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BAY BRIDGE DANGER AREA
I work on the new Bay Bridge construction, and it never ceases to amaze me how sailors will try to sail between the construction piles when going under the Bay Bridge. It is extremely dangerous, and as the accompanying photo shows, it's happening at an alarming rate.
There is about 200 feet between pilings, and if there are cranes operating, then it becomes even more dangerous. The sailboat in the picture came within 30 feet of an operating crane, and if the wind had shifted or the currents had not been right, they could have been entangled with the crane.
I have seen the Coast Guard intercept some of the boats, and we try to warn off others, but they still come. I would hate to see an accident, but there will be one if this practice does not cease.
I've been looking for clarification on the rule of the road that states, "We're racing, get out of the way."
On Labor Day Weekend, I took a cruise on the Bay aboard my Bristol 32, going from my slip at Emeryville to a picnic at Angel Island. We had just passed the Berkeley Pier and were going nicely on a close reach when suddenly, from the starboard/Berkeley side, we heard the sound of a shotgun. Seeing some boats darting around in that direction, we knew some people were about to race. Knowing that a bunch of boats would be coming our way soon, we kept an eye to our starboard rear quarter.
By the time we got halfway to Point Blunt, two of the boats were getting pretty close. They, like us, were on a port tack, but since my heavily-equipped boat was going about five knots, they were going three times that fast. Since they were the overtaking boats, I figured that I should hold my course so they would know exactly what I was doing. I figured this would enable them to either fall off and pass below us or point higher and pass in front of us.
One of them did just that. But the other one, a boat from San Diego, didn't look like it wanted to change course. By this time it was only four to five boat lengths away and we could actually talk to the crew. That's when one of them said, and I quote, "Get out of the way, we're racing!" When I heard that, I figured he must have had a more recent version of the rules of the road than I, so I headed up to slow down and let him pass. He passed within about three feet of our bow.
Since then, I have been looking in all the books and on the Web for a place where it says that racing boats have a right of way over other traffic. I was also wondering how that guy was going to deal with the container carrier that was coming out of Oakland going toward Alcatraz. I wondered if he thought the, "Get out of the way, we're racing" line would work with them, too.
Jeannette - When you go for a stroll in a park, you follow the Golden Rule - 'treat others the way you'd like to be treated' - by walking around organized soccer and baseball games, even though it might take you an extra couple of minutes, right? Why wouldn't you do something similar on the water if you were being overtaken by a group of racers, whom you knew had spent a lot of time, money and energy in pursuit of their passion? This is particularly true because all you'd need to do to stay out of their way is fall off for a minute or two - and if you did it well in advance, you wouldn't even have to ease your sheets.
San Francisco Bay is getting more crowded all the time because it's being used by increasing numbers of powerboaters, racing sailors, cruising sailors, rowers, kayakers, kite and board sailors, swimmers, fishermen, charterboats and who knows what else. And that doesn't even count the increased commercial traffic. As such, it's incumbent on all of us on the water to cooperate with one another to avoid problems. It's not at all hard if everyone makes a little effort.
It wouldn't hurt, of course, if racers
said "please" and "thank you" when asking
another boat to change her course, and not scream and swear when
confused sailors don't immediately recognize that they are racing.
The Golden Rule applies to everyone.
I've been waiting to write about this until I got over being mad, but that may never happen, so here goes!
When we bought our Swift 40 Arabella in Puerto Vallarta, we thought the worst things we had to worry about were physically getting her back uphill to California and avoiding the dreaded California Use Tax. Nic Rau, the broker in Puerto Vallarta, said I should have "no problems" bringing the boat back across the border.
So, following the rules of an 'offshore delivery', the requisite 91 days of 'offshore use' finally passed, our boat was in Ensenada, and it was time to bring her the rest of the way home. After an overnight passage, we - fiancée Barb, friend John, and myself - arrived in San Diego hoping for a quick check-in and refuel. We then planned to continue on to Avalon for a rest - and a quick marriage for Barb and I! - before our final leg home to Channel Islands Harbor. Since we'd gotten a late start, it was almost 3 p.m. when we pulled into the Customs Dock in San Diego.
While we waited for the Customs official, we thought pumping our holding tanks might be an efficient use of our time. That was a big mistake, since John was standing on the dock when the female agent appeared. She sternly warned us that we could face a $5,000 fine if anyone but the captain stepped off the boat before she had cleared. Oops.
The woman then asked for the paperwork, and soon determined that our boat had been manufactured in Korea, and had been out of the United States for more than a year. All of a sudden I needed to prove that import duty had been paid on this more-than-30-year-old, U.S.-documented boat! Naturally, I had no proof of this aboard - or the slightest idea how to get it! So she confiscated my documentation paper, bill of sale, zarpe, and so forth. She gave me a blue piece of paper and told me that I had 24 hours to report to the Customs office - 11 miles away - to reclaim the stuff. And, that I would need to show the duty had been paid. She also gave me the name of a customs broker who could take care of getting all the forms filled out. I apparently had no choice but to hire such a person.
By this time I was in shock, and Barb was almost in tears at the way our wedding plans seemed to have been shattered. What a pickle - the Customs office would be closed in an hour, it was 11 miles away, there were no cabs in the immediate area, we still couldn't do anything until I paid the bogus fee, I wasn't supposed to move the boat, and Barb and I had already paid a nonrefundable deposit to get married in Avalon onboard the next afternoon!
'Just screw it,' I finally said to myself, and we took off for Avalon. We arrived early the next day, got married, and all was well.
After we made it home, it ended up costing over $2,000 to 'import' our boat into her home waters. I know that's just a couple of 'boat units', but what really chaps my hide is the arbitrary and seemingly selective manner this one-year-old policy is being enforced. A friend had just brought his Japanese-built Fuji 45, which had been in Panama for over a year, into the country a few months before and hadn't had such a problem. By the way, the Customs agent never asked us if we had fruit or vegetables aboard, and never even set foot on the boat. We could have been loaded with all kinds of contraband!
Hopefully this information will be helpful to anyone thinking of buying a foreign-built boat and bringing her to the U.S. - even if she's U.S. documented and has been in the country before. By the way, we still hope to get all our work done on the boat and be on the Ha-Ha in late October.
