Photos by Brad Hall (Except where indicated)
The Newport-to-Ensenada International Yacht Race, which runs 125 nautical miles south from the shores of one of Orange County’s wealthiest enclaves to the historic, struggling Baja port town, is billed as the world’s largest international sailing event. And while I don’t have the experience to know whether it’s truly the “largest international sailing event”, it sure is the biggest sailboat race I’ve ever been in. This was my second year racing from Newport Beach to Ensenada, Mexico with Captains George and Tom and the crack crew of Curiosity — and once again, it was the kind of adventure that inspires men (and women) to go down to the sea in ships.
The Newport-to-Ensenada race was founded in 1947 as a just-for-fun competition for sailors coming out of World War II. And as big as the race has gotten over the years, you get the sense that, for most of the racers, it’s still “just for fun”. (Though certain hyper-competitive, edge-seeking boats with their flaunting of ratings and their profusion of high-tech sails, can take the fun out of “just for fun”. But that’s just the crabby old salt in me talking.)
In the first Newport-to-Ensenada race (called at the time “The Governor’s Cup”) 117 boats paid $22.50 each to race on April 23, 1948. Winds were estimated at 25–35 knots, and only 65 boats finished the race. 62 years later, Captains Moll and Webber not only paid a lot more to enter the race – but high winds would NOT be a problem. If any sailboats failed to finish in 2010, it would be because they eventually fired up their motors in frustration.
A record 675 boats entered the race in 1983, but with the economic slump in 2009, there were only 270 entries. This year, Curiosity was among 217 boats jockeying for position among the crowd of sailboats at the start of the race. As we tacked back and forth in the light air before our 11:00 am start time, our relatively Hollywood-savvy crew was not aware that icons like Buddy Ebsen, Humphrey Bogart and Walter Cronkite had competed in the race. I simply can’t imagine the thrill of racing to the starting line against Bogie and Bacall aboard Santana.
As is our habit in recent races, we managed to get off to a good start – crossing the line among the leaders of the nine boats in our spinnaker class. I have no idea how they rate and organize all the boats into the various classes, but I do know the difference between a boat rigged for a spinnaker and one that isn’t. Thus, of the 217 vessels in the race, we were only competing against 8 of them: Elixir, Paradise Found, Tranquilo, Escapade, Zeus, Dela, Bonnie Belle and Arearea. Chief among our rivals was Elixir, whose higher rating meant that we had to give her time, but whose collection of high-tech sails gave her a distinct edge. In last year’s race, we’d kept Elixir in sight most of the race. However, with Curiosity’s rating hanging around our necks like an albatross, we’d have to finish well ahead of all the boats in our class in order to win. The whole rating thing hurts my brain.
The winds were fair and we managed 6-8 knots of boat speed for much of the way that afternoon. In a long ocean race like this, where you’re simply racing from point A to point B, there’s not a lot for the crew to do between maneuvers – and as we were pointed on a good heading to Ensenada, and conditions were calm, we proceeded to do what sailors often do under such circumstances: drink, smoke cigars, and tell tales. Of all the joys of sailing, none surpass the camaraderie among a crew of jokers and raconteurs on the deck of a fine vessel making way on a brilliant blue sea. And, as late afternoon flowed into evening, our lead bowman, Claude, helped lubricate our merry maritime festivities by supplying his crewmates with a hearty ration of grog. Thanks to Claude’s knowledge of Royal Navy mixology, not a one of us would suffer scurvy on this voyage.
Claude makes his grog in the traditional way: with Pusser’s Rum, according to the English Royal Navy recipe.
— 1 part Pusser’s Rum
— Lime juice to taste
— Dark cane sugar to taste
I don’t think Claude actually used dark cane sugar, but he did squeeze plenty of fresh limes by hand.
Grog has been a naval staple since it was introduced into the Royal Navy in 1740 by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (nicknamed “Old Grog” because of his grogram cloak). Grog served two purposes. Not only did it water down the sailors’ rum ration (“what do you do with a drunken sailor?”) — it also warded off scurvy by virtue of all that lime juice. If, as Winston Churchill was reported to have said, “The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy, and the lash” – then, after 1740, in the interest of accuracy, you’d have to replace “rum” with “grog” on that list.
Seeing (and tasting) a good thing, the Continental Navy also adopted the twice-a-day grog ration. But while the relatively- teetotaling American Navy ended the ration on September 1, 1862, the Royal Navy went on swilling watered down rum with lime juice and sugar until July 31, 1970 – when the last call of “Up Spirits” was heard in the Royal Navy. There was no last call on Curiosity that evening, as the grog and the laughter wore into the night.
