Boating Panga feature

When you first discover a passion for a place and a subject, you can’t possibly imagine where that passion might take you. When I first set foot on Mexican soil in 2007, for example, there’s no way I could have foreseen my proud moment at the Miami International Boat Show six years later.

In late February 2007, I traveled to Mexico’s Baja California Sur to cover a sea-kayaking excursion to Isla Espiritu Santo for Islands and a sailboat charter in the Sea of Cortez for Sailing Magazine. I fell so deeply, madly in love with the place, I changed my flight and booked myself into the budget Hotel Yeneka for an extra week. I returned in May for three weeks at the beyond-budget Pension California, and then again later that summer for two weeks in the same kitschy pension (until my sad little ceiling fan died along with the electricity, and I abandoned my 100-degree cell for a nearby apartment boasting an air-conditioned bedroom).

Long after my return to the States, I couldn’t quite forget the dreamlike Sea of Cortez or the sublime Baja desert. I craved fresh fish tacos from the waterfront restaurants, tamales from the street vendors and lattes from my favorite cafe. I missed practicing Spanish with the lovely people I met, from the friendly restauranteurs and cafe owners to ecotourism operators and local artists. Perhaps most of all, I missed the 500-year-old city of La Paz, with its historic centro, cobbled streets, towering cathedral and 5-kilometer malecon, home to a tough, colorful fleet of fishing boats. Pangas.

Somehow, these distinctive little watercraft became synonymous in my mind with the city itself — kind, yet also tough, resilient and incredibly adaptive. Although I’d heard that the modern panga’s roots lay with a World Bank-funded Yamaha project in the 1970s, I had a strong gut feeling that these particular boats belonged to La Paz. And I decided I wanted to write about them.

So I returned to La Paz in November 2011. This time, I brought my photographer husband and our young daughter, then 2. We rented a house in a quiet neighborhood in El Comitan and spent four weeks researching an article for Boating Magazine, which was published in the November/December 2012 issue.

Four weeks seems like a lot for one article. To be fair, we pursued other work while we were in Mexico, and we made more than a few trips to the beach and our favorite fish-taco haunts. We visited with friends, we road-tripped, and we met a startling array of fascinating people, learning more about the history of La Paz, its people and its boatbuilding than we ever could have imagined. More than anything else, we learned that the local panga is deeply connected to the region and its culture. It transformed Baja California Sur’s past, plays a critical role in its present and looks likely to remain relevant far into the future.

But… would the article resonate with others?

I got my answer last Friday at the Miami International Boat Show, where “The Boat That Changed the World” won first place in its category in the annual Boating Writers International Writing Contest. I can’t possibly express the joy and gratitude I feel for this unexpected honor. A heartfelt thanks to the volunteer judges who worked so hard to make this year’s competition a reality (and to the editors at Boating who took a chance on me), and congratulations to the other winners!