I was just reading your July comments on cruisers in the Sea of Cortez being obsessed with weather, and was surprised that you think of the Sea as "benign." You obviously have never been caught in the middle of the Sea in a Norther or in a chubasco. No, the former don't have 40-foot waves, but six-foot square waves topped with two-foot wind waves that can certainly make for an uncomfortable trip. Also, keep in mind that if you do get in trouble, you can't call the Coast Guard. After 13 years in the Sea, I can assure you that we gratefully listen to Don of Summer Wind - as well as many of our other weather guessers - to make both crossings and anchoring decisions. Local knowledge, of course, prevails.
On another subject, I was given the following letter last spring by a resident of Conception Bay who was upset about one mariner. After this appeal to the mayor of Mulege, the port captain did ask the offending boat to leave. I think the letter speaks for itself.
"Dear Sir: We are people who come to Mulege and enjoy our stay at Playa Santispac. We have strong feelings about taking care of the beach. Last August the sailboat (named withheld) anchored in the bay. During the last four months, she has not left port to dispose of her waste (black water). They have been asked to leave the bay to dump. The sewage comes to and lands on the beach. The port captain has spoken to them, but they still dump. Is there a way to legally force them to leave Playa Santispac? The weather is getting warmer and the possibility of hepatitis exists. Many people swim and snorkel in this water. As visitors, we are proud of the beauty of Mexico, and are saddened and angry that two people are allowed to spoil it for the rest of us. Is there any way to make them leave since they are breaking the law by dumping?" Signed, "Sincerely, People of Santispac"
Let's use a little common sense, cruisers.
Jinx & Mad Dog Schwartz
It's true that Northers blowing down the Sea of Cortez in the winter can be uncomfortable - perhaps even more so than you think. In November of '79, for example, 27 of the 33 boats in the Long Beach to La Paz Race were knocked out by extremely powerful northerly winds and tremendous breaking seas. In fact, a couple of sailors who had been in the tragic Fastnet Race which claimed 15 lives a few months before, reportedly said the conditions in the La Paz race had been even worse. If we remember correctly, that storm even put a fairly large ship far up on a beach somewhere north of Muertos. So yes, every now and then the Sea gets a really nasty Norther. But to keep things in context, it should be remembered that sometimes it gusts to over 100 mph on San Francisco Bay, and even normally very tranquil Zihuatanejo and Tenacatita got hit with brief 50-knot blows in recent winters.
Fortunately, Northers in the Sea are usually light enough for excellent downwind sailing, and it's rarely far between fine places to take refuge if they turn too nasty. So if we were in the Sea of Cortez in the winter - which we normally wouldn't be because the water is too cold for comfortable swimming - and wanted to sail from San Evaristo to Caleta Partida, we wouldn't have our ears glued to the radio for the latest weather report, we'd simply look out a port. The exception - which we noted - is if we were crossing the Sea of Cortez. It can be 200 miles across the Sea and there is no refuge, so naturally we'd want to know if conditions looked ripe for a nasty Norther. If they did, we'd postpone our passage a couple of days.
Hurricanes, of course, are not benign, and every couple of summers they hit the lower half of the Sea of Cortez. But usually there is plenty of warning. Even though this year's Hurricane Ignacio was considered to have formed very quickly, cruisers in the Sea of Cortez still had several days advance warning that they could be in for trouble.
Every couple of years there's also a particularly nasty chubasco or two that hits the cruiser-populated areas of the Sea of Cortez. But normally they - and lighter regular thunderstorms that are perhaps incorrectly called chubascos - don't last that long and aren't that strong. And based on the reports we've gotten from many cruisers, in many years they don't experience any chubascos at all. Besides, what weather forecaster has a decent record when it comes to forecasting them? So if we were in the Sea of Cortez in the summer, we'd naturally keep an ear out for possible hurricane development, but once again wouldn't feel the need to go overboard with weather reports.
We've said that many cruisers in the
Sea of Cortez - and all of Mexico - are obsessed with the weather.
We still think that's true in the sense that cruisers in the
Caribbean, for example, who are subject to much more severe weather
in both the summer and winter, don't spend anywhere near as much
time worrying about it. Lord knows there's nothing wrong with
being up on the latest weather forecasts, but too many cruisers
seem so obsessed with it that it interferes with their cruising
pleasure. Most of the time the weather in Mexico is benign, and
except during Bashes, Sea of Cortez crossings, and hurricanes,
whatever rare bad stuff there is couldn't have been predicted
anyway. So we suggest being generally prepared for heavy weather
- as Gary Albers recommends below - and then forgetting about
I would like to compliment Latitude for politely declining some recent requests to pay homage to Don of Summer Passage for his weather reports to the cruisers on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico. There is a growing community of cruisers who consider his prognostications as 'gospel'. Allow me the opportunity to play the role of an iconoclast.
My lady and I have made eight round trips from our home port of Santa Barbara to Banderas Bay, Mexico. During that time we have traveled over 34,000 miles in Mexican waters, and crossed the Sea of Cortez more than sixteen times. We are both ham radio operators and have participated in the most popular radio nets, both ham and marine SSB, for the last eight years. For what it's worth, the following are my comments on weather and the 'gurus' who pretend to advise others.
The bottom line is nobody can consistently and reliably predict local weather conditions in Mexico. The problem is that there is simply not enough meteorological data to do so. Along the west coast of the U.S., we have many buoys that transmit local weather data to the National Weather Service, enabling fairly accurate short-range predictions. Such devices are virtually nonexistent in Mexico. To attempt to make the kind of 'micro' weather predictions I've heard Don make is a fool's game.
There are two kinds of weather reports I hear in Mexico that are reasonably credible. First, for the 'large picture', I think there is no one better at this than Tom (Tango Papa) on the Chubasco Ham net in the mornings. Tom is acutely aware of the limitations of the data. His forecasts are broad in nature and he only goes out 24 hours. He also emphasizes that he is an amateur and makes mistakes. His entire weather report is typically finished in five minutes or less, and covers everything from Southern California to the ITCZ.
The other credible kind of forecast is that given by a few local cruisers who are experienced in local conditions. One of the best is Rick on Tortuga. Rick manages the Sonrisa Net and gets up early each morning to gather on-site weather reports from cruisers. He is cautious in his predictions and does not infer more than the limits of his gathered data allow. However, there are few local forecasters who are of this high quality.
