46:44 (CT 15:00:29).
7th: OEX (Maxi), John Sangmeister, New York YC, 12:57:09 (CT 16:17:09).
8th: Alchemy (Maxi), Per Peterson, Oceanside YC, 13:03:37 (CT 16:01:37).
9th: Retro (Maxi), Doug Baker/David Team, Long Beach YC/Newport Harbor YC, 13:36:55 (CT 16:25:40).
10th: Taxi Dancer (Maxi), Tom Parker, Santa Barbara YC, 13:37:00 (CT 16:32:00).