Following a story lead several years ago, I found myself chatting with Lyle Brunson in the shade of the Palmas de Cortez portable pier as a blistering Baja sun forced us to seek the shelter.
Lyle’s life’s story was compelling, with enough life-changing moments to fill a novel. If you haven’t read “Lyle Brunson, Art in the Shadows,” it might be worthwhile to do so before continuing. https://www.bdoutdoors.com/art-in-the-shadows/
Kathy Skaggs was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1951, the first of a large family which included two brothers and three sisters. Sailing has been the theme of her life; from an early age, her dad gave her the “wind,” and the “wind” was what she gave her sons as well. She completed high school in 1969, after which, she pursued her interest in sailing and worked on Hilton Head Island, leading to catering work with a wonderful local chef.
The story of Lyle Brunson and Kathy Skaggs began in an Ace Hardware store on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in 1978. Their happenstance encounter was a life-altering moment. They shared an interest in sailing which grew and soon they were crewing aboard sailboats transiting up and down the Caribbean. Neither could have imagined the adventures that awaited them sailing the high seas for decades, visiting and fishing many exotic locations … waters around Florida, the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, North Drop, Antigua, Montauk, Australia, Wake, Okinawa, Philippines, Hong Kong and of course, the East Cape.
Lyle and Kathy are both daring, bold and professional. Bare boat chartering and crewed chartering was in its infancy and the two of them fit right in.
They worked the Caribbean from Tortola to Grenada, purchasing several different-sized sailboats to accommodate the demand of their growing client base.
Eventually, they left the Caribbean and the adventures they had shared behind, heading through the Panama Canal, up the west coast of South America to Cabo San Lucas at Baja’s tip.
In 1985, they set out on a journey of more than 8,000 miles non-stop across the Pacific from Cabo to Cebu, Philippines on a 75-foot steel-hull ketch with a100-foot mast…and to quote Kathy, “a tall sucker nicknamed the lead sled.” Sixty-three days later, five weary sailors reached their destination. Kathy recalled, “Lyle met the challenge in his characteristic meticulous and diligent manner throughout the non-stop voyage.”
“Even back then, each day we spotted Styrofoam cups along with other trash, including a 40-foot container just under the surface at 10-degrees north of the equator, 1000-miles from land in any direction,” she confided ruefully.
They based out of Hong Kong Harbor for a while, and basically moved around, landing wherever they needed for clients. Part of the time they had a home on land – in the Philippines, Puerto Galara, Kalaw Place and Boquete Island.
In 1989, their twins Ben and Mac were born in Manila. Because of their lifestyle, she home schooled the boys through two of the best home schooling programs in the world — Calvert School, Baltimore, Maryland, with pre-school through 8th grade via mail — then later, online private school — Laurel Springs School, Ojai, Calif. — with local schools when possible.
In October 2000, the family settled in Piedras Gordas, a tiny community of Los Barriles, BCS, populated primarily by local pangueros and their families. Initially, Lyle fished locally from his small outboard-powered skiff while continuing to accept an occasional yacht delivery assignment.
“East Cape was like New York City to us. People spoke English and they had American products, plus we had just come from Hong Kong where we lived on our boat; there were many stop lights!” Skaggs exclaimed, adding, “to Los Barriles where there were none. If they get one, I’m outta’ here!”
Coincidentally, around the same time, another family arrived from South Africa … the family of Gary Barnes-Webb, a white hunter who had accepted the position of General Manager at Rancho Leonero Resort. Soon, the two newly-arrived families developed a friendship that has survived the test of time.
On a whim, Janine Barnes-Webb and Kathy began offering catering services for parties, small weddings, and gourmet meals made to-go for private homes in Los Barriles and Rancho Leonero.
In 2002, Chucky Van Wormer of the Van Wormer Resorts invited Kathy to assist with a small wedding.The “small” wedding turned out to be for 60 guests at Playa del Sol which seemed large to Kathy at the time. Skaggs recalled recently, “Great wedding, everyone in the pool at 2 AM. FUN! Still friends to this day with the bride and groom” … thus, began an unplanned journey. Kathy’s past seemed to have prepared her for the challenge.
