Local sailors may have to learn to say port and starboard in Japanese if they want to avoid a collision in an international regatta being held Thanksgiving weekend in Newport Harbor.
That's because there will not be time to translate during the fast-paced races pitting some of Japan's top collegiate sailors against top Western U.S. sailors.
The inaugural Japan-United States Intercollegiate Goodwill Regatta, which will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, will consist of 20 boats sailing in 20 races. The three-day event's host is Orange Coast College. It is sponsored by the Harbor Club, a new, Japanese-owned boating club in Newport Beach.
Action should be fast and furious, according to Brad Avery, regatta chairman and director of the OCC sailing program.
"For excitement, there is nothing like college sailing," Avery says, "because these kids are so agile, and these boats sail so close. They'll be sailing in very tight quarters; mark-rounding will be very tight.
"So verbalizing on the water--with the language problem--could be tough. The (racing) rules are international, but starboard, port and give me room at the mark (common words and phrases yelled by sailors from boat to boat to denote right of way) could be a problem."
Sailors will compete in identical, 14-foot Flying Junior Dinghies. There will be 10 two-person Japanese teams sailing against 10 two-person U.S. teams. After each race, boats will be rotated in a round-robin fashion, so that by the end of the 20-race regatta, every team will have sailed every boat.
Included will be teams from OCC, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, Sonoma State, Stanford, USC, UCLA and the University of Hawaii.
The idea for the regatta began developing a year ago after informal conversations between 1970 America's Cup winner Bill Ficker and Japanese executives from Haseko, a real estate investment company that owns the waterfront building in Newport Beach that will be home to the new Harbor Club, a private boating club in the tradition of the Balboa Bay Club.
Ficker, an architect specializing in waterfront projects, and his associates at Ficker & Ruffing Architects are designing the club and marina.
"The Japanese are interested in training and cultural exchange," Ficker says. "The idea came up that we ought to have an intercollegiate regatta, with 10 representatives from the United States and 10 from Japan. This would give people from the intercollegiate level a taste of international yachting and racing and would expose them to each other's culture."
The regatta is sponsored by the Harbor Club and is being completely underwritten by Haseko (California) Inc., Orient Corp. and Language Services West Inc., the three Japanese companies that own the club.
"We wanted to have good communication with this community," says Masatoshi Sumi, president of Language Services West, a Newport-based Japanese company that specializes in educational and cultural exchange programs.
"Our main business is sending students from Japan to study abroad in the United States. This (regatta) relates to those kinds of things."
The Harbor Club is in the former Tokai Bank building at 3333 W. Coast Highway. Saito Yukio, managing director of Language Services West, was sent over from Japan last year to oversee development of the club, which will open Dec. 1.
The president of the Harbor Club is Dick Stevens, formerly president, vice president, general manager and co-owner of the Balboa Bay Club. General manager will be Gary Adkisson, former manager of the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
"The regatta's Japanese sponsors are intent on making this a first-class regatta," Avery says. "The entire fleet will be outfitted with new sails, and when the regatta is over, each team will take home one suit of sails."
The regatta's opening ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Friday at the OCC Sailing Base, 1801 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach. Activities will begin at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 25 and Nov. 26. All races will take place inside Newport Bay.
"We picked Thanksgiving weekend because we knew there would be no other activity in the bay on that weekend," Avery says. "At first I was worried because I thought maybe we wouldn't be able to get sailors to turn out Thanksgiving weekend, but the reaction has been great."
With 20 boats sailing in close quarters inside the harbor, Avery predicts that the three-day regatta will be an exciting spectator event. To make it easier for the public to watch, sponsors will provide free rides in spectator boats, he says.
"Anybody can come down any time during the weekend and get aboard a spectator boat at no charge," he says. "We'll be taking people out for an hour and then bringing them back. It will be the best opportunity to really watch competitive intercollegiate racing."
You can reserve space aboard a spectator boat by calling (714) 645-9412, or you can stop by the Orange Coast Sailing Center any time during the three days. The regatta will conclude with a trophy dinner at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.
Japanese sailors and their coaches are expected to arrive in Orange County Tuesday and will begin practicing Wednesday.
"The U.S. teams are excited about sailing against teams they have never sailed against before," Avery says. "It's refreshing for them because they are always having to sail against each other."
On the Waterfront appears each Saturday.