At some point in the darkness, we crossed into Mexican waters. I was catching a few winks belowdecks at the time – until crewmate Brad Hall awakened me at 4:00 am to help perform one of the trickier evolutions on a sailboat – jibing the spinnaker. As I came up on deck, it was still dark, though illuminated by moonlight. Normally, jibing the spinnaker is a pain but, as the wind was merely a breeze, Brad and I were able to get the job done easily. It would have been much harder to wrestle that spinnaker if a stout wind was filling it.
And that lack of wind soon proved to be our undoing in this race. For most of the next 5-6 hours, we were becalmed. As much as sailors love the word “grog” — “becalmed” is a word we dread, as it means “to render motionless for lack of wind.” And that was our situation, bobbing up and down for hours on a perfectly flat (but terribly beautiful) ocean off the coast of Baja, Mexico.
How bad is it for a sailboat to be becalmed?
Let us remember that the ancient Greek king Agamemnon sacrificed his lovely daughter Iphigenia to the gods so that his becalmed fleet would have the wind it desperately needed to sail to Troy.
Extended periods of calm made for madness and mutiny aboard sailing ships throughout the centuries. Witness this ominous passage from William Clark Russell’s seafaring adventure, “An Ocean Tragedy”…
But, for the crew of Curiosity, there may have been madness, but there was no thought of mutiny. We were confident the breeze would pick up at some point during the day – though we saw a couple boats closer to shore give up, turn their motors on, and proceed under power to Ensenada. We were determined to finish the race in the right way, and our resolve was rewarded when the wind picked up late in the morning – and we saw the whales!
Claude was first to see their spouts: two grey whales (or were they humpbacks?), a mother and her calf, cruising side by side, headed north, from their breeding grounds in and around the Sea of Cortez to their northern feeding grounds in the frigid waters off Alaska. The whales were a welcome sight for our slightly exhausted and frustrated crew: a good omen for the rest of our voyage.
It was nearing 1:00 in the afternoon as we made our final spinnaker run to the finish line in the port of Ensenada De Todos Santos. By now, we were cracking along at 8 knots, a respectable speed, and leaving other boats in our wake. It wasn’t the screaming 12-knot final kick we enjoyed last year, but it cheered us all to bring Curiosity handsomely across the finish line. Our passage from Newport to Ensenada had taken 26 hours, but we had no clue when our 8 competitors had crossed the line.
Pulling into our assigned dock at the marina below our hotel, we noticed that our rival, Elixir, was already in her slip. Elixir had sailed further out into the ocean and caught wind when we, closer to shore, were becalmed. We made our bet, stayed inside, and the wind gods were not with us.
So, there was nothing left to do but enjoy our one night in Ensenada. The hotel was in a festive mood, with mariachis playing in anticipation of a big wedding that night. Showers were taken, a few more drinks were served – and we all headed to the race headquarters to check out the results. Alas, after times were corrected, taking each boat’s rating into consideration, we finished next to last. But as we toasted Captain Moll that night over a fine dinner, we all felt like winners. It had been a fine voyage, a safe passage, and another great adventure. Here’s to many more!
2010: The First Year In Review
This snapshot by Rob Mendel (above) appears to have been taken at The John Lennon Auditorium at 703 Howard Street in Evanston, Illinois on what looks to be New Year’s Day 1982. (Note my Beggars’ Holiday hair and beard.) My 18-month old daughter Maura appears to be grasping a champagne bottle in her right hand, the stage looks as though it’s set up for a Rockme gig, and the numerous empty beverage containers and crumpled gift-wrapping all suggest a big holiday party the night before. (Maura certainly didn’t close the party, so this must be the day after.) Of course, I’m on clean-up duty. (I trust the amazing Rush Pearson will let us know if my photo analysis is correct.)
30 years after this picture was taken — and just one year ago — I started this blog.
So far, it’s been a fine voyage.
As of this writing, Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted over 22,250 views. I’ve made 73 posts and readers have contributed 565 comments. That’s a pretty healthy start — and I’m grateful for everyone’s interest, enthusiasm, and participation in this admittedly idiosyncratic forum.
This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little...
I’m especially gratified by the 63 subscribers who have signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And when Mark Lancaster gets his e-mail address straightened out, we’ll be back to 64.) Are you a subscriber? If not — just look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey, then look below the photo and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!” I know most of us just can’t get enough e-mails stuffed into our inboxes, but I promise my posts will be at least marginally more entertaining than the daily onslaught of Viagra ads, MoveOn broadsides, replica watch ads, and assorted unrelenting spam you’re already inundated with.
My posts on this blog largely stuck to the main topics I established at the outset: history, adventure, politics and rock & roll — including a four-part history of The Practical Theatre Company. And to what type of posts were readers of this blog most attracted? What follows is a list of The Top 12 Posts of 2010, listed in order of the most views. Taken as a whole, they represent a sort of oddball Year-in-Review.
THE TOP TEN POSTS OF 2010
Note: Just click on each the title of each post to access the original article.
