Those ‘Downwind Sleds’ Are Chosen to Battle for California Cup

Much has been said and written about the big, heavy 78- to 81-foot, million-dollar maxi-yachts such as Kialoa, Boomerang, Condor, Sorcery and Ondine, which are usually leading the fleet in most long-distance races.

Now, there’s a new kind of maxi, the ULDB (ultra-light displacement boat). ULDBs range in size from 66 to 70 feet and weigh as little as 25,000 pounds. They are popularly known as downwind sleds in races to Mexico or the Transpac.

California Yacht Club has chosen the ULDB maxis to compete for the coveted California Cup in a boat-for-boat fleet race--a five race series--over the Memorial Day weekend. They will be racing triangular, round-the-buoys courses in Santa Monica Bay, giving the anticipated big spectator fleet a chance to follow the action.

In most long-distance races, these yachts are seen only during the 10-minute starting sequence. After that, they soon disappear over the horizon.


“I think we’ll see some of the most exciting boat-for-boat competition during these five races, considering that four or five of these 70-footers could be crowding the weather marks at the same time,” said Ben Mitchell Jr., chairman of this year’s California Cup.

Eight of the big ULDBs have registered for the Cal Cup competition. They are such well known speedsters as Saga, a Nelson-Marek 69 from Long Beach; Swiftsure III, an NM-68 out of San Diego; Drumbeat and Prima, NM-68s, and Pandemonium, an NM-66, all from Newport Beach, and two Santa Cruz-70s, Kathmandu, San Diego, and Blondie, Santa Cruz.

Also on hand will be Merlin, the original ULDB maxi from the design board of young Bill Lee of Santa Cruz. Merlin is the holder of the elapsed time record of 8 days 11 hours in the 2,225-mile Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

All of the ULDBs in the Cal Cup will also be competing in the Transpac, starting July 4.


Although the boats are particularly effective downwind, because of their light weight they are surprisingly maneuverable on all points of sail over a closed course. They will be crewed by some of the top racing sailors in the world.

Under favorable wind conditions, only the fastest spectator power boats will be able to keep pace with the racers.