Orange County’s yachters race for the thrill, the best of what Mother Nature can throw at them and the Bloody Marys after.
Retired executive Glenn Highland said of one recent excursion: “It was like riding a roller coaster, going the speed of a Ferrari in a mountain tunnel, downhill, at night, with no light.”
Highland lives in Corona del Mar and used to head up Minnesota-based security card company Datacard Corp.
“It was an incredibly demanding night, but it was also pretty spectacular,” he said.
Yacht racing draws wealthy businesspeople, entrepreneurs, moguls and regular folk. The county’s smaller in yachting than hubs such as Connecticut and Nantucket, Mass., but holds its own.
Up until the death last year of Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney played a big part in local yacht racing.
Disney, an avid racer until retirement, supported various programs, including the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship, near the Balboa Yacht Club in Corona del Mar.
He donated his 86-foot yacht, Pyewacket, to the program.
Conservative radio host Laura Schlessinger also donated a boat to the school.
Yacht racing attracts men and women. Sometimes it’s a family affair, with crews of husbands, wives, kids and other relatives.
Racers typically belong to one of the county’s private yacht clubs, including the largest and most prestigious, the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, which has about 1,200 members, and the Balboa Yacht Club, which is 88 years old and has about 800 members.
Members pay dues of about $100 to $200 a month. Initiation fees can be as high as $8,000.
Newport Beach-based South Shore Yacht Club members pay $72 a month, said Don Albrecht, a member of that club. Corona del Mar’s Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club members pay $195 a month.
The best deal is the American Legion Yacht Club in Newport Beach. Members of American Legion, military veterans and relatives of servicemen and women pay $50 a year.
The local clubs often sponsor races, which are year-round. They also offer sailing classes.
With bars, restaurants and places to hang out, clubs also often serve as social hubs for yachting buffs.
“I can sit down and ask, ‘What kind of boat do you like?’ and the conversation will go on for eight hours,” said Peter Bretschger, chief financial officer of Newport Beach-based marketing company Integrated MarketingWorks.
Bretschger, who has a 40-foot J/120 racer named Adios, is vice commodore—a member-elected position that basically means vice president—of the Balboa Yacht Club.
“We’re down there three or four days a week,” he said.
He and Kari, his wife of 30 years, work and race together. She’s chief executive of Integrated MarketingWorks.
“Our first date was to a boat show,” he said.
Bretschger’s sons also race as part of their crew. Son Peter is a bond trader at Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co. His other son, Christopher, works in technology.
Crews generally are made up of about eight to 10 people, who each have a specific job. Crew posts include the skipper, or captain, the driver and the tactician, who strategizes how to deal with shifts in the weather and winds.
Bretschger taps a pool of about 13 to 14 friends for his crew.
There are two kinds of races: shorter, local races and long-distance races, such as the recent Corona del Mar to Cabo San Lucas race.
Yachting is competitive.
“At this level we race to win,” Bretschger said. “I’ll tell you it’s fun. But most everybody out there is a type-A personality.”
They’re certainly not in it for the prizes, which are typically some kind of trophy.
Bretschger’s crew has won crystal bowls, travel bags and even beer cans painted gold, he said.
Sometimes racing is about staying alive.
“The boat is defenseless on big seas,” Bretschger said.
During a race to Cabo in rough conditions, Bretschger had to start his engine—which is against the rules—and head in the wrong direction so that his crew could lower and fix a sail.
The crew realized that the race was no longer about winning. Instead, it was “about surviving the next 200 miles,” Bretschger said.
Yacht racing is an expensive hobby.
Bretschger pegs it at about 20% of the boat’s cost, which can range in the millions, per year.
Expenses include docking fees, gear, fuel and maintenance.
Before every race, retired aerospace engineer Don Albrecht of Huntington Beach calls up Newport Beach-based Mystic Knights of the Sea, divers who clean the underside of the boat, making it go faster.
Cleaning the underside costs about $3 per foot. He also paints the boat every couple of years and buys new sails every two to three years. Sails, made up of materials such as Kevlar and carbon fiber, range in price from $5,000 to $15,000.
Albrecht, who worked for now defunct Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. in Newport Beach, taught himself how to sail. He still has the same Cal 25 sailboat he bought 37 years ago.
Like all things associated with disposable income, yachting has been affected by the economy’s funk.
Enrollment at the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship is down about 20% compared to a year earlier, said Brad Avery, a lifelong sailor and director of the program.
“There’s definitely reduced demand for everything marine,” he said.
Participation could pick up this summer, he said.
The time commitment is why, for most yachters, boating and racing is a way of life.
Boeing Co. aerospace engineer Barbara Sanford often sleeps on the boat she races.
She has a house in Hemet but works in Huntington Beach. Her boat is docked in Newport Harbor.
She and her husband, Floyd, a retired Rockwell International Corp. engineer, share their yacht.
Barbara Sanford got wrapped up in racing when she joined a women’s crew, which includes many women who are members of Newport Beach-based Women’s Ocean Racing and Sailing Association.
“It’s a lot easier to go back into work the next day knowing what you did (over the) weekend and knowing that two weeks from now you’re going to go back out and do it again,” Bretschger said.