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MEXICO IS NOT A CHEAP VERSION OF THE USA
I have enjoyed reading the recent letters presented in Latitude concerning the situation in Mexico. Since my wife Mary and I started Marina de La Paz from scratch some 20 years ago - it was the first privately-owned marina in Baja California Sur, and I think the second in all of Mexico - we have made some observations and formed some opinions that might be of interest.
There is a great variety of people and boats cruising the Sea of Cortez, so 'homogeneous' does not describe the boating community. But it's interesting and encouraging how well everyone gets along and how eager they are to be helpful - both in and out of the marina. We have encountered very few cruisers who have tried to get away with anything. Well, there was the young couple that snuck into the women's bathroom to shower - and more - together. If they had only been able to keep the noise down, they might not have been turned in to the office.
However, there are some foreign boatowners who do cause problems. For instance, there's a serious problem with foreigners who abandon their boats in Mexico. La Paz has half a dozen sitting on the El Mogote beach in front of town. There are at least a dozen more currently afloat in the anchorage that will almost certainly end up on the beach. Every port captain in Mexico faces the same problem, as do marina owners. What are the government and marina owners to do with fiberglass boats that last forever, but whose owners have left the country and abandoned them? Who is to pay for the removal of the boats, as there is certainly no money for it in the federal, state or municipal coffers? And the laws involving the disposal of these boats - like most maritime laws in Mexico - are ancient and cumbersome laws that were written for large commercial vessels. Maybe foreign cruisers should be required to put up a bond - as car owners must do on mainland Mexico - to encourage owners to be responsible for their vessels.
I have almost completed what in the United States would be called a 'Marshal's Sale' involving a 55-ft wooden motorsailer that's been in our marina. In the United States, it might take 90 days to get rid of such a boat, but here it has taken me 2+ years so far and a tremendous amount of money. I'm told that I may be the only person in Mexico who has attempted to resolve such a problem by going through the entire legal process, where I'll end up owning a boat I never wanted. Whether or not it will have been worth the effort is something we won't know until I can find a buyer. From the very beginning, a frustrated Mary recommended quicker solutions: "Sink the bugger some dark night; chop her up and burn her; put her on anchor and let her join the fleet on El Mogote." We couldn't have legally done any of those.
Overall, we've actually been quite lucky. Another marina manager in Mexico has 15 boats that the owners aren't paying rent on. And he's legally responsible for them - no matter if he keeps them in his marina or puts them out at anchor. I mention this problem at such length to illustrate how new Mexico is at this game of dealing with recreational vessels. Add to this the fact that Mexico is a nation focused on its interior, not its coast, and that very few Mexicans have cruised the coast until recently.
From my perspective, the Mexican government has responded positively - albeit slowly - in significant ways to accommodate a form of tourism that brings them a relatively insignificant - compared to land tourism - source of income. And this has been accomplished by the Secretariat of Communication and Transportation (SCT), a branch of government that has never been involved in tourism before. Therefore, I am optimistic that there will be adjustments to the costs to enter and leave ports, and simplification of clearance procedures - things that so many cruisers are complaining about. Members of the Mexican Marina Owner's Association are pushing hard to get these changes made, but it's not easy, as many government agencies would have to work together to coordinate such a change, and there's no government agency in the world that likes to change.
Nonetheless, there have been some significant changes over the years that have benefited cruisers and marinas. For example, being able to leave a boat in Mexico for years on end. Not so long ago, the law required all foreign boats to leave the country after six months. Contrast this with the policy in the United States. If a Mexican wants to have his boat in the U.S., the owner or captain must stay in the U.S. He/she could not leave the U.S. and return to use the boat later.
A number of letters to Latitude have complained about how expensive it is to cruise in Mexico. A long article could be written to reveal the causes: internal inflation, holding the peso at a par with the US dollar, international pressure affecting fuel prices (gas over $2/gal) - and therefore the cost of doing anything involving energy. Another cause is a country that pretty much operates without loans. If you want to build a house, a marina, or create an inventory for a business, a bank would charge you at least 30% interest - if banks were making loans. But at the moment, banks don't have the resources to lend money. This raises the cost of living, no matter if you are a local or visitor.
Cruisers disappointed that the good old cheap days are gone need to realize what it means to have an inflation rate of close to 15% - which is actually lower than it was a few years ago. Are cruisers really expecting to live on the same number of dollars that got them by five or 10 years ago in Mexico? Do they think they could do the same thing in the United States? For the benefit of her own people, Mexico is making great efforts to move closer to the first world economically. But it's a major struggle, and for the most part, the Mexican workers have yet to see the benefits of that effort. Cruisers who find that they can't live aboard quite as well on $500/month can take some solace in the fact that many Mexican families are living on that or less. Some of the cruisers who complain at least have the choice - not available to the Mexicans - of returning to the land of milk and honey. Those who do return don't do it until they've gotten their teeth fixed and have stocked up on cheap pharmaceuticals.
My next comment might seem harsh. The Mexican tourist industry seeks tourists who spend money. After all, that's the only reason to promote any tourist activity in any country. Mexico is not in the economic position to be able to host visitors on a zero-sum basis - or worse, subsidize them. Cruisers on slim budgets may feel that they are contributing more to the Mexican economy than they receive from public services, but it's hard to say. Having these services - running water, sewage systems, garbage disposal, street lighting, paved streets, inexpensive public hospitals, the naval hospital, fire departments, Red Cross ambulance, police services of all kinds, and much more - available to all if needed is sort of like cruisers having an insurance policy on the basics for which they don't directly pay premiums. In any event, we recommend that visiting cruisers join the Club Cruceros when based in La Paz, for the help they provide mariners and others in La Paz.
As marina owners, we try to emphasize to government agencies how much, not how little, cruisers spend in Mexico. If we want a voice for positive change, officials need to hear about the financial benefits the visiting mariners are bringing to the country. Please help us do that. We also stress how benign this form of tourism really is. So far the cruising community has a good reputation for leaving the areas they visit cleaner than when they arrived - true eco-tourism. A special thanks to those who take time to clean up the beaches they visit.
Finally, it is good to remember that we
foreigners are foreigners - not just because we hold a different
citizenship, but because our cultures had two different European
roots. Mexico does not pretend to be a cheap version of the United
States. If we foreigners are going to live here, we have to accept
those differences - whether we like them or not.
While there is no typical cruiser in Mexico, our observation is that many active cruisers continue to live pretty much the same kind of lifestyle they enjoyed in California. Which is to say they spend - particularly for Mexico - lots of money. Of course, why shouldn't they? Most of them spent a lifetime earning it, and it's good for the Mexican workers and economy.
The reason we periodically make a big deal of how little/much it costs to cruise Mexico is because we've always had a soft spot for folks who know how to have a terrific time cruising on just a few bucks. We not only admire their pluck, but also their realization that when it comes to cruising pleasure, money is near the bottom of the list of requirements. The amazing thing is that despite the increasing cost of living in Mexico that you referred to, it's still possible to cruise Mexico on a small - even incredibly small - budget. This has been demonstrated in recent issues of Latitude and there's more specific evidence in one of this month's feature articles.
Obviously, one can't cruise ultra-inexpensively and 'California style', where the inclination is to spend, spend, spend, but one can cruise simply and naturally in Mexico - which is often more satisfying. The thing about Mexico is that it's an ideal place for people to enjoy cruising, no matter if they want to be extra frugal or if they want to blow their childrens' inheritance. Mexico may not be perfect, as some people are disappointed by the unpleasant side effects of poverty and bureaucracy, but it does have a few things going for it: thousands of miles of mostly pristine and uninhabited coastline, countless anchorages, warm water, an endless supply of seafood, wonderful people, dirt cheap health care, countless free or low-cost activities, and the fact that it's close to the United States.
Like anyone else who cruised Mexico before the introduction of the 20-Year Import Permit, we know that the Mexican government has made changes in their laws to make things easier for cruisers. This is why we're as confident as you that there will eventually - mañana - be changes in the clearing procedures. However, when cruisers ruminate about Mexican maritime laws and procedures, it's also good to remember how flexible Mexican port captains are. There are many places in the world where nobody is allowed off a boat until officials have come out and cleared the boat, a process that can take hours - if not a day or more. If Mexican port captains strictly adhered to Mexican law, nobody but the captain would be able to get off a boat until she was cleared - and for a boat that arrived late on a Friday, that could mean not until Monday about noon. So while Mexican clearing procedures aren't as user-friendly as they should be, they could be a lot worse.
As for Mexico not being a cheap version
of the United States, thank God for that!
