Vallarta Race: Winning with real food

Published on March 13th, 2018

During the 34th running of the San Diego to Vallarta International Yacht Race, one class drew particular interest as it was comprised of Santa Cruz 50 and 52 yachts that have raced together in the Transpac, Cabo and Pacific Cup races for many years.

Len Bose describes how his team on John Shulze’s Santa Cruz 50 Horizon toppled the fleet down the 1000 nm course toward tacos and tequila.


The forecast for our start (on Mar 2) was a light sea breeze out of the south and dying off as we reached Ensenada. This forecast left those of us starting on this day with a bit of a hindrance.

The smaller boats that had started the day before with a clearing westerly reported 40 knot squalls and blown up spinnakers, whereas the biggest boats starting the day after us were expecting to see 15 knots out of the southwest.

However, we knew that there would be many opportunities for us to make that time up on the other boats for the overall standings. One thing that always comes to mind is that the race is never over until you cross the finish in a Mexico race. I first heard this saying from Newport Beach City Councilmember Brad Avery back in the ‘80s and have always remembered it.

Out of the starting gate we were side by side with Lucky Duck, with the two boats exchanging the lead at least five times down the Baja coast, always staying within eyesight of each, and crossing jibes under the light of the full moon at night.

When two competitors meet up like this, they normally push their boats that much harder with the sail changes happening with each wind shift rather than giving it the old five-minute rule and waiting to see if the wind will shift back.

Life aboard Horizon goes into a four-hour off, three-hour on watch system after the first dinner with three people staying on deck, unless we have to make maneuvers and everyone is called on deck.

With each maneuver, be it sail changes or gybing each crew member, the assigned position throughout the race never changes. For example, the same person will drive the boat, just like the same person will be in charge of pulling up and letting down the halyards that lift the sails up and down.

I am also listed as the chef aboard the boat, and by today’s race boat standards, that’s not too far from the truth. In an effort to save weight, most competitors are chocking down freeze dried foods which I hear are not that bad if you can add your favorite hot sauce. But on Horizon we have higher standards.

Breakfast consists of yogurt and granola or cereal with fresh fruit. Every other day I will warm up some Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, which are always well received. There is nothing more appreciated than a warm meal while you are out to sea. For lunch, I’ll fix deli meat sandwiches with avocado, onion and lettuce, and on odd days serve up hot dogs, which have seemed to be the crew’s favorite. For dinner, we ask for volunteers to provide the boat with dinner casseroles with favorites being beef stroganoff, pasta bake and enchilada pie. Each dinner is served with a fresh salad and choice of dressing.

After the galley is cleaned up, I’ll fill a container with candy bars, trail mix and or some dried fruit along with leaving the Starbucks instant coffee and hot chocolate packets out for the crew. Now that might not seem as much of an effort on my part, but have you ever tried boiling water for hotdogs while tight reaching with the 3A spinnaker up and the boat leaned over in a mixed sea? It is rather challenging just serving the meals to the crew.

One of the largest obstacles of this race is navigating past Cabo hole, which can block the wind has much as 30 miles away, before entering the Baja Gulf on your way to Puerto Vallarta. So, there we are with the Duck just close enough that we can talk to them. As night falls and the full moon has not yet risen, the two boats split so that we can’t make out our running lights.

This is when our navigator, Alex Steele, puts his plan into effect on how to work our way through the Cabo hole as fast as possible. Steele put in a ton of time studying this part of the course and just crushed it. The next morning, the Duck was more than 30 miles behind us in four knots of wind, while we were close reaching in at 15 knots headed straight for the finish line.

Like I mentioned before, a Mexico race is never over until it’s over, and we kept the throttle down until we crossed the line with a first in our class and seventh overall. Another great race with a solid group of sailors. Along with John Shulze, Alex Steele and myself were Justin Law, Tom Okeefe, Creig Chamberlain, Andrew Dippel, Doug Cary and Greg Newman.

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Background: The 34th running of the San Diego to Vallarta International Yacht Race had 28 entrants competing on the 1000nm course from San Diego, USA to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The biennial event in 2018 had staggered starts on March 1 (Div 7), 2 (Div 4/5/6), and 3 (Div 0/1/3).

Through the history of the race, the destination has changed over the 65 years, from Acapulco, to Manzanillo, Mazatlan and now Puerto Vallarta. Starting in San Diego Bay off of Shelter Island, the course proceeds 1,000 miles passing Baja California, and finishes off of Punta Mita in beautiful Banderas Bay, Mexico.

A new multihull race record was set by H.L. Enloe’s ORMA 60 Mighty Merloe which completed the course in 02:03:48:21, reducing the record by 04:20. The monohull race record remains at 03:05:41 set by Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio100 in 2016.

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