Last Saturday, in the race from Marina del Rey to Seal Beach, hosted by the Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club, there were two brand-new sport boats within the gang of usual suspects.

The Open 5.70, a newly designed 20-foot racer out of France, is now part of the Marina del Rey racing scene, courtesy of South Bay Yacht Racing Club’s vice commodore and Marina del Rey competitor Jerome Sammarcelli, who discovered the boat in his native France and aims to build a fleet of 5.70s in Southern California and beyond.

These two boats are the first of their kind to hit American waters.

In the short time the boat has been in production, over 200 5.70s have been built and substantially-sized regattas and championships are beginning to happen throughout Europe.

Sammarcelli took note of the European fleet’s success and after researching the quality of the boat’s design and craftsmanship, decided it was a boat that would thrive in the Southern California racing circuit.

Sammarcelli, like so many racers, has serious concerns for the health and well-being of the sport he loves.

Decreasing participation numbers is an issue that is in the forefront of yacht racer’s minds all around the country.

He believes the presence of the 5.70 fills a necessary void in the racing world.

It can be double-handed — eliminating the hassle of searching for crew. It’s fast — able to hit 21 knots downwind. And it’s relatively affordable — about $30,000.

“Why am I the only 30-year-old guy in Marina del Rey who owns his own boat and races it?” he wonders. “That just seems wrong.”

In the beginning of July, Sammarcelli bit the bullet, bought two of the boats and had them shipped from France in the hope that others would see his vision for a one-design fleet of sharp, up-to-date sport boats that could also be raced in PHRF (Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet) events.

In mid-July, the first two arrived and in under a month were sold to local racers.

“My goal was to sell both boats within four months, but now it’s looking like I’ll sell four boats in two months,” said Sammarcelli, who recently sold a third boat to a sailor in Oregon and has piqued the interest of a number of other interested racers in the surrounding area.

In terms of raising participation within the sport, Sammarcelli is pleased that both new 5.70 owners were formally crewmembers on other boats.

He feels that the heart of the participation debate is getting more actual boats on the starting line, as opposed to being concerned about bringing more crew into the fold.

“It’s not about crew,” he said. “There’s plenty of crew there. It’s about more people racing in their own boats. Now we have two new boats on the water.

“The way to increase participation is to make sailing available to more people.”

In the Marina del Rey to Seal Beach Race, informally known as the Outlaw Race, the 5.70 got tested in endurance and in strong winds.

Both 5.70s sailed 30 miles down the coast and encountered 25-knot winds and weathered the conditions well.

“It was good to be on that boat; it’s just safe,” said Sammarcelli of competing in the long-distance race. “To be sailing it in high winds — you don’t care — you just hope for more.”

As the summer comes to a close and the racing season winds down, Sammarcelli intends to work hard through the off-season to sell enough boats to have a one-design fleet for the 2007 season.

“I’m hoping that a couple of more people join the fleet so we can race one-design,” said Sammarcelli of his goals for the next few months. “And I think that’s going to happen.”

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