Last month's letter regarding "tanker squat" was the last straw. I had hung up the ol' pen and paper and retired to a ranch in the wilds of Oregon - until the sea called once again. But this time it was towboats, not multihulls, that called to me. Let me tell you this lonely cowpoke has never found a level of seamanship in all my ocean miles like that required on a harbor tug. Like many of Plumb Bob's endeavors, this nautical specialty is sorely misunderstood. So, forgetting past writing fiascoes, I'll have an amaretto and coffee, then explain.
The Foss boat being towed backwards in last month's letter was a 'tractor tug', a unique vessel that really only has a bow and a stern so people don't point and laugh. The theory that it was facing "backward to be prepared to pull" for slowing down the ship was a good thought, but the tractor does not have conventional propellers. She can go sideways as fast as fore and aft. Think of an eggbeater in the middle of the vessel, with fins that control thrust, and you have the basic idea. She was actually facing aft because the back deck is easier to work and allows access to the tow winch for line control.
As long as I'm writin', here are some ideas to keep pleasure boaters alive longer. Never come close to a working tug. First, because the prop wash might get you. Consider also that the tug I usually work, for example, has a 3,000 hp engine and a push of about 50,000 pounds. When she's pulling on a ship, she exerts about the same amount of force on one or two lines. The lines do break sometimes, and being behind the tug when that happens is asking for a cold steel sandwich with a smear of plastic on the side.
If you're on a pleasure boat, always pay attention to the basics. Make your intentions clear to working vessels. Choose the gap that's getting bigger, not smaller. Stay the hell away from ships that are docking, waiting at a safe distance if you can't decide where to go. And know that many tug skippers have been pissed off enough by sailing vessels that you already have a strike or two against you before you start an interaction.
Last, but not least, remember that the
numbers say tow boating is one of, if not the, most dangerous
job in the state. A wave, a smile, or flashing some boobies is
Thanks for the June follow-up article regarding
the Survivor television show and Daniel's Bay in the Marquesas.
While I do not always agree with your opinions regarding this
and other matters, I do want to say how very much I - and others,
I'm sure - appreciate your efforts to bring the sailing news
to us. Your efforts through the years have been sterling to say
the least, and I wish you all the success that may be headed
your way. Your attention to detail has always been very helpful
and timely. Keep up the good work.
While I am very grateful to you for publishing
the Crew List and hosting
the wonderful Crew List Parties, I'm puzzled as to why the Crew
Lists are divided by gender. I don't see any reason for it. Could
you explain? And this time without being condescending.
There are several reasons why readers might care primarily about the gender of potential crew. For example, many wives/girlfriends prohibit their husbands/boyfriends from having women as crew. This is reverse sexism, of course, but it's rampant. Other skippers - ourselves included - like to sail with as close to a 50-50 ratio of men to women, and may have 'gender spots' to fill. Perhaps the biggest reason is that a large number of men and women with an interest in sailing use the Crew List and Crew List Parties as a way of enlarging their social circle, thereby creating a greater chance that romance might find a way into their lives. While we don't host the Crew Lists and Parties as a matchmaking service, romantics such as ourselves are not disappointed that they have led to countless long term relationships and more than a few marriages.
Two other things to consider: 1) Dividing
the lists by gender results in women getting a much greater response
than men. 2) Kitty James, who publishes Santana,
divides her sailing magazine's crew list by gender also.
In September of 2000, you ran an article entitled Kokopelli2's Sad Return. It recounted a dismasting which befell the SC 52 Kokopelli2 during the early morning hours of August 11, about 1,100 miles northeast of Hawaii, from which she was sailing back to California after the West Marine Pacific Cup. The owner and his racing crew had flown home after the event. The boat was being sailed back by a paid delivery skipper and a volunteer delivery crew. I was a member of that crew.
As the article reported, the mast came down during a routine tack in 10 knots of wind and two-foot seas. I had just come on deck and was waiting to heave the jib sheet. As the boat turned into the eye of the wind, the mast suddenly snapped between the upper two shrouds, hinged backwards - not forward as you reported - and then broke a second time down near the doubling at the cabin top. The entire rig - the two broken mast sections, the boom, the sails, the shrouds and the stays - fell aft into the cockpit. Though there were three of us standing there, I was the only casualty. The wreckage struck me in the back and severed my spinal cord. I am permanently paralyzed from the abdomen down, and am still learning to live with that fact.
As Kokopelli2's owner laconically put it to Latitude, "Sometimes very bad things just happen out there." I was the victim of one of those very bad things. That is why I am writing this open letter.
Although far more is now known about the causes of Kokopelli2's dismasting than was the case when Latitude published its September 2000 article, I'm not writing to assign blame for my misfortune. I am instead writing to express my enduring gratitude to the people who were responsible for my rescue. The United States Coast Guard was absolutely superb. I probably owe my life to its remarkable Search and Rescue capabilities. I would also like to express my thanks to Capt. Gary Toledo, Second Mate Charlie Cutter, Chief Engineer Tom Morris, Steward Krista Bjelde, and the rest of the crew of the Chevron Washington. They diverted from their appointed route and steamed more than eight hours out of their way to take me aboard their ship to provide me with critical first aid. I will never forget their extraordinary seamanship, their unfeigned empathy or their unstinting generosity. But most of all, I would like to thank the incredible paramedics of the 939th Air Rescue Wing. Once Capt. Toledo and his crew had confirmed the gravity of my injuries, United States Air Force Reserve Technical Sergeants Dave Armstrong, Jim Eddings, John Lafferty, and Scott Light flew over 1,000 miles out into the Pacific, and parachuted into a pitch black sea in the middle of the night, just to help a crippled mariner they had never met. Many people have rallied around me in the wake of the accident, but none have responded more ably or unselfishly than the men and women of the U.S. merchant marine, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Air Force.
Since this is the time of year when yacht owners are looking for delivery crews back from Hawaii, and aspiring delivery crew are looking for interested yacht owners, I am also writing with a simple piece of advice: do not commit to a transoceanic voyage without confirming that the vessel is adequately insured.
Sometimes very bad things do indeed happen out on the ocean. As a consequence, no yacht should put out to sea without a substantial insurance umbrella. The standard yacht policy carries a "per occurrence limit" of only $1,000,000. That means that the owner's insurer never has to pay more than $1,000,000 for any particular accident or occurrence, no matter how many people were injured or how serious their individual injuries were. As my own experience demonstrates, $1,000,000 is simply not enough.
My medical bills alone will exceed $1,000,000. My day-to-day losses are all but incalculable. What is more, it was nothing short of a miracle that I was the only one injured in the dismasting. Had either one, or both, of my watch mates been hit, we would have literally had to compete with one another for the limited insurance funds.
To make matters worse, many yacht policies have "declining limits" or are "cannibalizing" policies. That means that the owner's legal costs and attorney's fees are likewise charged against the insurance limits. Imagine finding yourself in intensive care and having to compete with the lawyer of the person whom you contend put you there for payment of your medical bills.
I don't mean to stand down on the docks, like the character Elijah from Moby Dick, and warn people away from a voyage they are looking forward to; but if my experience means anything, it means that you should not go to sea in a yacht that carries nothing but a cannibalizing insurance policy with only $1,000,000 coverage. If you're an owner, call your broker, check your policies, and make sure that you have excess or umbrella coverage up to $4 or $5 million. Anyone who can afford an oceangoing yacht cannot afford to under-insure it. Since delivery skippers seldom carry their own insurance, you should also have your broker list them, if only for the voyage at issue, as an additional named insured. You owe that much to yourself and your crew.
On the other side, if you're an aspiring
crewmember, ask about the owner's insurance. Transoceanic race
committees may survey an entrant's boat, but so far as I know,
no one assesses his or her insurance coverage. It's far better
to ask about these things, even though you may never need them,
than to discover they aren't there when you need them.
I recently bit the bullet and bought a digital camera. A recent article in Latitude was a great help and inspiration, as were some articles in other magazines and on the web. Most of these articles emphasized the desirability of a camera with a least 3 mega-pixels. Opinions varied regarding the worth of higher resolution. In any event, I wound up getting a very good deal on a Sony DSC F-707 - which is not to say that I didn't spend more money than I had planned.
My camera has 5 mega-pixels, although it will also operate at 3 MP and other lesser levels. It also has a 5X optical zoom, so in combination with 5 MP, the images will lend themselves to cropping. The 5 MP 'fine quality' files are approximately 2 megs per image. This camera can also produce TIFF files, which are uncompressed, and which apparently can be manipulated without degradation. However, they are about 14 megs each! I have a total of 272 megs of memory in memory stick form, and could get more, so I can take a fair number of shots before downloading. Sony seems to have figured out the battery issue, as the F707 will go for hours - and hundreds of photos - on one battery.
