Weather forecasts predicted a gloomy picture for the 77th annual Southern California Yachting Association’s Midwinter Regatta, held Saturday and Sunday, February 18th and 19th.
Called for was a high percentage chance of pouring rain. But amazingly, the rains politely came only at night with a bit in the morning and the day was left for some of the most ideal conditions a sailor could ask for.
“It was perfect,” said race chairman Rick Ruskin. “It was real good weather. They had a lot of breeze late on Sunday and it all went very well.”
This longstanding race is the largest regatta in the United States and the premier highlight of winter racing in Southern California.
Twenty-seven yacht clubs participated and more than 3,000 sailors were on the water competing all down the California coast from Ventura to San Diego.
More than 100 different classes were racing in the regatta, with some new fleets introduced here in the Marina.
Both the ORCA (Ocean Racing Catamaran Association) and the wooden hull class hadn’t been part of the Midwinter before.
Although technically speaking, the Midwinter used to be an exclusively wooden hull fleet, considering that the race started in 1928 and all boats were made of wood for a long time after that.
This year, for the first time, a small class of wooden boats raced in Sunday’s substantial late afternoon breeze.
Four classic vessels from a bygone era provided an air of dignity to the proceedings as they mingled at the start line with contemporary cruising boats and high-speed multihulls
“It was a perfect day for schooners,” said Dennis Peisto, who took first place in the wooden hull class.
“That’s what they were built for. Short weather legs and long reaching legs in 13 to 18 knots of wind. Oh my God, it was perfect.”
Ruskin was also happy to see the wooden hull class in the event.
“They don’t get a chance to race out on the water with other boats near them,” he said. “Typically they go out and do their own races and there’s nobody around.
“And they also got to be part of an awards ceremony with more boats and more fleets. It was great to see them out there.”
Although the class was small for this first year, Peisto is optimistic about the older boats becoming more apparent on the local racing scene.
“I was pleased as punch,” he said. “We had four great boats that were fairly well handicapped and evenly matched and it bodes well for next year.
“I’d sure like to see a wooden hull class added to the scheduled races like the cruising class was. It would be a brilliant addition and something we’ve been trying to envision for years.”
Another class that was added to this year’s list was a sport boat fleet.
Like the name suggests, these lightweight planing boats are both fast and maneuverable.
They are high-tech designs with an expanse of sail area giving them an abundance of acceleration and power.
Like the wooden hull class, this fleet was small but highly exciting and competitive.
Jerome Sammarcelli won in the sport group sailing his Martin 243, Chupacabra.
This was Sammarcelli’s first win since his Hotfoot 20 (also named Chupacabra) torpedoed to the bottom of Santa Monica Bay in the 2005 Sunset Series leaving him and his crew bobbing helplessly in the ocean awaiting rescue.
On this day, Sammarcelli would make all the right moves in this fast moving class, which included the often dominant John Staff on Wildcat and Mick Shlens aboard his very fast Melges 30, Blade, which was probably the favored boat to win.
“I’ve never raced against a Melges 30 before,” said Sammarcelli. “It’s definitely a great boat.
“Both upwind and downwind they’re really fast, but my boat downwind is a rocket. We maxed out at 21 knots that day.
“So we figured if we could keep up with the Melges upwind, getting the right shifts and making sure we don’t miss any lifts, even if we were ten boat lengths back we thought we could catch them downwind.”
Ruskin said he was amazed at how Sammarcelli was able to stay with the Melges 30 downwind.
“He was surfing along, keeping right up with him — the Melges is a substantially faster boat,” Ruskin said.
While Sammarcelli was happy about the win, he was probably happier about being pitted against like-minded and similarly-rated boats.
“We had a good time and the competition was excellent too,” he said. “It was very nice racing each other.
“We were crossing pretty much all the time, rounding the windward and leeward marks together. It was really motivating.”
Aside from the competition, Ruskin was pleased with how the event itself worked out.
It is a large event and quite a bit to organize, so he was quick to draw attention to the volunteer base that is the lifeblood of these regattas.
“It’s really important for the sailors that race all the time that people volunteer,” Ruskin said. “Cal Yacht Club probably had 12 to 14 volunteers on the water and another half a dozen in the club. That’s a lot of people.
“It’s crucial that we all give a little bit back because, without that, there would be no one to run the races.”
Wooden hull racer Dennis Peisto might have summed the weekend up best.
“It was a brilliant race and I think people had way more fun then they oughta,” he said.