port authority

port authority

When I say "college sailing" your brain probably goes straight to big, battered passenger vans full of sleepy college kids towing trailers stacked high with tiny boats, sails, and masts. It may come as a surprise to find out that there were actually offshore sailing teams that raced last weekend in California in boats that can’t be launched off a hand cart (Catalina 37s from the Long Beach Sailing Center). Even more surprising may be the fact that this regatta did not take place in San Francisco or San Diego. The third annual Harbor Cup Invitational saw sailors from 10 schools (most giving up precious spring break time) participating in the west coast’s only intercollegiate big boat race run by the Los Angeles Yacht Club and sponsored by the Port of Los Angeles. Five out of state teams (Maine Maritime Academy, US Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, the Naval Academy, and the University of Hawai’i) made the trek to face off against five California teams (Cal. Maritime Academy, Cal. State Channel Islands, Chapman University, U.C. Davis, and U.S.C.)

At first blush, sailing a regatta in one of the busiest commercial ports in the country might seem ill advised. Turning loose 70 college kids on Catalina 37s in one of the busiest commercial ports in the country might have certain lawyers drooling with anticipation and insurance company representatives reaching for buckets, but the Port turned out to be a great venue with racing areas inside the breakwater and on the open ocean both easily accessible from the LA Yacht Club (sailing home of none other than Humphrey Bogart) docks.

Friday’s racing in 9+ knots and relatively flat seas saw Navy making a strong statement with a pair of bullets with Chapman taking second in both races. Maine Maritime ended the day in third with a total of 7 points, followed by USC, Cal. Maritime, Hawai’i, USCG, CSU Channel Islands, the US Merchant Marine Academy, and UC Davis in that order.

A stiff breeze in the upper teens and big waves on Saturday moved the racing inside. This created some unique scenery with an anchored cargo ship on one side of the course, and massive cranes on the other three sides. Cal Maritime opened the day with a bullet which they followed up with a 2, they dropped a 6 in on the third race which they followed with another two and a first putting them in first. But with three races to go on Sunday their lead was no where near comfortable with USC nipping at their heels two points out of first and Maine Maritime only one more back in third. Navy ended up with an 11 in the 6th race after a protest (given the number of times they came to the windward mark on port with the rest of the fleet on starboard this seemed inevitable) dropping them to 4th over all but they were still within striking distance if they could regain their form from the first day. And with fifth place Chapman only 9 points back, there was something of a crowd at the top of the board. The rest of the order went Hawai’i, SCU Channel Islands, USCG, USMMA, and UC Davis.

Saturday night was the big dinner with a presentation from US Sailing president/ESPN commentator/Leukemia Cup Regatta national chairperson Gary Jobson in the rather huge upstairs dining room. Gary pulled in a standing room only crowd with an interesting mixture of grey hair, dreads, and military crew cuts. Gary’s presentation is a constantly evolving overview of the sailing landscape with some incredible footage and stories from his sailing past. The latest version includes a quick overview of the America’s Cup. There was a rather pregnant pause when the footage of Harold Bennet "chatting" with some SNG RC members in the now infamous "mutiny" incident. Gary’s only comment was something to the effect of "And then there was this fiasco." eliciting both groans and chuckles.

On Sunday, the vaunted Hurricane Gulch seemed to be on some kind of union mandated break (perhaps this is the price of having a port as the sponsor), or maybe it just didn’t get the memo about daylight savings time but it wasn’t at all clear when the boats headed out if they would get enough wind to start at 11:30. After a few minutes of waiting and breath holding on the RC boat, the wind seemed to realize that it was on and a nice little breeze popped up. Chapman took race 8 followed by a surprise second for Hawai’i and USC in third. Aside from Chapman and the Naval Academy changing places and moving to 4th and 5th respectively, the first race did not change the overall standings though USC did pull to within a point of CMA.

The penultimate race brought yet another shocker with the Coast Guard Academy pulling off their best result of the regatta with a first. They were followed by the USMMA in second and USC finishing in third. CMA dropped in a 9th to catapult them back to 3rd overall and that put USC in first place over all for the final race with Maine Maritime jumping to second followed by CMA in third.

A first place finish in the last race for CMA gave them a total of three bullets for the regatta but couldn’t pull them past USC who took second in the last race winning the overall regatta with 34 points. Consistency is usually the winner in any regatta and with an average of 3.4 points in every race and no finish worse than 6th, USC raced a great series.

So that’s all the racing details, but it has to be pointed out that the Port of LA, and the LA Yacht club ran a great regatta. And not just because the racing was well organized, the venue was beautiful with mountains in the background on one side (behind some amazingly huge machinery) and Catalina Island on the other, and the wind cooperated. This is the kind of regatta that we should see more of. Young sailors need to get experience sailing more than just dinghies if we are to seem more US sailors out in the world. It’s also a great opportunity for schools to have co-ed sporting with a noticeable female presence on most of the boats, take that title 9. There are those who will bitch and moan about the fact that the regatta was run in big old lead mines, but regardless of what they were racing, seeing a fleet of 10 boats with an average crew age of 19 or 20 was a refreshing start to spring. Congratulations to all of the students who were out there sailing and thanks to the LA Yacht Club who have set a great example that should be emulated.

Peter Howson
Yachting Photographer