When facing live ammo

Published on March 4th, 2018

The 34th running of the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Race is now underway, continuing a long tradition of offshore competition to the various resort towns in Mexico. While the 27 boat fleet work their way down the coast of Baja California, Tony Spoone recalls a situation from the 1979 Los Angeles to Mazatlan Race when his team was facing an unexpected adversary.

I was signed on as navigator (no GPS in those days) on the 69-foot sled Drifter which had been chartered by Tony Delfino and Mike Gainor. We had a crew with lots of Mexican race experience (I had done the last Acapulco Race 1970 and a Manzanillo and P.V. before this ’79 race). We would be facing some of the classic big boats of the day – Windward Passage, Ondine and Merlin.

We were looking forward to a rollicking ride down Baja, but it turned out to match our boat’s name, a close reach drifter. We had no light weather headsails and ourselves in fourth place rounding Baja. After a couple of judicious tacks to the north past San Jose del Cabo, we emerged in second position for the run across the Gulf. The wind had finally shifted aft of the beam and strong enough to get us up to 12 knots (Yea!) with Windward Passage in sight ahead.

But then appears a large Mexican gunboat which stands off about 50 yards with lots of waving and running around on deck. I was the only one of our crew who spoke even passable Spanish, so I raised them on the VHF and was told to “Alto Immediamente” and “Abajo sus velos” (stop immediately and drop sails). We had a very quick discussion about doing what they said and seeking redress on finishing to get our second place back but decided against it.

I came back to them and explained we were racing to Mazatlan but that didn’t work as they told us to stop again. I said (in bad Spanish again) “We are in 2nd place, see there is the 1st place boat up there ahead of us and see a couple more behind us and about 20 more behind them. Still no go. I explain how we have an official letter from the race organizers, which was followed by silence.

We have slowed any, and we notice a RIB goes over the side of the gunboat with four armed men which zoom over to us within touching distance. We pass over the letter (standard in the Race package) and it’s scrutinized by a couple of the marines and they zoom off. More silence. The gunboat then does an abrupt 180 and heads off in the direction of boats behind us. Our guys did a great job of not slowing down in the face of live ammo.

(March 4, 2018) – After the third and final day of starts yesterday, all competitors are now on the 1000 nm course for the San Diego to Vallarta International Yacht Race. There were haves and have nots depending on the start day but classic offwind conditions are settling in for the fleet. Jim Madden’s Swan 601 Stark Raving Mad is the lone casualty as they were forced to retire after crew Drew Freides injured his hand. Full report.

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