For many, the allure of sailboat racing lies in its unpredictability. It’s a sport of strategy that forces players to think on their feet and react to the moment.

There are some contests where there is little change and others where little stays the same. In the South Bay Yacht Racing Club (SBYRC) 2007 Champagne Series, it has been much of the latter, keeping the racing exciting and on the edge.

The series is being held on three Saturdays, having started January 13th and scheduled to finish up Saturday, February 3rd.

Racers saw 20-knot (23 miles per hour) winds, two-knot winds, rain and dramatic shifts all in the course of one race.

On the first day of the series, SBYRC’s race committee set up marks in new and unfamiliar places, based on the uncommon wind direction, giving pause to many of the racers, who are accustomed to more prevailing circumstances.

“It usually blows anywhere from northwest to southwest, but those two days it was blowing northeast for the first day and southeast the second day,” said South Bay Yacht Racing Club’s commodore and principal race officer (PRO) Jerome Sammarcelli. “That, combined with the wind conditions, made for a challenging couple days of racing.”

During the first day, winds were clocking over 20 knots, according to some of the competitors, and in the blink of an eye shut off completely, leaving spinnakers drooping lifelessly and sailors scratching their heads. Moments later the breeze was back up to 20-plus.

Nearly 60 boats showed up to battle in the shifty conditions, including four one-design classes, which, according to Sammarcelli, was unprecedented.

One design racing is becoming more popular in Marina del Rey and the Champagne Series is a good indicator of this fact. Besides California Yacht Club’s Sunset Series, the Champagne is one of the most well attended buoy races for the local contingent and this year the one design fleets outnumbered the three handicapped rated PHRF (Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet) classes four-to-three.

“The thing that I’m really happy with is the participation of the one design classes,” said Sammarcelli. “I think it’s great for the Marina.”

The J-80 (26-foot sport boat) fleet is a class that has been growing through the years in Marina del Rey, with a group of sailors who are dedicated and serious about their racing. With one more day of competition still to come, Larry Travis’s Athena is in the lead ahead of Curt Johnson’s Avet.

Johnson ordinarily dominates in this class with a reliable and steady crew, but he accidentally sailed the wrong course during the first day of racing and Athena has made him pay ever since. Travis has kept his foot on the pedal and, short of a meltdown in the last races of the series, should come out on top.

In the PHRF 1 class where the big boats live, it’s a turf war. Zoltan Katinszky out of King Harbor sailing White Knight (a Farr 40) is one point ahead of Marina del Rey’s steadfast and stalwart Al Berg at the helm of Ghost II (a Farr 39). Berg, in his 80s, is still a threat on the racecourse, especially on the home court.

So far, the most competitive racing of the series was in the Martin 242 class, one of the largest and most competitive one design classes in Marina del Rey. While only five boats turned out for the first day of racing, on the second day, 16 boats hit the start, as the race was part of their high-point series.

There are about ten boats that have the potential to take the ribbon on any given day in this class. Among the major players are Steve Hathaway, who won Saturday’s only race; Jim Durden, director of sales and marketing for the M242 in Southern California; Bill Petersen, a former sailmaker for America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner; and world-class sailor and champion Mike George. They were all mixing it up in Saturday’s windy and drizzly conditions.

“I haven’t felt this good about the fleet ever,” said Durden. “It keeps getting better and better. I’ve been involved with the boat for 24 years and I still have a ball every time I go out there.”

The Champagne Series will end this coming Saturday and the race committee hopes to get three races in, but it will all be up to the capricious winter weather of the Santa Monica Bay.

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