Story by Corie DuChateau, Aran Rosales Trejo, and Kati Kati; photos by Ernesto Gallardo
Each year, the month of March brings a special shade of magic to the sapphire blue waters of the Bahia de Banderas. Favorable spring wind conditions bring a flotilla of white sails, coming from all over, to engage in a good fun competition.
The 28th annual Banderas Bay Regatta was held March 24-27, 2021.
The Banderas Bay Regatta has a long-standing reputation, and it’s a truly world-class event that catches the eye of many Mexican and foreign sailors alike.
All kinds of race and cruising boats are welcome to enter the Regatta, and this year, there were 27 competitors.
We’d seen the sailboats racing in the bay for the past several years, and we’d always found the races to be interesting to watch from land. The group of boats out on the water certainly makes a spectacular sight. So we reached out to the Vallarta Yacht Club, which sponsors the regatta, to see if we could meet some of the people involved. The Yacht Club welcomed us with open arms, and what follows is the story of our first time at the Banderas Bay Regatta.
Randy Hough is the Race Coordinator for the Banderas Bay Regatta. He invited us to the skippers’ meeting on Tuesday evening where the boat captains were preparing for the races.
Randy is sitting in a chair by the pool at the Vallarta Yacht Club when we arrive. Warm and pleasant, he greets us with a smile. He has kind, dark eyes, a full head of white hair, and a trimmed white goatee.
“We dressed up in our fanciest suits and ties for you,” Randy jokes. The skippers are wearing shorts, sandals, and baseball caps.
A veteran sailor, Randy is highly qualified for his position of Race Coordinator. He’s originally from Southern California, but he grew up in Colorado and learned to sail on the lakes in 1962 when his father bought a Penguin Class dinghy building kit, and they built it together.
Randy moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1973, and continued sailing. In the 1980s and ‘90s he was a member of Sequoia Yacht Club in California, where he became the Sailboat Fleet Captain. He received Race Officer training from US Sailing, which is the national governing body for the sport.
During this time he gained plenty of experience racing and coordinating races. In fact, one year he organized over 20 races and sailed in many more. A race series that he created grew into an annual event called the Redwood Cup that is still being sailed 25 years later.
I asked Randy how he ended up in Banderas Bay.
“I was living on my boat in San Francisco. I planned to retire by 2007 and take whatever boat I had, whatever dog I had, and whatever partner I had and sail out the Golden Gate, turn left, put a pad of butter on the deck and sail south until the butter melted and figure it out from there.”
As fate would have it, Randy moved to Canada in the year 2000, and then in 2007 he found a home in Mexico. He split his time between Canada and Mexico for several years, but now he lives here in the Banderas Bay area full time.
Vallarta Yacht Club
The Vallarta Yacht Club (VYC)was started by Jim Ketler in 1991, and remains as his legacy. I asked Randy to share a little bit of its history, as has been a member for the past 12 years.
“Vallarta Yacht Club started as a nice place that had air conditioning, great cheeseburgers, and cold, cheap, beer,” Randy said. “Someplace for the people that were living aboard to socialize out of the heat on the docks.”
But the club has evolved into much more than that over the last 30 years. VYC is an independent non-profit organization that provides a gathering place for people in Banderas Bay who are interested in yachting, fishing, diving, and related activities. They welcome both residents and visitors, and they sponsor all kinds of events including regattas, fishing tournaments, marine education, and charity events.
The club really started to grow in 2007 when it hosted the J24 Worlds, which is an international competition for a specific class of sailboat called J24. Randy said this was a turning point for VYC, and it became known as a “little club that can do big things.” Since then, VYC has hosted many major international events.
Randy tells me that Banderas Bay has some of the best sailing on Earth, and that’s why people come from far and wide to race here. “This bay is in the top ten or perhaps the top five sailing bodies of water in the world” he said.
The first Banderas Bay Regatta (BBR) took place in 1993, making it one of the longest running cruisers regattas in North America. The favorable conditions of the Banderas Bay also make it one of the most famous regattas in the world.