1. The Saints Come Marching In…
The New Orleans Saints got 2010 off to a great start by winning the Super Bowl. So, why does a man who was born in Cleveland, went to college and met his wife in Chicago, and moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago care if the New Orleans Saints finally won a Super Bowl after decades of epic gridiron failure? Simple: my daddy was New Orleans born and raised. Who dat say what about dem Saints?
2. All About The Rockme Foundation
It’s not possible to write everything about Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation in one article, but I tried my best in this post to tell the basics of the band’s ongoing legend. A spring reunion gig at SPACE in Evanston was the catalyst for telling the story. The band is making plans to play SPACE again this year. Rockme-mania lives.
3. The Practical Theatre Co. Part 1
One of my goals this past year was to tell the story of The Practical Theatre from start to finish. (Is it ever really finished?) This first chapter covered the period from the company’s founding and the establishment of The John Lennon Auditorium — to just before our 1982 comedy revue, The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, brought the PTC to SNL.
4. Baseball Season Opens: Of Mud Hens & More…
Readers loved those Mud Hens. What was written as a tribute to The Practical Theatre Company’s contribution to the Chicago Theatre 16-inch Softball League became a post that hundreds of Toledo Mud Hens fans found online, attracted to the info and photos of Toledo Mud Hens history — especially that picture of Jamie Farr. Go figure. Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!
5. History & Honeymoon: Part Three
20 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! It’s true. I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog.
6. The Vic & Paul Show
After more than two decades off the stage, Victoria and I once again wrote and performed in an original musical comedy review, The Vic & Paul Show, in June at PUSH Lounge in Woodland Hills. It was the most fun we’ve had in years. We hope to bring the show to Chicago sometime in 2011. If you’re curious about what the show looked like — there are a series of clips on my YouTube channel. Click here to get there.
7. “I have not yet begun to fight!”
History and politics are two of my greatest passions — and this article combined the two. I’m gratified that so many people have continued to find it and read it since it was first posted on January 20, 2010 at the time of President Obama’s first State of the Union Address.
8. Le Salon de Crawford
I wrote this tribute to the incredible Crawford family early in the year — and I feel as though I must already write another. Ron and Sydney Crawford and their fabulous children are a gift that keeps on giving. I cannot imagine what this blog would have looked like in 2010 without all those wonderful Ron Crawford drawings lifting each post into the realm of true art. We love Ron & Syd. And we can’t say it enough.
9. Will California Buy a Used CEO this Election Year?
In an otherwise bleak mid-term election for progressives, California turned back the conservative tide by rejecting the self-funding, millionaire ex-CEO candidates, Meg Whitman for Governor and Carly Fiorina for Senator. Instead, liberal Democrat Barbara Boxer was returned to the U.S. Senate — and former “Governor Moonbeam” Jerry Brown was sent back to the California governor’s mansion (where he refused to live back in the 70’s). Maybe Jerry will pass on the mansion again. But thank goodness California passed on Meg and Carly.
10. The Practical Theatre Co. Part 3
This installment of my Practical Theatre history covered the insanely creative and productive period from the aftermath of the PTC’s headline-making success in 1982-83 to the closing of The John Lennon Auditorium in 1985. Looking back, it’s hard to believe a bunch of inexperienced, counterculturally-inclined twenty-somethings accomplished so much in so little time. That Practical spirit lives on today — and I hope this blog has helped in some small way to keep it alive.
11. The Matey’s Log: Sailing Season Begins
This blog has a nautical theme for one reason: Captain George Moll, who invited me to sail with him some years back, and instilled in me a love of the sea that had first been aroused by my reading of the entire Patrick O’Brian canon. I am grateful to Captain George for allowing me to serve as a crewman aboard his fleet of racing sailboats — and my accounts of several of our races proved to me among the most popular series of posts on the blog this year. And did I mention we won this year’s TGIS Series Championship? Hats off to Captain George!
12. A New Day of Glory for the Great (you heard me right) Cleveland Browns!
Great football teams bookend this list. When my beloved Cleveland Browns upset the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the early part of the 2010 NFL season, I was moved to write this remembrance of the Browns’ glorious past. Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar are just a handful of the memorable stars that made history with the Cleveland Browns. Now, it’s up to Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis to write the next glorious chapter.
So, that’s the best of 2010. Stay tuned. Subscribe. Post those replies!
Here’s to another fine voyage in 2011!
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Tagged as Barbara Boxer, California, Captain George, Carly Fiorina, Civil War, Cleveland, Cleveland Browns, comedy, Commodore Perry, Evanston, football, Gettysburg, improvisational comedy, Jerry Brown, New Orleans Saints, Northwestern, Patrick O'Brian, Paul Barrosse, Practical Theatre, Push Lounge, rock & roll, Rockme, Ron Crawford, sailing, The Vic & Paul Show, Toledo Mud Hens, year in review