May 13, 2011

“A Lot of Unpleasant Situations”

We’ve gotten considerable impassioned telephone and email response to our Wednesday ‘Lectronic titled ‘Is The Hangman’s Noose the New Symbol of Puerto Escondido?’ Puerto Escondido is the very popular cruiser center on the east coast of Baja that is also home to Loreto Fest, the largest cruiser gathering in the Sea of Cortez.

Based on the emails we’ve received and telephone conversations we’ve had on the matter in the last two days, it’s the opinion of the overwhelming majority of respondents that the problems began with the arrival of one cruiser, and have been caused by his unpleasant behavior toward other cruisers, the staff at the Fonatur facility, and some Mexican workers in the boatyard. The emails and telephone calls have come from a wide variety of people: folks who have cruised Mexico for a decade, folks who live ashore at Tripui, folks who have kept a boat at Puerto Escondido for nearly 10 years, people who worked with the individual, people who have tried to have work done by the individual, people who say they have felt threatened or intimidated by the individual, and so forth.

To eliminate any bias, for the purposes of this report we ignored the opinions of people that we already knew. Our ‘results’ are thus based entirely on the opinions from complete strangers. There is only one exception, that being a person who put up a defense — sort of — for the individual everyone else is blaming for the problems. Without that response, we would not have had a single person come to this person’s defense.

In order to make sure the individual has a reasonable opportunity to write us with his version of the situation, we’re going to hold off identifying him — other than as ‘Mr. Y’ — until next week, and similarly hold off publishing a review of the opinions we received. We want to be as fair as we can be.

For the record, Fonatur, which owns and operates the facility at Puerto Escondido, minced no words about the situation. During a lengthy Thursday telephone conversation with Jared Martinez, the Operations Manager of Fonatur, the Mexican tourist development agency, we were told the following, although not in quite as fluent English:

"Everyone here in Mexico City knows all about Mr. Y. He’s a troublemaker. He has created a lot of unpleasant situations wherever he has gone, and he has made a lot of people unhappy. He thinks he can tell us at Fonatur how to run our business in Puerto Escondido. Well, it’s not his business, and we’re proud of the job our staff has done with the limited resources they have to work with. I was recently in Puerto Escondido for the festivities, and I could see how much the cruisers like Constanza, our manager, and her staff. I don’t want to give anyone the idea that we don’t welcome Americans in Mexico, because we do, but not only does Mr. Y have no business telling us how to run our operation, he also needs to remember that he is a guest in Mexico. Furthermore, we’re fully aware that he repeatedly broke the laws of our country by working in Cabo San Lucas and in La Paz without the necessary permit."

Ironically, we’re told that one of the biggest stinks in Puerto Escondido has been caused by Mr. Y’s allegedly threatening to turn cruisers in to Immigration for doing exactly what he’d been doing in Mexico for something like a year before he obtained his work permit. Indeed, even the only person who wrote us in support of Mr Y, described him as a "hypocrite" with regard to this matter.

Some clarifications and facts to update Wednesday’s report:

1) The facility in Puerto Escondido is no longer called Singlar, but rather Fonatur Operadora Portuaria. Manager Constanza Noreiga has a staff of nine, plus two watchmen. Based on the responses we received, Constanza and her staff have created a very pleasant atmosphere, and are extremely well-liked by cruisers.

Fonatur has 117 moorings, nine commercial spots to lease for businesses, a haul-out facility, a dry storage area for about 50 boats with hurricane tie-downs, and four shop areas for lease in the dry storage area. Fonatur hauls boats and puts them on stands, but does not do any work on boats. If an owner doesn’t do the work, he/she is supposed to have the work done through Puerto Escondido Maritime Service in P.E. S DE R. L. DE CV – (PEMS), owned by the well-liked Elvin Schultz. Because Elvin is the only one who has rented space from Fonatur, all outside work needs to be run through his company. A spokesperson said, "This protects the Mexican workers on site and those who are brought in to do special jobs for which they are well qualified." Mr Y, who did get a work permit, was one of those often brought in by PEMS. According to Fonatur policy, only boatowners are allowed to work on their own boats. Does this mean not even crewmembers or relatives can work on boats? Apparently not, at least by the letter of the law. We were told that a representative of PEMS told boatowners that they weren’t even allowed to share advice about how to do certain jobs!

Similarly, Martin and Robin Hardy, the much-liked folks from San Pedro aboard the 52-ft trawler Cat’s Meow, run a chandlery at Fonatur under the auspices of PEMS.

