“We’ll keep it mellow,” Paul Hogue tells me as we rig up Accord, a 1970s IOR-era Kiwi Peterson 37. We’re getting ready for the pursuit-start North Sails Rally Race, part of the 2014 Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD Regatta, and his statement rings true on this perfect San Diego day. Paul and owner Mike Smith joke about sail selection—the breeze is almost always light here, so there’s really no choice at all. The boat excels in these pursuit races in the light stuff, especially upwind.
But as we make our way out to the start line off Shelter Island, the breeze starts to pick up. It’s farther north than normal, which makes the first leg a reach to a mark off Point Loma. From there, we’ll sail a close reach by Coronado Island and eventually set the chute as we head for the second and last mark by Coronado Bridge. A final beat will take us back to the line.
We tune up by heading out to Point Loma. Mike drives, while Paul does mast and bow. Mark Young, who’s sailed on Accord before, shows Dan de la Vega and me the ropes. It’s Dan’s first regatta in 30 years—he grew up sailing in San Diego but got out of the sport in his adult life. With his recent return to the coast, he enrolled his kids in sailing classes and then bought a cruising boat and a Laser. Even though he claims to be a novice, it’s clear that he knows more than he gives himself credit for.
Feeling good about our setup, and hoping the breeze just dies down a little bit, we motor back to the line and take it all in. The bay is filled with activity: the fast boats are starting the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Race. We join the spectators buzzing around and watch as the MOD70 Orion and the Orma 60 Mighty Merloe hightail it out of the bay.
In stark contrast, the slowest-rated competitor in our race, the Pearson 30 Bronco, starts shortly after the trimarans. Our start is 13 minutes and 45 seconds later; we’re the fifth start in our 10-boat fleet. Our strategy is to be conservative, and we manage that but end up later than we’d like to be to the start.
We trim our sails for the reach out and debate whether we could hold a spinnaker to the mark. We go back and forth—the angle is just a little too high. As soon as we’ve resigned ourselves to jib reach, the wind backs farther and we jump into action. With the spinnaker up, we’re left to contend with the J/80 Firebolt, which started about half a minute before us. Mike takes the high lane, but we struggle to get past their asymmetric angle. Overlapped to the mark, we wait for them to douse and round.
As we trim in to upwind mode to avoid the piers off of Coronado Island, we finally pass Firebolt, and we’re able to catch Bronco, too. By the time we peel off around Coronado to a run, Mark, Dan, and I have gotten our coordination down through the tacks, and we’re feeling good in the lighter air of the more sheltered waters. We catch the other two boats that started ahead of us on the run, but the J/105 Viggen makes up its four-minute deficit and passes us.
The final upwind leg to the line off Shelter Island is all about getting there as fast as we can. We’re not going to be able to catch Viggen, but the fast boats that started after us are closing in quickly. We play the left side by Coronado, and Smith hands me the helm as we get close to the line. I brace myself for the massive amount of helm in the 10-knot puffy conditions. “We could have used 11 more people on the rail,” says Smith afterward.
We squeeze out a second-place finish two hours after our start time. As we head back into the dock, we clink our first round of Modelos. Dan is beaming, his first race in three decades a success. Mike, Paul, and Mark start talking about their next race, and I just soak in the mellow-ness of it all: the perfect balance of fun and competition on a picture-perfect day in San Diego.