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Crazy Weather Plagues Cruisers & Snowbirds

February 3, 2010 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Despite a horrific night, Savona, left, and Sarah are grateful and all smiles, knowing their cruising dreams could have come to a tragic end. Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Snowbirds who flew south of the border this week in pursuit of winter tans must be sorely disappointed, as a bizarre stint of torrential rain and heavy overcast has been plaguing the Central Mexican coast. In Banderas Bay, conditions last night in the La Cruz anchorage turned from uncomfortable to horrific in a matter of minutes, when winds increased to 70 knots, causing roughly half of the 25 anchored boats to drag.

As winds increased from 40 to 60, then to 70, short, steep 8-ft wind waves pounded the fleet, causing the snubber to break on the Ventura-based Catalina 440 Blue Aweigh. As the remainder of the sloop's 300 feet of chain paid out from the pressure, skipper Mike Dobson wisely motored at full throttle into the blow. His boat held her position, but boats all around it were on the move. At one point the big Garden ketch Arctic Pearl bore down on Blue Aweigh, threatening to T-bone her, and there was nothing that Mike or his wife Lisa could do to keep Pearl's six-foot bow sprit from slamming into the Catalina's stern railing assembly. As the tip of the sprit entered the cockpit, head-high, Mike actually put his hand on the bronze star that adorns the sprit's tip. Luckily, Arctic Pearl slid away on the next swell without doing further damage.

Blue Aweigh's stern railing got mangled, but her hull is undamaged. Mike and Lisa hope to make repairs quickly, then head to the South Pacific. Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Meanwhile, Stepping Stone's anchor dragged, sending her perilously close to several other boats. Then, the Siletz, OR-based Maple Leaf 42's all-chain rode parted, and she was quickly driven toward a nearby beach. Her engine was no match for the power of the oncoming waves, and despite an attempt to put out another anchor, she was driven onto a narrow strip of beach between two ominous rock jetties. As skipper Elias Anderson and his wife Sarah readied their daughters, Kimberly, 16, and Savona, 5, for an emergency bailout, the boat heeled over onto the sand. But moments later a big wave lifted the 28,000-lb hull, and suddenly the family realized they were afloat again. Sarah quickly fired up the engine, Elias put the hammer down, and they were able to regain control, steering the big ketch into deeper water.

When the torrent eventually died down, roughly half of the anchored fleet took shelter for the rest of the night in the adjacent Marina Riviera Nayarit, which fortunately had plenty of slips. As far as we can tell no boats were actually lost, but many suffered minor damage. Stepping Stone will haul this week to make repairs in her heavily-laid-up fiberglass hull.

bow sprit
Mike got a closer look at this bowsprit than he would have liked. But at least it didn't take out his dodger and bimini -- or whack him in the head! Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Longtime residents of the area say they have never seen such conditions in the wintertime. Only during the only hurricane to strike here in recent memory — several years ago — have winds ever reach such velocity. Rains continue today, but so far winds are a non-issue. Time for cruisers to lick their wounds and thank the gods, as the carnage could have been much, much worse.

- latitude / at

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Classy Deadline the 15th

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Groupama 3 Charges Ahead

February 3, 2010 – North Atlantic

Groupama 3
Groupama 3 taking flight across the starting line off Ushant in her Jules Verne Record attempt. © 2018 Team Groupama

Three days into a Jules Verne Trophy attempt, Franck Cammas' 105-ft trimaran Groupama 3 has broken into the tradewinds and is eyeing a six-day passage to the equator. Aside from a collision with a sunfish this morning and a 50th birthday party for Lionel Lemonchois yesterday, the trip has been uneventful so far. Shaky weather at the start meant that after the first day, the 10-man crew was nearly 100 miles behind the reference time set by Bruno Peyron's Orange 2 in 2005. But favorable conditions since have seen Groupama 3 turn that deficit into a 170-mile lead in the last two days while sailing a very direct route south.

"The departure window was very tricky on timing," said navigator Stan Honey in an email last night. "We had to wait at Ouessant [Ushant] for a small low to pass before starting, and then we were just able to get past Finisterre before a high moved too close to shore and slammed the gate. Then we passed just west of a cutoff low near Madeira that had been ruining many earlier possible departure times because it had been too far west. On this window however, the cut-off had moved east and we had great wind on the west side of it."

Stan Honey
The Bay Area's Stan Honey hard at work in the nav station of Groupama 3. You can read about what the navigator's life aboard is like for one of these trips, by checking out our interview with Honey in the February issue of Latitude 38. © 2018 Team Groupama

Honey said they were running in about 25-knots of breeze and "typical" seas around the low.

"In those conditions we use the leeward foil and obviously no daggerboard," Honey said. "We carry the smallest of our gennakers and one reef, and sail between 30 and 35 knots with a true wind angle between 145º and 150º."

That sounds like fun to us! Although the breeze has since dropped to the mid-teens and a bigger gennaker substitued for the smallest one, the team expects it to strengthen to the low-20s as they pass the Cape Verde Islands. After the doldrums the picture gets a little murkier.

"The approach to the Southern Ocean is still dicey," Honey wrote. "Some models show us having a fast trip along the SW side of the St. Helena High, and other models show us getting stuck behind a coll formed by a second high coming from South America and eventually merging with the St. Helena High."

