And when you finally made it to the anchorage in Todos Santos Bay, waiting onshore were impromptu bullfights, beach campfires with whole sides of beef roasting on spits, and dancing in the streets with the townspeople until dawn.
In 1949, a six-course dinner at the Casa del Sol, including lobster cocktail and a choice of lobster or filet mignon as the entree, cost $2. And tequila was 50 cents a quart.
In the early years, the townspeople of Ensenada were an integral part of the party equation at the race's conclusion. While Ensenada still embraces the race, it's the owners of the bars, restaurants, shops and hotels who profit . . . and they don't have any time for dancing in the streets.
After the first race in April 1948, the event was moved to coincide with Cinco de Mayo celebrations, but Ensenada on May 5 during the '60s was a little too uninhibited for even this party flotilla. The race was moved to an earlier weekend.
Improvements in Ensenada over the last decade or so have also played a part in giving the race a more respectable image, according to Bill McNeely, a contributing editor for the sailing magazine Santana.
"The new harbor, the facilities in town, the generally improved hospitality toward the whole program has just gotten better and better," he said. "It's a lot more conducive to a family atmosphere."
Dave Kenyon of Alta Loma has competed in the race twice. His 11-year-old son, Matt, will be making his first 125-mile trek from Newport to Ensenada. They'll be maneuvering around the starting line with about 550 other boats Friday on a 24-footer--the minimum-length boat allowed--that Dave built in his backyard.
They don't exactly have their sights set on flying past Stars & Stripes, but they don't want to finish last in their class, either. They're gearing up for fast and then fun, the best of both worlds.
"You want to get there as quickly as you can and do as well as you can against the other boats like yours," the elder Kenyon said. "So you take it seriously, until you get there.
"There's plenty of time to party after the race."
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The 50th anniversary of the event, considered the world's largest international yachting race, will feature more than 10,000 participants in 550 yachts in 17 classes. Among the celebrities are honorary skipper Roy Disney aboard Pyewacket II and Dennis Conner aboard Stars & Stripes, which he skippered to the course record of 8 hours, 29 minutes in 1994.
* When: Race begins at noon Friday; officially ends at sunset Sunday.
* Where: Begins in breakwater off Newport Harbor, ends 125 miles south in Todos Santos Bay, Ensenada.
* Viewing: If you can see the ocean from a boat, the Newport Harbor jetty or the bluffs of Corona del Mar, you can see the race. Parking could be a problem, so arrive early. Boating activity begins at 10 a.m.