Here's my question. Everyone always stresses the importance of using the highest resolution, so I routinely use 5 MP - although I go with JPEG files rather than the massive TIFFs. In your article on digital cameras, I think that you suggested that you wanted the highest resolution possible, but I'm wondering if you really want 5 MP TIFFs or 5 MP JPEGs. Is 5 MP of anything overkill for you? My camera has the ability to change file sizes, so I can more or less customize them for the purpose and for the user.
I hope to send you some interesting stuff by email, which may influence the size of files I send to you. I suppose that I will also burn a CD from time to time, but the farther afield I get, the more cumbersome that will become.
By the way, I have ended my tenure down here at Cabo Isle Marina, although I'll still be in this marvelous metropolis for a while longer. I plan on spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez.
Update: I just learned that Yahoo limits
me to 1.5 meg attachments, which will cover 3 mega-pixels, but
not 5 mega-pixels and not a TIFF file.
Digital cameras are sensational, with only two major drawbacks. First, many of them have too long a delay between the time you push the shutter button and the time the image is captured. Test this out before you buy a digital camera. Usually you can make your peace with it. Second, digital cameras aren't cheap. But they are getting less expensive all the time.
Photo tip of the day? When shooting
head and shoulder shots of people, always use the fill-in flash.
This is particularly true in bright sunshine, or else the subjects'
faces will be ruined by harsh shadows. If you have a digital
camera, test this out by trying the same shot with a flash and
without a flash. After all, it doesn't cost you anything to conduct
the test and you can see the results immediately.
I'm writing from Ohio, and have recently
been in contact with a man who is getting ready for a sailing
trip this fall from Southern California to Central and South
America, around Cape Horn, then up the east coast of South America.
He didn't say what kind of boat it is or how large she is. He
asked me to be a member of the crew, and I'm interested because
it sounds as though it might be a dream come true. But I don't
know what I need to know before I agree to board his boat. What
kind of dangers would be involved? What do I need to know about
him and his experience?
Before going offshore in any boat you don't know well, you want to know something about the owner/skipper's qualifications and experience. How long has he been sailing, on what boats, and where? Is he in good health? Can you talk to some of his former crew? Does he have the necessary funds to finance such a trip? What kind of boat does he own, when was she built, when was she last hauled, and what were the recommendations on the last survey? Who else will be coming along as crew? What offshore experience do they have, and where? Why is the guy asking you to crew, as opposed to someone more experienced? Does he expect you to chip in for expenses?
The person you've been in contact with may be legit, but there are some ominous signs: 1) Most skippers will almost immediately start out by telling you what type and length boat they own. 2) If somebody were going to sail through an active hurricane zone, they'd normally mention it right away along with an explanation. 3) In 25 years, we can only remember one couple - Richard and Sheri Crowe of Newport Beach with their Farr 44 Confetti - who have done the trip that's being proposed. They're hardcore. 4) Lots of skippers talk a lot about ambitious cruises - and the one outlined is very ambitious - but only a few actually see them through. You have a right to be somewhat skeptical. 7) Among non-related crew, the chances of a crew staying with a boat for more than a month or two are not very great. It's normal for crews to change frequently, particularly on long trips.
If you're serious about wanting to do some long distance sailing, here's what we'd recommend. Enroll in some sailing classes this summer in Ohio and pick up the basics. This probably won't cost you much. If you find that you like the general concept, come out to California at the end of summer and take some offshore sailing lessons. Yeah, it will cost you a few bucks, but if you're serious about your dream, it's your best investment. If you find that you don't mind being scared and puking while bouncing around on a cold and dark ocean, attend the Mexico Only Crew List Party at the Encinal YC in Alameda on October 9 to try to hook up with somebody doing the Ha-Ha. If for some reason you can't get a ride, take a bus to Cabo - it's a beautiful trip - and show up at the Ha-Ha Beach Party on November 9 at the Cape. Simply announce that you're a slightly experienced but eager sailor looking to crew. Unless you're an axe murderer or have severe anti-social tendencies, you'll almost certainly get offers. Ask around for help in determining which would be the best.
Once you've done a trip, you're in,
and can start networking to your heart's content. From there
- and we're not being facetious - you can keep sailing all over
the world. Not on the same boat, but there truly are no limits.
The more experience you get, the better the offers you'll get.
Going north up the outside of the Baja coast is definitely a challenge. We did our first 'Bash' last year as part of the crew that delivered Profligate from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego. That was actually a fairly easy trip, especially since Profligate motors at 10 knots, which we did 95% of the time.
When it came time to do the Bash this year with our Amel Maramu 46, we'd been following the trips north of other boats such as Capricorn Cat and Blarney3 via the SSB nets, and had a pretty good idea of how tough it could be. So we scheduled three weeks to make the trip from just Cabo to San Diego, with a strategy of anchorage-hopping as much as possible to avoid the worst of the weather and to get some rest in between Bash legs.
We had a false start out of Cabo on May 28th. After bashing north of Cabo Falso into 20+ knots and 6-ft seas - during which time it took three hours to cover seven miles - a v-belt broke on the engine. We turned downwind to stabilize the boat while fixing the problem. The broken v-belt, of course, was the third one in on the power shaft, so we had to free up the other two to replace the one. By the time we got the engine going one hour later, we were back at Cabo. Since it was 0100 by then, we decided to stay.
After making sure that the underway repairs had been done correctly the next day, we decided to leave again on the 30th. We had been closely watching the progress of hurricane Alma, and decided she was going to dissipate before causing any real problems - and might even give us a southerly push. When we passed Cabo Falso this time, we saw no more than 13 knots. We had also decided that as long as weather conditions remained favorable, we would just keep going - which we did, nonstop to Bahia Asuncion, which was about 40% of the way to San Diego. During this first leg, we were able to motorsail at about 30° apparent, only having to do some minor tacking. Once we got north of Mag Bay, we had to take a tack and decided to go inshore - while a couple of other boats in our vicinity decided to tack offshore. We never saw more than 15 knots of wind, while they got pounded with 25 to 30 knots of wind.
After a good night's sleep at Asuncion, we made Turtle Bay the next day and took on fuel from Ernesto via his panga. What a character! But that's another story. The next morning we were off again. We cleared Punta Eugenia and had about two hours of 20-knot WNW winds crossing the channel south of Cedros, but as we got into the lee of the island, the wind dropped to eight knots and clocked to the east! We passed the north end of the island at dusk, at which time the wind blew WNW at 20 again, but only for about an hour. About this time we transitioned to being under a marine layer - and never saw more than 10 knots - or the sun - the rest of the way to San Diego.
We arrived at the Harbor Police dock in
San Diego 7.5 days out of Cabo. We can't claim any real skill
in making the trip easier, as sometimes it's better to be lucky
than good. Hopefully Mother Nature won't get even on our trip
from San Diego to San Francisco!
In addition to living right, we'd say
you're thinking intelligently. If anyone wants to have a relatively
easy Baja Bash, the key is to allot plenty of time. So when it's
rough, you stay on the hook until it calms down. And when it
calms down, you go like hell as long as the weather lasts. Incidentally,
we want to thank you and all the others who have reported on
their Bashes this year, as we think that with more information
available, future Bashers can do a better job planning their
I'd like to thank Capt. Curt Slater and Paul Parizeau, a couple of excellent sailors and friends, for inviting me along on some post-race deliveries on the SC 70 Mongoose. The first was last year's 14-day trip from Hawaii to California after the TransPac. And earlier this year I got to do the Puerto Vallarta to San Diego trip after the P.V. race.
The trip up the Mexican coast was my fourth, and probably the most uneventful - meaning nothing broke and nobody fell overboard. We stopped at all the usual spots: Punta de Mita, Cabo, Mag Bay and Turtle Bay - plus a brief stop at a very special anchorage at Cedros Island. As we left Cedros, we encountered 20- to 30-knot winds on the nose and six to 12-foot seas. We decided we had better eat right then, as the weather forecast suggested it would be a pretty rough night. I went below to prepare some sandwiches. We all knew this wasn't a good idea, but I did it anyway. The next thing I knew, I was trying to put together these damn messy sandwiches, and I had turkey, cheese, bread and other stuff going everywhere but where I wanted it to go. Then I felt something on my butt. I turned around thinking it might have been one of the crew, but it turned out to be the EPIRB, which had been jolted out of its position at the nav station on the port side and had flown eight feet through the air, and nailed me on the butt! So that was sort of eventful.
Later that evening, as we got into deeper water, the swell started to subside and we started to make some good progress. Even later that evening, I was relieving Curt when we suddenly saw a glowing orange ball on the western horizon, coming right at us. We stood in awe as this ball passed over us and headed east, doing what seemed to be a bezillion miles per hour and leaving a long tail behind it. We'd never seen anything like it before and couldn't figure out what it was. We later learned that it was the Space Shuttle reentering the earth's atmosphere. So that was sort of eventful, too.