2) In the Wednesday ‘Lectronic, we reported being told that an ‘American boat service provider’ had written a letter to Mexico City that was very critical of the Fonatur operation in Puerto Escondido. We’ve since been told that while Elvin of PEMS signed the letter, they believe it was actually written by someone else. Maybe somebody who worked with PEMS. We don’t know if this is true, but it would sort of make sense because even after receiving the critical letter, Fonatur in both Mexico City and Puerto Escondido remain very supportive of Elvin and PEMS.

3) In the Wednesday ‘Lectronic we reported being told by several people that the ‘American boat service provider’ was banned from the Fonatur facility, including the fuel dock. Subsequently, we’ve been told by Fonatur that this person is allowed to use the fuel facility. Whether this is a result of a change in their policy with regard to this person or not, we don’t know. But we were told that Mr. Y sent a petition to the U.S. Consulate in Cabo San Lucas regarding the matter, and that Mr. Y had told a couple in Loreto that he was going to call the U.S. Coast Guard and tell them he was effectively being held hostage because he wasn’t allowed to go to the fuel dock. We haven’t been able to confirm the latter. At last word, Mr. Y was still "banned" from the Fonatur facility, other than the fuel dock during business hours, but nobody was willing to provide us with a definitive answer as to exactly what that means. Mr. Y was last seen anchored off Loreto.

If anyone else wants to comment on the situation in Puerto Escondido, please email us. We also recommend that you contact Fonatur and express your feelings in a short and sweet manner as Señor Martinez expressed concern that Mr. Y — as unlikely as it might seem — might wage a campaign against that organization.

A number of people who wrote in all but pleaded with us to remind our readers what a great place Puerto Escondido is, how friendly the cruisers and staff at Fonatur are, and that the recent problems have been an aberration. Indeed, just about everybody who wrote us went out of their way to say how much they loved the area, the people, and the normal vibe — which they say has been returning.

For this issue of ‘Lectronic, we’ll give Ward Latimer, Commodore of the Hidden Port YC, which puts on the Loreto Fest, the last word: "First let me say that we just finished with our 15th Loreto Fest and, once again, were host to record crowds. All of this would not have been possible without many volunteers who cooked, swept, threw horseshoes and bocce balls, sold tickets, ate hot dogs, danced to some great music and raised money to help out the kids at the Internado School in Ligui. We also need to thank Constanza Noriega and all of her crew from Fonatur/Singlar Marina. Without their help none of the above would have been possible.

"Yes, some of the incidents reported in ‘Lectronic did occur, but I certainly don’t recall any ‘ugly vibes’ and the only great tension I felt was about whether the band would show up on time. The Fonatur facility and staff does enjoy an excellent reputation, and deservedly so. Latitude has published several letters commending the marina staff and recommending this area to all cruisers. I would hope that the actions of one individual would not deter anyone from coming here and enjoying this beautiful part of the Sea of Cortez and the hospitality that the Hidden Port Yacht Club offers."

Nereida Closes the Loop

Around 11 a.m. GMT on May 6, Jeanne Socrates officially completed a full circuit around the globe aboard her Najad 380 Nereida. "We sailed over our track down to Cape Town from Lanzarote, made on December 2, 2009," she wrote last week.

Readers will recall that Socrates was just 85 miles from crossing her track out of Zihuatanejo when she lost her previous Nereida on a Mexican beach on June 19, 2008. After having a new Nereida built to her exacting specifications, Socrates set off on a planned nonstop circumnavigation from the Canary Islands in October ’09, but engine troubles forced an extended stopover in Cape Town. Leaving last March, Socrates continued on to New Zealand and then Hawaii to greet the Singlehanded TransPac fleet (of which she’d planned to be a member, but couldn’t make the start). She continued on to the Pacific Northwest and started her second attempt at a nonstop circuit on October 25 when she left Victoria, B.C., but a knockdown at Cape Horn forced her into port once more.

Jeanne Socrates, 68, has officially completed her first solo circumnavigation (but unofficially, her second) and has safely pulled into Cape Town.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

But the intrepid British grandmother wouldn’t let a little thing like a busted boom stop her from continuing with her voyage. She spent two months in Ushuaia effecting repairs, and then took off again. At 5:10 p.m. on Wednesday, Nereida pulled into the Royal Cape YC in Cape Town, South Africa, after a frustratingly long passage from the Falklands. "Big celebrations all last evening, well past midnight," she told us. "I don’t remember getting back to the boat, although I clearly did!"