To his credit, I'll admit that Don made the best weather prediction I've ever heard a couple of years ago, when we were anchored along with many other boats at Isla Partida, attending Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. The winds had come up, it had rained, and we were all wondering if Sailing Week was going to be blown out. Somebody relayed Don's forecast: "It could blow anywhere from 0-35 knots, from any direction, at any time!"
If Don restricted all of his predictions to that same general statement, he would be right 95% of the time. In fact, that's the best description I've ever heard of the typical weather cruisers can expect while cruising Mexico. During our passages, I can't recall ever seeing anything over 35 knots, and even those instances have been rare. This is not to say that more extreme conditions don't occur, only that they are quite unusual.
If all cruisers left port prepared to encounter 35-knot winds, and the kind of seas they can generate, there would be few disappointments. The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that the cruising community is increasingly composed of people who have little experience as sailors and expect to motor their sailboats from marina to marina. To such people, in boats rigged with tent-like 'dodgers', huge superstructures to support their solar panels, dinghies on davits, and who depend on their engines alone, 35-knot winds can be a terrifying experience. They are prime candidates for the kind of 'religious' (noncritical) confidence Don has generated.
Readers - We want to repeat that we've never heard one of Don's weather forecasts, and therefore have no opinion on their accuracy. However, if it's true that he makes micro predictions - it will blow eight knots today at Caleta Partida - that would be ridiculous.
There are many ways to cruise. Some folks have lean, sleek, and simple high performance boats, while others have heavier and more luxurious boats, often with gear stowed all over the decks. Some folks sail every time there's more than five knots of wind, some folks don't even sail in ideal conditions. To each his own, as there's no right or wrong way to cruise.
However, if you want to cruise and not
be anxious or obsessed about the weather, we think Gary Albers
has the right formula. If you and your boat are prepared for
35 knots of wind and the associated seas each time you leave
port in Mexico, you won't have anything to worry about. In fact,
at most places in Mexico you won't have anything to worry about
if you prepare for 20 knots of wind.
Historically, the best weather information in Mexico had been a combination of the on-site reports on the Sonrisa Net, and the 'big picture' as supplied by Tom (Tango Papa) of the Chubasco Net. Both are Ham nets - the importance of which have become diluted somewhat by the increasing popularity of anybody-with-a-radio-can-start-their-own SSB nets.
The on-sites told you what was actually going on near you, and Tom basically told you what to look out for. Plus, of course, everyone had their own eyes, a barometer, and hopefully a little experience and local knowledge. We all did just fine with these resources for many years. But - as is the case in the more developed world - when more sources of information become available, everybody wants them.
When everyone in Cabo gets wound up about impending severe weather - which Cabo can get - Enrique Fernandez of Cabo Isle Marina often remarks that everyone has "too much information." It sounds strange, but he's probably correct. Thanks to advances in technology, members of the cruising fleet now get all manner of weather charts, and there is a proliferation of nets on which to spread this information. So like everywhere else, cruisers in the Sea of Cortez talk about the weather. And fueled by many cruisers' desires to be 'told' what is going to happen, a whole crop of amateur weather forecasters has been spawned.
I used to know a guy in Cabo who did nothing more than pass on weather forecasts he received from other sources. To his surprise, he was soon accorded the status of 'weather guru'. Despite the fellow's insistence he was just a messenger, he was continually introduced to cruisers as "a guy who really knows the weather." He told me it could become a very addicting designation.
Tango Papa, who really does know a lot about weather, is nonetheless circumspect. When asked why he doesn't get more specific about the weather for local areas, he points out that 'local conditions' will prevail, and that in any case he couldn't accurately predict it all. I have heard the real experts - the professionals at NOAA, the National Hurricane Center, and the ones who write weather manuals - say that even with all their resources, forecasting three days out is a real crapshoot. If you look at the NHC hurricane predictions, you will see that they add a note that their three- to five-day predictions have an average error of 200 miles!
Unfortunately, we cruisers all want to know exactly where bad weather will be in three days. And the trap I think many amateur weather forecasters fall into - and I number Don of Summer Wind as being among them - is trying to fill that need. These amateur forecasters sit and watch the weather imagery on the Internet, see a blob of red, and throw out a prediction. Perhaps they read a few summaries - which often conflict - add a pinch of salt, stir, and then give their forecast. These forecasts are then eagerly received by anxious cruisers.
But if the forecaster doesn't really understand that imagery, he/she can be way off - as Don was when he inaccurately announced that Hurricane Ignacio - supposedly heading south from La Paz! - was dissipating over Todos Santos. In reality, it hadn't dissipated at all, and it continued to move northwest! I can only guess that Don saw a red blob south of La Paz - there are lots of red blobs during hurricanes - and mistook it for the center of rotation of the storm.
Most summer afternoons there is major convection over the Mexican mainland. Sometimes it stays put, sometimes it goes east, but more often it moves down to the coast, and sometimes out to the Sea. More rarely, it actually crosses over to the Baja, which it has done a few times this year. But even all those red blobs of convection don't necessarily mean rain - much less wind. Sometimes they are just high clouds. In these instances, I think Don could more accurately note that there are high cumulus clouds forming over the mountains, and there is a possibility, or even a likelihood, of some of them producing rain somewhere. That is Tom's approach on the Chubasco Net. Don, on the other hand, gravely intones about convection stretching from Puerto Vallarta to the U.S. border, probably moving down into the Sea with numerous chubascos. Some nights Don has basically told everyone on the Baja side to hunker down because all these chubascos are going to cross over to the Baja. This mostly just unnerves the cruisers, and some nights they/we literally cower.
This weather 'voice' can be quite addictive, since Don will then make the most detailed forecasts for each little area, which makes him sound even more credible. The fact that his predictions seldom turn out to be accurate doesn't seem to diminish his stature among his fans. I suppose that most of these cruisers think that although the predicted bad weather didn't hit them, it must have hit other cruisers, and therefore wasn't inaccurate. This has been a very active summer for weather in the Sea, which has just added fuel to the fire.
By contrast, when Don sees nothing on his computer, he announces that it will be "fine travelling weather." But this isn't always the case. This summer, for example, I know a fellow who, three hours after Don's forecast of "excellent weather," was pinned down by a 60-knot chubasco during a Sea of Cortez crossing. It should be noted that none of the other forecasters saw it either - which is my point. There simply isn't such a thing as perfect or precise weather forecasting. Not even NOAA, with all its resources, is that good.
