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Stiff breeze and solid competition on Day One of Port of LA Harbor Cup

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Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta
Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

Winds of 18 to 19 knots provided a bracing welcome to the dozens of sailors from across the nation and Ireland, at the 12th running of the Harbor Cup, where five-time title-holder California Maritime Academy took an early lead today. College of Charleston, 2016 victor, was in second place after three races, with defending champion US Naval Academy, and Cork Institute of Technology tied for third.

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LAYC bustled with excitement this morning, as the energetic young adults readied and rigged their boats. As the wind whipped through the palm trees, some crews endured last-minute pep-talks by coaches, while others, like the Charleston Cougars, rocked out to the Rolling Stones.

Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta
Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

This prestigious invitational intercollegiate regatta is a highlight of racing season, explained University of California Santa Barbara’s Dylan Finestone. “This is a great regatta. It’s a lot of fun, Los Angeles Yacht Club is very hospitable, the food is good, and the fact that we’re able to stay here, on boats, is great. We look forward to it every year.”

Universities vie for a coveted invitation to bring teams of eight – including at least two female crew – to compete on the one-design Catalina 37 keelboats. Since its inception, the Harbor Cup has hosted over 900 athletes and coaches, racing on 115 intercollegiate sailing teams and representing 23 different institutions from across the US and Europe.

So, despite the heavy wind, PRO Tom Trujillo determined not to disappoint the sailors, and moved to the inside course, within San Pedro Bay. After a short series of practice starts, racing commenced in a steady and stiff westerly. Inside the breakwater, the sea state was fair.

Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta
Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

After three races, each twice around, Cal Maritime – used to the blustery conditions of San Francisco Bay – clung to the top of the leaderboard with two bullets and one second place finish.

Also relishing the heavy breeze was the CIT team. “This is the sort of weather we get in Ireland around now, and we’ve been training in,” said skipper Harry Durcan. “The heavy breeze is suiting us,” providing a bit of an advantage, he admitted, adding “And we’re probably heavier than other teams, so have a little more weight on the rail.” Although he is new to the Catalina 37s, he credited four returning crew with showing the team the ropes. “We hope to cut out a few of the mistakes we made today, keep improving, keep it simple, see where we go from there.”

Navy remained eager to defend their 2018 title, and perhaps avenge an upset at the Kennedy Cup, according to Head Coach Jahn Tihanksy. “A number of our crew were part of a team that sailed together last fall, and just missed winning our big regatta at home, when they got snaked on the last leg of the last race. So hopefully that provides some fire in the belly, to come out here and do well. And get a little retribution.”

Like many competitors, they have had scant chance to practice, due to the brutal winter. “Back in Annapolis, in January and February we couldn’t launch our boat because the river was iced over!” admitted Tihanksy. “But we have been able to get out and get some practicing in, which we were able to do last year and which obviously helped. Practice pays off: last year’s win was proof.”

Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta
Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

A chance to get out on the water and win at the recent SCOR regatta in Charleston, was encouraging, Tihansky added. “I’m hoping they can take the momentum from that and bring it with them.”

The Harbor Cup continues Saturday and Sunday March 9 and 10, starting at 11:30AM. A total of 10 races are planned aboard the fleet of matched 37-foot Catalina keelboats; identically rigged maintained to provide the fairest possible competition.

Visiting sailors are hosted by LAYC, stay aboard members’ boats and enjoy meals at the club. Saturday evening the co-eds will enjoy dinner and a talk by renowned racing navigator John Jourdane. One of the most experienced offshore sailors of the era, Jourdane has voyaged over 350,000 miles: many in the most treacherous waters on earth.

Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta
Day One of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup regatta

The Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup

The Harbor Cup was founded in 2008, “to support and encourage young men and women to enjoy the benefits of competitive sailing,” according to the Deed of Gift. Hosted by Cal Maritime, the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Yacht Club, it is unique in providing an opportunity to participate in one-design big boat offshore competition. Typically, college level sailing is held in small one- or two-person dinghies in protected waters; making the Harbor Cup a particularly coveted and distinguished event. The regatta also fosters a focus on environmental awareness, stewardship, and developing a love of the ocean.

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