The 50th Newport-to-Ensenada International Yacht Race starting today could be the windiest in more than a decade if stronger than normal breezes continue, raising prospects for records but concerns for safety, as well.
Winds gusting to 30 knots Thursday whistled through the rigging of some of the 550 sailboats huddled in Newport Harbor awaiting the event. The golden anniversary regatta has drawn many first-time competitors whose offshore experience is limited.
"That's why we have 14 escort boats," race official Doug Wall said. "We've never lost anybody in the race."
The U.S. Coast Guard and its Mexican counterpart also monitor the race, officials said.
Dave Ullman, a Newport Beach native who won the Rolex Award as American yachtsman of the year last year, said Thursday, "Today would be perfect--18 to 20 knots--but my thought is that [Friday] will be a pretty light southwesterly breeze."
Boats ranging in size from 25 to 100 feet are entered in 22 classes. The largest and fastest will start the 125-mile race at noon, followed at 10-minute intervals by other classes on opposites sides of the mile-long line split by the committee boat in the center. If all goes according to schedule, the last boats will start at 1:20 p.m.
Depending on how hard the wind blows, some of the multihulls could finish around sundown, followed by the monohulls through Saturday and perhaps into Sunday.
The monohull record for the race is 12 hours 9 minutes 55 seconds by Gary Tingstad's 84-foot Christine in 1983. Dennis Conner set the multihull record of 8 hours 27 minutes in '94 sailing the 60-foot catamaran Stars & Stripes, which will be sailed this year by new owner Steve Fossett.