I would love to know what Herb Hilgenberg's record is for the Caribbean and Atlantic, but I bet that he's often wrong. Don certainly is about weather in Mexico. When I was trying to figure out if Don's forecasts were worth listening to, I kept a record of his predictions. When they showed that he was inaccurate about 75% of the time, I got fed up. Such forecasting doesn't seem very impressive to me!
That said, I still listen to Don faithfully. Why? Because he does provide lots of useful information by telling us such things as what he sees on his computer. He is an eye on a lot of information that is useful. For example, I do like to know where the convection is. And, I do like to know what the visual imagery is. But when Don gets to analyzing and forecasting, well, then I think he's for the birds. Nonetheless, it takes a real act of discipline to ignore his prognostications.
Let me give you a final example of how absurd some of Don's forecasts have been. A couple of days ago, he forecast what the wind was going to be doing in the southern Sea of Cortez. He said that it was going to be blowing from such and such a direction, swinging slightly somewhere else the following day, and changing a little the day after. Further, on day one it would be blowing about five knots, on day two about 10 knots, and day three about eight knots. I ask you, can such minute windspeed changes be predicted from day to day? It can't be done, not even with the most powerful computers.
In my opinion, Don also seems to be a bit of an alarmist. For instance, he uses the term chubasco way too freely. Mexicans use the term for something a bit more severe than a normal thunderstorm. Sometimes they even use the word chubasco for a hurricane, although it doesn't really mean that. But Don seems to use the word for every type of thunderstorm, and the problem is that it's a word that certainly gets attention in the cruising community.
It's the same with elefantes, which are a particular type of westerly wind which blows very hard, usually in the northern Sea. There is a particular type of cloud formation that goes with them, from which elefantes get their name. Don seems to use the word to describe any sort of westerly, even the mild ones they get in Puerto Escondido. But like chubasco, the term elefante is not conducive to cruiser peace of mind and sleep.
A couple of nights ago, Don predicted widespread elefantes, from north of Bahia de Los Angeles almost all the way to La Paz! I doubt if there has ever been an elefante that far south. Can anyone remember hearing of one or experiencing one down there? Bahia de La Paz certainly does not have the terrain that elefante cloud formations require. Pretty soon, I expect we will hear Don say something about the "afternoon elefantes in Bahia San Francisco" - and he'll be meaning the one with the Golden Gate Bridge. Don doesn't seem to understand that not all westerly winds blowing in Puerto Escondido are the feared elefantes.
I don't know Don, but I think he's a well-meaning
fellow who spends a lot of time giving cruisers useful real-time
information. But I also think he falls into the trap of thinking
that he and his computer can do what not even the most well-equipped
national weather services can do. He tries to do too much, be
too precise, and predict too far in advance - all without the
crucial assistance of on-site reports. It's the case of a well-meaning
guy trying to be too helpful for everyone's good. But that's
precisely what sucks in his extensive flock of followers, which
in turn makes him very important - even beloved - to them. This,
in turn, fuels him to greater excesses in forecasting. Sadly,
I think these forecasts also diminish his adherents' enjoyment
of the Sea of Cortez.
As I think the editor also pointed out, there are many summers in the Sea where there have only been one or two chubascos - or not any at all. But this summer has been the most challenging in the 13 years that I have been down here, as I've been in two genuine chubascos so far - which either matches or exceeds my grand total up until this year. And I've had friends who have been in others. Part of this seeming to be a particularly challenging weather summer in the Sea is illusory, as Don kept predicting non-chubascos as chubascos. But part of it is real.
Another factor is that there seems to be an unusually large number of boats cruising in the northern Sea this summer. Thirty-four were anchored in Puerto Don Juan for Ignacio, and that doesn't count a whole other fleet that was there earlier this summer. Maybe there have been more observations because there have been more boats. In any event, there was much more thunder and lightning than I can ever remember in the Sea, and lots of rain. If I were to send you a photo of either the tetas de Cabra guarding Bahia San Carlos on the mainland side, or of the Sierras behind Puerto Escondido, you might well think it was Moorea rather than a desert. It's very, very strange. And all this was before Ignacio dumped 20 inches of rain.
The downside of all the rain is the mosquitoes and the resulting outbreak of dengue, which has now infected over 900 people between La Paz to Santa Rosalia. One strain is a major pain, but the other strain can be fatal. Apparently the strains are being contracted in about equal numbers. It seems that sooner or later someone in the cruising fleet will get it.
This has gone on way too long, but the last point I want to make is that I've always felt that the Sea of Cortez has much better sailing winds than it gets credit for. Everyone talks about motoring around all the time, but I've always thought that was because they were only going short distances and didn't want to dismantle elaborate awnings - and in any case, they had to charge the boat's batteries. Thus most cruisers complained that they didn't sail, and convinced themselves that there wasn't enough wind. In fact, the winds were there, but were too light to make it worthwhile to sail because of other priorities.
I've always sailed a good bit in the Sea. And I'd like to remind others that the Pardeys cruised the Sea of Cortez in their engineless 24-ft Serrafyn, and among my friends are two other couples who cruised the Sea without engines. One couple did so on Scout, a Pacific Seacraft 25, which is a short and heavy design not conducive to light winds. My boat is medium to light displacement, so it's not as difficult for me to find a sailing breeze as others.
The difference between sailing this year and 'normal' years hasn't been the amount that I've sailed, but in what conditions. Although I've sailed a considerable amount in the 13 years that I've been down here, I don't think that a single one of those occasions has been one of those memorably wonderful sails that you might get up in California or in the Caribbean. You know, the type that goes in the memory book as one of the best ten sails ever. But this year it's been different in the Sea. My sail from Isla Smith to Puerto Refugio was clearly one of those 'top ten', and I have had several other candidates. The flip side, of course, has been that the foul weather has been really foul this summer. So yes, the Sea is usually much more tranquil than this summer, but it has always had more pleasant breezes than commonly supposed.