At the skippers’ meeting, everyone is focused on the race. Randy draws diagrams of racecourses on the white board. Designing the courses for the regatta is part of his job as Race Coordinator.
“I could send you on a windward/leeward course, or it could be a triangle course,” Randy says. The skippers all have a book of 10 potential courses that Randy could choose, but they won’t know the exact course they’ll be racing until moments before the race starts. The wind and weather conditions on the day of each race will determine the course. Randy tells the skippers that he will announce the course over the radio four minutes before each race begins.
“We’re racing on water, not land, so we don’t have traffic lanes or start/finish lines in the same way that you would have in a car race. We have to use marks that we all know and can agree on, so we use buoys placed in the water, and we use landmarks that we can see from the water, such as the river, to help guide us to the buoys. This is how we map out the racecourse.”
The course could be a straight line out to a buoy, then turning around and following that straight line back to the starting point. This is called a Windward/Leeward course. Or it could be a triangle-shaped course, or a more complicated distance course, but all of the courses start and end at the same point. All of the boats have course diagrams in the regatta Sailing Instructions that tell them the marks of each course, and the order and direction to round the marks.
The race always starts from Bucerias, because that is the point in the bay with the most reliable winds.
Randy is a veteran sailor in Banderas Bay, and he explains the concept of “local knowledge.”
“You know where the wind is, where the holes are, and because you have this local knowledge, you can design the racecourse,” he said.
Sailboats don’t park at a starting line before a race as cars would. Rather, sailboats are already sailing before they hit the start line. They get up to full speed in the water, and hit the starting line going full speed. The starting line is between the red buoy and the Race Coordinator boat.
The 27 boats participating in this year’s regatta are split up into six classes, based on their type:
- Class 1 – ORR (Ocean Racing Rule) – For the fully race prepared boats
- Class 2 – PHRF (Performance Cruising) – For boats that more racer than cruiser
- Class 3 – 20-Somethings – For performance boats between 20 and 30 ft long
- Class 4 – MultiHulls – For Catamarans and Trimarans
- Class 5 – Cruising Over 45 – Cruisers with Spinnakers (the big colorful sails)
- Class 6 – JAM (Jib And Main) – Cruisers sailing without a spinnaker
“We’re having a race with sports cars and minivans competing against each other,” Randy says. “So we split the boats into classes and assign each boat a handicap based on their design and equipment. This levels the playing field and creates a way for the crew of each boat to compete against each other. The idea is that whichever boat has the best crew will win in each class.”
After Randy finishes briefing the skippers and answering their questions, we had the chance to talk to some of the competitors.
Fred Roswold and Judy Jensen are the owners of the sailboat Wings, a Serendipity 43 custom made fiberglass sloop that was made in New Orleans in 1979. It was originally designed as a race boat by Doug Peterson and built by Tom Dryfus as a custom boat for Roger Hall of San Francisco. It was very successful and well known at the time. It was an IOR Race boat. IOR was a class of racing used Internationally in the 70’s and 80’s. Fred and Judy bought Wings in 1985.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Fred has been sailing since around 1975. He first started sailing and racing after working in the power boating industry and discovering that he also had an interest in sailboats.
Judy is from Florida, and she has been sailing since 1982. She stared when her coworkers invited her to crew for them.
Fred and Judy met in 1985 and fell in love, and they decided to make a life together. They began living aboard Wings in Seattle in 1986, cruising and racing as much as possible. At first they kept jobs in the city, sailed every chance they got, and raced 40 to 50 times per year. Eventually they left Seattle and began a 30-year sailing trip around the world. They have sailed to dozens of countries throughout the Pacific, Asia, Africa and South America. Now they live full time on Wings in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico, in the Banderas Bay.
“Sailing is part of my everyday life,” Judy said. “People ask me where I’m from, but I don’t really know where I’m from anymore, because I’ve been living at sea for over 30 years.”
In addition to being part of the Vallarta Yacht Club, Fred and Judy also support the group Women Who Sail, which is an organization in the Banderas Bay area for women only, where Judy recently spoke about her life at sea.
Wings raced in the Performance Cruisers class in this year’s Banderas Bay Regatta.
