PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico—As the tall, slim apparition of Magnitude 80 emerged from the gloom of Banderas Bay Tuesday morning it became clear that the dawn of a new era couldn’t wait for sunrise.
Moments later Doug Baker’s sleek white maxi-sled crossed the beachfront finish line of Del Rey Yacht Club’s 19th International Yacht Race to Puerto Vallarta, presented by Corum, after sailing the 1,125 nautical miles from Marina del Rey in the record time of 3 days 15 hours 51 minutes 39 seconds. Average speed: 12.8 knots, computed to the shortest possible course.
With Lorenzo Berho’s Raincloud far back, Mag 80 will collect a sweep of honors for first to finish, first in class, first overall on corrected handicap time, plus the record.
How is it that after 22 years, the record of 4:23:00:14 fell with such a crash, by more than 31 hours?
Mag 80 is a much faster boat than Dick and Camille Daniels’ MacGregor 65, Joss, of 1985, as have been many others over two decades since. But those others didn’t catch this year’s weather conditions, similar to what Joss enjoyed: off the wind and strong and steady almost all the way.
“The conditions were great, no doubt about it,” Baker said. “Couldn’t have asked for anything better, from start to finish. I’ve been doing this since ’81, and I’ve never had a better year for conditions.”
It was a rare day on Santa Monica Bay last Friday when 20 knots of wintry blasts swept Mag 80 and Scout Spirit off the start line and into the San Pedro Channel wind tunnel, then down the Baja California peninsula and across the Gulf of California into the relative calm of the bay.
Baker said, “The routing said we were going to break the record probably five days before we left, but you just don’t know.”
Mag 80 navigator Ernie Richau said, “Especially in a Mexican race, it’s tough for the forecasters to get the forecast correct because of the influence of the land, and this time it really was good.”
Halfway down Baja they veered due south outside the rhumb [direct] line, but otherwise their tactics were simple.
“Three tacks, three jibes,” Richau said, along with a minimal number of sail changes. A reaching asymmetrical spinnaker and a running spinnaker were up most of the way, before a switch to a masthead jib the last few miles.
The top wind was 24 to 25 knots, same as the boat speed, not “super windy,” watch captain Sam Heck said, “but steady.”
A dream race?
“The poor guys that didn’t do this, it’s too bad,” Baker said. “They missed out.”
That number would include some who had to pick between Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta and the shorter Newport Beach to Cabo San Lucas race because the latter was scheduled—six months after Del Rey YC set its dates—too close in early March for anybody to do both.
“A lot of people would have liked to do both,” Baker said. “I just prefer the longer races.”
Besides, he already holds the record in the other race, set two years ago.
A low count in Racing Division entries compounded by several pre-race withdrawals—at least one switching to Newport-Cabo instead—limited Mag 80′s serious starring competition to one boat—David Janes’s Reichel/Pugh 77, Scout Spirit, and that boat was dismasted the first afternoon.
Nevertheless, Janes and three of his crew flew into town in time to greet the Mag 80 team from the finish boat.
“We want you to know we got here first, anyway,” Janes joked. “Congratulations on a great race.”
Baker said, “As far as the record goes, what helped us a lot is that we didn’t have to think about any other boats. After Scout Spirit had their problems, we could sail our own race. We didn’t have to worry about covering anybody. All we were thinking about was, OK, we gotta get there as fast as we can. That’s such a huge thing not burning up time just trying to stay ahead of somebody else. Not to take away from what we did, but that was a factor.”
Mag 80 sailed two crew short of its usual 12 because of last-minute personal problems, so Richau did double duty.
“Ernie is not one of the big name navigators, but he does one hell of a job,” Baker said. “He works his tail off in preparation and he’s also a very good sailor. He does everything on the boat . . . he can steer, trim.”
Richau said, “I spent a lot of time sailing out of what I call navigator’s jail. It’s nice to get on deck.”
Richau also praised “the preparation by Steve Dodd on the boat. Nothing failed. Everything worked smooth.”
The rest of the crew, besides Richau, Dodd and Heck, were watch captain Keith Kilpatrick, Jimmy Slaughter, Rob Snyders, Mike Van Dyke, Chris Carson, Hogan Beatie, Bill Worthington and Fred O’Conner.
The record changed hands but not homes. Baker and Camille Daniels are both Long Beach YC members.
Baker said, “She said, ‘If anybody is going to beat the record I hope it’s you guys. Have fun doing it.’ ”
How long does he think he will hold it?
“At least two years.”
The Salsa fleet, rejoined by the 11th boat, Jim Maslon’s Jungle Jim, started its third and last leg Monday and was expected to reach Puerto Vallarta Wednesday morning through evening in steady winds.
Awards will be presented at separate banquets in Puerto Vallarta Saturday and Sunday. Corum, the lead sponsor, will present the Admiral’s Cup Trophy 41 watch to the winner of each class within each division. The timepiece with a 41mm stainless steel case and nautical pennants instead of numerals to indicate the hours was introduced by Corum before the 2005 race.
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