The final mini-event of our trip occurred on my watch on the last night, when we went right over a huge whale. The phosphorescence grew as this mammoth creature went under Mongoose, punched it, and headed west. Another wow! Just when you think you've seen it all, something new always rocks your world. Anyway, thanks to Capt. Curt and Paul for great adventures and wonderful camaraderie.
P.S. It was great meeting the Wanderer
and Doña de Mallorca at the little store at the Isthmus
on Catalina. Sorry I wasn't able to get the Profligate
tour with the others, but joining the Ha-Ha fleet this fall with
my Petrel would be an honor.
Congratulations on a really great mag. It's a pity we don't have something similar here Down Under, where we just have the usual advertising-filled sailing rags focused on hi-tech stuff. Is it possible to get hard copies sent here?
I have gone back over all the Letters and found many interesting, some tedious, and others hilarious. But your replies are always entertaining - even if I don't agree with your opinions on sextants. As for the question of what boat a person should get and where they should cruise if they had one year and $100,000, I would like to start off by saying that if anyone wants to go cruising, money is pretty much irrelevant. The important things are your attitude, the time available, what's left of your youth, and your family life.
I started cruising as a child when my parents took off on a circumnavigation in the early '80s. It was the most wonderful experience my parents could have given me. However, sailing in the Pacific in the '90s, and more recently in the Caribbean, has showed me how much certain things have changed. I blame a lot of it on GPS navigation, which lowered the psychological barrier for many, and released the floodgates for the hordes. Anyway, about mid-2000, we landed in the United States with $15,000 in cash, three pieces of luggage, and some information on boats we might be interested in buying. We hired a car at Miami Airport, and spent four days driving across Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas looking at boats, eating cheese sandwiches, and sleeping in the car.
On the fourth day, we decided that the first boat we had seen was 'the one', so two days later she was ours. She was a 30-ft steel sloop built in Holland in '76, outfitted for cruising with a main, two jibs, roller furling, a 28 hp Perkins diesel, two sets of scuba gear, a dive compressor, two dinghies, an SSB, wind generator, windvane, autopilot, and other stuff. We picked her up for $7,500 because North Americans turn up their noses at steel boats. I personally prefer steel or aluminum. Another reason we got a good deal is that the Swiss owner was sick of paying yard bills.
Anyway, we spent an additional $3,000 sandblasting, welding steel plate over one thin area, repainting, repairing some pumps, installing a new gear box and water tanks, provisioning, and that kind of stuff. It took a solid month of working 14 hours a day. While we worked, the usual boatyard experts were on hand with their usual comments: "You'll be here a year getting ready, man," or "Aren't you going to sand and varnish the wood?" Was he crazy about the wood? We wanted to go cruising, not work in a boatyard. What idiot puts timber on the outside of a boat anyway? Obviously, someone who put a greater priority on maintenance than going cruising ASAP, and someone who has a different perception of beauty than we. There were other comments, too. "You'd better pull the mast out and check her over," or, "Let's go have a few beers and forget about work today." These folks meant well but had different priorities.
As promised, we relaunched our new boat. No, we hadn't tried the engine yet, and the toilet wouldn't work. But we used the dinghy and the 3.3 hp Mercury to get us out of the marina, then the sails to get us to a secluded anchorage in Tampa Bay. Two days later, we had the engine running and the toilet working, so we sailed off to Cuba. What a fantastic country, and what wonderful people! It's a pity about their economic situation. While there, it cost us about $80 a month for the bureaucrats and another $20 per evening out. The rest of the time we lived out in the islands, mixing with the fishermen.
Since we are both fluent in Spanish, we really had a great time. The fishermen gave us lobsters, saying that La Empresa - which is the company of the Castro organization - already had enough. And we would force gifts on them - sunglasses and hats for their protection and comfort while fishing, and beautiful soaps and shampoos for their wives. It was the start of a fantastic year that, after Cuba, took us to the southern Bahamas, Jamaica, the Caymans, and then back into the sailing crowds in Mexico. We deliberately stayed away from the hordes in the Virgins and the Windward Islands - which on a previous trip I had found to be overrated and overcrowded with two-week sailors clutching GPS units and megayachts.
By the time we got to Mexico, my wife was five months pregnant, we were running out of money, and we needed to face up to some hard decisions. We sold off the scuba gear, the dinghies, the SSB, and the autopilot, to the hordes at Isla Mujeres, then sailed the boat up onto the beach at high tide - steel is great - for the last few days. We then sailed back to the States, sold the boat for an incredible $8,000, and then returned to the land of work. We're now here in Brisbane, Australia, new parents, land bound sailors, and manufacturing some more little crew for our next adventure - which is expected to last a little longer than the last.
Anyway, the grand cost for our wonderful year of cruising was a net $7,000 - or about $11,000 if you include airfares to and fro across the world. We do consider that we got lucky with the purchase and sale prices of the boat, and managed to convert some of the extra boat stuff into cruising funds. The cruising cost worked out at around $700 a month on average, although this varied considerably depending on the country. With $100,000, you can definitely live it up a bit more, hire diesel mechanics to fix the engine you think you need, install a freezer and a watermaker so that you have something to maintain when you're bored, and buy an SSB for the radio nets that keep you in contact with the rat race you wanted to escape from. You won't necessarily enjoy it any more than sailing off with $15,000, but you might think you will before you go.
But do take a $100 sextant! You will enjoy the celestial navigation and the affinity with centuries of previous sailors. And who knows, the U.S. military may even turn off their satellites one day to confuse Osama, in which case your second, third, and fourth GPS units will be as useless as the first!
While in the Bahamas, we witnessed one shipwreck and had other friends abandon their dismasted - but floating - boat south of the Windward Passage. Both boats were full of the electronic junk that is espoused as necessary, but they were lacking in common sense. One's attitude is always the most important thing, and electronic gear is no substitute for good seamanship. In fact, electronic gear can actually do harm if some folks start placing false faith in fallible toys.
Our next boat will be a catamaran built
out of aluminum - enough of sailing half a boat. At the start
of the circumnavigation with my parents, my sister was four months
old, so we have no problem with sailing over the horizon with
little kids. But we won't be following in the footsteps of those
brave souls who have their children born while cruising.
Sorry mate, but we can't distribute
Latitude in Oz.
Thanks for publishing my update in the March Sightings concerning the great news about the shrinking of the cancer in Howard Biolos' eye. However, I did a boo-boo. When I wrote my first letter about the eye cancer and the later update, I inadvertently lead you to believe that we have the same last name of Maloney. In truth, his last name is Biolos. Howard says the mistake didn't make any difference to him, but it sure confused his family and friends.
Enough of that name-dropping stuff, as we have even more good news. Howard saw the eye doctor in San Diego again at the end of April, and his choroidal melanoma eye cancer has continued to shrink - just like it is supposed to. At the time of his surgery in June of 2000, it was 2.8 mm thick. In his follow-up appointment in October of 2001, it was 2.0 thick. When he saw the doctor at the end of April, it was only 1.8 mm thick. What excited the eye doctor even more than the diminishing size of the cancer is that the growth was now gray and dead looking, and the edges were raggedy. Plus, all the other tests they do to make sure it has not spread were negative. Howard has another appointment in October 2002, and if things continue like they have, we'll start heading south toward Costa Rica and the Panama Canal.
Thanks again for publishing the information
about this rare type of eye cancer. Numerous cruisers who have
read the articles say they are paying more attention to wearing
good UV sunglasses and hats.
It's going on seven years now since my wife Rose, our young daughter Constance, and I returned from our 18-month cruise aboard the catamaran Cadence. We're now firmly bedded down in suburban America, but the memories keep calling me back. I hoard them like gold, and I dig daily for the tangible bit of color that keeps me going. For example, on the drive to work I'll replay the passage between Fiji and New Zealand, and again savor the clear morning light after a night of storm. In a business meeting, I can smell the sea breeze and hear the small ripples playing along the hull. Rumbling up the driveway reminds me of the chain paying out in a calm anchorage.
Work and school called us back, but they'll never own us completely. For instance, when my daughter had a science project to do for class, she came to me for suggestions. Closing my eyes, I drifted off Walter Middy-like to a scene that occurred in the Captain Cook Bar in Vavu'a, Tonga. There I was again, sitting on the veranda on the cliff above the harbor, drinking the local brew with the skipper of the sloop next door. I forget his name, but what's important is that he was on his third visit to Tonga, and on his fourth circumnavigation - an experienced mariner by all accounts. The topic of discussion was our pending departure for Fiji. I mentioned that I tended to plan passages for the full moon to take advantage of the moonlight. He looked at me with his one good eye across a table of empties, and said, "Arghhh Matey, that's all wrong. The sea, she's always stormier on the full moon."
