Sunset Series brings the excitement of racing closer to shore

By Paul M. J. Suchecki

Sunset Series competitors race down the marina’s main channel Photo by Paul M.J. Suchecki

Sunset Series competitors race down the marina’s main channel
Photo by Paul M.J. Suchecki

Every Wednesday evening in late spring and summer, Marina del Rey’s main channel offers a splendid sight: dozens of sailboats with jib and main sails flying wing on wing, like birds returning home at day’s end.

This is the Sunset Series, now in its 52nd year, hosted by California Yacht Club.

Most regattas end in the bay, so the excitement of the finish happens far out of view of landlubbers. Sunset Series races end at either the Cal Yacht Club guest dock or Burton Chace Park, which allows spectators along the harbor shoreline to see how the boats jockey for advantage in their quests to be first.

About 85 boats compete each Wednesday evening, making it a larger draw than weekend races that require a more extensive time commitment.

“It’s a mid-week, somewhat lower-pressure, shorter race. It helps everybody break the work week up. Because it’s shorter, it is easier to get crew,” said George Maronich, a Sunset Series participant for about a dozen years. He’s the skipper of My Time 3, a distinctive blue-hulled Catalina 42 sloop.

Cal Yacht Club treats the Sunset Series as a launch pad for racing sailors, with expert mentors teaching instructional seminars in early spring. That’s the best time to get involved.

“All the major yacht clubs have sign-ups for skippers wanting crew and crew wanting skippers. Another thing that you can do, if you want to get on a boat, is to hang out at the yacht club a couple of hours before a race’s start, at the front entrance, and somebody will be coming in looking for crew. Then say, ‘Here are my skills, and I also brought a bag of chocolate chip cookies.’ It’s a lot of fun. Stick your neck out and try it,” Maronich said.

Sunset Series races break down into eight classes: a single one-design class of Martin 242s (nearly identical boats competing against each other), five Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet classes, and two cruising classes. For the latter classes, each boat’s rating is reevaluated after each race through an elaborate system of handicapping to give sailors an equal shot at sailing glory.

“A beginner would start in Cruising B — less experience, less pressure, just cruisers figuring out how to race. … They are out for the fun of it,” Maronich said.

“Then you can work up to various race classes that get hypercompetitive. The Martins are just like a pack of dogs,” he continued. “Everybody has a good time. Even the competitive people, we joke with each other.”

Sept. 7 marks the 22nd and deciding race of the season. One of the best vantage points around 6:30 p.m. is along the Marvin Braude Bicycle Trail to the south or along Via Marina where it hugs the main channel to the north.

“The closer you get to the breakwater, the closer you get to the critical point where everybody is coming in, dropping their spinnakers and doing double turns. That’s the most crowded spot, aside from the start,” Maronich said.

At around 7 p.m., Burton Chace Park should offer a good view of the finish line.

The beauty and drama of the Sunset Series have made it one of the marina’s more popular spectacles.

“The Sunset Series is part of our tradition,” said Cal Yacht Club Fleet Capt. Debbie Feinerman. “It’s been successful for a long time.”

On Sept. 14, the season’s top crews and skippers will compete in the King of the Hill invitational for a final shot at summer glory. That race finishes out in the bay, however, so this Wednesday is your last best chance to catch the action.

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A longtime sailor, Suchecki is a member of the Marina del Rey Single Mariners and Fairwind Yacht Club.