Ensenada, here they come

Burgers, fries and onion rings had been served at the private party on Ruby's rooftop deck, but the Newport Beach sailing enthusiasts rose from the white plastic chairs, abandoning their food for a better view.

They craned their necks and angled their cameras as the vessels raced past the Balboa Pier.

"Look at them go. Isn't that exciting?" Jerry Moulton said into a microphone for the benefit of the crowd. "It is to me."

It was the start of the 67th annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race, and Moulton had arrived with a wealth of information and a list of the 168 registered boat names at hand.

The vice commodore of the race for the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., which organizes the event, Moulton had set a radio on top of the speaker system earlier that morning and awaited the 11 a.m. start.

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark," the race officer's voice crackled through the radio, giving a 10-minute warning before the first group would head south.

First, the smaller boats would be sent on their way, signaled by horns sounding in the morning's strong wind.

Most will arrive at Ensenada in the middle of the night, but the speedier vessels — some without restrooms, much less sleeping accommodations — will arrive before sundown.

"30 seconds to starting signal," the radio crackled.

Dressed in high white socks and boat shoes, with a navy Newport Ocean Sailing Assn. shirt tucked into khaki shorts supported by a sailboat-decorated belt, Moulton held the microphone near his mouth.

He peered toward the ocean from under a red baseball cap that also paid tribute to the race.

"Notice there's nobody near the line," he told the festive crowd. "As we go along, we'll see that the racers get a lot closer to the line."

The guests, too, had come dressed for the event. Sailboat earrings dangled from Lynn Drury's ears as she checked in attendees, who included dignitaries from Mexico and Newport Beach.

"Well this is one of the great Newport Beach traditions," said City Councilman Keith Curry.

"This is pretty doggone exciting," agreed Mayor Rush Hill, standing next to him.

After the slower boats took off, the faster ones went racing away.

"This can be a very slow race, but those high winds will get a lot of the boats down quickly," Julie Albright said.

Two boats in particular caught the onlookers' attention, the Orion and the Mighty Merloe, two trimarans bent on breaking the Stars and Stripes' race record from 1998: six hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds.

The boats tipped onto one of their three hulls as the wind blew them forward, sending excitement through the crowd. Mouton imagined the adrenaline of crew members and the white knuckles of the skippers.

Of course, not all were in it to win the race, once dubbed the Tequila Run.

"See that boat right there?" called out Ralph Rodheim. "Monday morning, they might finish."

Moulton laughed in agreement: "They don't really care, as along as they can cook and serve hors d'oeurves."

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