Okay, he didn't actually say "arghhh," and he had both his eyes, but I remember the remark like it was yesterday. And Constance remembered it too. So I suggested she do a project to test this hypothesis - is the weather stormier during a full moon? She took the bait, and I could hear the spool starting to sing. She found on the Internet that the National Buoy Data Center website has yearly archives. She downloaded a couple years from the Monterey buoy. After importing it to a spreadsheet, she pared it down to the noon windspeeds for the year 2000. Then she assigned a number to each day's measurement. Full-moon days were given a value of 7, new moon days a -7, and quarter moons were zero. All other days were evenly interpolated between these standards. The procedure was then to multiply the windspeed by this 'moon-phase' day number, then add them up.
This simple technique should bring out any correlation between windspeed and the full moon. If the wind is not correlated in any way with the full moon, then the sum should be close to zero. That would mean there are just as many high winds on negative days as there are on positive days, and vice-versa. If the sum was positive, there would be correlation between the full moon and wind. If the sum was negative, there would be a correlation between a new moon and high winds.
I gently prepped Constance for the hard truths of the scientific method, as I expected a sum of zero, meaning there was no correlation between the phase of the moon and the strength of the wind. But I told her a project disproving a hypothesis is just as valuable - but she instinctively knew not as glamorous - as a positive proof.
But lo and behold, when the numbers started coming in, the sum was very positive - seeming to confirm that there is a high correlation between the full moon and windspeed! Now wait, because this is weird. This isn't a tidal effect like the spring and neap tide. That case would produce high winds on the new moon as well as the full moon, when the effects of the moon's gravity are identical. This is a 'full moon only' phenomenon - or 'Werewolf Effect'. I checked the data out myself, and invite readers to do likewise. I tested other data sets from the East coast, Hawaii, and Guam, for years back to 1994. To date, all have come in positive.
I'd appreciate any feedback. If anyone
is interested, I can send the spreadsheet files via email. If
anyone pursues this to Nobel prize fame, Constance would appreciate
a credit in the bibliography.
I want to share with your readers some information I obtained from Garmin following the failure - and subsequent repair - of one of my otherwise faithful Garmin Model 75 GPSs. The unit was diagnosed as having bad "almanac data." Upon inquiry, I was told that the internal battery had died. When I asked if I could reduce the likelihood of its happening, as it did, hundreds of miles from the United States, I was advised to "keep the unit under external power - AA batteries or 12V, even when not turned on - to reduce the drain on the internal battery." Aha!
For security, I had routinely removed the unit from its data/power mount in the cockpit when not underway, and had not connected it to the battery pack, thereby evidently hastening the demise of the internal battery. Since this advice was not printed in the manual for my unit, I thought your readers might find it of value. I do not know the extent to which the advice applies to other Garmin or other manufacturers' GPSs, but it wouldn't hurt to keep battery or 12V power applied when GPSs are not in use, to avoid the expense of repair - and more importantly, to reduce the likelihood of failure of an internal battery at a critical time.
What had been of particular concern to
me was that both of my 75s had been previously serviced at the
same time. I was concerned that when #2 failed, #1 might be close
behind! And my fiancée and I were about to depart for
the Turks and Caicos, where knowing one's latitude and longitude
is particularly vital.
In January 2001, El Salvador suffered an earthquake that measured 7.5 on the Richter scale, making it the fifth largest to ever strike a populated area. It wreaked terrible destruction, and countless thousands of people who had very little, lost that, including their homes which collapsed around them. This is a country still on its knees from the 12-year guerrilla war that didn't end until 1992.
There were a number of cruising boats in Barillas Marina when the earthquake struck, but none of the cruisers were hurt and their boats weren't damaged. Wanting to help the locals in some way, the cruisers identified the village of Hacienda Lourdes, about an hour away in the mountains, that had been destroyed but was not receiving any aid from the major relief agencies. They spread the news via the radio nets, and boats soon started to arrive with relief goods - and most importantly, cruisers with time and energy! In the first year following the quake, the cruisers built 12 houses in the village for 12 families that had been sheltering in rusting tin shacks.
The project did not end there, as it is now officially registered as The Barillas Relief Project. But it continues to be run entirely by cruisers, and completely independently of any other relief effort. Another six houses are now under construction, and at present the project is being headed by Dennis Johnson of the Columbia 50 Knee Deep. The houses being built are simple - steel-frame structures clad with weatherproof cement board and a fiberboard roof. Although entirely nontraditional, these homes are designed to withstand ground tremors. In fact, some of the first ones successfully survived another small earthquake in early 2002.
The houses have three rooms, an earth floor, and no plumbing - but they're a luxurious advance on the makeshift shacks these families have been living in since the disaster. They cost a little over $2,000 U.S. each to build. Every penny that the charity collects goes toward the houses. The cruisers and the villagers provide all the labor, and there are no administration costs. The mayor of the nearby town of Santiago de Maria has lent the project a diesel generator, and many cruisers have donated power tools. Barillas Marina Club provides crucial support in the form of a van that is used for transportation to and from the village, their welding machine, and even a Bobcat tractor to level lots for the houses.
Early in the project, a cruiser who had worked in hospital administration in Canada managed to get a grant of $10,000 from the Canadian government. Juan Wright, founder of Barillas Marina, has raised thousands of dollars by giving rides in his airplane over the surrounding area. But all the rest of the money has come from contributions from cruisers around the world. Although funds have been collected for five of the six new houses, more cash is needed, as enough land has been donated to build 29 more homes - if money can be found for the building materials.
readers can help by sending a financial contribution to St. Jude's
Episcopal Church, 20929 McLelland Road, Cupertino, CA 95015-2967.
Please make checks payable to St. Jude's Episcopal Church and
write "for the Barillas Relief Fund" on both the check
and the envelope. For more information, please email us at Brillasproject at Yahoo.com.
Regarding Bill Quigley's interest in finding a 'low key yacht club in New York City, I have a good suggestion for the north shore of Long Island - which is where the 'real' sailing takes place. If Bill doesn't mind a commute to Sea Cliff, on Hempstead Harbor, the Sea Cliff YC was very low key when I was a junior member - although that was in 1951. The Sea Cliff was and is a sailing club. About the only power boat was the club launch. I courted my wife of almost 44 years there. I was a racing fanatic in those days, on Snipes, Lightnings, Stars, and International One-Designs. It is a kid-friendly club and has a nice beach out front.
If Bill would like more information on
the Sea Cliff YC - and any low key clubs in the closer vicinity
of New York City - I refer him to Douglas Wefer at dwefer
at air.org. I have never met Doug, having lived in Southern
California now for 36 years, but he is my sole contact back east.
He is a Sea Cliff member and chairman of the annual club-sponsored
Around Long Island Race in July. He must have a vast email list
and I think he would be happy to contact Bill and keep him in
the loop to answer any questions he may have.
I just finished reading the May issue coverage on the Banderas Bay Regatta. I agree that it was a wonderful time for all, with great sailing and good organization. However, I was disappointed to find an error in your report on Class F, the cruising non-spinnaker class. You reported that Hal Crum's Catalina 42 Angela won the class with three bullets - as he'd done for the past four years. In reality, Namche, my Catalina 42, was first to finish in our class and corrected out on day one. We were in the lead the second day, when our main tore and we were third to finish. On the final day, we were in the lead until the final half mile when a windshift favored Angela, dropping us to second.
This had been the first time that Namche - a fully loaded cruising boat - had sailed in the Banderas Bay Regatta. Her first time crew - Lee Gladman and Anne Nolan, a couple of Aussies who work in London - had flown in for a cruise to Z-town. We'd originally met the couple in La Paz a little over a year before when they were backpacking through Mexico to Cuba. At the time they were looking for transportation from La Paz to Mazatlan, and had a friend put out a request for crew positions over the VHF net.
My wife Sharon and I had never had crew aboard Namche before, and normally wouldn't have been very keen on the idea. But Sharon has an affinity for everything Australian, and with yet another trip to Sydney planned, thought it would be fun to get some local information and trade some stories. To make a long story short, we welcomed Anne and Lee aboard as crew to Mazatlan. They were full of enthusiasm, curiosity, and good spirit. What began as a three-day cruise to Mazatlan turned into a seven-week cruise to Manzanillo! We were too late to register for the Banderas Bay Regatta that year, but we made a pact that we'd do it the next year if they'd return.
Never let it be said that an Aussie doesn't
keep his word! True to form, they returned home, and worked diligently
to save money for another trip to Mexico this year. Thanks to
a chance meeting via the radio over a year ago, we have developed
a very special friendship. Because so much effort had gone into
the circumstances of Namche's entry, I just couldn't let
this mistake in race results go uncorrected.