By the way, I'd be interested in hearing other cruisers' opinions of the various weather gurus. Having stated mine about Don, I think everyone - even those in California about to head south - ought to listen to him for at least a few days to decide for themselves. He can be heard clearly in the Bay Area on the Amigo Net, 8122 USB at 7 a.m. California time, and on the Bluewater Net, 6516 USB, 7 p.m. California time, as well as on some other nets. In my opinion, he becomes the most alarmist at night.
Finally, I have just found out that the chubasco I thought my friend had gotten hit by 15 miles out of San Carlos on the mainland side is more accurately called a torito or little bull. That is the correct term for the sudden, violent storms, with high winds, thunder, lightning and rain, over in that part of the Sea of Cortez.
Please withhold my name, as I have many friends who think very highly of Don's reports, and I don't want to get into all those arguments.
Name Withheld By Request
In the September Loose Lips section of Latitude, you pondered the source of Davy Jones and his infamous locker. A few years ago, I was helping Clatsop County in Oregon plan new jail facilities. The lieutenant commanding the jail and I were lamenting the lack of suitable sites for a new jail, and I joked that a prison barge could be moored along the banks of the Columbia River.
My joke prompted the lieutenant to share his understanding of the Davy Jones story. Davy Jones, he told me, was the warden of a prison barge on the Thames River that was referred to as a 'lockup'. Warden Jones' lockup caught fire and burned to the bottom, with a great loss of life. Going to Davy Jones' lockup, later slurred to 'locker', became a metaphor for dying a particularly undesirable death, much as 'buying the farm' became a similar metaphor after World War II. By the way, the later expression refers to the government paying the farmer for his lost crop because a test pilot augured in.
Clatsop County still hasn't gotten voter approval for a new jail, so some entrepreneur with a barge might still be able to negotiate a lucrative contract. I'm available to plan the detention improvements to the barge.
Greg Allen Barker
At the start of a sailing trip from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, just six miles outside the Golden Gate and at 5:30 a.m. on a calm and beautiful Friday morning, and while motoring at five knots, the prop shaft on our 1975 Islander 30 snapped off at the coupler. Not only did the shaft snap, but it slid out of the stuffing box, causing our boat to take on water. Our attempt to use an emergency plug was unsuccessful because there was insufficient clearance between the coupler and the stuffing box, so we used the next best thing - a wine cork! With the leak slowed to a trickle, we waited for a breeze to come up.
We called the Coast Guard to alert them of our situation. We were having trouble communicating on the VHF, so we noted the Coast Guard's phone number and called them back on our cell phone. After reporting our position to the Coast Guard, we called Vessel Assist. Two hours later John was alongside with a tow boat, and we began our tow back into San Francisco Bay.
Using our cell phone once again, we contacted San Francisco Boat Works to arrange for an emergency haulout. Once secured to their dock, Bill, the yard manager, came aboard to assess the situation. Thirty minutes later, our boat was out of the water and shored up. Fortunately, this happened on a Friday, for the yard - and most others - are closed on weekends.
With the boat out of the water, we were able to disassemble the broken shaft and have it ready for the yard to pick up on Monday. While the boat was out, we took care of a few small projects and had the yard paint the bottom and buff the topsides.
In about a week, the new shaft had arrived and the reassembly was begun. It was soon concluded that the shaft-to-engine alignment was the problem. Our Islander is almost 30 years old, and the motor mounts had settled. Adequate adjustment was impossible due to the corroded condition of the mounts. With her new bottom, new shaft, new motor mounts and alignment complete, Castle Cove went back into the water. After a final adjustment to the stuffing box, the boat was ready to sail.
Feeling as though a shakedown was still prudent, a three-hour sail placed us in the Ballena Isle Marina. There was a strong breeze the next day, and sailing upwind to the San Francisco Marina gave us confidence that the boat was ready for the trip back to Santa Cruz. Heading down the coast with a light southerly and gray skies, we had to motorsail 17 hours to get to Santa Cruz - a true test that our stuffing box and engine mounts were in great shape.
Based on our personal experience, everyone should make checking their engine alignment a regular part of their haulout routine, and keep the motor mounts lubricated to prevent corrosion.
Thanks to the professional skills of Vessel Assist, the attention to detail and craftsmanship of San Francisco Boat Works, plus the moral support from friends and family, our boat is home and in better shape than ever.
Rob & Susan Nichols
I wanted to take a minute to tell everyone how the training my wife and I received at OCSC in Berkeley helped save four lives on the water.
A few years ago, my brother-in-law asked us to help sail his CT-54 from Mexico up to Oceanside. Not willing to go to sea trusting everything to others, the two of us enrolled in the basic keelboat class and later the basic cruising class so that we'd have our own skills to rely on. This training actually made us the best sailors on the trip! We continued our membership, and made a few day trips and some overnighters from Berkeley to Martinez. Last January, we bought a swing-keel boat for sailing up here on the Delta, and therefore discontinued our OCSC membership.
On August 17, we spent the afternoon sailing our boat on the San Joaquin River. After running with the current for several hours, it was time to head back to the launch ramp near the Antioch Bridge. As we sailed back, we noticed someone swimming from a boat about 3/4 of a mile out - and then two more people jumping off. Although swimming in a four-knot current and 25-knot wind obviously isn't right, we didn't immediately think twice about it because we regularly hang out with sail and kite boarders who do pretty extreme stuff on the water.
But after sailing up to the disabled motorboat - which we later learned had fouled her prop - we realized that the people in the water were in trouble and needed to be rescued. The man overboard skills that were drilled into us at OCSC came into immediate use. Because we had trained together, there were no problems with communication, and we were able to come around and heave to without trouble. We found a young girl, about eight years old, and two boys in their mid-teens, all trying to keep their 300-lb uncle from drowning. Everyone - those in the water as well as their family on the disabled powerboat - was screaming.
The girl and one of the boys were wearing PFDs and the other boy was holding a PFD. We were able to get the youngsters onboard, and put out our rope ladder for the uncle to hold onto while we got a PFD on him. Finally, their family was able to unfoul their prop and come alongside to pick up their four crew who had been in the water. Their boat had a swim platform, so their uncle was able to climb aboard.
Kevin & Karen Kelly
Kevin and Kelly - Well done! What some
readers may not realize is that many experienced sailors often
have a problem in man overboard situations - even in much calmer
It's always lots of fun to read Latitude and see the photos of Cherie Sogsti and see how the Max Ebb articles relate to the letters to the editor.
