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Schooner or Later; $780 eBay boat Racing to Ensenada

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – John Haupt and Steve McLaren’s 1974 Ferro-cement schooner won’t be the oldest boat in the Newport Ocean Sailing Association’s 61st race to Ensenada starting Friday, April 25, but it should be the least expensive among the few hundred entries.

Haupt, a Chula Vista Yacht Club member, recently bought the twin-masted 36-footer on eBay for $780. That wouldn’t buy a new backstay for Magnitude 80, Doug Baker’s maxi sled that will be going for another record in the 125-nautical mile run to Baja California, the largest international race in the world.

The only time the two boats will meet may be when Magnitude 80 passes by the little schooner on its way back home. When Mag 80 starts at noon alongside other high-performance chargers like Stark Raving Mad III, Medicine Man and a half-dozen ULDB 70s, Haupt and McLaren will be mingling with the masses in the Cruising Class crowd somewhere in the rear, awaiting their turn an hour and a half later. But they’ll all be in the same race.

Haupt says, happily, “You don’t have to be a millionaire to race against one.”

Actually, their boat is going for a prize of its own: the race’s coveted brass spittoon awarded annually to the boat that finishes last on overall corrected handicap time before the deadline of 11 a.m. PDT Sunday. Haupt has won it on other boats in Ensenada and two other races.

The boat’s white hull will be repainted red before the race to achieve a red and green color scheme suitable to its new name: Fantasma de Navidad (“Ghost of Christmas”).

Haupt, a 60-year-old audiologist with homes in Imperial Beach, Calif. and Rosarito Beach on opposite sides of the border, stumbled across the boat in February while looking for model boats on eBay. He bought a Skipjack model for $24 and then, he said, “I hit ‘schooner’ and up pops this 36-foot Ferro-cement schooner.”

A real one. Ferro-cement is a boat-building method dating to the mid-19th century using steel wires covered with sand and cement plaster. One is said to still be afloat somewhere in Europe. Haupt says that as the material cures they actually get better with age.

When Haupt logged into the bidding, the top bid was $310. With only 17 seconds left, he entered a bid for $805.

“I hit refresh, refresh, and could see the price changing where two other people were bidding it up. They bid it up to $775 with two seconds to go, and then the auction ended, so we got it for $5 more than the next highest bid: $780.”

The boat, with spars of Sitka spruce, was essentially abandoned in an Oxnard marina north of Los Angeles but was well-equipped, including a surfboard and fishing gear, so Haupt and McLaren sailed it down to Puerto Salina Marina near Haupt’s Mexican home to refurbish it.

“We were out two hours and got hit with 40-45-knot gusts coming off Port Hueneme,” Haupt said. “Our GPS showed 11 1/2 knots [of boat speed] across the bottom at one point. We knew after that that this boat should take whatever gets thrown at it.”

Later, they were kicking back in a Baja cantina when Haupt said, “So since we’ve been able to get the boat down this far and everything seems to be going OK, let’s push the envelope and enter our $780 investment in the Ensenada race.”

As a final touch for several Mexican sponsors, including restaurants and a topless bar, they’ll race under a Mexican flag. Haupt has a Mexican passport and is considered an immigrant for having lived there more than five years. Besides, the red hull and green deck and sail covers match the Mexican flag.

They hope to sail with a bi-national crew of six, which was still open for applications at press time:

Race entries officially close Wednesday, April 22. Problems with the online registration system have caused race officials to return to the former mail-in or fax system, so competitors not yet entered are urged to do so as soon as possible.

Current entries number 324 boats as of Thursday. Magnitude 80, which has already set records in two longer races to Mexico this year, will try to retrieve the Newport to Ensenada record of 11 hours 23 minutes 53 seconds set by its earlier version in 2002 and was bettered by Roy E. Disney’s Pyewacket a year later in 10:44:54, a record that still stands.

The multihull record hasn’t been seriously challenged since the late Steve Fossett clocked 6 hours 46 minutes 40 seconds in 1998—the only boat ever to finish before sundown.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2008 at 3:39 pm and is filed under Main Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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