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MANZANILLO : This 1,100-Mile Trek From San Diego Isn't One of Your Run-of-the-Mill Yacht Races

February 17, 1986|ARMANDO ACUNA | Times Staff Writer

MANZANILLO, Mexico — After six long days at sea, Sorcery cruised into this balmy harbor, her large, menacing battle flag waving slowly in the breath of wind.

The flag--depicting the head of a witch outlined in black, with skeleton hands and bright, blood-red eyes--could have just as easily signaled the arrival of the Grateful Dead.

But, this introduction was for Jake Wood, the tough-talking, two-fisted owner of the 82-foot, $1-million-plus yacht and his 16-person crew, as they made their first-finish entrance Friday afternoon as upset winners of the sixth biennial San Diego-Manzanillo International Yacht Race.

And, adding to the measure of victory, the Los Angeles-based Sorcery completed the 1,100-mile course in the record-breaking time of 6 days, 1 minute and 53 seconds.

The next two finishers, the venerable Ragtime from Long Beach and the sleek Kathmandu, the San Diego boat considered by many the prerace favorite, also broke the old record of 6 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds set by Merlin in 1978.

For Wood and many of his crew it was more than a victory--it was also vindication.

Many thought that Sorcery, a heavy and powerful boat built to hold steady in rough seas and strong winds, would have trouble staying with the ultra-lights, the tailwind racers which, when conditions are right, surf the front of waves.

The San Diego-Manzanillo race is considered the ultra-light's territory. In ideal conditions, with a steady north-westerly wind, a properly sailed ultra-light can attain a speed of 25 knots.

So, it was with a sense of satisfaction that Wood sailed into the harbor, witch's flag flying.

"I can beat any ULDB (ultra-light displacement boat) going to weather on a reach . . . on a run of less than 13 knots," Wood said as he and his crew, four of whom live in Seattle, celebrated on board Sorcery shortly after the finish.

Wood likes things done his way. He is not bashful about making his feelings known and can be downright cantankerous.

He refused, for example, to be interviewed by ESPN the day after the finish. ESPN had set up its gear on the dock and had a mariachi band playing to add atmosphere to the setting. Interviewed instead was Rob Bettingfield, Sorcery's skipper.

Wood, an entrepeneur who lives in Ventura County and makes his money manufacturing parts for airplanes, has been a competitive sailor for more than 20 years. He had Sorcery custom-designed and built a little more than two years ago.

Sorcery did well in some early races, but there were criticisms made by some of its rotating crew members that the boat wasn't fast.

"It didn't make any sense at all," said Bettingfield, the skipper who also helped design the vessel. "Jake didn't like that talk and he just said, 'the hell with it.' "

So Sorcery, berthed at Marina Del Rey, sat there from October, 1984 until last week.

Wood didn't want to talk about any of that, immersed as he was in the beer, champagne and hugs and kisses of congratulations.

"The conditions? They were beautiful for us and bad for them," Wood said, glancing at Ragtime and Kathmandu, berthed next to Sorcery in order of finish.

But behind the smile, Wood readily admitted there also was a sense of relief. Sorcery nearly blew the race in the home stretch. Not until an hour before the finish was her crew aware they were still in the lead.

The night before, their faces had grown long as it was believed that a major tactical error had cost them the race.

The Race. Any illusions of this being just another contest were quickly dashed on the wet morning of Saturday, Feb. 8.

After all, how many other competitions are fodder for the television program, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," whose film crew was busy recording the final race preparations.

It was, in fact, a miserable day. Rain and wind buffeted the San Diego Yacht Club, where 26 sailboats, divided into three classes and handicapped, got ready before heading to the starting line off Point Loma. Several boats were still out at sea Sunday night.

San Diego's Terry Lingenfelder, joining forces with long-time rival, pediatrician Fred Frye, to co-skipper the new 68-foot ultra-light Trima, looked worried.

"We got our work cut out for us," he said. "They (Sorcery) love it. We don't like it. She should go out like a rocket ship.

"I think we got the fastest boat in the country . . . but racing is like life. Things change out there pretty fast."

Standing in the rain nearby and finding it difficult to mask his elation was Bettingfield, knowing the stormy conditions were made to order for Sorcery.

"We're happy to have the wind on the nose," he said. "That's what this boat is designed for. If this keeps up, we'll kill them."

The race began and sure enough, Sorcery jumped to the front, followed by the pesky Ragtime, the sentimental favorite.

Ragtime is a 21-year-old, 62-foot ultra-light, made of kauri wood from New Zealand. The mere mention of her name brings out unsolicited stories of past races from veteran sailors who have competed on and against her.

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