The trouble with California sailing has always been too much ocean and too few places to go. Most of the big-boat races are one-day, around-the-mark-and-back affairs. While these short courses are fine for competition, they are no fun at all for wives, who are usually at home when father leaves for the yacht club, and still waiting at home when he gets back.
The other traditional events go all the way to Honolulu and Acapulco, the finest of resort towns. But the races themselves take forever—about 12 days to Honolulu, and eight or nine or 10 or 11 to Acapulco, depending on whether the Acapulco winds blow, which they usually do not. Furthermore, the expense of flying the family down and back is enough to make the most well-padded sailor shudder just a little. What was lacking was a fairly long, tough course that ended in a pleasant and reasonably accessible vacation town.
Then, on April 9, a small fleet took off from Los Angeles on a brand-new race; and when the nine boats pulled into the Mexican city of Mazatlàn (see map) seven days later, they had consummated what seemed to be the perfect deep-water event. In the 1,011 miles between start and finish, there was every element of ocean-going excitement. There were powerful winds—up to 30 knots off Magdalena Bay—with plenty of spinnaker work. And there were light breezes across the mouth of the Gulf of California, with a short windward leg at the finish.
There was danger: during the squalls of the third night off Magdalena Bay, Dick Lerner's Gamin, skirting too close to shore, ran hard aground. Her rigging came crashing down and the hull foundered. The crew managed to get ashore, then walked 16 miles to a Mexican naval station, where they were picked up five days later by the U.S. Coast Guard escort vessel Alert.
April 30, 1961
And there was competition. The 75-foot ketch Kamalii, owned by Beverly Hills oilman Larry Doheny, led the entire way. But she made too wide a turn rounding Cape San Lucas, ran into the light, fluky winds to the south and was out of the money. The winner was the 40-foot sloop Windspun, skippered by Dick McDonald of Newport Beach. McDonald got his trophy after a 1,000-mile boat-for-boat duel with Bob Allan's Holiday that saw the two vessels almost within hailing distance for seven full days, and maneuvering at the finish like class boats in an afternoon race.
Afterward, the sailors were unanimous in their praise of the new race. "This had all the best features of Honolulu," said Hilyard Brown, top helmsman on Windspun. "Besides, Honolulu is actually an endurance contest. This one was a better all-round test of seamanship."
Ray Elliott from Kamalii agreed, and added that the Mazatlàn event takes in the "good half," i.e., the windy half, of the Acapulco race.
There was one other point, perhaps the most important of all, on which the racers were in total agreement. That was on Mazatlàn as a bright and bouncy vacation town. The wives were there in force, most flying the relatively short hop from L.A., and the rest driving down the highway through Mexicali. The majority stayed at the Balboa Club, with the spillover putting up at the motels along the beach. A few tried the ancient Belmar, where a cornet-tooting band crashed out its Mexican concert at cocktail hour, and a pair of long, hungry boa constrictors slithered about the basement, keeping the rat population under control.
Beaches and billfish
Like all good tourists, the sailors and their wives tried to do everything. North of town, the swimming was excellent on the broad, sandy beaches. Offshore, there was some of the best billfishing water anywhere in North America. In the town itself, the Mazatlàn race committee had arranged a rocking round of cocktail and dinner parties. Afterward, if you were still alive, there were plenty of waterfront night spots. And, finally, for anyone who had not had enough sailing on the race itself, Mazatlàn is the southern terminus for matchless cruising in the gulf (SI, Jan. 28, 1957).
Austin Peeples, crewman on Wind-spun, summed up the feeling for Mazatlàn. "This is going to develop into a fine race," he said. "There weren't many yachts this year because we had only a couple of months to get ready. But Acapulco had only nine entries the first time, too, and now there are over 35. And all these extra features around Mazatlàn are going to draw people who don't usually go into the racing circuit."
GULF OF CALIFORNIA
CAPE SAN LUCAS