We also met the crew of Amizade, another boat racing in the regatta. Amizade is a 47 ft Bavaria, made in Germany. Andrew Wood is the owner and skipper.
The name Amizade means friendship in Portuguese, and the name is a romantic nod to Andrew’s birthplace of Brazil, where he lived until the age of 10 before moving back to his parents’ native Britain, and then to Canada.
Andrew started sailing at the age of 14, when he went to a sail training school on Lake Ontario. The school was based around developing personal skills and character, based on the brigantine rigged ship Pathfinder.
Andrew lived and sailed in the Caribbean for several years, and he has also crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat. He made it through hurricane Inga, in which 8 boats disappeared, arriving in Bermuda with only one sail. He crewed on racing sailing boats for three years out of Victoria, Canada, as well as on three Swiftsure races.
He purchased Amizade in 2006 from the original owner in Seattle, added more equipment, and took her for a test cruise to the Queen Charlotte Islands. He then sailed from Victoria to Puerto Vallarta, where he has spent most of his time for the last decade plus.
Ayn Woodruff works as a bow woman on Amizade during races. She has been sailing since 1968, starting at the age of 22 when she worked at a summer camp in Maine. “I was a lifeguard and water sports instructor at a girls’ tennis camp, and I started dating the sailing instructor from the drama the camp down the way,” Ayn said, “That’s how I first got interested in sailing. We stayed together for quite a few years, and then I went to medical school and we went our separate ways. He went off sailing, and unfortunately he was lost at sea at the age of 33. I finished my internship in Chicago and got married to another doctor. He was into aviation and I was into sailing, and we enjoyed those hobbies together.”
Ayn accepted a fellowship at the university of San Francisco in 1986 and she bought her own sailboat, Dream Dancer. She lived aboard Dream Dancer and sailed it around the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years. I asked Ayn what it’s like to be a female skipper, which is not very common.
“It’s been a very difficult but rewarding uphill battle to get our place in the sport,” she said. “It has not been that many years that women have been accepted.”
Ayn has always been a pioneer as a female in male dominated industries. “I started battling in a man’s world when I got into medical school,” she said. “In those days, people asked me, ‘why are you taking a man’s place in the medical curriculum, why don’t you just become a nurse?’ By the time I started sailing, I had already experienced so much prejudice, so I just let it roll off my back. I did six Pacific Cups out of Oahu. For four of those, I was the only woman on board for up to 16 days. If you think that’s hard, try being a woman skipper with a male crew. It can be a challenge. I try to support female sailors, and I try to find a woman for the crew whenever I can.”
Ayn first came to Banderas Bay in 2007 to participate in the races, after reading about them in Latitude 38 Magazine. “I read an article in the magazine by Paul Kamen. He had a regular column called Max Ebb. He was invited to come down and race the Banderas Bay Regatta. He wrote in his article that it was the best racing he’d ever done. Steady winds every afternoon like clockwork at this time of year. He said, ‘you won’t regret it if you do it.’ I raced with Paul in San Francisco, and we were crew mates. I always kept the Banderas Bay Regatta in my mind.”
Ayn raced Dream Dancer in the Banderas Bay Regatta in 2007, and then she went to New Zealand for four and a half years. She knew the area around Aukland so well that she won an award for being able to locate most of the places in a little cruise they have there. She looked for another boat to buy but couldn’t find one better than Dream Dancer. She went back to the U.S. in 2011 and then came back to Puerto Vallarta and brought Dream Dancer over to Paradise Village harbor, home of the Vallarta Yacht Club. But in this year’s regatta she is part of the crew of Amizade.
Amizade sailed in the Cruising Over 45 class during the Banderas Bay Regatta (a reference to the length of the boat).
The crew graciously invited us to sail with them on Wednesday’s practice day. They even offered us a position on the crew, and this is how our videographer and editor Aran Rosales got the opportunity to live his dream of learning to sail.
