In 25 knots of wind, with a sizable swell to match, the small but impressive racing fleet departed from the shores of Marina del Rey en route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to settle the score in Del Rey Yacht Club’s 19th race from Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta, held every other year.
As the two powered-up maxi yachts danced at the start line in high winds last Friday, February 23rd, their aim was more than to simply race each other — both thoroughbreds had their sights set on one of the more enduring speed records in long distance racing — 4 days, 23 hours, 4 seconds — set in 1985 by Joss, a Macgregor 65.
Doug Baker’s Magnitude 80, an Andrews 80, was favored to win the race and at the same time break the record, but in the world of yacht racing, anything can happen. Roy Disney was favored in 2005 sailing his brand-new ultramodern Pyewacket, but ran into equipment problems and was forced to retire.
Baker’s only competition, David Janes with Scout Spirit, a very fast Reichel Pugh 77, won the race on corrected time in 2005 (Baker took line honors) and is a most worthy adversary.
Scout Spirit would win the start in Friday’s stiff afternoon breeze, but unfortunately that was to be its last shining moment in a race that wouldn’t last much longer after that. About three-and-a-half hours after the start, Scout Spirit would be docked in, of all places, Magnitude 80’s slip in Long Beach, with a broken mast.
Apparently, as the purebred racer was blasting through Friday’s turbulent ocean at top speed, the backstay gave way and the mast fell forward above the lower spreaders about 15 feet above the deck.
“We heard this loud bang and looked up to see the backstay let go,” said watch captain Pete Heck. “Then the mast broke. We were lucky. It fell over the starboard side and not on the deck.
“The crew did a great job and no one got hurt. The boat only has one scratch on it and we saved the new North main [sail]. We had to cut loose the rest of the mast. It weighs about 1,000 pounds and there was no way to get it onboard. We were in pretty rough seas.
“As soon as we got everything cleared away and secured, we started motoring back to Long Beach. It took us eight hours to get back plowing [upwind] through the waves the whole way.”
While owner/skipper Janes was disappointed and exhausted, more than anything he was relieved that his crew was okay.
“It was a little hairy for a while in rough seas, but everybody did their job and nobody got hurt,” Janes said. “That’s the most important thing.”
As Scout Spirit limped into the protection of the Long Beach slip, Mag 80 was soaring through the Pacific on a rampage. The sleek white speed machine was racking up miles by the minute with her skipper and crew savoring every moment.
Navigator Ernie Richau reported with a smile Sunday, “Another fantastic 24 hours of running with the code 2A [spinnaker sail] in 16 to 22 knots from the northwest. Our first 24-hour, 1 p.m. to 1 p.m. run was 393 miles down the course. Any chance you know the record in a Mexican race for 24-hour mileage?”
While Joss enjoyed a solid breeze for her record run, the collective memory indicates that this year’s race might have been even more favorable.
Race administrator Peggy Redler said of the conditions, “We’ve had big boats in our race, but we’ve never had weather like this. It’s been good wind all the way, and even here in the [Banderas] bay it’s unusually cool with a good breeze.'”
On Tuesday morning Magnitude 80 sailed into Puerto Vallarta one day and seven hours ahead of Joss’s 22-year-old record time. With the benefit of some amazingly good sailing conditions, Doug Baker has officially broken this longstanding record and set a new record with an elapsed time of 3 days, 15 hours, 51 minutes.
At this moment, the crew of Magnitude 80 is in all likelihood enjoying frozen margaritas by a Puerto Vallarta beach, congratulating themselves on a job well done and thanking the wind gods for shuttling them down the coast faster than they could have ever hoped for.