With a ceremonious escort from the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s new boat #110, participants in the 19th edition of the Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta International Yacht Race taxied out to the Santa Monica Bay starting area Friday, February 16th, to begin a 1,125-mile journey to Mexico’s mainland.
The cruising division, or “Salsa Fleet,” as it is known, lined up for the first of three starts in this long-distance international race.
Subsequent to Friday’s cruising start, two starts were scheduled for the racing classes, one on Wednesday and one on Friday — both after Argonaut press time.
Ten boats in the Salsa class moved slowly on Friday afternoon in the three-knot breeze that barely filled the sails enough to keep the boats moving forward. An exciting, sexy yacht-racing start it wasn’t, but the Salsa fleet doesn’t purport to be about that anyway.
For many in this fleet, the race is secondary to the experience of sailing to a beautiful tropical destination. Unlike the racing fleet, the salsa racers can motor (with a penalty) if they want and they also get to enjoy three overnight stopovers along the way.
The first of those layovers is Turtle Bay on the Baja California peninsula, and all of the boats have now landed and departed from this initial pit stop/first leg.
Amazing Grace (Farr 55) of the Spinnaker Class A Division was the first to cross the Isla Cedros crossing point at 6:52 p.m. (Los Angeles time) and was followed closely by Barking Spider 3 (MacGregor 65), which crossed at four minutes later.
“Amazing Grace has been motoring a lot and got in front of us, but all that motoring should hurt them on corrected time,” said David Kory, skipper of Barking Spider 3 before the finish. “I am hoping to finish ahead of them, despite my impossible handicap of ñ24 [seconds per mile], compared to their +12.
“Tenacity, our other main competitor, appears to have gambled last night and lost. They were close behind us Saturday afternoon but were ten miles back this morning, and also had more motoring than us. So I’m hopeful we’ll beat them as well.”
But it would be Amazing Grace that would win the first leg in the Spinnaker class, although the final scoring might prove different based on the motoring handicap. Barking Spider 3 would hold on to second and Tenacity (a J-33) maintained third (unofficially).
For Jim Puckett, skipper of Amazing Grace, winning the PV race would make for a sentimental victory, for this is the first time in ten years of participating in the contest that his father Alan wouldn’t be at the helm. After recently suffering a stroke, Alan had to bow out, leaving the skippering responsibility to his son.
“It was a bittersweet ‘bon voyage’ at the docks of the Del Rey Yacht Club as the elder Puckett waved goodbye to his son and crew when they cast off to compete in a race he loves dearly.
In the non-spinnaker class, Peter Hirsch of Santa Monica, sailing Segue, an Island Packet 51.6, was off to an impressive start when Sunday’s mid-day position reports showed that he was trailing the overall leader, in a much faster boat, by only six nautical miles and was 47 miles in front of the second-place boat in his class.
When asked, at the time, if he considered himself a die-hard racer, Hirsch dismissed the notion, saying, “Oh, no, not at all. But I sailed the  race as a crew member on another boat, and afterward I said, ‘I’ve got to come back and do this on my own boat.’ It’s just a wonderful adventure.”
But Hirsch eventually lost his lead and found himself unofficially in second-to-last place in his class at the end of the first leg.
The skipper who sits in third place in that same class will be the Cinderella story if he can continue to remain in the hunt. Hideshige Seki of Tokyo is sailing in his first yacht race ever with a crew he just met, as he takes a short diversion from a ten-year global circumnavigation to compete in the race.
Seki just recently crossed the Pacific Ocean alone aboard his Tayana 52, Polaire. He plans on completing the MdR to PV race and continue on his journey around the globe.
At press time the racing division was yet to depart, but forecasts were calling for solid winds. Doug Baker at the wheel of Magnitude 80 will be praying for a fortuitous forecast in the hope of smashing one of the most long-standing yacht racing records on the books, set by the MacGregor 65 Joss. He came close the last time, but didn’t get it. This time he is driven and committed to toppling this seemingly impervious record. To follow along and get current results go to www.pv07.com/.
The unofficial first leg standings in the Salsa fleet are:
Amazing Grace finished 18/18:52:55
Barking Spider 3 finished 18/18:56:02
Tenacity finished 18/20:27:12
Classic Impulse finished 19/07:17:06
Voice of Reason finished 19/07:52:59
Aquarius finished 19/07:00:42
Far Niente finished 19/06:28:12
Polaire finished 19/04:40:25
Segue finished 18/20:30:19
Vision finished 19/03:27:50