Was This My Worst Day in 55 Years of Sailing?

sailing boats

At the start of last week, the Vallarta Yacht Club, in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, hosted their annual Banderas Bay Blast — a three-day event that includes the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. It was on this third day that Baja Ha-Ha Grand Poobah and Latitude 38 founder Richard Spindler experienced what he thought could very well have been his worst-ever day of sailing.

My worst day in 55 years of sailing? I think so. And it was supposed to be such a great day, with us on Profligate going up against Fred and Judy’s all-conquering Serendipity 43 Wings, Randy and Sally-Christine’s Wylie 65 Convergence, and about 20 other boats. To add insult to injury, the event was the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity from Punta Mita to Paradise Marina, an event I started and have done countless times. It’s always a downwind sail in which, unlike the light-air upwind races, Profligate can shine.

Day 1 of the Banderas Bay Blast.

© 2022 Catalina Liana

The morning started great, with the very young local kids putting on a dance performance for members of the fleet. Doña was in heaven, dancing and hugging all the little kids. But she wouldn’t be in heaven for long. As I motored Profligate upwind to raise the main, we were getting closer to the shore by the Punta Mita restaurants. We were having some issues with the lazy jacks, which meant it was taking longer to get the main up, which meant we kept getting closer to shore. But I know the area well, and judged that we were still in deep enough water. My judgment was proven wrong as Profligate slammed to an abrupt halt from about five knots when the starboard daggerboard crunched into one of the big rocks that are scattered around the otherwise sand bottom.

While Profligate came to a complete stop, the 11 crewmembers didn’t. Some were tossed into bulkheads or knocked off their feet. But Doña, who had been leaning on the seagull striker, suffered the most. When Profligate stopped, she kept right on going. Right off the front of the boat. It wasn’t the most enjoyable swim of her life, as the current was pretty strong and she’s not the strongest swimmer. She never did get far from Profligate, still grinding her daggerboard on the rock, but it was easiest for a panga to fish her out of the water.

The weather was perfect. The entire event would have been perfect but for that mishap.

© 2022 Richard Spindler

Over the years we’ve seen a lot of very large “boat bites” during boat-bite contests in the Baja Ha-Ha. But when we got back to the condo that night, we discovered that Doña had the biggest boat bite we’ve ever seen. It’s a wicked-looking hematoma about the size of Rhode Island, right on her bum. And it was swollen.

Striking the rock, and Doña’s going overboard, weren’t the end of our troubles. I’d invested a small fortune in some upgraded halyards and sheet stoppers that are a little bit different from the ones we had before. They are still a little confusing, too, so — and I still don’t know quite how — after we had the spinnaker up for a few minutes the spinny halyard slipped about 35 feet. We were shrimping! We tried to hoist the spinnaker back up, but that merely succeeded in getting the chute caught under both sides of the starboard hull. Merde! Not only was it the end of that old chute’s life, it took a lot of work on the part of the crew to retrieve it. Ultimately we got another chute up and had some decent sailing, but by this time Fred and Judy, and Randy and Sally-Christine, were so far ahead we couldn’t have seen them with the Hubble telescope. So we headed for the barn. Mind you, hitting the rock, Doña’s going overboard, and shrimping the chute were only the highlights of a day when pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Even the autopilot decided to stop working. Merde! Merde! Merde!

When Doña was in the water, she was surrounded by bits of foam and fiberglass, the source of which could only be the bottom of Profligate‘s starboard daggerboard, now firmly embedded in the crash box. It’s likely going to need a haulout to get that daggerboard out, although we’ll try other methods.

Hopefully it will be another 50 years before we have another day of sailing so awful. Now that I think of it, yesterday was probably my second-worst day sailing. The worst was in the early ’70s when I was about 21.

We’ll save this second story for later in the week… Stay tuned!

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