70 Sailboats Brave 'Lumpy' Seas in Annual Regatta


Those who race sailboats have resigned themselves to one fact: Theirs is not a spectator sport.

"Watching sailboat racing is like watching grass grow," said Susan Countess, commodore of the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club.

Regattas can last six hours or more, but it's nearly impossible to watch such a race from land. Even if a boat crosses the finish line first, sailing's elaborate handicapping system can knock the craft out of contention.

Oh, and one more strike against sailing: Watching the sport up close can make you sick.

But the cheers of a crowd were not what drew more than 70 sailboats out into the Santa Barbara Channel on Saturday for Ventura County's largest regatta. For the participants, the 15th annual Milt Ingram Trophy Race was a chance to spend a windy day on the water, following a course that is 9unusual among regattas because it does not favor one type of boat.

Ultralight boats, 24-foot racers and classic wooden boats have all claimed the overall trophy, which is named for the late sailor who designed the 42-mile route. On Saturday, the smallest craft in "Milt's Race" was a 16-foot catamaran with two sailors, the largest a 70-foot monohull with a dozen crew members.

Boats came from all over Southern California and from as far away as Arizona, but most are docked at either Channel Islands Harbor or Ventura Harbor, home to the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club, which organized the race. One craft was skippered by an 82-year-old past winner, who raced on a two-person catamaran. About a dozen captains were first-time racers.

"Milt would be really happy, because he always encouraged newcomers to try racing," Countess said.

Ocean swells and 15- to 20-knot winds made for "lumpy" seas Saturday. Most of the sailors had donned their foul-weather gear, and the catamaran crews wore wetsuits to shield them from the channel's cold spray.

"I think they're going to have a fast race, but very wet," race chairman Richard Countess said.

Those who have sailed "Milt's Race" before said Saturday was among the contest's windiest days. At least five boats returned to shore before finishing the race, including a catamaran that had broken a bolt between its two hulls, race committee member Mike Benson said.

"Most of the guys are excited about having a race with some wind," said Benson, who used a small cannon to start the race's eight classes.

Not all of Ingram's course puts wind in the sails. After the boats round oil platform Grace and head behind Anacapa Island, they hoist their colorful spinnakers to catch what is often little air.

"Behind the island it's a whole new race, because usually it's a parking lot," Susan Countess said.

Rob Kirkcaldie, skipper of the 36-foot Jenny H, expected his boat, which has won races in New Zealand, to do well in Saturday's wind.

"It's a favorable condition for us," he said. "Good start. Clean air. Go fast," was the strategy for Jenny H's eight-person crew from Santa Barbara.

Final results were not available Saturday evening, but Alchemy, a 70-footer skippered by Mary Compton, crossed the finish line first after about four hours.

Trophies will be handed out this morning in several categories, including the "condo" class for live-aboard boats and a class for the race's seven female skippers. The "Endurance Award" will go to the boat that finishes last.

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