In the September issue, Lee Helm had the answer (page 169) to a question a reader had asked in Letters about gyro compasses - although her equations are for calmer water conditions, not the real roll and pitch you get outside the Gate.
Somewhat like a windvane addition to an autopilot to help in upwind conditions, a gyro addition to an autopilot can help a lot in downwind conditions, as these are often configured as gyro rate sensors which measure 'r dot' directly and quickly, rather than computing it from wildly varying fluxgate compass data. (Even if the fluxgate is level, there is a definite time delay in computing a useful second derivative such as 'r dot'.)
Such gyro-equipped autopilots are available from Raymarine/Autohelm, Simrad, Alpha, and several others. Although rarely known in the boating supermarkets, a Google search will give you lots of information.
Having experienced a few, your comment about "wicked jibes" with a regular autopilot is absolutely accurate.
I have a suggestion that will enable you to publish more letters - dispense with the long pontificating responses to almost every letter. We are familiar with Latitude's ideas on every subject since we must read them many times. Check out the column space you would save by limiting - or eliminating - pontification. Imagine the New York Times commenting on every opinion expressed by readers. No reputable publication does it. We want to see more reader letters. Thanks.
F.E. - If we never had to write another response to a letter, it would be fine with us. Unfortunately - and this will probably make you sick - most readers tell us that the responses to the letters are their favorite part of the magazine. It makes us sick, too, what with all the effort all our editorial staff puts into creating such great articles. So what do you suggest we do, eliminate the part of the magazine most readers like the most?
We don't think your comparison with the New York Times applies. Folks who write letters to the Times are generally experienced or very informed on the issues they comment about. In the case of Latitude, many of the people who write letters are relatively new to sailing or some part of sailing, and are making inquiries. Thanks to the fact that we've been lucky enough to have had a lot of experiences on boats in a variety of areas, we think we often have insight or factual information they couldn't easily find elsewhere. As for our opinions, we're not passing them off as gospel truth, but rather as a starting point at which people can begin evaluating things to form their own opinions. And we always welcome differing views.
Nonetheless, starting with the next issue, we'll see if we can perhaps do a better job by sounding less like a broken record. Frankly, we don't know if we're capable of it, but we'll try.
P.S. Sorry this response couldn't have
been a little shorter.
Knowing that I would someday want to make the trip down the Washington/Oregon coasts to the Bay Area, I have read Latitude and your comments with interest over the years. One thing I have never seen commented on, which could have been helpful to me, is the relationship between weather forecasts and what kind of weather actually occurs.
My crew, Lynn, and I left Port Angeles on July 21 aboard my Camper & Nicholson 35, a custom aluminum IOR sloop that had been built for Peter Nicholson in '74. As insurance against getting caught offshore by any really horrible weather, I used the services of a reputable weather forecaster. His forecasts were very accurate - until the fourth day, when things got interesting.
Our strategy had been to travel between 5 and 15 miles offshore, giving us the option of ducking in for shelter if need be. In any event, his forecast called for 20-25 knots winds from the NNW, with seas of 8-10 feet at eight second intervals, with a 30% chance of the wind reaching 30 knots.
My offshore sailing experience is limited, but I have sailed to the Queen Charlotte Islands on the outside of Vancouver Island three times, and helped a buddy bring his Sea Runner 37 trimaran from Panama to Ft. Myers, Florida, in March of '89 - a pretty rough trip. But what we experienced off the coast of Oregon was a real eye-opener.
The above forecast for anywhere on the open ocean without significant countercurrents would not seem so bad. So since the inshore route was pretty bumpy, I decided to work our way further offshore, hoping that deep water and less wave refraction off the shore would smooth things down.
Well, 60 miles off Cabo Blanco both the wind and the waves began to build. We turned on the weather radio and heard a forecast that called for winds to 40 knots, and seas 9 to 11 feet at eight second intervals. Around nightfall, my Aries windvane could no longer keep up, as it indeed seemed to be blowing 40 knots with large seas. So we hove-to under storm staysail and trysail, which is the same sail plan we'd been carrying for 24 hours.
When dawn broke the next morning, things were certainly stirred up. The largest sets of waves rolling through were breaking at the top. Lynn felt the conditions beyond his driving capability, so I spent 15 hours concentrating, making our way through some amazing ocean peaks and valleys. Although my boat was covered by breaking waves many times, we didn't experience any knockdowns. By evening, we were about 70 miles out of Eureka, so we hove-to again to rest. If that didn't work out, we were going to set my Paratech Sea Anchor with 400 feet of 5/8-inch line. And yes, I notified the Coast Guard of our position and checked in with them periodically.
The question I have is that, given the original forecast, were my moves prudent? I never expected to see such conditions generated from what at first glance seemed like an acceptable weather window. By the way, it was during our licking that a boat with four persons aboard was abandoned near our position.
I hope my experience will be helpful to other Northwest sailors who are headed south.
Ed - It seems to us that you did everything prudently, from how you equipped your boat to how you handled the rougher-than-anticipated weather. The only exception might be that you didn't have a third or fourth crew along for such a potentially rough passage.
You seem to be asking us if weather forecasts are sometimes wrong. If so, doesn't everyone know that forecasts are frequently wrong? And that in some places they are wrong more often than in other places? For example, as Steve Martin comically pointed out in the movie L.A. Story, the summer weather in L.A. is pretty much the same every day. In other places it's much more difficult to predict the weather - and some of the most notoriously difficult places are the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. It seems to us we've written countless pieces about cruisers who have set off along that stretch of coast with a good weather report only to have gotten the snot beaten out of them. We can remember one July when the Coast Guard had to rescue four different crews who had abandoned their vessels. We also recall a Coast Guard Commander around Mendocino telling us that it's not uncommon for winds to build from 10 to 60 knots - despite a favorable weather forecast - in a matter of an hour or two.
In an earlier letter, Gary Albers said sailors would be fine 95% of the time in Mexico if they were prepared for 35-knot winds and associated seas. If we were to travel north or south along the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington, we would always assume - no matter how promising the most recent weather forecast - that there was a decent chance we'd get hit by up to 60-knot winds and associated seas. After all, the weather history of that part of the West Coast is of frequent nasty weather surprises.