Start Your Heart Out Practice Day
Aran and our photographer Ernesto Gallardo met Ayn at the dock and she gave them a tour of Amizade. Safety first, she handed Aran a pair of gloves. She taught the guys where to stand so they wouldn’t be in the way when the crew was running around the deck during the race. She explained how the winches and pulleys work and showed them how to assist in an emergency, the correct direction to pull the ropes. A wrong move could cause the crew to lose control of the boat during the race.
She explained that each member of the crew has a specific job: Bow, Helm, Pit, Sheets.
At the start of the practice race, the boat came alive with a flurry of activity as the crew members worked their positions in perfect harmony.
Andrew, the Helmsman, manned the wheel. He kept his eyes on the horizon, looking 45 degrees left and 45 degrees right. If another boat entered that field, he would have to be ready to act quickly to avoid a collision.
The sheet trimmers moved the sails from one side of the boat to the other as fast as they could, one on starboard and the other on port.
The radio man stayed by the radio, listening for instructions from the Race Coordinator and paying attention to the Helmsman in case it was necessary to make an outgoing call.
All of the sailors were attentive to their senses, using their eyes, ears, and skin to navigate. “Everyone was looking at the sky, at the clouds,” Aran said. “The different colors and heaviness of the clouds will tell you the temperature and the pressure of the sea.” They looked at the crests of the waves. A bright white crest means a big wave is coming. A less defined crest means a small wave is coming. There are pieces of tape on the sails every meter, flagging, showing which way the wind is blowing. All of the pieces of tape must be blowing in the same direction, or the sail can break.
Aran asked Ayn, “Don’t you have instruments that tell you the same information?”
“Yes,” Ayn replied, “but you need to learn how to sail on the ocean without any instruments. Then you can use the instruments when you want to be on autopilot.”
Ayn was overseeing every crew position, checking everything, listening to everyone, commanding everyone. A veteran sailor, she knows how to do every job on the boat, and she is capable of jumping in anywhere she is needed.
“That’s the part that amazed me about this race,” Aran said. “Everyone on the crew was over 50, and yet they were all running and jumping over one another, and the boat was going very fast. There were bursts of adrenaline and moments of relaxation. One moment, everything was super calm, and in the next moment we had to turn the boat and everyone jumped into action – look at the colors and hold on! Everything happens in a few seconds and then it’s over again.”
As they sailed, the crew of Amizade scoped out the other boats in their class, analyzing their competition. They could see the crews of the other boats and how they were working. The regatta is a competition of crew against crew, so they were curious to see what they were up against.
Suddenly, the mainsail broke because the wind was too strong! The ropes ran through the pulleys as the sail fell. Everyone sprang into action. Sheetsman John Wanimaker tried to grab the ropes with his bare hands – he wasn’t wearing gloves. The ropes pulled right through his hands, cutting him, and he started bleeding. The crew remained calm. There was no time to react emotionally. Emotional reactions would only lead to losing control of the boat.
“You have to stay calm and act quickly,” Aran said. “Don’t react to your bleeding hand, don’t react if someone falls in the water, just act immediately to remedy the situation while keeping control of the boat.”
The experienced crew of Amizade knew how to handle any situation. Ayn quickly attended to John’s bleeding hands, but Amizade retired from the practice race and used the boat’s engine to sail back to port.
“Being on the ocean you feel so free,” Aran said. “The wind is so fast and so strong. The sun is so heavy but at the same time so light, so you feel like you’re flying. When the race is on, everything is moving super fast. Suddenly you only see the sail, and it’s amazing because you know that the sail is pulling everything. At that time I turned my head to see where everyone was, and they were sitting on the rail with their feet hanging down toward the water. They looked like ‘the gang,’ chilling.”
It was an informative practice race for Amizade. They had a chance to evaluate their competition and their own crew. After the race, they had a “post-mortem” meeting to discuss what they did well, what they needed to improve, and how to fix the broken sail before the next day’s race. They ended up giving the sail to a local expert sailmaker who fixed it overnight before Thursday’s race.
Aran and Ernesto went home with tired legs and memory cards full of photos.
