March 23, 2010

Three great days of sailboat racing - with no collisions or injuries

BANDERAS BAY, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico - After a five-year layoff from taking the helm of any large racing sailboat, I grabbed the chance to skipper a 43-foot Taswell sloop in this year's Banderas Bay Regatta.

The chance came about thanks to Clarence and Sharon Harvey, owners of the La Cruz, Mexico-based Taswell 43 Lotus, a fine crusing ship and - after three days a racing - a boat that turned out to be a credible racing yacht, too.

Lotus in duel with Justice
Lotus (61) in background, dueling with Justice (67) in race two

Captain Clarence hadn't done much racing and asked me if I would be willing to captain his vessel in the three-race series, an annual yachting affair that drew more than 60 boats this year. We were put in a racing class with 11 other vessels, ending up 8th over in that division.

We would have preferred No. 1, of course, but after three days of hard competition, we were happy with that - for this year. Captain Clarence is already building his case for a better Performance Handicap Racing Fleet rating (PHRF) because it seemed obvious we were rated incorrectly for this year's regatta. One boat that weighed less - and with a longer waterline  - was rated as slower than Lotus. It took first place in the division. Que sorpresa!

Captain Michael directs crew
Captain Michael directs crew in race three - 'Steady, steady - Ready About!'

The amazing part of the races was how quickly the crew came together to work as a team.

The first two days of racing, Admiral Fox and Laura Warner crewed while Captain Clarence watched to make sure the sails were trimmed correctly and jumped in when necessary to work the winches. My job was to steer a true course and direct the action. We had three good starts (a major part of doing well in a sailing race) and only one near collision when the captain of another boat in the regatta failed to give the right-of-way and then seemed to lose control of his vessel.

We made it without a scratch (or bump) though I believe the captain of the other vessel had to change his shorts right after the incident. I hope he had spare BVDs aboard.

And through that scary episode - and the entire race - Sharon videotaped, catching every great move (OK, and the occasional mistake) on film.

Sharon on the camera
Sharon at her perch on the aft, filming everything

Near miss in collision
Ten minutes earlier, we almost collided with this boat

On the third day of racing, Julien,our surfer-dude amigo from Arroyo Seco, came aboard along with Clarence and Sharon's friend Jim (also a surfer who lives north Puerto Vallarta), both of whom were put to work grinding winches. There must be something about surfing that gives you upper body strength because both could pull the sails in very fast - almost as fast as Laura. Almost.

The third day was our best racing performance, and included a wild start when a boat from an earlier division lost wind and bobbed helplessly at the start line, making it very difficult for any of the boats starting the race to get through the line safely.

We did make it past without crunching any fiberglass - thanks to some fancy sail handling by the crew and a lucky break with a puff of wind.

I almost needed to change my shorts on that one.

Here are some photos from the three days.

Sylvia and Laura on the bow
Admiral Fox and Laura on the bow before the first race

Whale ho!
Some whales watch the race - up close and personal

Captain Clarence with Laura
Captain Clarence and Laura

Laura enjoys a post-race beverage
Laura enjoys a post-race beverage

Lotus before the race
Lotus - ready for next year's Banderas Bay Regatta

And here is a short video with a few scenes from the race:

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