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One for the Record Books

November 9, 2009 – Cabo San Lucas, Baja California

09 Ha-Haers at Cabo
(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

"That wasn't so hard after all!" For many in the fleet, completing the Ha-Ha is the inaugural step in a new life of cruising. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The awards ceremony for Baja Ha-Ha XVI — which was, in several ways, the most exciting ever — was held at Marina Cabo San Lucas on Saturday evening. While a record 195 boats signed up for the 760-mile event from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, thanks to normal attrition, there were actually 165 boats and 601 sailors — both records — that crossed the starting line.

Seven of the entries in the cruising rally, which ranged in size from 24 to 94 feet, responded to the challenge of a variety of conditions to sail the entire course and claim semi-coveted 'Soul Sailor' honors. The high extremes in conditions ranged from winds of 20 to 30 knots and seas estimated by the Coast Guard — but not by any of the participants — to be between 18 and as much as 30 feet on the second and third days and nights. In the low extreme, it included lengthy calms near the end of the second and third legs. The seven boats and their skippers were as follows: Rudy Heessels' Beneteau 36s7 Wind Child, Pat Mitchell's Cal 39 Gitana, Craig Shaw's Columbia 43 Adios, Patsy Verhoeven's Gulfstar 50 Talion, Paul Martson's Corsair 31 Sally Lightfoot, Sheri Crowe's Farr 44 Tabu, and Scott Piper's J/160 Pipe Dream IX. We salute them all!

Sailing the boat that's been in his family for decades, Cap'n Craig Shaw was determined to sail the entire 760-mile course. Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Tabu and Virago
With her unmistakable 'pistachio' hull, Tabu glides past Virago at the start of Leg Two. The 44-footer was built by Rich and Sheri Crowe using cold-molded techniques. Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Between the extremes in conditions, there were periods of excellent sailing on every leg. During the last evening, for example, we enjoyed some of the most exquisite sailing conditions in our 35 years of sailing. There was a full moon, swimsuit temperatures in the middle of the night, 15 to 18 knots of wind, and a flat sea. With our 63-ft cat Profligate gliding along easily at between 9 and 15 knots under a pink symmetrical chute, the ride was so smooth that we occasionally had to come out of the salon to convince ourselves that we weren't tied up to a dock.

Pipe Dream
It was an honor to have four-time circumnavigator Scott Piper (right) and his seasoned crew join this year's fleet. Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

At the end of each Ha-Ha, the Spirit of the Ha-Ha Award is presented in honor of Steven Swenson, skipper of the Seattle-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Trinity, who sailed the entire Ha-Ha course with his wife and two kids in 2004, then died in a tragic free-diving accident off Costa Rica a number of months later. This year's recipient of the award was a foregone conclusion, and was presented to Eugenie Russell, the fun-loving, charismatic, but above all, extremely competent 35-year-old skipper of the Alameda-based J/120 J/World, which sank after colliding with a whale on the first leg. Although Russell insists that she was just doing her job, members of her crew — as well as Coast Guard investigators — said she responded heroically to the situation, which resulted in all five aboard being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter without serious injury. Capt. Russell received a thunderous — and much welcomed — ovation from the 350 people at the awards ceremony.

- latitude / rs

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Weekend Racing Wrap-up

November 9, 2009 – The Bay

Manny Fagundes
Sixty boats showed up at Golden Gate YC for the first installment of the '09-'10 Manny Fagundes Seaweed Soup Series. © 2018 Peter Lyons /

Sun and temps into the 70s greeted the first big weekend of midwinter racing and it didn't take long for the foulies to come off over on the Cityfront for the Golden Gate YC's Manuel Fagundes Seaweed Soup Series #1.

Kate II
Peter Szasz's Kate II plays the waiting game while the fleet waited for the westerly to fill. © 2018 Sergei Zavarin /

After about a half-hour postponement, PRO Matt Jones managed to send all the fleets but the woodies off in a light easterly. But the breeze enjoyed at the start was short-lived and the flood that accompanied it wasn't, leaving only a couple boats with a chance of drifting by the mark on the correct side.

Richard Courcier's Farr 36 Wicked leads Pat Nolan's SC 37 Javelin into favorable current. © 2018 Peter Lyons /

Fortunately Jones picked out a westerly before it had even filled on the course, abandoned the first attempt, got everyone back to the line and got the whole fleet going around the course 'the right way.'

