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2024 June 1

A liveaboard cruising couple hits the race course in scenic and fun regatta and finds a new reason to love their boat

The tropical sun beat down on us and we found relief in every puff of wind. Perhaps each breath that grazed my cheek and filled our sails was a promise of more to come or a personal “good luck” kiss from Zephyrus himself as our 1979 Cheoy Lee 41 Avocet made her way to the regatta start line. 

A happy crew celebrates a second place overall finish.
Marissa Neely photo 
Our boat, which we’ve been living aboard and cruising for two years, didn’t have the look of a sleek racer, a point that was driven home by a comment from a temporary dock neighbor as we pulled into the marina to pick up our crew. 

“It’s like sailing your couch,” he shouted. Little did he know, our unassuming vessel was not just a comfortable cruiser, but also a formidable racer in disguise.

We were competing in the 31st annual Banderas Bay Regatta, organized by the Vallarta Yacht Club. From its inception, the three-day regatta was created by cruisers, for cruisers, and has attracted sailors of all kinds to the enchanting Banderas Bay, located on Mexico’s Pacific coast near Puerto Vallarta. Regatta participants can expect a mix of coastal and open water races, with courses that showcase the bay’s scenic shoreline, dramatic vistas of both mountains and golden beaches and consistent winds. 

In addition to the thrill of competition, sailors are treated to the warm hospitality of the local communities and offered the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant cultures of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta. From lively post-race celebrations to casual gatherings at waterfront bars and restaurants, the regatta fosters a sense of camaraderie and friendship among participants making each day on and off the water truly memorable. 

Onboard Avocet, ship cat Cleo watches the action from a bunk.
Marissa Neely photo

“Class four you are now in sequence,” came the voice over the VHF.

The race was using a pursuit start, where boats start according to their handicap rating, with the slowest boat starting first and the fleet theoretically condensing at the finish, and thanks to our PHRF rating, we were the first boat to start. Still the starting line was crowded and we tacked back and forth between our competition in attempt to time our start perfectly. 

Avocet isn’t your typical racing yacht. She’s our home, our sanctuary on the sea, and our adventure vessel where Chris and I have spent years putting miles under our keel from California to Mexico. Unlike our Victory 21 race boat Geronimo on which we spend our summers racing on Huntington Lake, California, we have only raced Avocet once before and despite doing well, we haven’t done it since. Since we live aboard and cruise, it can be tough to push her, especially with all our possessions aggressively shifting below. 

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