George Roberts peers at a cluster of racing yachts jockeying into position for the start of the Ventura Yacht Club's first regatta of the season. He checks his wristwatch, looks to see that no yachts have lurched prematurely across the starting line and tenses in anticipation of the shotgun blast that starts each race.
Once the first wave of streamlined spinnaker racing yachts slip across the starting line, Roberts readies himself to repeat the procedure for the next race 5 minutes later.
As part of the crew on the club's racing committee yacht, Roberts oversees the start of the races and watches for rule violations.
With the race underway and the yachts off on their 8-mile trek across the Santa Barbara Channel, Dick Massa of Ventura, another member of the racing committee, settles back to reminisce about some of the less orderly races he's seen in his 12 years with the club.
"You better believe it gets competitive out there," Massa said. "Sometimes, it's worse than the America's Cup. These guys will fight to settle something."
While Massa has never been called upon to settle any fisticuffs, he has refereed some strong verbal disagreements between competitors following a race.
Chuck Stanton, commodore of the Ventura Yacht Club, agrees that the competitors take their racing seriously.
"There's a lot of Corinthian spirit among the members, but it gets competitive," Stanton said. "Nobody goes out there to lose."
Races are only part of the allure of this yacht club, which draws members from as far as Phoenix.
The strong prevailing winds that sweep across the Santa Barbara Channel from Point Conception, north of Santa Barbara, to Point Dume is the biggest attraction of the Ventura Yacht Club, which has used the channel for sloop and yacht races for 50 years.
Ralph and Bonnie Koerner of Phoenix fly their private plane twice a month to Ventura to take advantage of the channel's prime sailing conditions.
"Since I don't have an ocean in Arizona, I like to borrow the one in Ventura on the weekends," Ralph Koerner said. "This Santa Barbara Channel has some of the best sailing of anywhere on the West Coast."
After sailing for 20 years with the Marina del Rey Yacht Club, Roberts, of Canoga Park switched to the Ventura club to escape the congested sailing lanes around Marina del Rey and Catalina Island.
"I was looking for the smallest, most convenient club I could find and I think I've found a gem here," Roberts said. "Everybody knows everybody, there are not that many boats in the Ventura Harbor and when you sail to these nearby islands you really feel like you have gotten away from it all."
Veteran sailors like Howard Young, 80, of Ventura can recall when club members moored their boats in Santa Barbara--until the Ventura Harbor was built in 1964.
In more than 30 years of sailing, often with his wife, Virginia, 75, as his only crew, Young has been content not to venture beyond the 100-mile boundaries of the Santa Barbara Channel.
"The farther south you go from here, the calmer the winds get," Young said. "The conditions here would be ideal for the America's Cup."
For the time being, the Ventura Cup will have to do. Eight area yacht clubs are expected to compete in this year's Ventura Cup, slated for Sept. 9-10.
Many of the Ventura Yacht Club's members gear up all season for the Ventura Cup. Others, however, prefer the noncompetitive aspect of sailing.
"Part of the pride you get from yachting is just using the wind and water and figuring out what to do out there," Stanton said.
Roberts, a devotee of noncompetitive yachting, would rather cruise his 29-foot sloop on pleasure trips than compete for trophies in the club's monthly races.
"For me, sailing is a release from other things, so I'm not real anxious to get into the stressfulness of racing," Roberts said. "For the cruising sailor, like myself, it's the infinite variety of weather that's challenging. There is nobody out there to tell you when to take the sail up or down. It's all up to you."
There are some members, however, such as club secretary Ann Keller of Ventura, who don't like racing or slow sailing.
"If it isn't at least 700 feet long, I don't get on it," Keller said. "I get nauseous just standing on a yacht."