Leroy - We apologize for saying that Hal Crum got three bullets. We fell ill on the last two days of the regatta with a nasty case of the flu, and were unable to properly debrief any of the top finishers. Crum gave us a two-sentence summary, and we must have misunderstood him. If we remember correctly, he hasn't won four times in a row, but the last four times he's raced with his boat, plus once on another boat. We hope you and your crew come back next year and beat him, just to break his streak.
Thanks for the great story of how you
met your racing crew. Over the years, we've found that picking
up crew - particularly young and/or adventurous types - is a
great way to meet interesting people. As such, we've been prone
to do things such as get on the radio in the morning and say,
"We're leaving P.V. for Z-town tomorrow morning. Anyone
who wants to go needs to show up in an hour." Then we'd
take everybody. Not all of them became good friends, but none
of them were losers.
I have absolutely no sympathy for those few cruisers in Mexico who complain about high prices. Free enterprise should not be limited to just the United States. Every one of us cruisers were able to go to Mexico and other places simply because we were able to charge high prices for our services or products. That enabled us to pay our cost of living, plus buy our boats and save some money. We would have gladly charged even higher prices if the market prices and competition had allowed us to do so.
That is exactly what the Mexicans are doing, using free enterprise and charging what the competition and demand allows. No one is forcing any of the cruisers to buy anything. While berthed at a marina near Puerto Vallarta, I met a very wealthy man who was obviously not on a budget. To his way of thinking, the taxi prices were unreasonably high - so he took a bus to town and walked. I believe that each of us has a certain limit we'll pay for something. If it's higher than that, we'll do like my friend and find a less expensive alternative.
There is an old business axiom that goes, If you're too busy, you're prices are too low. I'm sure that the Mexicans are aware of this also, and so long as the marinas and anchorages are full of American boats, I do not see any reason to expect them to be concerned about lowering the port fees on account of a few whiners. Sure, it would be nice if a cerveza still only cost three pesos, but it was competition and currency exchange that made it so cheap back then, it had nothing to do with being priced low for the benefit of cruisers.
There is also another remedy for whiners. If they really believe the businesses that they complain about are really getting rich, I am sure they could invest in one of them and enjoy the profits from what they think are exorbitant prices.
I'm very pleased that of all the cruisers
that read Latitude, only a few don't understand that costs
and prices are rising the world over, and as long as competition
and free markets prevail, the prices - no matter if they seem
high or low - will be reasonable. Fuel prices are set by the
Mexican government, and may be unfairly high due to lack of competition.
Ironically, nobody has complained about that.
In 1998, I built a six-unit condo vacation rental complex on Cozumel, and I have been going there about four times a year since. Cozumel is a tourist economy island, so there are many places in Mexico that are less expensive. I buy most of my groceries and booze at Chedraui, one of the largest supermarket chains in Mexico. Here's an example of some prices so people can compare costs with the United States:
I bought a six-pack of Sol cerveza for 38.80 pesos - or $4.25 U.S. at the exchange rate I received. That was a regular, rather than sale, price. I paid 8.20 pesos (90 cents) for a liter (.26 gals) of milk, and 108.08 pesos ($11.85) for a 1.5 liter bottle of aged tequila. Mangos and avocados were about half the price per pound I pay at home, but I do not remember the price per kilo and it does not give it on my receipt. In general, I think the cost of groceries is about 1/3 less in Cozumel - if one avoids U.S.-made items. If you buy imported stuff - such as American cereals - the price is very high. Part of living cheaply in Mexico is knowing the products and what to buy.
The park entrance fees have increased from $4 per person to $10 per person in the last year. They are after the tourist dollar, and people on vacation are willing to pay it. There are many beautiful free beaches and scuba diving is much better than in Hawaii - at about half the cost. It's $55 for a two-tank dive.
Jack and Patricia Tyler wrote they had
difficulty finding the port captain on Isla Mujeres, which they
wrote is on the Yucatan Peninsula. It's not actually on the peninsula
because it's an 8-mile by 1/2-mile island about five miles off
the coast of Cancun.
The May Loose Lips contains a geographical gaffe, placing the Kick 'em Jenny underwater volcano just off Dominica. Kick 'em Jenny is actually just west of a small group of uninhabited islands - one of which, Diamond Rock, is sometimes wrongly identified as Kick 'em Jenny - lying midway between Grenada and Carriacou in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Dominica is in the Leewards, quite a way to the north.
Information on the volcano - including its precise location and current threat status - may be found at www.uwiseismic.com/kejtitle.html. The January issue of Caribbean Compass contains an article - available at www.caribbeancompass.com/away.htm - written by Jan Lindsay, the lead scientist monitoring Kick 'em Jenny for the University of the West Indies. Her biggest concern is that gas vented into the water from the volcano without dramatic fanfare could reduce the water density enough to cause a boat to sink.
The volcano is on the rhumbline for yachts
transiting between Carriacou and the west coast of Grenada, and
many sailors making the trip seem unaware of the potential danger.
For the current yellow alert, a 1.5km restriction zone is in
effect - although no one is enforcing it.
We haven't fully caught up on our backlog of Latitudes, but in the last three issues we've read, you have consistently warned potential Baja Ha-Ha participants that the San Diego Harbor Police have begun replacing their docks, eliminating transient space for the fall of 2002. But we grabbed an opportunity to visit family in San Diego after returning from the Caribbean, and out of curiosity visited the San Diego Harbor Police to get one of their boater's information packets that you mentioned to see how their dock project was coming along.
What we found were spiffy new, totally-completed transient docks - fully occupied - and also a fully-completed side-tie dock at the foot of their headquarters. Transient rates remain $5/day for the first five days and $10/day for the next five days - after which you can't return for a month. Although boats over 55-feet must pay double, all these rates are a huge bargain by any measure. The San Diego Harbor Police stand ready to serve your Ha-Ha participants and anyone else entering San Diego Bay. By the way, neither the dockside San Diego Harbor Police office nor their main office had any boater info packets - or even seemed to recognize what I was requesting. Perhaps this is one of those nifty services that's now extinct, or perhaps we talked to the wrong employees.
We'd like to add that one of the great benefits of cruising and keeping a subscription to Latitude is the opportunity on occasion to read solid cruising advice from readers whom we also could personally recognize. We've read the lengthy comments from Laurie Paine of Dolphin Spirit a few months back on anchoring gear and techniques, and more recently on cruising Mexico, and it brought back clear memories of following a stern light all night long as we made our approach to the Customs Dock in Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad. It was Paine's Dolphin Spirit! We rafted up to him during the simple clearance procedures there, and while meeting Laurie's 14-year-old son Ryan, were again struck by the immense positive impact cruising can have on kids. And yes, that includes teenagers.
We haven't been around as long or far as
Paine - just 2.5 years, 11 countries, and six commonwealths/dependencies/departments
- but he sure seemed to capture the essence of the Mexico we
saw from the Caribbean side. Just as with other cruising destinations,
there may be lots of local, great people and reasonably-priced
cruising to be had in Mexico, but it's certainly less than a
slam-dunk cruising paradise. And like the other places we've
been, the cruisers who settle in and spend many months dockside
while concentrating on potlucks and morning VHF nets often seem
to be 'cruising' the least. It truly is great to be back in the
U.S. But it's also exciting to be planning the next escape!
Jack & Patricia - If we remember correctly, we wrote that the transient docks in San Diego would be torn down at the time of the start of the 2001 Ha-Ha. The project was delayed, however, and the 2001 Ha-Ha fleet was still able to use them. We reported that the new docks - with nearly double the old capacity - were completed over the winter and opened in May. Shower facilities for the transient docks - a much-needed improvement - won't be completed until later this year.
The prices you quoted for the transient slips are out of date. It's now $10 a day for the first five days and $20 a day for the second five days. Still, it's not a bad deal. We spoke to Chip at the Harbor Police Office, and he reports that they ran out of the boater packets. He's still got all the info.
Each of us has our own opinions about cruising areas, and if you, Paine, and some others are disappointed in Mexico, it's an opinion we're happy to share with our readers. Personally, we think Mexico has two problems. The first is the ridiculous clearing procedures, which above all are a waste of precious time. The second is that some folks hype Mexico so much that it can't live up to expectations. As we noted earlier, despite her shortcomings, all Mexico has to offer is about 4,000 miles of mostly uninhabited coastline, countless anchorages, warm water, incredible marine life, fabulous people, good surfing, great inland trips, and the opportunity to cruise inexpensively with scores of other great cruisers. It might not be a "slam dunk cruising paradise," but a lot of us enjoy it.
There's all types of cruising, of course.
Some folks do it actively, moving from place to place. Others
do it very slowly, taking 20 years to get around the world. And
some - many of them older and retired - have a wonderful time
without ever leaving the marina. As long as folks are having
fun with their boats, we think it's a good thing.
