Newport yacht clubs prepare for opening day

Boaters in Newport Beach don't drag their vessels out of the water for the winter. After all, chunks of ice would be hard to find floating in the harbor.

No matter. Like their counterparts in less-hospitable climates, where yacht clubs shut down as snowy days loom, Southern Californians want to celebrate the tradition of opening day too.

One by one, local yacht clubs are kicking off the season with traditional pomp.

"It becomes more or less their hour of shine to start the season," said Morrie Willkie, commodore of the Southern California Yachting Assn.

The Los Angeles Yacht Club kicked off in late January as an example, while the others in the association planned to follow suit in March, April, May and June.

Most will follow the same protocol for opening day: A color guard will present the flags. The Pledge of Allegiance will be recited. A choral group might sing the national anthem, or another patriotic song.

Next, the introductions commence. The commodores and directors — dressed in formal uniforms — will be noted, as will politicians and guests from other yacht clubs.

The fleet captain will be asked if the fleet is ready. The port captain will be asked if the port is ready.

There may be breakfasts of eggs and bloody marys preceding and dinners following. Perhaps the parties will even consume the whole weekend.

"That's really what it is: the enjoyment of boating," Willkie said. "If you didn't have opening day, you wouldn't have anything to look forward to."

Already, the Newport Sea Base and Balboa Basin yacht clubs celebrated their opening days April 12, according to a schedule published by the association.

Between 2,400 and 2,600 people are expected for the private, ticketed event at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club on Sunday, said Tim Collins, a staff commodore. (Members are allowed three guests each.)

In addition to the ceremony, every fleet at Newport Harbor will have at least one race over the weekend.

Ninety boats will also be arranged along the docks for display Sunday, some of which will be inspected for mechanics, safety and appearance in a competition for various awards.

"It's amazing what some people do, how much time they will invest," Collins said in anticipation.

The American Legion Yacht Club will also host its event Sunday. On May 10, the Balboa Yacht Club and Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club will be next to ceremoniously open up their doors.

Each club will make its opening unique, said Paul Konapelsky, commodore at the Bahia Corinthian.

"There's a common thread of tradition with all Southern California Yacht Assn.-affiliated clubs. Then everyone does their own spin," he said

At the Balboa Yacht Club, the schedule includes a VIP reception, performances by a children's chorus and bagpipe group and a barbecue buffet. A fleet "open house" will also overlap with hors d'oeuvre and cocktail judging.

At Bahia Corinthian, a "Great American Chili Cook-Off," judged according to International Chili Society rules, will be followed by a dock party with "floating bars" on boats, as the club's newsletter described it.

The Bahia Corinthian plans to host a closing ceremony the night before too, when members might dine on prime rib or play a boatsman's rendition of poker that involves taking Duffy boats to five houses in the harbor to draw a hand of cards.

Rather than lament a long winter ahead, staff will symbolically dump ice into the harbor, and dry ice will be used to create a fog. Then they will prepare to open the next day.

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