Out on the race course, yacht racing can be viciously competitive and nearly every contest consists of near collisions, controlled hysteria and hairpin maneuvering.

The sound of men screaming “starboard” sternly at their competitors as bows miss sterns by less than an inch or charged voices loudly bark angry commands at their own crew in the heat of the moment is what yacht racing sounds like.

It’s a pressure-loaded sport and is intimidating to many would-be skippers.

For that reason, amongst others, former Sportsman of the Year Tim Tunks has once again revived the Build the Fleet Mentor Program for 10 a.m. Sunday, March 12th, at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey.

The program is designed to provide skippers new to racing, or those interested in learning how to race, an opportunity to learn from experienced local racers who will donate their time and expertise to the cause of bringing in more sailors to the sport.

“Back when I started sailing, some 30-odd years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Tunks said. “But I had a friend who raced since he was a child and he said, ‘If you want to learn how to sail your boat — start racing.’

“I had many more mentors through the years and these people were a great help to me in developing my skills,” Tunks said.

Tunks has won the prestigious Marylyn Ritchie Trophy in back-to-back years and has extensively cruised to Mexico and the South Pacific.

About five years ago, while acting as education chairman at the South Bay Yacht Racing Club, he began experimenting with the idea of hands-on mentoring.

“I lined up a bunch of racers to do a mentor practice session and then the Homeport Regatta that year,” said Tunks. “It was great, we got three or four people from that season that have their own race boats and are racing successfully today.”

The free program has returned this year with some prominent local sailors acting as mentors and a variety of yacht clubs participating here and in the Channel Islands area as well.

“We’re trying to ease the entry and to remove obstacles,” said Tunks.

“In my mind,” he continued, “this is the most valuable sort of instruction you could possibly have.

“Someone that knows what they’re doing, getting out on your boat with your crew, doing some coaching.”

This first event of the series is open to all interested sailboat owners, skippers, crew and all other interested parties.

There will be a panel discussion, including professional sailor and sailmaker Harry Pattison; award-winning local racer Kathy St. Amant; Cameron Duncan, who is regarded as the “Poster Child” from the first mentor season; junior sailing instructor and dinghy racer Jason Artof; and Ray Mahaffey, who races and often wins aboard his family-crewed Mumm 30.

Discussion topics include crew building and training, boat preparation, racing safely and man overboard drills.

After the discussions, experienced racers match with skippers and crew for an afternoon mentoring session.

At the dock, they will work with the novice skippers, reviewing rigging, crew assignments, safety procedures, etc, then on the water drills with a mentor’s guidance will follow.

Towards the end of the afternoon, groups will prepare for a mock race with a few hours of tacking, “changing gears” and start line practice.

Tunks is optimistic that this program will motivate sailors who are curious about the sport, but have hesitated to participate due to their lack of knowledge.

“We’re hoping that we can get a bunch of people signed up for the upcoming Homeport Regatta [a race for new skippers in November] and that they graduate and go on to being next year’s regular racers.”

For more information on this program, send an e-mail to

padretimo@verizon.net or call (310) 396-1400.

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