At noon today, the trigger will be squeezed on the first starting gun for the Newport-to-Ensenada Race, and the racers are making last minute correction to their courses with the wind and swell directions at the present.
Thanks to the Internet, many racers are accessing the floating weather buoys off the coast to read real-time data to help plot their courses. However, once the sailors cross the International border into Mexican waters, the weather information decreases for the remaining almost half of the journey.
Everyone knows that the main factor in a sailboat race is, of course, the wind – taking skill and experience out of the equation. The direction and strength of the wind will determine the outcome of the race for those vying to break any records. Yet, let’s not forget to factor in the seas and especially the swell heights for the smaller boats and the less-experienced sailors.
Sailors will be looking north to Point Conception where the coastline jogs easterly south of Morro Bay and north of Santa Barbara, and luckily Newport’s coastline is tucked easterly of Point Conception. The Channel Islands help deflect the swell pattern away from our coast until just south of San Diego where the swell pattern will directly hit the coast. Therefore, the swells can be bigger basically from San Diego to Ensenada, except for a small sheltered area behind the Coronado Islands. These swells can give the sailors a push on their southbound leg.
Then we can have swells from the south, which would be bad for these racers, placing the seas on their nose (nose is slang for bow of a boat). When you have the seas on your nose, then you go slower because of more resistance, and the up-and-down pounding through the swells.
I mention seas from the south because there is a mixed set today with 4-foot seas from the west and 2-foot seas from south in the inner waters, and 6-foot seas from the west and 2-foot seas from south in the outer waters. The start line off the Balboa Pier will have calmer conditions, with 5- to 8-knot winds by noon and swells about 1-2 feet from the west with a 2-foot push from the south.
The winds will remain light – probably under 10 knots – for the sailors running along the coast, but hopefully the bigger boats offshore will see the winds pick up to just under 15 knots. Fog will be a factor on the seas Saturday morning, but then the skies should clear to a beautiful weekend with warming air temperatures.
The experienced sailors will calculate whether to sail the Rhumb line or sail off the coast, outside the Coronado Islands. Remember, the smaller boats must keep safety in mind with respect to the swells. Just because the big boys are heading out to sea does not mean you can follow.
Mike Whitehead, Capt.