Saturday, May 19th, at 12:55 in the afternoon, not far off the Venice Pier, ten pure thoroughbred racing yachts, all about 70 feet long with crews of a dozen or more each, were lobbying for position in the short chop of Santa Monica Bay under an eight-to-ten-knot breeze.
The fleet included a handful of the most recognized names on the Southern California Yacht racing scene.
Taxi Dancer, Peligroso, Grand Illusion and the beautiful and storied Ragtime, amongst others, gracefully yet aggressively glided along the invisible line to compete in this exclusive prestigious regatta.
It has been nine years since the Cal Cup has been held, so this reunion was more than an ordinary yacht race. It marked the return of an event that was a highlight on the racing calendar for so many racers and race fans alike.
For 16 years the Cal Cup was held, until the ULDB (ultralight displacement boat) 70 class of lightweight 68-foot offshore race boats began to dissipate, with many of the yachts moving to the Great Lakes.
But in the past few years there has been a resurgence and these high-priced, custom-made speed machines have returned — several of them brought back by former sled owners.
Peter Tong was racing his third “sled,” OEX. He had previously skippered Cal Cup regattas on Blondie (SC70 #1) and Orient Express (SC70 #19).
Dick Compton, who won the Cal Cup with his Andrews 68 Alchemy, was also back this year, co-skippering the Reichel/Pugh 68 Taxi Dancer.
And Mike Campbell, who has sailed many Cal Cup Regattas on his former Andrews 70, Victoria was co-skippering the Tim Kernan-designed 68-footer, Peligroso.
In addition to these returning skippers there were also alumni boats that were welcomed back to the Cal Cup. The winning boat, Grand Illusion (SC 70 #6), had the distinction of being the only sled that has maintained a Santa Monica Bay homeport since it was built in the mid-’80s and was also the recent overall winner of the 51-boat Newport Harbor Yacht Club Race to Cabo San Lucas.
But as long as Grand Illusion has been competing on the local scene, it was the sophisticated and regal Ragtime, a former winner of the cup, with her slender sloping black lines, that brought an added element of dignity and class to the revived race.
“Everybody was aggressive,” said Cheetah skipper Chris Slagerman of the general feeling within the contest. “But it was pretty controlled. It was light air — we had a lot of room, the start line was big and the committee really did a great job of keeping it straight to the wind so it wasn’t favored on either end.”
Slagerman finished in the back of the pack, probably because he is set up for long-distance downwind racing, but he enjoyed his first time sailing in the event just the same.
On the other side of the coin, Ed McDowell in Grand Illusion was at the front of the pack scoring bullets in all four races, having competed in the cup more times than any one else on the course. A win at this big boat race had previously eluded McDowell and his loyal crew, but he had a very strong showing this time around.
“It was quickly obvious that Grand Illusion had been set up and configured flawlessly for the seven to 15 knots of wind in which the regatta was sailed,” said regatta chair Tom Leweck, “and perhaps had also found a sweet spot in the offshore racing rule (ORR) used to handicap the event.”
“It felt more like a reunion than a major regatta,” Leweck continued. “The ten ultralight 70-footers parked bow-out in front of the California Yacht Club once again brought back nostalgic memories of the ’80s and the ’90s when the ULDB 70s ruled the West Coast ocean racing scene and met each May to race for the California Cup.”
The top five finishers were:
1. Grand Illusion (SC 70), Ed McDowell, King Harbor Yacht Club;
2. Taxi Dancer (R/P 70), Dick Compton, Jim Yabsley and Tom Parker, Santa Barbara Yacht Club, 13;
3. Skylark (SC 70), Doug Ayres, Newport Harbor Yacht Club, 14;
4. Vicki (Andrews 70), Al Schultz, Newport Harbor Yacht Club, 20; and
5. Peligroso (Kernan 68), Mike Campbell and Dale Williams, Long Beach Yacht Club, 22.