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A Potential Winter Sailing Capital

With a few tweaks, Newport Harbor could become a winter sailing capital akin to Florida. -By John Drayton

Throughout California and the West Coast, Newport Beach is widely regarded as a popular, friendly sailing destination. But, unfortunately, once you get outside the region’s sailing community, top national and international racing sailors typically look eastward (especially to Florida) for their wintertime sailing.

Could Newport Beach compete with Florida with our own mid-winter sailing events? Every winter, hundreds of top sailing crews flock to a handful of major regattas in South Florida, starting with Miami’s Orange Bowl Regatta. Just after that, Miami’s Olympic sailing center holds its Olympic Classes Regatta for top one-design sailors. Later in January, hundreds of keelboat racers flock to the popular Key West Race Week. For many top U.S. sailors, these particular events represent the pinnacle of winter sailing. Nevertheless, the economy has hit these events fairly hard. Is this an opportune time to consider marketing our own harbor’s wintertime sailing options?

The raw ingredients are already there for Newport Beach to compete with these Florida sailing events. Frankly, there’s little found in Florida that California can’t match. During our “mid-winters” in February, temperatures here were in the low 70s with steady breezes in the 8 – 10 knot range. By way of comparison, during that same weekend, Miami’s Biscayne Bay saw temperatures in the high 70s with winds in the 10 – 12 knot range. At least for this one weekend, conditions were not too different in Miami or Newport Beach.

Here are three local sailing events that could be tweaked to compete with the big Florida events:

Anteater Regatta (Dec. 8 – 9, 2012; UC Irvine Sailing Association): The Anteater is among the largest West Coast high school sailing events, and routinely attracts more than 30 school teams and several hundred top junior sailors. Potential changes: Start by including collegiate teams; this would immediately double the size of the event. Then recruit other local yacht clubs to concurrently host additional junior sailing classes (Opti’s, 420s and 29-ers). Finally, move this event back a week so that it occurs after schools take off for winter holidays.

Islands Race (Feb. 16 – 17, 2012; Newport Harbor and San Diego Yacht Clubs): This three-year-old event is a fun, challenging 125-mile sprint around Catalina and San Clemente Islands before ending in San Diego. Under the current format, many boats finish in the wee hours of the morning and then immediately turn around to head home. Possible changes: Add a concurrent 50 to 75-mile version of this race geared at small trailer-able sport boats (like Melges 24s). Then follow the distance racing with a day or two of fun buoy racing so that this becomes a longer “race week” event to help justify the expenses associated with bringing boats here from around the country.

SCYA Mid-Winters (Feb. 17 – 18, 2012; Southern California Yachting Association and various SoCal yacht clubs): This remains the largest single weekend sailing event in SoCal.  Unfortunately, our mid-winters are badly fragmented with no centralized events and minimal coordination between and among the various racing venues. Possible changes: Extend the mid-winters to a three-day event by racing through President’s holiday. After racing, host large sponsored parties for all sailors—think big here. And in Newport? Well, maybe we could find a way to pack a few hundred sailors into a party at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum and the adjacent Balboa Pavilion.

There are another dozen off-season sailing events that could easily be added to this list. But for any of these events to attract a national audience, it will take some effort, some inspiration and some out-of-the-box thinking. Can Newport become a top sailing capital? The raw ingredients are already here. NBM

We want to hear from you! Is there something you’ve seen in another city that you’d like to see in Newport Beach? Submit 500 – 700 words about the topic—what it is, why it would be great and how we could make it happen here to edit@newportbeachmagazine.com. You could be our next guest columnist.

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