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Friday, May 17, 2019

May 17, 2019 Sailing to Punta Mita

wingssail images-judy jensen
Fred Sailing

The forecast was good for an afternoon thermal and when we came out of the marina we saw ripples on the bay that looked promising so we put the small jib on deck and set first the mainsail and then the jib.

The thermal never came in and the wind stayed light but we were sailing and we enjoyed a slow and pleasant sail to the west, tacking along the rocky coast in the warm sunshine. Some other boats were out and not doing much either and even with our small jib we soon put them behind us except one which we decided was Southern Cross, the Westsail 42 owned by our friend Steve. He and Janet had a huge genoa out and a full main and they were making surprisingly good time up the coast in the light air but they were sailing outside, away from the coastline. We preferred to sail inside, close to the shore, which usually gives good results against boats outside.

Each tack we made I thought would put us ahead of Southern Cross as there was a right hand shift and current too which was against them but their wind was a little stronger and they kept their distance ahead. Finally I told Judy we had to tack out and catch the breeze even though the best strategy here is normally to stay in. We’ve won a lot of races by staying in close along this coast but today it looked like going out would pay and so we tacked onto starboard and held on until we passed behind Southern Cross. When we felt the wind increase we tacked back.

Soon, however, the thermal came as forecast. It was late, but it came and we then had a nice, building, west wind. Soon it was 20knots. With our small jib and everything tight we started to climb out to weather of Southern Cross. Meanwhile with their big genoa they were soon over powered. As we made distance to weather on them we also benefitted from the right hand shift which occurs along this shore.

Southern Cross was far to leeward when we finally tacked into the bay at Punta Mita. I think they might have beaten us if they had sailed closer inshore. Anyhow, it was a good sail for all.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Sailing fast to Punta Mita

Going up the coast here, from La Cruz to Punta Mita, is one of my favorite sails. We race this route several times each year, sometimes to one of the Beer Can marks which can be placed along the way, sometimes all the way to Mita and we quite often beat other boats who are sailing against us. By now we know each rocky outcrop and each cove and bay and where the wind always shifts and where the current runs. We know the best strategy for sailing it and I never tire of it, and still after five years here doing this, almost every time we learn another subtlety or little trick. It’s really fun.

Let me tell you how it works:

In this chart image I have made notes about what works best.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Sailing Strategy

First of all the route is about 9 miles and the wind almost always is westerly when we first sail out of La Cruz, or Southwesterly to be more accurate. Going to Punta Mita, therefore, is a beat. There is always a choice one can make on this beat. You can sail long tacks far out into the bay or you can short tack the beach. Because the wind, which starts out southwesterly, consistently shifts to the north the farther along you go, which presents as a right shift, it pays to stay to the right. You can see our track (in yellow) on this chart. I’ve put the starboard tack headings on each tack. You can see we start out sailing 198, then 220, then 254, and on the final starboard tack we get a huge lift from 254 up to 284. (I didn’t show the headings after point “E” because there we were taking down the sails as we approached the anchorage.) This is a 90 degree shift and occurs on any day when there is a thermal wind. If you are racing, staying to the right side is essential. Boats that go outside sail a much further distance. Even on the track we took there were places we could have saved more distance and time. Note the blue lines, one set at point “B” and the other set at point “C”. If we had tacked back in at both of those places, following the blue lines, we’d have cut significant distance off the course. The extra tack from point “C” to “D” and then to “E” would have saved nearly ½ of a mile alone. Since we were not racing that day we just took it easy and didn’t do all the tacks we could have.

How far in do we go and how soon should we tack back when going out? Mike Danielson knows this strategy too and he just likes to stay on the “shelf” which extends out to about the 70’ depth line so he tacks back when he reaches that depth. We prefer staying in closer than that. Going out we always tack back towards the shore as soon as we have a good line to clear the next rocky point. There are several of these points and they have off lying rocks lurking under water as extensions of what you can see. We tack in when we know that we can clear the next point and sail into the cove beyond it. You should stay away from the points but you can sail quite far into the bays and we often go into 20 feet of water there, which seems very close but there are no dangers. The water is clear enough and you can see the color change as you approach the shallow areas.

Also, going out puts you into the current. There is a clockwise flowing current in Banderas Bay which seems to be present regardless of the state of the tide. On this beat from La Cruz to Punta Mita you are sailing against that current. The current is less close to shore and at some places there are back eddies which actually help you go against the prevailing flow.

When we race here there are almost always some boats which try to go outside. It’s understandable because often the wind is stronger outside and when they hit that wind the boat speed goes up and they heel over and it feels really great. But when it’s time to tack back in they see that they will come in behind the boats which didn’t go out.

Finally, the best part of this wind shift is the final leg to Punta Mita when your starboard tack is one long lift which can actually carry you right up into the anchorage. You must be in close to get the most out of this lift. On the shore just west of where I have marked “56 Beer Can X” there is a square white house right on the bluff behind the beach. You must be in close at that house. Be careful to stay out of the surf line but go in close on port tack at this point and then when you go onto starboard you will have the best of all worlds: Nice lifting breeze and a flat water.

Next time we will discuss the spinnaker run back.


Click here for more photos (and a repeat of the sailing strategy.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mexico

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