THANKS guys! I have actually been out of the harbor to the first buoy, maybe 1/4 mile or so from the harbor entrance...well because of the heavy motorboat traffic and the way the harbor is shaped, the entrance/exit is always pretty choppy. I was with the wife the other day and she was all for heading out...I think she just says that so I don't feel apprehensive, but we were headed out and I LOOKED at some sailboats coming in and was watching their bows dive under the waves in the chop...and I turned around....I enjoy the harbor sails, and I do that singlehanded most days, I just want to get out of the harbor and sail comfortably up and down the coast...also to Catalina if I can before the Santa Ana winds hit....
Unfortunately, Newport Harbor Entrance, like the entrance to Alamitos Bay in Long Beach and the San Diego Harbor Entrance are always a bit rough. The entrances in Newport an Alamitos are narrow (relatively speaking), the stone jetties reflect waves back into the channel and on weekends particularly there's lots of traffic which makes it very difficult to turn around once one is south of China Beach. On the other hand, your boat is well suited to the conditions and can handle them easily--more easily than you can at the moment. Once you have cleared the jetties, you will find the sea wonderfully calm and uncrowded in comparison with the channel. (Frankly, I don't know how you can sail in Newport Harbor which, on most weekends, would be akin to roller-skating on the 405.)
Having apprehension is quite normal when confronting an unknown and particularly one that can be perceived as dangerous (even though, in this case, it is far less so than not). For the sake of the exercise, you might find having an experienced hand along for your first explorations very helpful to your confidence building and there are many good sailors in Newport. You can also make connections through the OCC Sailing Program--even if you had to pay an instructor for an afternoon.
I once had the experience of having a young man approach me at our--then--slip in Long Beach and ask what I would charge him for a few hours of "help" sailing his boat. "Oh, $10 bucks an hour or so". With that we repaired to his yacht, one very similar to yours, a few gang-ways over, and I took a seat on his stern pulpit while he backed out and motored into the channel. We turned into the bay near Alamitos Yacht Club and swung into the wind and I rested my foot on his tiller head while his wife steered and he hoisted the main. With that we gybed around and headed out Alamitos Channel "Just stay to the right of the center-line and, if necessary, slow a little to let faster boats pass but keep a steady course". With that we made it into Long Beach harbor, unfurled the jib and headed up toward Chaffee Island, circled that and headed back. We made 3 runs up and down Alamitos Channel with me all the while simply sitting on the stern pulpit, neither steering nor handling sheets or halyards before we went back to his slip which he and his lovely wife entered without incident. I stepped off the boat, looked at my watch, and said "that'll be $50 bucks" (cheap considering my billing rate at the time was over $200/hr). "But you didn't do anything!" he replied. "No, I didn't. But then, I really didn't need to, did I. I might as well not have been along at all, eh?." He paused, then smiled, reached for his wallet, and said "No, I guess not." "Good. In that case keep your money but buy me a beer"--and so he did.
I suspect you will discover the same as that young man--who we later variously encountered in Catalina, San Diego and Ensenada. And. You will discover how wonderfully easier sailing at sea is than within the confines of a crowded bay.