Sortin the kite
Sorting the kite during a jibe on Steen Moller's X-119 X-Dream. © 2018 Sergei Zavarin /

Although there were plenty of parking lots and slow points, just about all the 60 boats in seven divisions were able to get around the course in time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Groupama 3
Franck Cammas' Groupama 3 is off on a Jules Verne Trophy attempt with the Bay Area's Stan Honey navigating. © 2018 Yvan Zedda /

In news farther afield, the Bay Area's Stan Honey is currently navigating Franck Cammas' 105-ft trimaran Groupama 3 in an assault on the Jules Verne Trophy. Having covered 1,200 miles in the last 44 hours, the rockstar team on the boat — Sodeb'O skipper Thomas Coville is on board, along with former Gitana XIII skipper Lionel Lemonchois — is eating up the mileage and currently holds nearly a one-day advantage over the outright 'round the world record set by Bruno Peyron's Orange 2 in 2005 at 50d, 16h, and 20m.

Oracle WIng
BMW Oracle Racing unveils their new hard wing rig. The other end is 190 feet away! © 2018 Gilles Martin-Raget

A little closer to home, BMW Oracle Racing revealed their hard wing rig to the world, thus validating our snooping duck who told us:

"I told you so," he said, after we spent the last couple weeks giving him shit after the boat re-emerged from the shed sporting the tall soft-sail wing mast that subsequently went over the side. The new wing sail measures a whopping 190 feet tall and was built by the team's builders in Anacortes, Washington. Chew on this: it's 80% bigger than a Boeing 747 wing!

- latitude / rg

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November 9, 2009 – West Coast

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What Really Happened to J/World

November 9, 2009 – Pacific Ocean & the Internet

With the conclusion of the Baja Ha-Ha on Saturday night, the Grand Poobah/Publisher of Latitude 38 finally got some time to review the coverage of the loss of J/World and the Coast Guard's helicopter rescue of her crew — skipper Eugenie Russell, instructor Barry Demak, and students Raymond Quinn, Mark McKinnon, and Judy Land — 200 miles southwest of San Diego. There was a significant amount of misinformation in the initial Latitude report and the mainstream press, but the ignorance and groundless speculation that appeared on some sailing bulletin boards was nothing short of world class.

There are often errors in breaking news stories when the newmakers themselves can't be contacted directly. It's like the game of Telephone, where the information becomes more inaccurate with every person who passes it along. In the case of the loss of J/World, captain Eugenie Russell called owner Wayne Zittel to explain what happened. There was some kind of misunderstanding between the two, because Zittel then told Latitude's LaDonna Bubak — and others — that the J/120 had sunk in about seven minutes. But as Russell told Latitude in a three-hour first-person interview in Cabo San Lucas on Saturday, she knows for certain that 45 minutes passed between the time the boat and the whale collided, and the time J/World's masthead Windex passed 18 inches in front of her face on its way to the bottom.

It was also widely but mistakenly reported that a whale or whales repeatedly attacked J/World. Russell and crewmember Judy Land say they have no idea how this completely inaccurate information got passed along. In reality, J/World had been sailing comfortably at about nine knots under a small jib and reefed main when, at the top of swells, the crew began to notice some whales in the area. Suddenly, they found themselves heading down a wave on a nearly head-on course with a humpback whale. Russell says J/World first hit the whale with her keel, and it felt as though they had run aground. Almost immediately afterward, she felt contact between the boat's shaft and prop and the whale, resulting in blood in the water. Russell believes the whale then made a reactive flick of its mighty tail, jamming the rudder post up and aft, creating a roughly 8-inch by 14-inch hole in the transom area.

Russell is convinced the whale did not intententionally hit her boat, and there was only the initial brief contact with the huge mammal.

When the Coast Guard reported the incident, they stuck to the basic facts, making it seem like a fairly uneventful rescue of five sailors from a holed vessel. Having heard the entire tale from the skipper, we can assure you that it was so much more than that. Indeed, the story is so fascinating and educational that it will be the basis of a December issue Latitude interview with Russell, who had been doing her fourth Ha-Ha with J/World students. In the case of this interview, the text alone just doesn't do it justice, so we'll try to present the entire interview as a podcast shortly after the text version is published. Although it's a long interview, we think that once you start, you won't be able to stop listening.

When you read/hear Russell's account, you'll know why NBC in San Diego was wrong to report that J/World had "capsized."  And that the fellow who posted to the Wooden Boat Forum was wrong when he suggested — for reasons known only to him — that J/World had actually been hit by a submarine. There was another Wooden Boat Forum contributor who, after making the preposterous claim that container ship traffic in and out of Ensenada is among the busiest in the world, wildly speculated that J/World had probably hit a container. The problem with both of those theories is that whales bleed but subs and containers don't. In some other forum, somebody claimed that "the same thing had happened in the Ha-Ha in '02." We're not sure whether the poster meant a Ha-Ha boat had sunk in '02 or that a Ha-Ha crew had taken to a liferaft in '02. In either case, they were completely wrong.

