By Rod Simenz
The SCYA Midwinter Regatta’s history is packed with legendary sailors and their boats from the early days to the present. In 1928, SCYA and the LA Junior Chamber of Commerce teamed up to sponsor the first Midwinters which was promoted as an example of the sports “paradise” that Southern California offered in the winter. As hoped, the event attracted boats from the Great Lakes, Atlantic Coast and the rest of the Pacific Coast, and some of the best known yachtsmen in America, including Clifford Mallory, John Alden and Herbert Stone, editor of Yachting. Yachtsmen continued to come west for these regattas until the war years.
In 1930 Frank Borzage deeded a perpetual trophy which is still awarded to the winner of the Star class at the Midwinters. ;Borzage was then an aspiring film director who gained fame with A Farewell to Arms, Anna Karenina and Stage Door Canteen. Hook Beardslee was the first winner of the Borzage trophy. Beardslee went on to win the Star Worlds back to back in 1934 and 1935. The complete list of the Borzage trophy winners is presented in this NOR as a tribute to these top competitors in the only one-design class that has sailed in every Midwinter Regatta held. This distinguished group of skippers has posted numerous victories in the Star Olympics, Star Worlds and the America’s Cup as well as in scores of other one-design class championships.
Depression and War
The Depression years were a difficult time for the yacht clubs but the Midwinters went on until the war years blacked them out. The regattas were resumed in 1946, the first year the Naples Sabots raced. The class quickly grew to huge numbers and it was still the largest class raced 57 years later in 2003. The next largest class over the years is probably the Laser, which put 78 boats in “A” class alone on the line at the Midwinters in 1976 and was won that year by John Bertrand, St. Francis Yacht Club.
Midwinters and the Weather
Southern California weather in February does not always live up to the LA Chamber of Commerce expectations. Racing conditions have ranged from a near hurricane in 1935 to other years of dead calm; impenetrable fog or driving rain; but of course also many days sailed in glorious sunshine and warm breezes. That’s exactly the weather they had in 1947 when Ed Witte won OR, nosing out Humphrey Bogart in Santana. In good weather or bad, one of the most dominant sailors at the Midwinters during the fifties was George Fleitz. In one stretch he won every race he sailed in this regatta for three years straight. Midwinters then typically drew 200 to 300 entries. SCYA celebrated its 25th jubilee Midwinters with mild weather in 1954. Mitzi Gaynor was chosen as queen of the regatta.
The Advent of Fiberglass
The Sixties brought fiberglass boats and rapid growth in one-design classes at the Midwinters. The Cal 40’s made their first appearance in 1964 and placed 1, 2 and 3 in OR. By the next year they had their own class and by 1967 the Midwinters featured 996 entries with an amazing 20 one design classes over 25ft. That year OR class “A” saw Cornelius Brunzeel’sStormvogel, Jim Michael’s Baruna, Jim Kilroy’s Kialoa II, Peter Davis’sOrient and Jack Baillie’s Newsboy on the line with nine other boats.Newsboy won. The Elder family placed 2nd in their 10 meter, Landfall.
Los Angeles harbor was the only venue for many years. The first expansion added Alamitos Bay. 1973 saw the additionof racing at Marina del Rey and King Harbor. In 1977 entries reached a record 1,200 New venues continued to be added through the years until races were being held from Santa Barbara to San Diego and as far east as Arizona and Nevada. Some changes in venue and classes occur from year to year to keep current with class interest, but typically 25 or more host clubs and 100 classes participate in the Midwinters.
By the Numbers
The history of Midwinter entries clearly shows the gain in popularity of sailboat racing. From 1930 to 1960 an approximate total of 17,000 skippers and crew took part in the Midwinters. During the next thirty years, the total number of skipper and crew participants grew to an estimated 75,000 or more. Regattas don’t just happen, so through the years many people have staffed the Midwinter Regatta committee to handle planning, coordination, publicity, trophies, etc. and host clubs have provided race committees, protest committees and hospitality, which adds a significant number of people to the total participants. The tradition is clear, the SCYA Midwinter Regatta has done a bang up job in opening the racing season; let’s keep that tradition alive.