DAYS:Skippers compete for prizes in 72nd boat race


The boats may have changed, but the excitement of the Flight of the Lasers hasn't since 1935.

July 29, 2007|By Jessie Brunner

Though the boat of choice has changed over the years, the spirit of the annual Flight of the Lasers remains the same.

Running today in its 72nd year, the race brings dozens of Lasers to the harbor for a bit of friendly competition and a whole lot of fun.

"Winning the race gives you bragging rights for years," said Carter Ford, who at age 60 was the oldest winner when he took first place in 2001. "For me, to hear the level of cheering from the spectators is one of those moments you remember."


The event got its start in the early 1930s with the newly-popularized Snowbird, drawing upwards of 150 participants to the Newport Harbor.

The 12-foot, wooden boats were one-design, guaranteeing that victory went to the best skipper and not the racer with the deepest pockets.

After about 30 years, the Flight of the Snowbirds transitioned into the Flight of the Kites, making use of a lighter and speedier fiberglass boat.

But the Kites' reign didn't last long, giving way to the Laser in the early 1970s, an athletic boat with a tendency to tip, requiring more technique and agility on the part of the skipper.

"The Snowbird was quite wonderful," Ford said. "It was reasonably stable, which made it a great training boat, but maintaining a wooden boat is difficult, and fiberglass became the low-maintenance boat of choice."

Though the high-performance Laser was designed for a crew of one, the race is open to teams.

Awards are given to the first married couple to cross the finish line, as well as the first parent/child team, a trophy Vanguard Sailing Center Manager Mark Gaudio and his son Rory snagged last year.

"We had a such a great time, and we are going to race again this year," Gaudio said. "Flight of the Lasers is just a great way to get out and enjoy yourself. There needs to be more fun events like this."

This year's race chairman, Balboa Island Ferry owner Seymour Beek, said the race is just as exciting for spectators as it is for racers, who compete for several awards, including bravery in the face of danger, best costume and oldest skipper, which will likely go to 90-year-old Roy Woolsey for the 17th consecutive year.

"It was instituted as one of those things to attract people to Newport Beach," said Beek, who earned second place in 1948 and 1949. "Lots of spectators line up on the shore to watch."

Conducted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, today's Flight of the Lasers begins at 1 p.m. in the Newport Harbor, near the Balboa Pavilion.

The race is expected to run about three hours, and spectators can watch from the peninsula or Balboa Island as racers serpentine through the harbor along the 7-mile course.

"You don't often get to see 50 or 60 boats all at the same time, racing together," Beek said. "It's fun to watch."

  • JESSIE BRUNNER may be reached at (714) 966-4632 or at


    WHAT: The 72nd annual Flight of the Lasers

    WHEN: 1 p.m. today

    WHERE: Newport Harbor; the race begins in the water near the Balboa Pavilion

    COST: Free

    INFO: For more information, go to or call the Newport Harbor Yacht Club at (949) 673-7730

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