From the Boathouse: On your marks for Ensenada


The last Friday in April signifies that it's time again for the start of the annual Newport Ocean Sailing Assn.'s (NOSA) Lexus Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race.

Two hundred and four sailboats among the 16 race classes are registered as of my deadline, and they will be battling for either inshore or offshore start lines in the waters seaward of the Balboa Pier. The racers are given the start time of their class and told which start line to cross.

The hundreds of sailboats with their crews will race through the night for the finish line 125 nautical mile away in Ensenada, Mexico. The finish line is in the bay off the Hotel Coral and Marina, where the festivities and awards ceremonies will be held this weekend.

I am asked constantly by those familiar with sailboats when the boats will finish. I simply respond that it's in the hands of Mother Nature and King Neptune, but all boats must finish by 11 a.m. Sunday.

Let's hope that the skippers and crew are not nursing their hangovers from the annual party held Thursday night at Harborside Restaurant. This annual event is one of the most attended nautical happenings in the boating community, and many in attendance are not boaters, just saying.

Everyone who is not aboard a boat can join me at the end of the Balboa Pier, where I will be announcing the various race starts. You will be able to hear what is happening on the water, and I'll also deliver facts about the race, my personal ocean experiences and a few famous jokes. NOSA has promised me a professional sound company and a sound engineer to bring quality sound.

I will be situated on the upper deck of Ruby's Diner, but that area will be closed to spectators. However, there is lots of room at the end of the pier, and parking is available in the parking lot at the base of the pier.

So grab your friends and come on down to the Balboa Pier and the watch the starts from 11 a.m. until noon Friday. You will witness an unbelievable sight of sailboats vying for the perfect start with the fastest boats starting last.

This race has been deemed the largest international yacht race in the world for decades, and entry numbers are starting to rise again. The race is organized by NOSA volunteers, who give countless hours to ensuring a safe and enjoyable yacht race.

Keep in mind that this not an ordinary race with racers fighting every inch of the course, but rather a long international competition consisting of various sailing skill levels and different motivations for participation. The different classes provide the opportunity for the more serious racers to challenge the record and the cruiser sailors to compete and have fun for the weekend.

Once again, I know the sailors are eager to read my annual weather and sea predictions for the race. I have polished my crystal ball to see: What will the racers encounter this year on their sail down the coast?

The seas rounding Point Conception to our north are not expected to be greater than 3 to 4 feet, so that is good news for the racers and those heading back uphill. However, the seas will build the first of the week, so do not delay departing Ensenada.

Sailors know to look north to Point Conception for the sea conditions heading our way. This is where the California coastline jogs easterly south of Morro Bay and north of Santa Barbara. The start line is tucked easterly of Point Conception, and the Channel Islands help deflect the swell patterns. However, the swell pattern rounding Conception will hit the coast just south of San Diego, creating larger swells basically from San Diego to Ensenada, except for a small sheltered area behind the Coronado Islands.

The start line will have mild mixed swells with a 2-foot from the west and a 1- to 2-foot southerly just to make it a little bumpy the further offshore. The winds will be under 10 knots and clocking from the west, hopefully, by late morning, but may remain from the northwesterly direction.

However, the winds are predicted to build Friday afternoon and remain over 10 to 15 knots with gusts in the 20s through Saturday, which will create 2-foot wind waves. Racers probably will encounter early morning fog, so post an extra lookout during the dark hours.

Tip of the week is sail safe in the race, since I have seen and heard of racers colliding at the start line. In the past, some crews would screen lewd movies at night on the sails, and a number of skippers sailed past Ensenada, thus missing the finish line. Nowadays, sailing past the finish line is hard to do with the racing requirement of GPS aboard every boat.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast to coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replaying throughout the weekend. See times at, and

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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