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Newport to Ensenada is about boats, crew, course and those after-race margaritas

Newport to Ensenada is about boats, crew, course and those after-race margaritas
The USA 678 Pyewacket sets sail in the 70th annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race in Newport Beach in 2017. The race, started in 1948, began with 187 boats under sunny skies and light 8 knot breezes. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

"What's the N2E?" a friend asked the other day.

"That is the abbreviation for the Newport to Ensenada yacht race, one of the oldest and most prestigious international yacht races in the world," I replied.

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"What's that all about?" he asked.

Well, it's all about the boats. This year, there are 193 boats entered.

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Some of the exciting boats to watch are a couple of super-fast multihulls, Mighty Merloe and Orion, which holds an absolutely amazing course record of just 5 hours 17 minutes, plus a couple of Transpac 52s, Destroyer and Encore.

Roy Disney's Andrews 70 Pyewacket is always a favorite and won three trophies last year, including best corrected overall. Tom Purcell and Andy Rose always do well on It's OK. Dan Rossen on Problem Child will be trying for his fourth first-place trophy in a row for boats which are double-handed.

I'll be on Amante, a Choate 48, while my wife, Barbara, will be part of an all-female crew on Moonlight Lady, a Catalina 35.

It's also about the crew. Most boats have six to 10 crew members, depending on the length of the boat. There is a bonding that happens with sailors, especially in a race like this.

Experience, of course, is valued, but working well together as a crew is essential. On Amante, several of the crew have been racing together for decades, which is a huge advantage. This will be my 16th N2E race on Amante, and owners Bud and Tim Richley have been winning races on their boat for 36 years.

It's also about the camaraderie through shared experiences on the water with other sailors. Both before and after the race, it's fun to have a beer with a fellow sailor, sharing stories about their boats and the race, what went right and what went wrong.

It's about the start. It is thrilling to see so many racing sailboats circling for position in racing sequence just before their start. It is even more of an adrenaline rush to be on one of the boats, doing your best as part of a crew to get a good start, with your competitors all around you, and then hear that starting gun go off!

It's about the breeze. Sometimes we have good breeze all through the night, but that's rare. Usually, on this race the wind eases up after the sun sets, with light air racing through the night, just trying your best to keep the boat moving. Every few years we have a fresh breeze of 15 to 20 knots from the northwest throughout the night, which means an early Saturday morning finish.

Our best finish time was 3 a.m. Last year, some of the race committee were still driving down to Ensenada and saw from their car window that the winning boat already had finished and was motoring back to San Diego!

It's about the course. From the starting line off the Balboa Pier to the breakwater off the Hotel Coral Marina in Ensenada is 125 nautical miles. Along the way are the Coronado Islands, and the skipper must choose to go either outside or inside those islands. Usually there is more breeze outside the islands, but sometimes an offshore breeze fills in after midnight and the inshore track may be more favored. Other years, sailing the rhumb line directly to the finish, and thereby sailing fewer miles, works best.

It's also about the adventure. Sailing offshore at night is always exciting, and at times challenging. This year, we will have the benefit of a near full moon.

It's about the finish. Often, several boats are converging from different directions, some sailing deep right for the line, and others reaching in at hotter angles. One time we had heavy traffic with about 20 boats bunched together and finishing within a minute of each other. It can be dramatic, at times chaotic, and always exhausting, after racing for 20 to 24 hours or so with little or no sleep.

It's all about the parties. Of course, Hussong's, established in 1892, is famous as not only Baja's oldest bar but also one of a few that claims to have invented the margarita. Papas & Beer is another favorite watering hole. The Coral Hotel is hosting a Saturday Night Fiesta for the N2E racers with muchos cervesas and a dance band.

And finally, it's about the trophies. There are lots of winners, with dozens of classes. Trophy presentation is on Sunday at the Coral Hotel beginning at 2 p.m. Special thanks to this year's NOSA commodore, Daniel Hodge, Bill McNamara and others on the Race Committee.

From 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday is the Sail Away Skippers and Crew Party at the American Legion Yacht Club on the Balboa Peninsula. It is free, open to the public, with a no-host bar and buffet, and a live band for dancing.

Friday is the start of the 2018 N2E, which is actually several starts 10 minutes apart, with two side-by-side starting lines, beginning at 11 a.m. just off the Balboa Pier.

Best viewing is on the water from another boat, and there are usually a couple of hundred spectator boats. Another great place to watch the start is from the end of the Balboa Pier or from the bluff above Big Corona Beach (bring binoculars.)

This year, for the first time, there will be live video coverage of the start of the N2E Race at: facebook.com/NewportToEnsenada. Also, as in the past few years, you can follow the boats' progress on the race course through Yellow Brick Tracking, by going to NOSA.org.

MICHAEL LAWLER, a boat captain, lives on Balboa Island.

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