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Original Issue

Boating Boom Town

Newport Harbor, Calif., one of the busiest boat havens in the U.S., is the gateway to adventure for West Coast yachtsmen

Twenty-five years ago, the spectacle of 10 well-groomed sailing craft like those at right bending into the main channel at Newport Harbor, Calif. would have been enough to turn out half the town. And the awesome sight of 233 yachts (above) heading off on a race to Ensenada, Mexico simply could not have occurred. For in those days Newport Harbor was a small and rather remote resort an hour and a half from Los Angeles where a few clubby Starboat sailors, a collection of Snowbird skippers and a hatful of cruising men raced against each other, frequently thumping into the random sand bars that laced the shallow channels. Today, on any weekend throughout the year, no fewer than 4,000 yachts worth probably $30 million are jammed into 700 acres of permanent mooring space. The quiet little exurb has burgeoned into a bustling town of 35,000. The channels in the main harbor have been dredged straight and deep to provide passage for every conceivable type of pleasure boat, from massive square-riggers to puttering little fishing dinghies; the sand bars, where less than three decades ago sea gulls perched and sting rays took free lodging in the shallows, have been filled and developed into a glamorous complex of islands, canals and private piers (see following pages) where waterfront acreage sells for as much as $1,700 a foot. And the Ensenada Race, which this year lists the incredible total of 293 entries, is just one more event in a glittering calendar of year-round regattas.

Swinging past the private docks at the tip of Balboa, a graceful line of PC boats turns into the main channel at Newport.

The teeming harbor at Newport Beach, with more than 4,000 boats packed into a scant 700 acres of anchoring space, looks like a futuristic Venice, with narrow channels angling away from Newport Isle (center foreground) toward Balboa Beach (upper center) and the sea beyond.

This bustling beach area on Balboa harbor, aptly named Fun Zone Beach, is a favorite haven for Newport's sun worshipers and party-boat riders.