We just received our back issues of Latitude
and read Laurie Paine's negative comments on Mexico - and totally
agree with them. We have been up and down the coast of Mexico
three times, and it's not on our list of any place we want to
return - and for many of the same reasons that he stated. On
the other hand, we spent three months driving the spine of Mexico,
from Durango to Pueblo, to follow the silver mines, and thought
it was fabulous. We plan to return to several of the mountain
cities, and recommend them to anyone who wants to see the real
Mexico - sin touristas.
You have to understand the history of Cuba to understand where they're coming from and why socialism is better than, for example, Venezuelan democracy. No child under 16 is allowed to work in Cuba, something that can't be said about Mexico. Everyone has to get an education in Cuba, and it has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. So if everyone is so smart, why aren't they leaving? Everyone in Cuba is provided health care, something that can't be said about the United States. Equal rights is a fact, not just a political issue when needed.
Former President Jimmy Carter's recent trip reflects the change going on, and that Cuba will be very different a few years from now. One does have to have a certain respect for a country that, for all the efforts of the most powerful country in the world to destroy it, is still alive and well.
Actually, we're happy being Americans.
We are in the process of writing about
our trip along the south of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic,
Haiti, and Cuba, to Mexico, so more will follow.
What was Castro's response to the request for human rights by his supposedly 'educated' population? He organized a million zombie march in Havana and other major cities, demanding that the one party state be forever untouchable. It's a well-educated group of folks who march to demand their own perpetual bondage, wouldn't you agree? Could there be any better evidence that all the Cubans with any brains or balls have been killed, imprisoned, or risked their lives to flee?
We'll ask you the same question that we asked the folks from Reality - what is it about Cubans that makes them undeserving of human rights? Are they not human? Do you not believe in human rights? Correct us if we're wrong, but is there any reason why the citizens of Russia, China, and Cuba shouldn't all enjoy human rights? It seems like such a no-brainer to us.
As much as we're against past and current
U.S. policy toward Cuba, we think the overwhelming evidence suggests
that the responsibility for Cuba's freefall into abject poverty
rests with the bearded old goat at the top, who is the very definition
of a tyrant. For most of the world and history, personal freedom
and prosperity have gone together. Nobody is saying Cuba has
to have an economic system modeled exactly after that of the
U.S., but the plantation mentality has got to go.
In the May Latitude, you published my story about Rex K. DeGeorge, 'The King Of Insurance Fraud'. There have been some new developments:
DeGeorge's release on bail pending sentencing was suddenly revoked when authorities discovered a passport at his house. He had surrendered both his U.S. and Greek passports as a condition of bail. I don't know the details yet, but will find out and let you know. But as a result, he is now in jail awaiting sentencing and, more importantly, cannot flee the country. That was big news down here in Los Angeles.
Also, DeGeorge's license to practice law was suspended pending the disposition of the criminal case when, assuming his appeal is not successful, he will lose his license to practice law.
On another front, DeGeorge was scheduled to appear in federal court yesterday for a status conference on his lawsuit with The Equitable Life Insurance Company concerning its decision to stop paying his disability claim - in excess of $10,000/month for life. He was forced to represent himself in chains and shackles with armed guards next to him.
By the way, Paul Ebeling, one of his coconspirators who pled guilty and testified against DeGeorge, contacted me last week and asked me to write a letter of support on his behalf to the judge prior to sentencing. After I picked myself up off the floor, I politely said 'no'.
Criminal sentencing is still scheduled
We spotted an old trimaran in Topsham,
Devon, United Kingdom, last year - and bought her on impulse.
She's the Piver Victress Nina Rosa. She has had a rough
time, as she's been left half full of fresh water for 10 years,
and had sustained damage in her port hull that was improperly
repaired. The inferior materials used in the repair have failed,
along with some of her more exposed structure. Anyway, we have
a few ideas on how to repair the damage, and are underway with
these, but we'd love to hear from anyone who has had experience
with one of these beautiful - and historic - trimarans. We are
particularly in need of plans for the design. If anyone can help,
please email me at nina.rosa
Just because a big event is being held on the Bay is no excuse for being crazy on the water. I, too, was out there during the KFOG Kaboom fireworks show, and have a different view of the evening's activities. I was the captain of the San Francisco Belle that night, and in the three hours that we were underway, I observed more boats than I could count that completely disregarded the Colregs - i.e. wrong lights/no lights, right of way violations, erratic operation, etc. Scenes such as this make a strong argument for the compulsory licensing of all mariners. Do we even have to discuss conning a vessel while intoxicated?!
I can't believe that the sailor who the Coast Guard turned over to the Oakland Police for being intoxicated acts like he holds the high ground. What did all of you recreational boaters think of Captain Hazelwood? Right, me too. So why is it OK for recreational boaters to do the same thing? I don't like being hassled either, but give the Coast Guard some credit - and also some allowance. They are trying to keep the public waters safe for all of us - even the crazy ones.
By the way, when I blow my whistle five
times, I'm not just saying 'hello'. Rule 34. Look it up.
I'm concerned by the letters from Rodney Mariani and others in the June issue citing abuse by the U.S. Coast Guard during what they call 'routine safety inspections'. There are absolutely no legal restraints placed upon the Coast Guard in their dealings with citizens who own boats. In fact, they are the one police organization in the country that can enter your home against your will, tear the place apart, tell you to go to hell, and get away with it.
The use of threats - "shut up" or "this will take all night" by the Coast Guard is totally unprofessional and should not be tolerated. An inspector who used threats and intimidation should never be allowed in a position of authority. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon with the Coast Guard. When you take a kid out of high school, put him in uniform, give him a gun, and tell him to go out and abuse private citizens, that is exactly what he will do. If any of your readers think that this is overreaction on this writer's part, it's because it hasn't happened to you yet.
Probably hundreds of people write to their elected representatives each year complaining about this abuse, and the result is always the same - the congressperson forwards the complaint to the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard responds with their standard letter stating that they are responsible for public safety. Nothing changes. Apparently members of congress don't own boats.
The SAR units of the Coast Guard provide
a valuable and necessary service; one that is appreciated by
all of the boating community. But the boarding teams give the
entire organization a black eye. These people, as well as their
senior officers, should be given a mandatory course in the Constitution
of the United States. Hopefully, most of them can read.
Frank - You're correct, the Supreme Court has ruled several times that the Coast Guard may board your boat, even if it's your home, to conduct a search - and they don't need reasonable cause or a warrant. Knowing this, you can either cooperate with a boarding party or you can create problems. If you cooperate with the Coasties, there are no guarantees, but the chances are pretty good that things will go as smoothly as possible. If you want to create problems, however, you can pretty much guarantee that the boarding is going to take longer than necessary, that the air will fill with hostility, and you may end up in big trouble. So your reasoning for not cooperating would be what? Why not cooperate out of self-interest?
After a Coastie takes enough guff from a particularly obnoxious guy, we wouldn't have any problem with him telling the guy to 'shut up' or suggest that a lack of cooperation will result in the boarding taking an unnecessarily long time. You ever watch the television show Cops, where they show videos of people who have been stopped by the police? We know it wouldn't be politically correct, but after hearing an adequate amount of bullshit, we'd like to see an ombudsman - perhaps somebody from the WWF - step in and deck the jerk. It's not that we crave violence, but rather that obnoxious assholes have such a desperate need to periodically be put in their place.
So you think the Coast Guard instructs their people to "abuse" citizens? When you had an unpleasant boarding, did you start things off with such an inflammatory accusation? Was the unpleasant boarding all the Coasties' fault, or were you an instigator/contributor?
We're sure there are some bad apples
in the Coast Guard, but the Coasties that have inspected our
boats have been firm but professional. Most Coasties sign up
to be of genuine public service, and would rather be doing Search
and Rescue than safety inspections. But they get their marching
orders from Washington, D.C., and the Department of Transportation.
If you want the boardings stopped, take it up with those giving
the orders, not with those who have to follow them.
While taking my boat to the KKMI yard from the San Francisco YC on the morning of June 8, I was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard. As they approached, they asked if my boat had been inspected recently. I told them that the Coast Guard Auxiliary had done an inspection just two weeks before. After seeing the inspection report and verifying my personal identity and ownership, they wished me a good day and proceeded to the next sailboat nearby for inspection. They were courteous and did not board my boat.
Given the recent terrorism and threats
of terrorism in the world, I think the Coast Guard has a tough
job to perform, and I can understand that each officer needs
to decide whether or not to board a boat, and whether or not
to board with guns drawn.
Thanks for the interesting article previewing the next America's Cup. An error sneaked in, however, due mostly, I suspect, to the trouble people seem to have distinguishing between Switzerland and Sweden. Being Swedish and having lived in Switzerland for several years, I run across this problem a lot. I understand, because I personally have a very hard time not getting Idaho and Iowa confused.
