Club News

Kettenburg & Classic Yacht Regatta Brings Beautiful Wooden Boats Together Despite Rough Seas

By Casey Allocco, SDYC Communications Coordinator | June 28, 2018
Results Photo Gallery

The 2018 Kettenburg and Classic Yacht Regatta, co-hosted by the Ancient Mariner Sailing Society and San Diego Yacht Club for the 6th year, saw high wind and higher waves at the start of the race this past Saturday, June 23. The event started in the smooth, calm waters the day before, Friday, June 22, when twelve classic wooden boats lined up on SDYC’s front dock to show off their vessels in a classic cours’ de elegance boat show. But it was a different kind of show on the way out to the start line Saturday, in the ocean just south of Point Loma. By the 1200 start time, the winds were gusting as high as 20 kts and the sea state an abrupt mix of swell and steep chop – not so elegant.

A long history of Kettenburg’s at SDYC makes this annual regatta special to classic boat enthusiasts. The first Kettenburg Regatta was a resurrection of the PCC Nationals, a 46’ sailboat that George Kettenburg designed that came out right after the war in 1945.

Second generation boat builder and friend of the Kettenburgs, CF Koehler, explains his involvement in the start of the Kettenburg regatta and PCC Nationals. “There was a woman that had a PCC, she was really into it and she wanted to see something happen. At the time, the PCC fleet had kind of fallen away while the PC Fleet was still going strong. By default, I ended up with a PCC at the yard… someone had owed us money, and had boats instead. They told us to take the PCC and fix the other boat they had given us. So since we had the PCC, we raced.” In 2013, Ed O’Sullivan decided to make this race a premier event at SDYC.

This Saturday’s course featured windward/leeward courses in the challenging ocean conditions. Class A featured a match race between CF Koehler’s Sally and John Driscoll’s Chimaera on a course with one and a half nautical mile legs. Class B followed with seven boats sailing mile and a quarter legs.

While this regatta was meant to serve as the PC Fleet Championship, the combined weather and sea-state conditions called for second thoughts as the fleet approached the ocean off Point Loma. Realizing conditions were not ideal, the PC’s turned their vessels around and headed to shore to wait until Sunday’s race and reschedule their championship. Their prediction was accurate, as even some of the larger boats experienced hardships racing out in the ocean Saturday.

John Driscoll’s Chimaera, a Sparkman & Stephens 48, on the first up-wind leg, ran into trouble mid-race. On the port tack, as their bow dove beneath the water line, a crack formed between their wooden planks and water poured into the vessel between the broken hull. This development meant a new ‘race’ towards the shore. Of course, Sally took advantage of Chimaera’s hardship, easing up and avoiding hoisting the spinnaker, a challenge on a larger boat in those conditions.

“We began taking on water at a rate just beneath the pump’s capacity. We had a secondary, tertiary, and even a fourth way to evacuate water but fortunately only needed the one. We abandoned the race, notified the R/C and headed for shore. Meanwhile I called Driscoll Boat Yard. They had the travelift waiting when we got there, a service not just reserved for family by the way. We hauled right out and found about a three foot longitudinal crack in a plank forward of the mast about 12” below the waterline… I’m inclined to believe that we did hit something. Who knows, but the repair is well under way and we should be back in the water by this weekend. Quote of the day: A dog may be a man’s best friend unless you need a good bilge pump”, explained Driscoll.

Saturday night featured a special presentation by Dave Gardner speaking about his Kettenburg 38 boat restoration, 38 Special, who finished third in class. Sailors and guests enjoyed a selection of wine and cheese while they learned of what he had done.

Not all of the weekend was grey skies and stormy conditions. Sunday’s races saw sunny skies and a mild breeze, leaving the sailors working hard but having fun. Some boats featured sailors new to San Diego or new to the PC Fleet, introducing new crew members to the San Diego Bay, while some boats enjoyed sailing alongside lifelong friends and old junior sailing partners of 25 years. Sunday’s race was a random leg bay course with all 12 boats lined up for a same-time start. In past years this race has started in La Playa off the docks of SDYC.

For some, the regatta is an exciting way to showcase their beautiful boats and their hard work. “I like being on the front dock and showing off the boats. I’m in the business and we’re really proud of what we do. I produce and host the wooden boat festival in my boat yard, which was last week, and we tried to have wooden boat week for a while with the festival and the Kettenburg. This gives people a chance to look at the classic boats, which you don’t get to see often, right from the dinner table. It’s very convenient and it’s a fun deal,” continued Koehler.

First to finish in the Sunday Charity Cup was CF Koehler’s 10 meter design, Sally, while John Buser’s Kettenburg 50 Rendezvous was first on corrected time by just 2.5 minutes over Sally.

For the regatta, first in Class awards went to CF Koehler’s Sally in Class A, John Buser’s Rendezvous in Class B, and Steve and Heather Brownsea’s Zest in the PC fleet.

This year’s weather has already prompted a discussion for next year’s races, with talk of an alternate “stormy weather” course in the bay. “Waves like Saturday’s can be damaging to the boats. A lot of the boats out there this weekend are 50-90 years old, with Sally being the oldest. A wooden boat at that point just doesn’t hold up like they used to. It’s not so much the wind as it is a brutal sea state,” explains the PC Fleet’s Danielle Richards. “A wave comes down and leaves you wondering to yourself ‘Oh no. I hope everything’s still attached.’”

For the full list of results, please visit