CORONA DEL MAR, Calif.—So if you were arguably still the most famous sailor in the world where would you rather be this month—racing to Mexico with some of your friends or wrangling in court about the format for the next America’s Cup?
“The what?” Dennis Conner responds. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
Conner, twice a loser but four times a winner over three decades as an America’s Cup competitor, left that game to the billionaires after running his last AC campaign in Auckland in 2003. That freed him up to enjoy more of his first love: racing purely for fun, as he’ll do in Balboa Yacht Club’s biennial race from Corona del Mar to Cabo San Lucas starting this weekend.
The 27 smaller boats will start the 800-nautical mile run to the tip of Baja California, Mexico on Friday, followed by the 11 larger ones Saturday. The starts will be at noon directly off the end of the Balboa Pier in front of the Original Ruby’s restaurant. Spectators are welcome.
The year is Conner’s 50th anniversary of racing to Mexico. Having lived all his life just across the border in San Diego, he has lost count of the races but remembers the first one.
“I started in ’58 on a PCC going to Acapulco,” he said. “The first time away from home on a sailboat is always a big deal. I remember Mike O’Bryan and Gary Gould and I all about the same vintage thinking it was a big adventure, racing against all the big guys . . . Huey Long and Ash Bown and John Kilroy. We weren’t too experienced so we didn’t know what to expect.”
Conner, 65, will be sailing a Farr 60 named—what else?—Stars & Stripes. And he’ll be doing the cooking.
“The first night we’ll probably have some meatloaf and mashed potatoes,” he said. “The second night we’ll have some tenderloin already cooked, and the third night we’ll have fresh swordfish, make a salad and some brownies and that’s it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Stars & Stripes won’t finish first—Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80 will be gunning to break its own record of 2 days 13 hours 26 minutes 58 seconds for a race from Orange County to Cabo—but DC could score a trophy on corrected handicap time if conditions are favorable for his heavy boat.
“It’s not really a downwind boat,” he said, “more of an upwind-downwind, as opposed to the sleds. Its weakness is it doesn’t go downwind in a breeze. It weighs 32,000 pounds, about 50 per cent more than a Santa Cruz 70. The sleds will leave it in the dust in windy downwind conditions.”
Unlike the first time, Conner knows what to expect.
“Cabo is pretty straightforward,” he said. “Basically, the wind starts out in the June gloom with a light wind, and as you get farther from San Diego it goes aft and increases, and [halfway down] you go by Cedros [Island] in good breeze, and later you go by the Cape.”
For longer races, Conner said, “You have some conditions going across the gulf that vary, depending on where you’re going. If you go to Mazatlan you have a close reach and it can be windy. If you’re going to Acapulco or Zihuatanejo or Manzanillo then it’s a wider angle and a longer trip across.”
This race ends at Cabo—actually, just short of the Cape at Cabo Falso instead of having to turn the corner and lose the breeze before reaching the customary finish line.
“In spite of the lack of interest in big boat sailing on the West Coast, these Mexican races seem to attract quality fleets,” Conner said. “The same owners like to sail these races. There’s Mag 80, [Jim Madden’s] Stark Raving Mad, [Mike Campbell and Dale Williams’] Peligroso . . . those are nice guys. We’re friends. That part’s nice, too. Whoever wins it’s a heartfelt congratulations, not just a hollow ‘nice going.’ It’s a nice way to get 10 of your friends together for two or three days away from the hustle and bustle of real life drama.”
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