Fortunately, there was lots of terrific advice in the forums to help boatowners lessen the chance that their boats would be hit by whales in the future. One contributor recommended that boatowners — we're not making this up — paint "I am not a whale" on the bottom of their boats. Then there is a SailNet contributor from "beautiful coastal Alabama" who suggested music as a solution. "I almost always play music as I cruise along," he wrote. "Maybe some Mozart or Schubert to alert any sleeping leviathons. I'm careful not to play any of that so-called contemporary music, because whales are very sensitive, and I don't want to piss them off. I wonder what tape was being played on J/World, because cetaceans don't accidently whack things with their tails." Nothing was being played on J/World. And for what it's worth, how is the poster to know that whales don't prefer Tupac and 50 Cent, and aren't enraged by classical music? Then there was another SailNet guy who wrote that he ". . . might have to carry some BIG! cherry bombs to toss in the water . . . which might alter the whales and send them on their way." In the case of J/World, there just wouldn't have been time to pull out the cherry bomb supply and start lighting them up before being hit.

Another licensed chaptain said there were sure ways of keeping whales away. First, you are to paint your boat to look like an orca. Second, you are supposed to record the sound of a pod of orcas feeding, then play it through a transducer. Presumably you're supposed to drill a hole in your depthsounder and glue in a little Radio Shack speaker with some 5200. Or maybe just mount a big Best Buy speaker on the bottom of your boat next to the knotmeter sender.

There was also an amusing discription of the Ha-Ha itself. One poster called it an ". . . innocuous party fest." When it comes to being a party fest, we've always thought the Ha-Ha was pretty nocuous. Anyway, somehow, this fellow managed to segue from whales sinking sailboats into jibberish about relationships. "Relationships are everything to me," he wrote, "as everything else in life is just tools to enhance them." Then this philospher noted, "The purchase price of a boat is just the admittance fee to the dance. You still have to spend money on the girl. Court one with something going for her, with pleasing and desirable character traits others desire as well. Or you could find yourself in a disillusioned relationship contemplating an expensive divorce." We kept waiting for his thoughts on relationships with whales, but that ship never came in. Get him a booking on Oprah.

Finally, there was a rip-snorting mischaracterization of the Ha-Ha course — by someone who had actually sailed the waters some time ago. This poster expressed sympahty for the Ha-Ha fleet because ". . . there is virtually no place to hide for 800 miles on the Baja coast, as there are few easy harbors — Turtle Bay and Mag Bay can be iffy in some conditions — and few islands to get behind for relief, and everything is a lee shore. Frankly, it was the one of the most rugged passages in my 35 years of sailing. Although I have bashed north over the same route on deliveries in my younger days, I do not believe any sane person would do it in those conditions."

Whaaaaaaaa?!!!!!!!! Not only did a Catalina 27 in the Ha-Ha have no trouble with the conditions, but one of the beauties of the Ha-Ha course is that there are so many places to sit out northwesterly weather. Indeed, with winds over 20 knots and seas of 15 feet or more forecast for the second and third days, the Grand Poobah suggested that those Ha-Ha folks with less sailing experience, or those with young kids, might want to take shelter at one of the many spots not far off the rhumbline. Specifically, Ensenada, 60 miles down the coast from the start, Cabo Colnett, 125 miles from the start, Isla San Martin, 140 miles from the start, Cabo San Quintin, 175 miles from the start, or Punta Baja, 190 from the start. Indeed, there is an embarassment of riches when it comes to places to sit out strong winds and big seas. Ha-Ha boats found wonderful shelter in all the places mentioned. Indeed, we on Profligate spent an extremely comfortable night on the hook with about 70 other Ha-Ha boats at San Quintin. Try telling any one of them there wasn't room for 250 more boats in that completely protected anchorage.

Turtle Bay "iffy"?!!!! We've dropped the hook for 16 of the last 17 years at both Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria — which is right next to Mag Bay — and never had anything but superb shelter. Indeed, one of the benefits of the Ha-Ha is that — unlike the races to Hawaii, the Caribbean 1500 or the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers — there are so very many places to hide out from prevailing winds.

People have asked why we at Latitude have never had a readers forum. The reason is because, after reading others, we've often felt our intelligence draining away as we read. This isn't to suggest that there isn't some great info on some of them, but rather that the filtering process is so poor that there is often the chance of more harm than good being done. Tellingly, one contributor mentioned above included the following quote: “Who is staring at the sea is already sailing a little.” It seems to us if the posters did more actual sailing than staring at the sea, we'd all be better off.

- latitude / rs

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