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Aboard the Chardonnay’s New Racing-Type Vessel

Sailing Charters hopes to launch a new sailboat with a need for speed

Owners of the Chardonnay III, which is seen here on a trip back from the San Francisco Bay after renovations, hope to open it for public trips soon. PHOTO: ADAM KOCH

His back to the railing of the recently renovated Chardonnay III sailing yacht, Captain John Ribera casually surveys his crew as he readies for a Wednesday night sail out of the Santa Cruz harbor.

A sibling to the popular Chardonnay II, this lighter-weight vessel—made of balsa wood and carbon fiber—is a certifiable adventure boat built to shave across ocean water at high speeds, slanting to a 45-degree angle while its sail swells with gusts of wind. By contrast, the Chardonnay II—where passengers have been snacking and drinking on two-hour trips for 25 years—was “built like a limousine,” Ribera says. The Chardonnay III was built for speed.

“We’ll take people out and show them the thrill of real sailing versus—when you’re on the Chardonnay II, you get more catered, and you’re sitting down,” Ribera says. “There’s still going to be service [on the Chardonnay III], but it will be a different sail.”

“We want to maintain the racing integrity of the vessel as much as possible,” adds Jim Beauregard, who mans the helm at Chardonnay Sailing Charters, one of a few family-run businesses managed by the Beauregard family, along with Shopper’s Corner and Beauregard Vineyards. The Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which owns the Boardwalk, is also a business partner in the sailing charter.

Down below in the cabin, the serving area is stocked with six kinds of beer to go with five kinds of pizza—pepperoni, cheese, pesto, feta and tomato, sausage and mushrooms—in addition to two kinds of Beauregard wine: the Rosé of Pinot Noir and, of course, their Chardonnay. The passengers, who are mostly friends and family this evening, sip on drinks as they sit around the deck, but the crew members are zeroed in.

CSC staffers have not yet drawn up an official menu, so pizza slices could ultimately be a far cry from what the crew is serving once the sailboat is open to the public, as Beauregard and Ribera hope it soon will be. The Chardonnay II runs a variety of $60-per-person charters, each with its own culinary theme—Hawaiian grill, sushi, champagne brunch. In the meantime, Beauregard is navigating the regulatory and permitting framework that will allow him to launch commercial operations on the Chardonnay III and start taking paying customers.

Adam Koch, the vessel manager for both boats, has been talking to Coast Guard officials about getting the Chardonnay III safety-certified. In recent weeks, Koch says, the boat has received a few upgrades, including a new railing around the deck’s perimeter. The boat might soon get a different set of sails too, he says.

It also needs its permit to operate from the Santa Cruz Port District. One issue may be that Chardonnay III, a 70-foot boat, needs a 70-foot slip. “There are only three 70-foot slips in the harbor,” says Port Commissioner Lisa Ekers.

Beauregard first submitted a proposal a year ago, according to the Santa Cruz Harbor website, while he was in the process of buying the boat. A response from Ekers at the time indicated a few concerns, including parking, which according to a recent study is already becoming limited at peak summer hours. Ekers recommended Beauregard resubmit his request after a Murray Street Bridge retrofit, which has not yet begun. In the past year, Beauregard has met with the commission, and a June memo from the commissioners says they still don’t think the harbor can “accommodate another large sailing vessel at this time.”

But as they forge ahead, crew members at Chardonnay Sailing Charters are undeterred. In addition to public charters, the Chardonnay II offers team-building trips, weddings on the water and burials at sea. Demand, they say, is high.

The plan, as Koch explains mid-sail, is ideally to use the Chardonnay II for public sails and use the new boat for corporate events and team building.

“Sailing is a team effort. One person can’t do his job unless the other person does his job,” Koch says, his brown hair lifting in the wind. “You’re waiting on each other, and that’s exactly what sailing is about—working as a team. Everything is under such a high load that you have to do it in a team manner. You can’t release one line without everyone being aware of it. I grew up doing it as a kid, and it taught me a lot about working with other people.”

Koch and Ribera have both been sailing all their lives. Ribera, a racing man with experience on everything from tankers to dinghies, actually began working on the original Chardonnay, which is no longer sailing, when he was 18.

When the two talk about bringing the Chardonnay II and Chardonnay III together, they sound like proud uncles reuniting two long-lost sisters. The two boats were built as part of the same 13-boat fleet years ago by Santa Cruz Yachts, a legendary boat manufacturer once based in Soquel. Another Santa Cruz 70-foot boat, the Merlin, set the record for a sail from California to Hawaii in 1977 and held the record for 20 years. When the record was finally broken, it fell to the Pyewacket, a different Santa Cruz 70-footer.

Until they set sail commercially with the new boat, Beauregard and company are just excited about the family reunion.

“Pretty neat to have two Santa Cruz 70s sailing charters sailing together,” Beauregard says, “as the Chardonnay sailing charter evolves.”

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