Orion shatters Newport to Ensenada elapsed time record

There were so many challenges for Orion while sailing in the 69th annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race on Friday.

Sure, Mighty Merloe stood out as the greatest competition for Orion, but Orion battled against so much more and in the end conquered in record-breaking fashion.

Orion, the MOD70 based in the San Francisco Bay area and owned by Tom Siebel, shattered the fastest elapsed time record in the N2E. Orion crossed the finish line in 5 hours, 17 minutes, 26 seconds, breaking the former record of 6:46:40, set by the late Steve Fossett on the yacht Stars and Stripes in 1998 by more than 1 hour, 29 minutes.

"We had to make sure the boat is prepped and the team is prepped, and we get a good start," said Charlie Ogletree, the tactician who also shared the helming with Siebel. "We had to make sure we were handling the boat better than the other boat. The conditions became a challenge.

"We knew the record was possible but not likely," Ogletree said in a phone interview. "We wanted to race as hard as we could. Partly through the race we realized the conditions were better. We were mainly focused on winning the race."

Orion, which also includes Peter Isler, Zan Drejes, Hogan Beatie, Paul Allen and Damian Foxall, got off to a great start to grab the lead against Mighty Merloe (H.C. Enloe) and Tritum (John Sangmeister).

But about an hour into the race, Mighty Merloe caught Orion and gained the lead. However, Orion regained its lead and opened up a gap on Mighty Merloe. Orion kept adding to its lead before finishing in Ensenada.

Mighty Merloe, the 60 ORMA that has been dueling with Orion for first-to-finish honors the past three years, followed just 20 minutes later with a time of 5:37:18 — also breaking the old record by more than an hour. Orion is also expected to win its class based on a corrected time of 12:26:36.

All the race's trophy winners will be announced during a presentation Sunday afternoon.

The N2E monohull record was also broken. Aszhou, owned by Steve Meheen and in the N2E for the first time, finished in 9:35:34.

"What a historic occasion," NOSA Commodore Dave Shockley said of Orion's feat in a release. "Although there has been much advancement in yacht design and construction since the previous record was set, I'm sure the skill and dedication of the crew had much to do with shattering the old record."

Some of the shore-side sailors estimated the breaking run meant Orion averaged 25 knots an hour over the 125-mile course.

"The stars really aligned this year — fabulous boats and crew members were able to take advantage of great weather conditions," Shockley said. "In sailboat racing, to beat a record by that much is really phenomenal."