CORONA DEL MAR — There were two types of sailors sitting on the dock of the bay Friday morning just hours before the start of the 48th annual Newport-to-Ensenada International Yacht Race.
There were those plotting strategy to win the race, and those who mingled with Bloody Marys in hand, strategizing the quickest way to reach Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada.
Both types trekked back and forth to their boats at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, loaded with ice bags, jugs of water and an endless food supply for the 125-mile regatta organized by the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn.
While many of the 419 entrants of this international regatta are from Southern California, some sailors came from as far as Utah and even Virginia.
"We try to get even because all the Californians come and ski in Utah, so we come out and sail on their pond," said John Johnson, the Salt Lake City skipper of the Rolling Thunder. "We're damn good skiers and damn good sailors. . . . We're here to win. We didn't come to cruise."
Others, it seemed, had entered the race to eat.
"A true race is won at night with a crew on a full stomach and with the correct wine," said Jerry Vealitzek, a member aboard the Epidemic whose crew hails from Orange and Los Angeles counties.
The chef/helmsman of the Epidemic, Fred Finocchiaro, had selected his menu carefully and according to compatibility with sea conditions. Last year, for instance, making rack of lamb proved impossible because of the rocking boat. This year's menu included salmon-avocado rigato, braised quail and Belgian chocolate mousse for Saturday's dinner. It will, of course, be accompanied by the correct wine.
"We eat well to keep the crew in good spirits," Finocchiaro said. "After all, hungry soldiers can't fight."
"During the eating hours, we put the second team on the helm. . . . We hope the winds cooperate when it's time to eat," added Finocchiaro, eyebrows furrowed as he scanned the sky for clouds.
The sailboats, divided into 20 classes according to type and potential speed, lined up at noon Friday to start their journey southward. The first two classes of boats crossed the starting line at noon, with the remaining classes starting two at a time, at 10-minute intervals until about 1:20.
Depending on the winds, the first finishers should reach Ensenada late tonight and the last boats will pull in Sunday, in time for the 3 p.m. awards ceremony, said Fred Martin, press chairman.
The race was sponsored in part by the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, the Hyatt Newporter hotel, West Marine and Union Bank, which pledged a three-year commitment to celebrate the race's 50th anniversary in 1997.
The key to winning the race, according to seasoned sailors, is to watch the wind conditions at night and change the sails to accommodate light or heavy winds and thus optimize sailing conditions.
"This race is won or lost by what you do at night," said Jim Emmi, a 25-year veteran of the regatta. "Only half our crew sleeps at night because the winds can die, in which case you have to keep changing the sails."
Around 10:30 a.m., with a toast of their Bloody Marys, the boats were off to the lineup. With poles, crews helped neighboring boats pull out of their slips.
"That's all the help we're going to give you in this race," shouted the crew aboard the Blarney to the crew of the Ce Ci. "We'll be waiting Monday morning when you get there."
Above, on the Corona del Mar bluffs, more than 100 people watched as the boats bobbed in the calm waters waiting for the gunshot to start the race.
Ron Crown, whose boat was entered in the newly created cruising category, had one thing on his mind.
"When you're in the cruising class you're in it for the sport, not for the competition." Crown said. "This class makes sure you get to Hussong's on time."
The shot rang out, and the sailors headed to Hussong's.