Thursday, March 6, 2008

Racing in Two Gears

It's one thing to invent a regatta and another thing to reinvent it. Another thing again to re-reinvent it back to original, and that is what they're trying to do right now in Vallarta with the 2008 MEXORC.

"A sporting social event" is one way to describe the idealized Mexican Ocean Racing Circuit.

"Sort of the way yachting was in the 1940's."

There couldn't be a better place for it because Banderas Bay, anchored by the vibrant, modern city of Puerto Vallarta (sorry, Night of the Iguana fans, but that quaintness was so very long ago), is a fantastic place to sail. Think: West-northwesterly seabreeze, clocks during the day, yada yada, backs later, yada yada, and the typical sailing experience is smooth water with wind peaking in the teens.

Our quotes above belong to sailmaker and regatta organizer Mike Danielson, who is keen for the high-end race boats, but he also dropped in to deliver a safety briefing at the skippers' meeting for the Banderas Bay Regatta for cruising boats, kicking off their portion of Festival Nautico on Thursday and overlapping with the second half of MEXORC. MEXORC has the serious raceboats. The Banderas Bay Regatta is the one where, regatta chair John Bollinger says, "If you take the cruiser-rating—if you're racing your house—we expect you to race full-weight, and we expect you to race with your tanks at least half full."

Define "half."


I have more on Mexico, but I'm interrupting the Vallarta blog for a bulletin from Miami. Not a recent bulletin. Many of you will recall the glory days of the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit; others will "get" the fact that the SORC once was more than the sum of the attempted revivals. The Acura Miami Grand Prix starting today (IRC, Farr 40s, and Melges 32s) is far distant from all of that. Here is a relic from the tipping point:

Credit, the New York Times


Published: March 6, 1988

The annual Southern Ocean Racing Conference is having its second lean year in a row. Last year, organizers for the yacht-racing series off the Florida coast blamed the America's Cup in Australia for a poor turnout. This year, they cite the stock market crash last October. D. Blake Flitman, chairman of the 1988 Audi Southern Ocean Racing Conference, said last week that many yacht owners are short on cash this year. Depending on the size of the boat and seriousness of its crew, a single campaign costs up to $40,000 for a medium-sized boat.

Forty-two boats entered the regatta this year; in 1987, 61 boats raced. In its better days, the winter series drew more than 75 boats to the starting line.
For the first time in the series' 43-year history, organizers have allowed boats that sail within the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet to compete.

The racing fleet's measurement system rates cruising boats rather than the high-tech racing machines that sail under the International Offshore Rule. Other boats are competing under the International Measurement System, a handicap rule for racer-cruisers.

The decision to allow performance fleet boats came late in the year when it was clear that the number of competitors would be small. The racing format has been changed, with two of the traditional overnight races turned into four shorter daytime competitions.


The closest MEXORC racing so far would appear to be Class C, with a two-point spread between first and third led by a Beneteau 40.7, Cliff Thompson's Super Gnat, on scores of 1-3-2-1. The big chief of MEXORC 2008, Ernesto Amtmann, was second as of the layday with scores of 3-2-1-2 in Bandido.

The wisdom (or not) of piling multiple events onto Vallarta Yacht Club is one question—MEXORC and the cruiser regatta have been separated in the past and, I bet, will be again—but the theory of a glorious, everything-happening-at-once, ├╝ber-scene has its attractions. Danielson again: "I got my juniors out on big boats for the Governor's Cup (the opener) and the jazz coming out of them was fantastic."

Personally, I wasn't around for the last MEXORC, two years ago, but it seems fair to say that the event needed (and deserved) a rescue effort in the wake. This much I know, the handicapping for Race 3, a pursuit race, was as near spot-on as it gets. Closing on the finish I clicked this looking left . . .

And this looking right . . .

And we didn't all cross the finish in the same magical instant, but hey, this was pretty good. I rode for the day with Mike Campbell and Dale Williams on Peligroso, their updated answer to the great days of the West Coast fleet of 70-foot sleds . . .

Peligroso won last week's Vallarta Race from San Diego that is the critical life-blood feeder for MEXORC (20 boats racing in Vallarta, and less would be thin blood), and Mexico race veterans won't be surprised to hear Campbell's analysis that, "I think we won it at the corner. We were farthest out."

Translation: At Cabo, you turn left for the reach across the mouth of the Gulf of California to the mainland and Vallarta. There's either wind close-in to the rocks, or there's not. Mike is telling us there was not, and it was good to round wide.

Banderas Bay, with Vallarta as an anchor, is developing into something unprecedented in Mexico. A successful 2007 J/24 world championship proved that such things can happen here, and then came an Opti North Americans ("We launched 183 Optis in 26 minutes." Mike Danielson) that helped cement Vallarta Yacht Club's self confidence. The sailing conditions are ideal (lots of long-stay cruisers and gringos with second homes) and easy access for left-coast residents. VYC is gradually taking over the work of running MEXORC and the Banderas Bay Regattas, which were founded by other associations.

VYC is manned mostly by part-time Vallartans and has a cruiser membership too. If you're not in town, you don't pay dues. It's grown into quite the clearing house. Here's Danielson again: "We do a lot of seminars for cruisers. We cover diesel mechanics, radios, everything you need, and we really work on getting them up to speed. It culminates with the Banderas Bay Regatta—we make sure they can sail upwind, the racing is their shakeout—and then the weather window opens in the Pacific and it's time to go and they're ready."

Aboard Peligroso on the morning of the pursuit race, there was a rare event: A broken belt in a grinder . . .

I wish I could tell you how the repair came out, but it was never stress-tested because the other grinder covered the needs of a day with only a handful of tacks. Nobody carries spare belts, apparently, because they never break . . .

A few of you will be amused to see who wound up on the grinders at the start . . .

Others will be more familiar with Roy Dickson's relentless earnestness . . .

For the record, one of his boys (Scott) is driving John MacLaurin's Pendragon.

Peligroso will soon be on its way back to California, but not for long. There's a Cabo race coming up. As Mike Campbell says, "We have to hurry the boat north, so we can race back south."

I think that's what raceboats are for—Kimball