This is a great time of year around the Marina. For me, it’s like looking down from high on a hill at a place you’re about to explore more closely. From this vantage point it’s all unsullied and understandable. And not until we get into it all will we see the area for all its pocks and flaws, not to mention its surprises and inspirations.

From here I can see the Midwinters Regatta slated to take place Monday and Tuesday, February 16th and 17th. Racers from all over the state will be participating at 33 clubs simultaneously from San Diego to Santa Barbara and all ports in between. Attracting 600 boats, the Midwinter is the largest regatta in North America, featuring 80 classes including PHRF (Pacific Handicapped Racing Fleet), cruisers, multihull, dinghies, predicted log racing, canoes and model sailboats.

“Every sailor should get involved,” said Midwinters chairman Bill Marting. “This is the tune-up event that kicks off the 2009 season. It’s a community event that unites sailors throughout Southern California and Arizona.”

Yes, high aloft in my early-February catbird seat, I see the Midwinters looking very clean and ready. If I had jumped up here a little sooner I would have witnessed the start of the Del Rey Yacht Club’s Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta Race, which has transformed from a long 1,100-mile race from Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta into a series of four separate races in succession between Southern California and the Mexican mainland.

Race organizers explain the reason for the change as the following:

“To provide serious racers an opportunity to sail their brains out and still kick back to enjoy the Mexican ambiance at three layovers along the way, while offering others an offshore sailing experience to colorful places, with competition and companionship stirred in.”

The fleet just left the area of Mag Bay where many were escorted by scores of migrating gray whales. Puerto Vallarta competitors have now started their third leg towards Puerto Los Cabos, hoping to elude a threatening weather system that’s been forecast.

“We hope to get everybody in Cabo before we get plastered,” said racer David Kory.

Besides yacht-racing, this can also be the time of year where some of our boating brethren will leave behind the comforts of the Santa Monica Bay and head towards blue water, as is the case with Marina del Rey’s Geoff Deutschmann, who took off on a circumnavigation in his Choate 40, Flashback, at the beginning of the month.

“There’s nothing like leaving everything behind and you’re in the center of a seven-mile radius circle and you’re just moving it,” said Deutschmann prior to his departure. “And the chances of anything coming into that radius is minute. It’s pretty amazing…when you get there — you’ve done it all under sail. The boat never stops. It’s a life changing thing.”

The intrepid South African will be sailing with his girlfriend and plans on spending plenty of time in the South Pacific and his homeland of Cape Town.

And it’s at Cape Town where Marina del Rey’s own teen sailor Zac Sunderland is docked as he makes his way around the world attempting to be the youngest person ever to sail around the globe alone. Interestingly, Zac, now 17, was able to meet and share a meal with British 16-year-old sailor Mike Perham, who is also looking to hold that title.

While Perham has more money at his disposal and a newer, faster and bigger boat, he is having equipment issues that have forced him to make unwanted stops. The youthful Brit is the youngest person ever to sail alone across the Atlantic and is focused on going around the world non-stop.

“After lunch we went down to Mike’s Open 50 and got the tour,” Sunderland said of their meeting. “It is a crazy boat, built for speed, and was actually smaller inside than mine. It was great to meet Mike and I wish him all the best.”

The last thing I see from this view from on high is a ripple this dire economy has sent towards our local boating community. As part of California’s budget cuts, it’s been reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to eliminate the Department of Boating and Waterways very shortly.

“DBW is critical to the future of boating in California,” said Captain Jeff Gunn. “DBW funds launch ramp construction, loans for marina construction, construction of boating safety centers, boating safety and law enforcement programs, abandoned vessel removal, public outreach programs, and even weed control in boating areas.

“We need to be loud and make a lot of noise as this is the third time in eight years the proposal to dissolve DBW has been proposed by the governor.”

Advocates for Boating and Waterways urge interested boaters to write or e-mail the governor and urge him to withdraw his plan to eliminate the department by going to this link, http://gov.ca.gov/interact#email/. They also suggest writing or emailing a local senator or Assembly member, identifying yourself as a constituent by including your address. To find your local legislator, http://leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html/

For more information or research about the proposed elimination, http://dbw.ca.org/.

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