This attempt should make for some great entertainment to come. In the meantime, make sure you have a look at our interview with Honey in the February issue of Latitude 38, where, among other things, he predicted the start day for the record attempt — a week in advance.

- latitude / rg

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Ad: Northstar Risk Management

February 3, 2010 – Walnut Creek

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America's Cup is on for Next Week

February 3, 2010 – Valencia

USA getting some hang time off Valencia in preparation for the 33rd America's Cup match. © 2018 Gilles Martin-Raget

Barring any unforseeable delays, amid a flurry of last-minute legal action the 33rd America's Cup will get underway Monday! What? It's really going to happen? That's what it sounds like. Although at times in the last 2.5 years it has seemed like the next Cup would never come, what with all the endless legal machinations and rancor, it's on for BMW Oracle Racing and Alinghi. There will be unspecified wind limits and a chance that the matches won't go off in a true DOG format, but those are the only caveats. The match will be televised just about everywhere in the western world except the United States, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever tried to watch sailing on TV in this country. But the good news is, that for the first time ever, it will be broadcast live, online, at so you don't have to miss out! And you won't want to. This could well be one of the most exciting Cup matches ever, if for no other reason than even if one boat fails and can't finish a race, just watching the other one blast around at insane speeds — like as much as four times the wind speed — should be entertainment enough.

- latitude / rg

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The St. Martin Report

February 3, 2010 – St. Martin, French West Indies

Grand Case
The Mamas and the Papas had it wrong - you'd be safer and warmer at Grand Case than you would in L.A. on a winter's day. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

If you ever sail around St. Martin / Sint Marten in the West Indies, as all sailors should, there's much to enjoy. Foremost among them are the easterly trades. These winds are remarkably reliable, warm, and feel softer than 1,000 virgins lightly kissing your skin. Then there's the color of the water, which is the bluest of blues. Furthermore, in addition to all the anchorages around St. Martin, including Grand Case, it's only a few miles to Anguilla, a few more miles to St. Barth, and just a day's sail to Saba, St. Kitts and Nevis. Mind you, getting between St. Martin and these islands is not like sailing between the islands in the British Virgins, because between St. Martin and anywhere is open ocean stuff, and everywhere in the British Virgins is protected water. Still, if you're an experienced sailor, it's worth the effort.

The narrow bridge opening into Simpson Bay. Popular lore has it that the owner of a mega motoryacht paid officials several million to have it widened. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The skipper of a 80-ft cat from South Africa shoots the gap where endless cars usually travel. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

St. Martin isn't lacking in cheap thrills, either. One of the favorites is watching the boats negotiating the narrow entrance between Pelican Bay and Simpson Lagoon. In order to do this, skippers have to wait until the bridge opens, which it does three times a day, then shoot the narrow gap. In the case of monohulls, it's not too difficult. But in the case of multihulls and 200+ foot motoryachts, it's a little more challenging, particularly when the trades are "reinforced" and the current is running strong. A chunk out of the cement on the starboard side of the bridge embankment going in proves that not all captains have made it safely.

The Sunset Bar, located just off the western end of the Queen Juliana Airport, is the site of other cheap thrills on St. Martin. For instance, they offer free drinks to all women who show up topless at their bar. Alas, this is one of those things that turns out to be much less satisfying in reality than theory. There are women who show up topless at the bar, but most people would buy them drinks if they wore burqas instead of going topless.

Sign 1
Some promotions sound good but turn out to be flops. Based on the evidence we've seen, this is one of them. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Board reader
Thanks to the Red Stripe board at the Sunset Bar, everyone knows when the KLM 747 from Amsterdam is slated to touch down. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The Sunset Bar redeems itself by playing host to folks who want to watch the big jets land and take off from Queen Juliana. It's such a popular activity, particularly when the KLM 747 comes in at 1:55 p.m., that the area swells with spectators. The Sunset Bar does its part by publishing the schedule of jets arriving each day.

The arrival of the KLM 747 from the Netherlands was a crowd pleaser, but the pilot made such a good landing that nobody on the ground could jump up and touch the wheels. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While watching the jets land yesterday with Walter of the Netherlands, and Ilonka of Germany, who deliver our Leopard 45 'ti Profligate each year from the British Virgins, Walter told us an interesting story. Last April he was the skipper of the Perini Navi Salute, whose 210-ft mast is the tallest aluminum stick in the world, on a delivery from St. Martin to Italy. As they were leaving the island, they passed relatively close to the end of the Queen Juliana Airport runway just as a big American Airlines jet was coming in. The pilot of the American jet apparently didn't like the additional obstacle to a safe landing presented by the big yacht's too-big-for-the-Panama-and-Suez-Canal's mast, because first he veered to the right, then he veered to the left. Finally, he just abandoned his first attempt at landing until the Perini cleared the area.

When it came to getting down and dirty, and providing sailors with the best in cheap thrills, the American 757 from Miami took top honors on February 2. Photo Latitude / Richard
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Anyway, that's the way life is in this part of the Caribbean, where 20-knot trades feel sooooo good on your skin.

- latitude / rs

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