The Beercan Series
Thursday was the first official race day – the Beercan Series. We jumped in our makeshift “media boat,” the Tequila Sunset, and headed out to the races! We were lucky – on the way to the race we saw humpback whales breaching and playing in the bay. They swam with us for a while. It appeared to be a mother and a calf. They were floating just under the surface of the water for a long time, so we could see their backs. We thought maybe the calf was nursing.
We arrived at the area off the shore of Bucerias in time to see the sailboats starting to assemble for the race.
Before the start of the race, it looked like a jumble of boats, as they all sailed around and around, trying to get up to full speed, preparing to cross the starting line at full speed at exactly the right moment.
The starting line is between the red buoy and an orange flag on the Race Coordinator boat. All of the sailboats must have the red buoy to port (their left side) and the Race Coordinator boat to starboard (their right side) as they start.
The start timing is done with a series of flags that tell the skippers 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 1 minute, and start.
The starting sequence is defined in the Racing Rules for the regatta. The Race Coordinator repeats the sequence six times – once for each of the six classes.
The Race Coordinator tells the competitors what course they will sail before the 4 minute preparatory signal. The boats cross the start line and sail upwind to a mark (a colored buoy). Then they sail to the next mark of their course and so on until they return to finish.
The yellow mark is the leeward mark, all the courses bring the boats back to the leeward mark for a short sail to windward for the finish.
To end the race, the boats must sail across the start line again with the red buoy to port and the Race Coordinator boat to starboard.
The actual course each boat sails between marks is the choice of the crew based on what each crew thinks will get them there fastest.
The number of marks depends on the course that the Race Coordinator selects. All of the course diagrams are included in the Sailing Instructions for the race. Those diagrams tell the boats which marks, and the order and direction to round the marks for each course.
The different classes of boats begin their races at different times, and they might also sail different courses.
For Thursday’s race, Randy sent the higher performance boats on a simple windward/leeward course. After crossing the start line, the boats sailed out to a windward mark labeled W2 on the course diagram (orange). They rounded that mark, keeping it on the port side, and headed back to the leeward mark (yellow), and rounded the yellow mark keeping it on the port side. They sailed this course three times around before they finished.
“The simple windward/leeward course is actually the most challenging for racing,” Randy said. “It maximizes the choices of strategy and tactic each boat can use. It allows them to sail where they think the wind will be best for them and to take advantage of any wind shifts.”
He sent the Cruisers on a shorter windward/leeward course followed by a triangle-shaped course to a mark off the river and back to finish.
We positioned our media boat near the starting line and the leeward mark and waited for the race to begin. We watched the boats line up for their starts, and jockey for position. It looked a bit chaotic as each class started, but then the boats quickly sailed off toward the windward mark.
“There was a good wind and competitive start,” Fred Roswold of Wings said. “All six boats [in our class] got off the line in going fast but not without some shouting between Chivos and Olas Lindas both trying to squeeze into the start line.”
Wings started farther down the line next to Bright Star, but passed Bright Star quickly, to round the first mark at the top of its class.
“We used our symmetrical spinnaker downwind and were able to make good time sailing directly to the leeward mark while the other boats needed to sail a less direct route with their asymmetrical spinnakers,” Fred said.
“The boats spread out a bit as the wind built up to 20 knots. We pushed hard and changed to our small upwind jib sail to deal with the stronger wind but used our biggest downwind spinnaker. The crew worked hard and we had no real problems on the boat and we stayed with the bigger boats closely enough to win our division on handicap, by a good margin. It was quite exciting going down wind in the heavier breeze with our biggest sail.”
One boat retired from Thursday’s race after tearing a sail. Another boat retired after misreading the course and sailing the marks in the wrong order! Oops!
Winners in each class are determined how long it takes them to complete the racecourse, and their handicaps. “We race under three different Handicap Rules,” Randy said, “so many times there is a “First in Class to finish” which we call “Line Honors,” and a different winner on corrected time after handicaps are applied.”
This means the first boat to cross the finish line receives the “Line Honors” but then the actual winner is determined after adjustments are made for handicaps.
