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Ensenada brings Newport to Newporters

Baja side of the race offers white tables cloths, wine country, accommodations befitting O.C. sailors, who are just as happy with canned beer, fish tacos, camaraderie.

May 03, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • Carlos Avila, Newport Ocean Sailing Association's (NOSA) Ensenada coordinator, addresses guests during a dinner party celebrating the 67th annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race, at his home in Ensenada, Mexico on Saturday, April 26.
Carlos Avila, Newport Ocean Sailing Association's… (KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

ENSENADA, MEXICO — Before lunch began, Commodore Chuck Iverson sat in the back corner of a restaurant, reviewing the guest list.

It seemed a generic Newport Beach scene: place settings arranged on white tablecloths. Ocean view. Members of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., or NOSA, bedecked in navy blazers and khaki pants, mingling with the mayor.

Still, the group hadn't valet parked their cars outside. They'd arrived by van. And they were greeted with glasses of wine, not from California, but vineyards in Mexico.

Roughly 125 nautical miles from home, the sailors were far from their yacht club dining rooms and trendy Fashion Island restaurants. Responsible for organizing the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race that started the day before, they now anticipated a meal at Belio, an upscale restaurant here.

Iverson continued through the names on the list. The consul general from the U.S. consulate in Tijuana would be joining them. The local mayor's wife was on her way.

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Behind the scenes of a regatta known for its drunken rowdiness, leaders in the Newport yachting community and the seaside Mexican town continue to foster a long-standing and deeply meaningful relationship. Ensenada once received icons like Marion Davis, Lucille Ball and John Wayne. But as the romance faded between old Hollywood and the Baja port city, the diplomatic link among the yachtsmen and their political counterparts remained.

Rooted in the event's 67-year history, the bond links cultures, economies and communities that might not otherwise commingle. It offers a stronghold for an event that has suffered in recent years as the economy of both countries dipped and fear of drug violence in Mexico rose.

"This is more than just a yacht race," Tom Kennedy, a NOSA director, said as he walked toward the restaurant.

The friendship renews itself at each springtime sail, bolstered by numerous parties and meals hosted on either side of the border. Glasses had clinked in Newport Beach, and now Saturday's lunch turned hosting responsibility over to Mexico. Again and again, their events would assert a singular message for Newport Beach residents: Ensenada is thrilled to welcome you.

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Formality intersects with bacchanalia

While NOSA leaders sat for formal introductions, the jovial race participants grew boozy at the nearby host hotel.

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