Dick and Mary Compton's new Andrews 77 Alchemy is a big, fast boat that will win a lot of races, but the 56th Tommy Bahama Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race was not to be one of them.
Instead, Roy E. Disney's Reichel/Pugh 77 Pyewacket finished first late on Friday night and reclaimed the race record on a classic tactical error: opening the door for the trailing boat.
Pyewacket, representing the Los Angeles Yacht Club, finished the 125 nautical miles from Newport Beach in 10 hours 44 minutes 54 seconds, an average speed of 11.6 knots (13.3 mph).
Disney had a conflict with a Walt Disney Corp. directors meeting in Florida and was unable to sail the race. His son Roy Pat Disney took over as skipper---and apparently made the right call at Todos Santos Bay.
Pyewacket navigator Peter Isler said, "We gybed about 32 miles from the finish line, essentially on the lay line to the finish. Their mistake was that they should have gybed first, because by the time they did it we had been sailing toward the finish line."
Disney said, "That boat we were racing was easily faster than us. The temptation is always to duck into the bay, but if you do it too soon you lose the wind. We were scared to death, but we were running out of options. So, after it got dark we gybed and he didn't."
Pyewacket was well under the time of 11:23:53 set by Doug Baker's Andrews 70, Magnitude, when it led a six-boat assault on Pyewacket's former record last year while Pyewacket was campaigning in the Caribbean.
Baker, who sold Magnitude and was sailing on another boat this time, said, "I'm glad for Roy. He's been great for the sport, and he deserves the record."
Only Bill Gibbs' 52-foot catamaran, Afterburner, from Ventura finished ahead of Pyewacket, by 45 minutes. Alchemy trailed Pyewacket across the line by about 7 ½ minutes.
The 461-boat flotilla started in light winds but soon found brisk reaching and then spinnaker breeze all the way down.
One boat, the Choate 48 Amante from Newport Beach, hit a whale at around midnight off Rosarito Beach.
Crew member Michael Lawler said, "We were going about 8 knots and hit something hard. We didn't realize what it was until this morning."
The steering became alarmingly loose, and co-skipper Tim Richley, said, "At daylight we looked over the side and saw half the rudder was gone."
Richley's family has sailed the boat in 20 of the last 21 Ensenada races.
Meanwhile, Pyewacket and Alchemy had left everyone but the multihulls far behind, first by reaching in moderate winds with billowing Code Zero headsails, then by sailing as low as possible with spinnakers.
Pyewacket enjoyed an early lead but was helpless to prevent Alchemy from breezing by before the boats had reached the international border. Alchemy had the advantages of a five-foot taller mast for more sail area and water ballast for greater stability during the early upwind phase of the race.
Alchemy was leading Pyewacket about three-fourths of a mile outside Todos Santos Bay and discussing when to make its critical jibe move to the finish, not realizing that Pyewacket had already turned.
Alchemy's designer, Alan Andrews of Long Beach, said, "We lost the race ourselves. There was a discussion about when and where we should gybe. The first thought was that 'if they do, we do.' Then we realised they had already. We gave up a couple of miles and had to take our spinnaker down to get around Todos Santos Island. It was our race to lose, and we did."
Alchemy, fresh out of Dencho Marine in Long Beach, was first sailed only two days earlier.
One plus, Andrews said, was using Pyewacket as a trial horse.
"It was great to have Pyewacket to sail against,"
Andrews said. "There was a veteran crew with a proven boat. We were able to go through our sail inventory to see what was faster. I was very pleased."
Roy E. Disney has sold Pyewacket. Awaiting a larger, faster boat, he will race it for the last time in the Transpac. Alchemy will not compete in that race.