Around this time of year much of the sailing community, including many from the Marina del Rey area, would be completing the finishing details for the yearly sail down to Ensenada, Mexico as part of the storied 125-mile Newport to Ensenada Race (N2E) hosted by the Newport Ocean Sailing Organization (NOSA) slated for April 24th.

The N2E, billed as the largest international yacht race in the world, has been a solid tradition amongst racers and cruisers in the Southern California area for decades, but this year, due to mounting violence and unrest in Mexico, it is seeing an obvious diminishing number of entries. As news reports talk of drug rings, murder in the streets and travel alerts issued by the State Department, sailors have concerns for both themselves and their families that may be traveling by car to meet across the border.

“Some of the competitors are just going to do the race, spend a little time in Ensenada — then come back to the boat — not having their wives or family or girlfriends drive down as they have in the past,” said NOSA commodore Jerry Montgomery in a television interview with Fox News.

It’s this apprehension that’s shaking the foundation of a race that once saw 675 boats at the line in 1983 and now, moments before the close of this year’s entry deadline, is showing 266. Last year there were nearly 400 boats, but the rumblings amongst many would-be Ensenada racers has a “better safe than sorry” tone. There are even members within the NOSA staff who have opted out based on concerns of safety.

“After having been with NOSA since 2001, I decided last July to resign as their Finish Line chair for various reasons, including highly motivated concerns regarding the overall safety for my crew and myself,” said former Finish Line chair Hans Witten. “The majority of my crew has elected not to return to Ensenada as they are just plain scared.”

But this legendary contest that once saw the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Walter Cronkite on its entry list will march on despite the unfortunate political climate near the finish line. And just as it has through the years, the Newport to Ensenada will attract some of the most high profile boats in Southern California to its start line.

David Janes and Bill Turpin’s Akela, a Reichel/Pugh 77 that won the 2008 Tommy Bahama Trophy for first overall on handicap time; Doug Baker’s first-to-finish, record-chasing Magnitude 80; Roy Pat Disney sailing Roy E.’s recycled Pyewacket II; and famous America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner will be at the helm of the Farr 60, Stars & Stripes.

In the latest press release issued by NOSA, the organization says the entry list, “appear(s) to have been impacted by the economy and, to a lesser extent, concerns about security at the Mexican border for people driving to Ensenada.”

But in a previous interview with the Newport Beach Daily Pilot, race spokesman Rich Roberts admitted, “everybody’s concerned about all the violence and all that is going on down there — it’s just the idea of crossing the border — you feel suddenly like you are in a very dangerous place.”

With Mexico’s violence and a bad economy affecting the N2E’s numbers, another race came into the fray that is attempting to capitalize on the tradition of the day and the underlying trepidation and/or dissatisfaction of racing the long-standing international race.

The Border Run starts an hour earlier in Newport near the N2E startline and races around the Coronado Islands, finishing in San Diego. The inaugural race has 109 entries and has garnered harsh criticism from some for muscling in on a day that’s usually exclusively reserved for the historic race, while others have welcomed the new event as a positive alternative to a contest they feel is often slow and tedious.

Proponents feel that holding it on the same day allows the excitement of hundreds of boats sailing south through the day without some of the logistics involved with a long international race.

“This race was born from a want and need within the sailing community,” said Border Run public relations director Josh Richards. “We never would have spent the money and time promoting this event if there wasn’t a significant amount of sailors who were looking for an alternative on the day of the N2E.”

So on Friday, April 24th, nearly 400 boats will be on a Newport startline, some turning into San Diego and others sailing into International waters towards the shores of Ensenada, Mexico where $3 Coronas reign supreme. To the issue of this uncomfortable place in Mexico’s history, Montgomery said:

“The Mexican authorities completely understand the concerns. To them, it’s a larger issue than just our race because of the effect on tourism year-round. But because of the race’s high profile, they are doing everything within their power to ensure the experience will be a safe one.”

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