The other curious thing you seem to suggest is that you got one professional weather forecast at the start of the trip, but nothing after that. If that was the case, it clearly was a mistake to have put faith in a four-day forecast - particularly along that coast. As we've written elsewhere, we'd sail all up and down the mainland coast of Mexico during the winter without bothering to get a weather report, but when it comes to the Oregon-Washington coast, we'd be eagerly awaiting each forecast. More than that, we'd also be extremely interested in more than just the wind and sea forecast, but also the overall weather picture, for possible hints of adverse developments.
To summarize, if folks from the Pacific
Northwest were to race in the West Marine Pacific Cup from San
Francisco to Hawaii, or cruise from San Francisco to Panama or
Tahiti, the worst weather they would be likely to encounter would
be before beginning those passages, along the West Coast north
of San Francisco.
I am responding to the "Captain Needed" letter in the September issue by the couple looking for a licensed Captain to perform their marriage ceremony. Latitude is correct that it's an old wives' tale that you can perform wedding ceremonies just because you're a Coast Guard-licensed captain. Having just married my friends at Lake Arrowhead this summer, I researched the matter. In fact, I joined a 'paper ministry', the Universal Life Church, in order to be ordained to perform the ceremony - even though I'm already a licensed captain.
By the way, what credentials will be recognized as being valid depends on what county you get married in.
If I hadn't been hosting the Westsail Rendezvous on September 27, I would have been happy to preside over the couple's wedding. If anyone else is looking for a ordained minister and licensed captain to perform their ceremony, I'm available for a small fee. Hey, that suit was expensive! I can be reached via email.
P.S. Love the mag!
'Reverend' Captain Randall Leasure
The folks who wrote the "Captain Needed" letter were looking for someone to perform a wedding on his or her vessel. A little-known state law may solve the problem. Family Law section 401. (b) allows counties to designate deputy commissioners of civil marriages to perform weddings. Some counties will designate a deputy commissioner for a single wedding on a particular day. Such deputy commissioners do not have to have any particular training, and can be a lawyer, minister, holder of a Six Pak license - or even just a friend or relative special to the couple.
Here's the exact wording of the statute: "401. (a) For each county, the county clerk is designated as a commissioner of civil marriages. (b) The commissioner of civil marriages may appoint deputy commissioners of civil marriages who may solemnize marriages under the direction of the commissioner of civil marriages and shall perform other duties directed by the commissioner."
I'm writing in response to Chris Wahl's September letter inquiring about good trailerable sailboats. I have owned trailerable sailboats for 30 years, and I have also sailed larger boats such as Catalina 30s and Ericson 35s. While all sailboats represent compromises, trailerable sailboats bring additional factors into the mix, such as the difficulty of rigging a boat versus one that remains rigged; the ease of launching and trailering versus the cost of a berth and better stability and performance, and comfort versus practicality.
The recent development of water ballast has allowed much larger boats to be trailerable without owners needing to buy bigger vehicles. In general, water ballasted boats tend to be more tender than lead or iron-ballasted boats, and have a more limited set of wind and wave conditions under which they are comfortable. An interesting comparison can be made between the Catalina 250 with water ballast and the same boat with a lead keel, in either the fin or wing configuration. Once in the water, the water ballast model actually weighs more than the lead-ballasted models, but the ballast is not as effective due to placement. Thus, the lead-keeled models typically perform better and have more interior volume. The downside is their extra weight while towing.
Another factor to consider is the planned use of the boat. If you want to join others for trailer cruises or one-design racing, the more popular boats provide better opportunities. Here on Folsom Lake for example, there are dozens of Catalina 25s, but only one Balboa 26. Replacement and upgrade parts are also more readily available for popular classes such as the Catalina, as you can get virtually any part shipped to you the next day. That can be important for boats that take a lot of abuse on the water - and on the road. It doesn't take too many potholes on I-5 to cause a couple of turnbuckles to be lost.
Our family of four currently sails on a 1982 Catalina 22. She's ideal for weekend breakfast sails, dinner cruises, overnight camping on lakes, and daysails on San Francisco, Monterey, and Santa Monica Bays. She's easy enough to rig and trailer, yet robust enough not to have to run for the nearest marina at the first sign of a whitecap. However, I would warn Wahl that although, on paper, she has enough berths to sleep four, there's no way four could sleep comfortably on her in reality. Even larger boats, such as the MacGregor 26 or Hunter 26, will only sleep four if they are really good friends, nobody snores, and nobody has to use the head in the middle of the night.
I would also recommend focusing on models that have an enclosed head as opposed to a Porta-Potti under the V-berth, as that can add hours - even days - to the practical limit of every trip.
I hope my perspectives are helpful, but would also recommend that Wahl take the time to talk to boatowners at the trailer-sailer meccas such as Folsom Lake, Huntington Lake and similar locations. What's popular in the areas he plans to sail could be helpful.
I've been sailing the Bay for 17 years and have always been a big fan of Latitude. At last, I have a quick question. I'm planning a sailing charter on a Beneteau 50, with a captain, out of Honolulu from February 16-20. But an acquaintance of mine told me that this was not a good time of year for weather. I know that you can't predict or guarantee weather patterns, but what should I expect if I do sail north around Oahu or south to the other islands? Should I expect lots of rain, heavy and rolling seas, or is there a good chance of sunshine and 15-knot winds? I would greatly appreciate any advice you can give.
Hawaii sailing writer Ray Pendleton tells us the weather situation in Hawaii is such that "anything can happen at any time of year - and without much advance warning." That's not the kind of report businesses like to hear when they are planning charter bases, or customers like to hear when planning charters.
Hawaiian weather is perhaps most consistent in the summer and fall. The Pacific High is pretty well established, and light to heavy northwest winds and swells are the norm. Come winter and early spring, there's a much greater chance of Kona - southerly wind - conditions. Often times Kona conditions are the most pleasant for sailing; the winds are lighter, the seas flatter, and air temps more comfortable - although there might be rain. If those conditions were to prevail for the duration of your charter, we're told that you could have a nice sail over to Molokai and Maui, and then back to Honolulu. Unfortunately, there's also a good chance that the Kona conditions would be interrupted by a Pineapple Express from the east or strong trades and huge seas from the Northwest. You just can't tell.
