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An interview with Brendan Huffman on the Del Rey YC's William Berger Series

by David Schmidt 3 Jan 16:00 GMT January 6, 2024

It’s hard not to be jealous of SoCal in the early days of January, a time when most of North America is ensconced in winter’s chill and dark, buffeted by seemingly distant memories of sailing. Not so at the Del Rey Yacht Club’s William Berger Series, which begins this Saturday (January 6) on the waters of Santa Monica Bay. The event, which employs a random leg format, is open to performance-minded boats with a PHRF So-Cal certificate.

Del Rey Yacht Club is hosting all five of the William Berger Series races. The first of these, which takes place this weekend, sends racers to Malibu and back, while the March 2 race is a bay tour.

On May 11, the fleet races to Point Dume and back, while the final two-day event—June 8 and 9—involves racing out to Santa Catalina Island, overnighting in Cat Harbor, and then racing from Eagle Rock back to Marina Del Rey.

I checked in with Brendan Huffman, who serves as the DRYC’s race-program, via email, to learn more about this classic race series.

Can you please tell us a bit about the William Berger Series, its history, and the kinds of sailors it tends to attract?

The Berger Series dates back to 1977 and is named in honor of a staff commodore who was a well-known racer but passed away at a young age. It’s the largest random leg series in Santa Monica Bay, and it attracts top boats from throughout Southern California.

This race is the first in a four-part series. What are the other races like?

The Berger Series is a five-race series beginning with Santa Monica Bay’s first race of the year and concluding in June with a layover race to and from our club’s facility at Cat Harbor.

The other two races, in the spring, go to Point Dume, and a new course that we set up last year goes out to the South Bay and Palos Verdes.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of this year’s William Berger Series? How does this number stack up against previous recent editions?

We always get 60 or so boats for the Malibu race, with a high of 100 boats about 20 years ago. Right now we have 77 entries, ranging from J/80s to a Farr 85.

It’s quite a sight to see all the boats sailing on the Bay, and it’s fun to see friends on other boats to kick off the new season.

Weather-wise, what kind of conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters of Santa Monica Bay in early January? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Santa Monica Bay is typically pleasant conditions with spring usually being the windier part of the year.

During Berger Series races, I’ve experienced as high as 30 knots of wind and 0 knots, including one memorable year when about 50 boats converged in a dying breeze and together drifted through the finishing line as the sun set with a race committee doing their best to record each finisher despite all the overlaps.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge can help in the Malibu and Point Dume races but aren’t as important in the others. Santa Monica Bay is shifty but as long as you pay attention to the shifts, you’ll usually do well.

Our currents are not nearly as strong as other racing areas.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

I advise sailors to challenge themselves on the water and enjoy all our sport offers. We try to promote a racing culture of competitiveness and respect for competitors, especially those who are new to racing.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

Thankfully, most of our racers are environmentally conscious and are already practicing stewardship of our ocean.

Most boats I race on do not provide single-use bottled water, for instance, instead opting for crew members to bring their own thermoses. This is what I tell the race committee volunteers, too. And I always see racers picking up plastic bags out of the water before starts, particularly those mylar balloons that blow into the ocean so easily.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about this year’s William Berger Series, for the record?

The Berger Series is Santa Monica Bay’s most challenging set of courses and some of the most unique. The Cat Harbor layover is among my favorites because we end up in a special place and get to enjoy it together. There is nothing else like it! DRYC is proud of our contributions to the sailing community, and we encourage more sailors to give our racing a shot.

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