This past week, the most popular sailboat race in Marina del Rey, the Sunset Series, came to an end after another successful and well-attended season. No less that 132 boats participated this year and there were many days of solid winds to enjoy.

I took the opportunity to ask a number of sailors what makes this event so special and to recall any lasting memories they might have from the race. Some have been racing the series for decades, while others are just beginning and carrying the torch.

Here are some of the comments:

– “I’ve been racing in the Sunset Series for just over 40 years now, and hope to keep doing it for many, many more years. Why? It’s an easy, low-pressure way to forget about all of the other things that life throws your way and escape into a fun, make-believe fantasy world for two hours each week.

“Sometimes you’re a hero; sometimes you’re a zero; but who cares — it’s just a Wednesday night race, which is nothing that should ever be taken seriously.

“And about once a month the beer is free.”

— Tom Leweck, a great sailor and founder of Scuttlebutt from the California Yacht Club

-I competed in the Martin 242 class of the Sunset Series in the boat Strange Crew. What stands out most in my mind this year was the consistent good wind we had all season. We never had a drifter night like we’ve had other years. Our boat raced in every race and always with the same crew.

“What I enjoy most is the competitiveness of the sailors in the Martin class. This class is the most competitive one-design class in Marina del Rey. Each Wednesday night we would have 12 or more boats on the starting line, which makes for great racing.”

— Steve Hathaway of the Martin 242 fleet, the largest fleet in Marina del Rey

-“A crew grows into a family as it works closely together, sharing in the learning, ups, downs, good times and bad. During the May 30th race I was reflecting on how much progress our team had made, not only in sailing, but also in the enjoyment of each other.

“Sadly, one of our crew, Peter Odebjer, was killed in a traffic accident on the way home that night. The next week, we flew the Swedish flag in honor of his home country and in hopes that Peter’s parents would be able to watch from the Marina after they arrived from Sweden.

“We won that race, everything came magically together, and the feeling that Peter was with us one more time was palpable.

“The Sunset Series is appealing in many ways. There is the camaraderie of the crew, the reward of seeing the team grow and develop, the challenge of the race, the beauty and surprise of wind, water and weather, all packaged into the highlight of my week.”

— Duncan Cameron, Trust Me, this season’s winner in PHRF (Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet) C Class

– “Last year we finally won our class, boat-for-boat; we beat everyone and realized that we forgot to sign up. Well, it came back to us last Wednesday — we beat everyone but John Staff, who gained huge on the left side of the course and left everyone behind.

“So we went to the club for the social hour and John congratulated us on our first place because he, too, brain farts on occasion. Sailboat racing is the whole package including signing up for the race.

“Wednesday night races for me are a ‘use it or lose it’ type thing in addition to being very fun. It’s the quickest, easiest way to get out there and remind yourself that you haven’t forgotten everything about sailing.”

— Chris Slagerman ñ skipper of Cheetah, Black Magic and Phat Cat

– “Our crew keeps us coming back to the Sunset Series. It’s a great way to break up the week and have some laughs with buddies. It’s not a very difficult race and it’s a good training ground for the more intense weekend races.”

— Mike Guccione, creator of Yacht Racers Resource Center, www.yrrc.org

– “There are ten seconds till go time, I yell at my skipper, ‘Let’s go full speed!” The Martin 242 accelerates and it is at its close-hauled course. We are bow out and everyone is on the starting line. We pinch the guy above us, we have won the pin.

“The boat took a knock, my skipper and I decide to tack and take the lift. We keep getting lifted — this is bad. Everyone on the left who took the header is now going to be ahead of us when they tack onto port layline.

“Rounding the windward mark in seventh place, we give over on port and raise our spinnaker. As we get closer and closer to the breakwater, the boats around us begin funneling into one big group. We round the breakwater and we realize we have no way to improve our position.

“I have been crewing on several different boats in the Sunset Series. I have done every crew position except for driver, which is good, because in Lasers (which I sail in most competitions)ÝI can only skipper and focus on boat speed.

“Being on the big boats has given me great tactical experience. Because of this, I want to keep coming out and learning new skills. One of the best things is being part of a crew and working together. When there are different opinions and tactics, quick decision-making makes it exciting and keeps you on your toes.”

— Julian Soto, 16 years old

– “One Wednesday last season we (the Catalina 38, Superstar) were sailing down the channel from the breakwater in a dying wind heading into a mass of at least 40 of the faster boats who had started ahead of us. They were nearly stationary, with what motion they had being their united drift down-current, with some on port tack, some on starboard, but all yelling to assert their rights.

“As an old-fashioned heavy displacement boat, we had enough momentum to provide steerage, but just for a few moments more. Drawing on our bank of luck and experience (there was never less than 100 ‘sailor/seasons’ on board) we made our decision where the new wind would have to come from if it was to come at all.

“Now our race was to maneuver through the parking lot to find the new wind and greet it with properly trimmed sails before we too lost our forward motion and joined the parking lot.

“Maneuvering like a New York cabbie, but at a fraction of the speed, we wove our wayÝthrough the pack, finding the new wind and accelerating to finish far ahead of the rest of the fleet.

“Whether it was luck, skill, or just plain old experience pointing us toward an anticipated advantage, we all felt quite jolly that night.”

— Tim Tunks, former ASMBYC (Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs) Sportsman of the Year; Del Rey Yacht Club

– “My 1st race:

“The conditions were perfect, warm, sunny, good steady wind – about ten knots, and comfortable seas. It was a beautiful sight watching 80 to 90 boats dancing into position with great anticipation for the horn to start off their respected class/groups. We were in the Cruising class, 8B, which was the last class to start.

“I set my GPS [Global Positioning System] to the start line and I was on track to hit the start line in three minutes, and at the sound of my starting horn at a nice speed of about 4.5 knots. With two minutes to go and about 200 yards away from the start, the wind just mysteriously stopped.

“It is perfectly common to have gusts or “puffs” in the wind as well as occasional lulls which last for a few seconds. But somebody hit the wind switch off just seconds before I was walking on stage to do my thing. The sails were luffing, starving for wind, the crew was working desperately tacking back and forth to search for any breath of wind that would get us to the start line, but to no avail.

“We were still 50 yards and it might as well have been 100 miles away. I swear that some of the boats around me were moving backwards. We were beyond baffled as the ‘wind was let out of our sails’.

“Then as the racing committee boat passed by making the announcement on their loud speaker, ‘Boat #71, you have been disqualified,’ I could only laugh with perplexity. I got all dressed up and I now can’t go to my very first dance?

“Well I wasn’t alone — almost everyone in my class was disqualified due to not making it past the start line within the required time after the starting gun.

“It was a bit of a blow to my ego, but it was still great to be out on the water, and we were one of the first ones back to the dock.

“The best part was that my son entered into a place of nautical maturity as a crewmember. My hope was, as any father hopes, that it is a passion that we can share for a long time to come.”

— Richard Felipe, Dad

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