Nearly 200 boats are expected to set out for Mexico in this year's Newport to Ensenada race, but following the deaths of four sailors aboard the Aegean last year — the first deaths in the race's history — there will be a few changes.
Vessels in the cruising class now cannot use autopilot while motoring, either day or night, according to the race's press officer, Rich Roberts.
"They don't know for sure [that's what happened], but they want to close that one possibility," he said.
What exactly happened to the Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376, remains contested, but what is known is that the boat dropped off the radar about 1:30 a.m. April 28, 2012, and the four sailors were later discovered dead.
Other changes include a rule that sailors monitor VHF Radio Channel 16 at all times, and a requirement that two sailors must be on deck at all times, according to Chuck Iverson, commodore of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn.
This year's race is scheduled to begin April 26, but festivities for the decades-old regatta start at noon Sunday with a launch party at ExplorOcean at the Balboa Fun Zone that will include a chalk festival, art exhibits, beer garden and children's boat building.
The send-off party is slated to take place between 6 and 11 p.m. Thursday at the Harborside Restaurant, 400 Main St. This year's overall racing class winner with a corrected time will be awarded a two-year Lexus lease.
The winner of the cruising class on corrected time will receive a four-day, three-night stay at the Hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada.
The 125-mile race began in 1947, drawing Humphrey Bogart, Walter Cronkite and other celebrities. The 1998 finish from Stars and Stripes, a 60-foot catamaran owned by the late Steve Fossett, set the multihull record by finishing the race in six hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds — the only boat to finish before sundown on the same day the race started.