The winners in each class for Thursday’s race were as follows:
- ORR – Line Honors Olas Lindas, Winner Azteca
- PHRF Performance Cruiser – Line Honors Double Take, Winner Wings
- 20-Somethings – Line Honors and Winner J World
- Spinnaker Cruisers – Line Honors and Winner Hey Ya
- JAM – Line Honors and Winner Agave Azul
So Wings was the winner of Thursday’s race in their division! Double Take crossed the finish line first, but Wings came out ahead in the handicap scoring. The crew of Wings was so happy that they sang songs and drank champagne as they sailed home!
Two More Days of Races
We sure had fun out on the water with the regatta. All of the classes had their own tough battles with boats competing hard against each other. Some of the boats had competed against each other in other races, so the competition was definitely spirited! There were veteran boats and brand new boats.
I asked Randy to make a prediction about who would win in each class, but he refused, not wanting to jinx anyone. He did say that the ORR, Cruising Spinnaker, and JAM classes would likely have the closest finishes for the regatta based on what we saw on Thursday.
“Olas Lindas won her Division in MEXORC last year and the Capris, Azteca and Chivos are looking to even the score in ORR,” Randy said.
“Hey Ya is the smallest Cruiser in her class so she will have to fight to stay in the lead,” he continued.
“Agave Azul and Gladiator in JAM is a great battle on the water,” he continued. “Agave Azul is a Banderas Bay Regatta veteran, Gladiator is a new boat. Gladiator owes Agave Azul time under handicap and is sailed by an experienced husband and wife team. They both finished ahead of the Spinnaker class boats yesterday so that match up might be one of the hottest in the fleet this year!”
Randy offered one final “safe” prediction with a wink. “Sassafras will be the first Schooner to finish every race (she is the only Schooner).”
I also asked Fred Roswold to make some predictions. “If the race committee sends us on a long course, we’ll probably see some boats getting over powered in the stronger winds,” he said. “Any crew work mistakes can put a boat behind, and any equipment failures or blown sails likewise. We expect the final scores to be very close, any boat can win.”
The regatta is scored as a points total of the three races. The lowest score wins in each class. For example, the boat with 1 point wins first place in its class, the boat with 2 points gets second place, and so on.
There are only winners of each class, not an overall combined winner, because it’s not possible to combine results from the different classes as the boats in each class are so different from each other.
“My crew were fantastic and we all had a fun sail on every day,” Andrew Wood of Amizade said. “The organizers were terrific. Banderas Bay is a near perfect cruising ground.”
After the final race on Saturday was scored, the winners were declared as follows:
- ORR – Olas Lindas
- PHRF – Wings
- 20-Somethings – J World
- Multihulls – Flite Deck
- Cruising Over 45 – Shamaya
- Jib And Main – Agave Azul
In a normal year there would be a party and live music at the Vallarta Yacht Club every night after the races. “These social events are a huge part of the Banderas Bay Regatta experience,” Randy said. “We always like to think that a bunch of sailors were having a party, and a race broke out!”
Typically the Vallarta Yacht Club throws a big beach party for the awards Saturday evening at Paradise Village. But none of these parties happened this year, due to Covid.
“We just can’t sponsor a gathering of 200+ people during the pandemic,” Randy said of the cancellations. “No one feels worse about this than we do, but it’s the right thing to do. Competitors pick up their awards at the Yacht Club.”
There is no cash prize for the winners, only the satisfaction of accomplishment and a trophy. The Banderas Bay Regatta is sailed for the love of the sport and friendly competition. Entry fees are low and only cover expenses. This keeps the race accessible to everyone! So if you are interested in racing, come out next year and join the regatta!
The Vallarta Yacht Club will host several more events and races this year. As one of the club’s missions is to empower youth sailors, the club will host the North American Optimist Regatta in May and June. Optimist is a class of sailboat that is for children. There will be approximately 120 boats from 8 or 9 countries coming to Banderas Bay to sail in this youth regatta.
- Paradise Cup – J70s – April 10-11
- J70 Nationals – May 20-23
- Optinam 2021 – May 29 – June 5
If you are interested in these or any other events sponsored by the Vallarta Yacht Club, check out their website their schedule of events.