At first, like any newly-created enterprise, her service began in fits and starts with Van Wormer Resorts the primary location and Rancho Leonero running a close second. At first, weddings were in the off-season. Primarily, anglers requested her services, which is still the case. Some of the weddings were small, one consisting of bride, groom and father-in-law.
However, as the word spread, the phone began to ring and other resorts in the area started directing their clients to Baja Weddings with Kathy. Her desire at that time was to build a successful business for herself, but ultimately Baja Weddings with Kathy became the catalyst for creating off-shoot cottage industries that could provide sustainable income for local moms and dads wanting part-time jobs. Her business also encouraged those with an entrepreneurial flair and ambition to start their own small businesses in the East Cape area.
In addition to the responsibilities of the new enterprise, she continued “home schooling” her sons, who also attended the local Mexican school with their neighbors’ children.
Her business continued to grow as Los Barriles grew. When windsurfers and the new sport of kite boarding arrived, the business benefited as well. Kathy encouraged both Ben and Mac to check out the new popular winter activities…WIND! Both excelled in the sports and are currently involved in those industries.
Mac has been teaching with ExotiKite Kiteboarding since 2006. He is the head instructor and go-to guy for just about everything. He is also one of the instructors at the Baja Wave Camps. He is a professional strapless freestyle and wave rider, sponsored by North Kiteboarding, and summers to Alaska to commercially fish for salmon.
Ben also started teaching kiteboarding with Ian and Megan in 2006 and now is a Sales Representative at Boards & More Inc., East Coast Sales Rep at North Kites, USA, and Owner/CEO at Abs Designs, Hood River, Oregon. He is traveling all over the world doing what he loves to do, kite boarding one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
One of the first employees of Baja Weddings with Kathy is Rosa Maria Cota Gonzalez, who has worked alongside Kathy from the beginning on every wedding numbering in the hundreds over the past 16 years.
Guadalupe Vargas Cota joined the core group of Baja Weddings with Kathy about eight years ago. She bakes the best wedding cakes in Baja, Cakes by Lupy, plus she offers outstanding catering with a professional staff of waiters and bartenders. She also has a professional steaming service and babysitters who are great with kids.
Hotel bartenders Eliazar and crew, and the kitchen staff at Hotel Palmas De Cortez contribute tremendously to the success of Kathy’s venture, she said.
Van Wormer Resorts also offers mini-fishing tournaments for the groom, family and friends, while the women enjoy a spa day.
Salon de Cortez has a bridal party room available for hair and makeup just for the bride and bridesmaids.
Theresa Comber and her crew from her boat, the Awesome, offer sunset cruises for the wedding party as well as bachelorette cruises.
The past year, four new small businesses were created to make more wedding services available:
• LILO WEDDING ARCHES by Liz and Lobo. They have four wedding arches and will set up and break down. No more delivery fees from Cabo.
• Maria Eugenia Blanco Rueda offers custom gift baskets. She has a great website and showroom at Van Wormer Resorts for Guest Favors.
• Ramona Macklis, PR Firm and Social Media expert.
• Baja Fish Spice gift sets for the bride and groom are available as guest favors.
• Noe Verdugo: DJ NOE
Kathy’s mantra: “It’s remembering what is needed for a wedding; what do you remember about the last wedding you attended? Ceremony? Were the bride and groom happy and did everyone have a good time?” This has served her well throughout her Wedding Planning career.
Kathy’s enthusiasm hasn’t wavered since she arrived. She credits her success to many, beginning with Chucky Van Wormer who first extended the invitation to “assist with a small wedding,” along with Don Roberto (Bobby) Van Wormer who often encouraged her and Cha Cha Van Wormer who volunteers advice when asked. “If I have any problems, I go right to Cha Cha and she solves them!” Kathy smiled.
Kathy also commented on the fantastic group of creative, hardworking people who have contributed to the growth of Baja Weddings over the years.
“Thank you for allowing me to share with you why I love it here and how all this came to be and what it has grown into with many of the same people and still growing every year,” Kathy asserted. “This was the whole point in starting this business, and in continuing it; I’m loving everything about it. There is no way I could ever do this without them! If it wasn’t fun I couldn’t have done it.”
Kathy’s enthusiasm spills over, touching those around her. She and Lyle have pursued their passions — Lyle his art, and Kathy her catering and wedding planning — content with who and where they are, while having a significant impact on the community they call their home.