Socrates says she has no firm plans other than continuing with repairs that couldn’t be made during her stay in Ushuaia, as well as figuring out what’s wrong with the engine that was replaced during her last stay in Cape Town. Big congratulations to one amazing lady! You can keep up with her plans on her website

Classy Classifieds Really Do Work

Did you know that, according to a recent survey of Latitude readers, 92% of respondents read the Classy Classifieds? No wonder we get so many letters like this one from a recent advertiser:

"Please cancel our ad for a 50% equity partner for our boat. We ran the ad for three months and got an average of two inquiries per month. We found a wonderful partner in March and closed escrow in April. We highly recommend Latitude — we were really pleased with the quality and quantity of response for a pretty expensive partnership. Thanks a lot!"

Classy readers aren’t tire-kickers, they’re qualified buyers!

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

If you want a proven method to sell your boat — or even half your boat — it’s not too late to get your ad into the June issue of Latitude 38 — the deadline is Wednesday, May 18, at 5 p.m. A 40 word ad is just $40, and best of all, you can do it online.

AC News, Weekend Racing Preview

The America’s Cup machine has been in high gear recently, with teams sailing their AC45s in the "test event" you can check out in the video below:



The test event must have been so encouraging that Samsara decided to knock things back to size, with a pretty demoralizing development. Although he had previously dropped hints that not all was well with his Mascalzone Latino team, Vincenzo Onorato announced yesterday that the "Latin rascals" were withdrawing from AC 34. Citing an inability to secure sufficient funding to field a viable entry, Onorato addressed the withdrawl in his typically straightforward way.

"I’m not interested in a hopeless challenge," he said. "I would be lying to the sponsors, to our fans and, last but not least, also to myself."

The Rascals’ departure means that for the moment, there is no Challenger of Record for AC 34, although Paul Cayard’s Artemis Team looks likely to take over those reins. It also means that one of the more colorful characters in the world of sailing will not be at the table for AC 34.

Closer to home, USA 76, which was Oracle Racing’s challenger for the ’03 Cup,  has been over at KKMI in Pt. Richmond, undergoing modifications to bring her in line with Coast Guard regulations to do some corporate hospitality. She should be a sight to behold on the Bay. The other tidbit of interest for Bay Area AC fans is that the Oracle Racing will bring two AC45s to the Bay in June for an on-the-Bay test, which should be pretty fun to watch!

For the rest of us, there are a couple cool events on the Bay this weekend. The St. Francis YC’s Stone Cup has drawn 35 boats split between the J/120s, J/105s and IRC boats. Club Nautique’s American Armed Forces Cup goes off on Sunday, and in our preview in a recent edition of Latitude 38, we incorrectly identified the venue as the Estuary. The boats will actually be racing on the South Bay out of Ballena Bay. In any event, bring your rain gear, because if the weather wonks have it right, it’s going to be a gray, wet weekend.

Blubber in the Rigging

When racing offshore, such as in the Oregon International Offshore Race from Astoria, OR to Victoria, BC, there are always plenty of safety concerns. But getting clobbered by a breaching humpback whale isn’t usually one of them. Nevertheless that’s exactly what happened to the aptly named L’Orca at about 9:30 yesterday morning, only a half hour after starting the 250-mile race.

The 38-ft sloop was blasting downwind with a chute up in about 18-20 knots of wind at the time. Luckily, Captain Jerry Barnes, his son Ryan and the rest of their crew were all in the cockpit when the 30-ft cetacean suddenly sprung out of the ocean only inches from L’Orca‘s starboard beam. "It hit the mast about halfway to three-quarters of the way up," explained Ryan Barnes, "and proceeded to fall forward and on the starboard side of the boat." The entire rig came crashing down, the toe rail sustained damage, and the starboard lifelines and stanchions were all "demolished." Souvenir pieces of blubber, as well as a barnacle were found on deck.

If anyone doubts the authenticity of the story, these bits of blubber and a barnacle will serve as evidence.

© Shawn Eggert, USCG

L’Orca was safely towed back to Astoria by a Coast Guard 47-ft motor lifeboat out of Station Cape Disappointment, WA. No one knows how badly the whale was injured, other than its scrap from the rigging, but Guardsmen who responded doubted that the incident would cramp the style of the humpback, which probably weighed close to 20 tons. Goes to show, you never know what surprises await you out in Mother Nature’s watery playgrounds. 

Although we’ve sailed along parts of the Southern California coast more times than we can count, we don’t claim to be experts on all aspects of cruising there.
On May 4, Washington governor Chris Gregoire sounded the death knell for copper-based bottom paint in her state by signing into law a ban on the use of the product on recreational boats under 65 feet — the first state to do so.