In any event, the America's Cup will indeed not see the first-ever challenge from Switzerland, as they were the ones with Be Happy, the two-keeled boat that required two helmsmen. Prior to the last America's Cup, I worked at the airport in Geneva. From my office overlooking part of the tarmac, I watched Be Happy being loaded on to a giant Russian cargo plane and flown out to New Zealand. That exercise took the better part of a Saturday in order to accommodate the press, sponsors, and so forth. Alas, the two-keeled Be Happy only had one mast, and when it broke in the Challenger Series, the Swiss had to withdraw.
If I remember correctly, 1992 was the last time the Swedes participated in the America's Cup.
Need a tip to prevent confusing Switzerland
and Sweden? Switzerland is the country to the south with higher
mountains and lower taxes. Sweden is to the north with lower
mountains and higher taxes.
Have we really become so passive and docile that we've become dumb sheep willing to accept slaughter? I don't watch much TV anymore, as it's littered with too many team sports programs and brainless sitcoms, but I do catch several news magazines. A feature story the other night on ABC's Downtown struck a nerve with me, for it's rare that I get on my feet screaming at the television set.
The story was on the recent surge of piracy on the open seas. It pointed out that there has been a 400% increase in occurrences over the last 10 years, particularly around Mexico, the Caribbean, the Sea of Cortez, and the Western Pacific. The story then zeroed in on the personal account of a Canadian yachtsman whose boat was boarded by two Mexicans in the Sea of Cortez, who then had his throat slit from ear to ear. He was left for dead. The Canadian did the unthinkable - he survived to give a full account of the event. Not that Mexican officials found the perpetrators or the guy's boat. But, his account gives some insight into the modus operandi of the pirates.
At the close of the story, the Downtown correspondent announced that there was a "new, high tech" solution to the problem, and went on to give an inept description of an EPIRB. That's what lit my fuse. What kind of liberal-agenda idiot is that story producer? What the hell is an EPIRB going to do for you when a pirate is standing a foot or two away with a gun or a knife? Unless you can push that button and a Coast Guard gun ship miraculously appears 20 feet away, the only thing that EPIRB is going to do is bring some apathetic bureaucrat to the spot where you were last seen alive. Further, if I'm supposed to feel gratified that some Third World official might look into my disappearance, I'm not.
If the show's producer and his family were in immediate life-threatening danger, would he whip out his portfolio and cell phone, or grab for the nearest weapon? Particularly if he understood that the nearest police were about 800 miles away, and his unwelcome guests weren't there to negotiate stock options.
The only solution to such situations is 'old tech and low tech' - meaning a gun. There's an old axiom that states, 'Only a fool brings a knife to a gun fight'.
When police talk about crime, they always point out that there are three components that make up the perpetrator's profile - means, motive and opportunity. They've conveniently left out the fourth - safety. Criminals aren't particularly suicidal. They're bold only when they know they have the upper hand. In the case of most mariners, they know they're armed and the chances are that you're not.
Piracy has increased - and in fact been fostered - as the result of shortsighted laws passed by many of the Caribbean and Latin countries. All of these nations openly recognize your right to defend yourself on the open seas, but when you enter their 22-mile boundary, your weapons must disappear. How does this piece of magic happen? It can't, doesn't, and it shouldn't! Furthermore, most piracy problems occur within the 50-mile zone of coasts and islands. Pirates use fast small power boats, so they don't have the range to get mariners on open waters.
With all the wealth and resources of the United States, our own Coast Guard will quickly tell you that your best chance of survival on our outer waters is to stand watches and be well armed. It's a foregone conclusion that Mexico and the Caribbean island countries have neither the resources nor manpower to adequately patrol and protect their waters. Yet, they all want the tourist dollars from American yachties.
Downtown started the issue, but I've got the real solution - a single united voice of the yachting community of the Americas needs to make it clear to Mexico and the Caribbean nations that we are not there to fall prey to their criminals or to be victimized by the restrictive laws of their governments. I'm not advocating they change their in-country laws concerning weapons, although the effectiveness of their laws are demonstrated by the presence of well-armed pirates. However, some amendments or considerations need to be enacted, such as a 'visiting foreign vessel clause' to allow transient vessels to remain armed, without fear of arrest, while they're cruising or anchored in local waters. This is not to be interpreted as to allow 'gunslinging cowboys' to wander the beaches brandishing weapons, but that they remain on the vessel to repel boarders if necessary.
The instances of piracy will quickly drop when pirates figure out their acts of bold impunity have placed them in equal jeopardy. It is to this end that I'm contemplating establishing a nonprofit organization dedicated to lobbying those nations with such laws, and compelling them to implement waivers or visa attachments to the yachting community. I've identified about 5,000 yacht clubs along our gulf and coastal states. If each club would commit about $150/year to the proposed organization, there should be enough working capital to make a serious attempt at forcing some change. It may also take some cooperation from the yachting community in the form of a boycott to get the attention of some of these countries. Just one season of low or null presence should bring them to the negotiating table.
I'm not soliciting funds at this time,
but am testing the water, to see if this is a cause that you
would support. I'm a semi-retired research engineer/physicist,
who also happens to be an active yachtsman and avid scuba diver.
I have a Catalina 45 in Long Beach, and a Huckens 68 I keep at
Guanaha in the Western Caribbean. The issues I've written about
above are certainly near and dear to my heart, and should be
to any of you who cruise the Eastern Pacific or Caribbean waters.
Frankly, we don't think you're going
to get much support for your lobbying idea for the following
reasons: 1) There hasn't been much piracy in Mexico, Central
America, or the Caribbean in the last few years; 2) the dangers
yachties face ashore are many times greater than at sea; 3) bringing
a rifle to an automatic weapons battle isn't any better than
bringing a knife to a shootout; 4) legislators in the poverty-stricken
countries you referred to have more pressing concerns than the
possibility of gringo yachties being shot every 15 years; 5)
if you want to carry a gun, just find a good hiding place on
Surviving the '80s and early '90s was not easy if you were a small marine business, because chain stores for marine goods started cropping up all over the nation. It was all about slick ads, loss leader items, deals at any price - as long as they beat the competition! Factories that manufactured several items to several hundred were delighted with the huge purchase orders they received from these mega-companies. These were definitely good times for the consumer as well as the manufacturers. Some factories would receive six-figure purchase orders from these discount chains that in some magical way made them instant lottery winners.
The competition dug in for a fight, trying to establish their own niche markets, but one by one they closed because they had lost so much market share. The neighborhood chandlery with all its character and individual personality began to disappear. Kettenberg Marine, Johnson & Joseph, Weeks, Howe & Emerson, C.J. Henry, Proper-Tighe, Al's Marine, Boaters Supply, The Ship's Store, Crooks Boats, John Beery Co., Anchorage Hardware - just to name a few. They're all gone. Each time a small marine store would close, the chain stores became stronger.
Factory reps, who helped pioneer new products, were phased out by the chain stores as being unnecessary. Why let the factories pay a commission to the representatives they employed as independent contractors, when they could request that money as a rebate in their pockets. Manufacturers of marine products began to get squeezed for better deals. Manufacturer profit margins began to shrink. The chain stores began to limit what they bought from the manufacturers, limiting the choices available to the consumer. Soon manufacturers began to realize the error of their ways.
In the past, manufacturers had limited their exposure by selling a variety of stuff to a variety of dealers in a variety of markets. If a small dealer chose not to stock a particular item or if that dealer paid an invoice a little late, the manufacturer could absorb it and go on to another dealer. But now the tail was wagging the dog. Manufacturers had to make more and more concessions if they wanted to do business with the chain stores. The consumer began to see limited products in the chain store catalogs. The boatowner was being shortchanged with slick marketing and colorful catalogs, as the discounters only put in the catalogs what they wanted to sell. The consumer might only see two or three widgets in the catalog when 10 or 20 were actually available.
An argument could be made that the discount catalogs cannot possibly carry every product, and that they can special order the other items. Back when there was more competition, if a marine supply store didn't have what you wanted, you just went down the road to marine supply store B and got it right off the shelf. And discount prices? I walked into a brand new discount chain store recently and discovered that a lot of prices were not of the bargain variety, but in fact higher than many of the smaller independent stores. I admit that there are still some items that the small independents find hard to compete with, but I am amazed how easy it is for me to price something equal to or less than the discounters. I find it humorous whenever a buyer asks me if I can match the catalog house discount price only to find that my normal deal would have been cheaper!
The chain stores aren't going away anytime
soon, and admittedly I do use their catalog occasionally. But
I challenge boatowners to make their next purchase at a smaller
marine store. Chances are they have weathered many storms, survived
economic downturns and through it all, continued to learn their
trade. Seek out the small marine stores, there are still a few
of us left.
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