When pressed, Ross said he figured there
would be a 20% chance of good weather for interisland sailing
in mid to late February. So you might go and see what the weather
looks like. If it looks good, head off for Molokai and maybe
Maui. If it doesn't look so good, you can sail down to Barber's
Point and the Ko Olina for a night or two, and then back to and
around Honolulu. If there's a strong Kona or a Pineapple Express,
we're not sure what you could do.
I was anchored on my 48-ft Falmouth cutter about 500 yards off Avila Beach the day Debra Franzman was attacked and killed by a Great White shark.
My crew Paul and I had arrived from Morro Bay en route to Ventura and the Channel Islands on August 13. We had crossed the bar at Morro Bay just before sunset, sighted a whale, took that as a good sign - superstition be damned - and had a rolly but otherwise uneventful motorsail down to Port San Luis. We planned to anchor there for the night, then boogie past Point Conception the next day.
We dropped the hook at Port San Luis about midnight, and arose at 4 a.m. to hear a weather forecast calling for higher wind and seas than I cared to deal with. Since my time schedule was flexible, I decided to stay at anchor between the Cal Poly - formerly the Union Oil - Pier and the Avila Pier. The spot was delightful, and I was treated to a few days of idyllic Central Coast weather. The beaches were crammed with bathers. Dolphins swam inside the surf line, much to the delight of the swimmers, who nonetheless seemed reluctant to enter the water in the immediate vicinity of these relatively benign creatures. The water was also teaming with vast schools of baitfish, dutifully pursued by the marauding hoards of seals. The sea was perpetually alive with creatures answering the dinner bell.
I was on deck the morning of the tragic shark attack, but I witnessed nothing. I was intent on unleashing and launching my hard dink, but even at 8 a.m. the beaches were alive with the sound of children and adults playing. It was the second set of sirens which got my attention, and it was then that I stopped to look up from my project. Once I ascertained there was nothing I could do to help whatever the problem was, I went right back to work.
Later that morning, while motoring my dink to shore, I noticed signs being placed on the beach. Once ashore, I learned what details of the attack were available at the time. When it was time to dinghy back to my boat later that afternoon, everyone was aware there had been a shark attack at 'Lake' Avila, as some of the lifeguards are fond of calling it. I knew that attack had happened not far from where I was anchored. I also knew that I had overloaded my dink with stuff. Predictably, the wind was blowing in my direction, although the ride was something of a white-knuckler, especially when it came time to slip under the Cal Poly Pier in my loaded-to-the-gunnels dink. And to top it off, I was anchored in shark infested waters. There was blood in the water. There were no more 'Lake' Avila jokes.
Three days later, I was again on deck at about 8 a.m., doing my usual stretching and bending - stretch to reach my slippers, and bend my elbow just enough to raise the coffee mug - watching the seals as they devoured all the fish they could catch. I was watching one group about 15 yards from my starboard side, when into the middle of the diners arose a large fin that looked suspiciously like that of a shark. The group of seals dispersed post haste in a turmoil of splashing water. I dashed below for my camera, and spent the next three hours drinking coffee and holding my Olympus, waiting for the return of El Blanco Grande. I had just about decided that I may have been mistaken, except for the now-conspicuous absence of seals in the area.
Later that day I learned that the beach closing had been extended, as El Blanco had been sighted again. "It was right out where you anchored," volunteered Mike, the skipper of the water taxi.
That weekend, the last before Labor Day, the harbor looked a bit like a scene from Jaws. Trailer-fishers were backed up, waiting to launch their boats and get a shot at ling cod, albacore, assorted rock fish - and possibly, just maybe, the White One. The scene was made complete by a small but enthusiastic group of protesters carrying signs that read: "Don't blame nature for human error." Okay, so it was actually the protestors' children, eight or nine years old, who held the signs. The adult 'organizers' anxiously awaited the media blitz that never materialized.
I know about these fishermen, because by that time I had decided to haulout rather than postpone, and was now perched in the ways at Port San Luis Boat Yard, 12 feet above the staging area for that morning's most anxious anglers, the so-called 'Fresno Navy'. The Central Coast is certainly a haven from the heat for those in the Central Valley. They come for the clean air, the beaches, and the water. They still came after the shark attack, although not to play in the water, not unless they have a boat.
I have my own boat, but she's now on the hard - actually concrete since the Port San Luis Boat Yard has been resurfaced. It's great to be in the boatyard with the grinding, curing epoxy and paint, the dust, the noise and the raccoons. Yep, Rocky and his clan are a regular sight in the evenings, scrounging around for a meal, not unlike the seals. The little masked critters aren't a problem - unless you leave any food laying around. Come dark, you'll naturally want to pull up your ladder or rig an A.R.D.S. - Anti-Racoon Defense System - to keep the little buggers off the boat. They're known to exhibit a propensity for climbing ladders and messing on the decks. Take reasonable precautions and the raccoons aren't a problem, but fail to, and the poop will hit the deck. By the way, Marty runs a terrific do-it-yourself boatyard, as long as you follow a few precautionary measures.
The tourist season has ended now, though God blesses the Central Coast in autumn, and the weather should be nice for a while longer. The tourists still come for the weekend, and though the beaches are open again, they'll doubtless exercise a few precautions when they enter the water. As for me, I have grinding to do and sanding, and lots of paint to spread. I'll wear a dust mask and some gloves, a hat, sturdy shoes - and I'll rig my A.R.D.S. each evening when I button down. I'm just taking a few precautions.
Charles - Thanks for the report. We
don't hear from the Central Coast as often as we'd like to.
In the September issue, you published my request to the Coast Guard that it work toward changing the regulations to allow placing the DMV stickers on the hard transom of inflatables, where they will not peel off. I have received a reply from a Captain Evans on behalf of Admiral Collins, and quote the essential paragraph of his reply:
"Since validation stickers are directly linked to the vessel registration number and are essential to law enforcement personnel in the identification of a vessel on the water, it was determined that visibility may be obscured by placement of these stickers on the hard transom. While your proposal is well-stated, I am sure you can agree that in this current environment of heightened security awareness, it would not be in the best interest of the Coast Guard or the recreational boating public to consider amending the regulations."
Captain Evans should not have been so sure that I would agree. Stickers that peel off fight terrorism? I'll be damned.
COMMUTER CRUISING TO BANDERAS BAY
My wife and I are hoping to become 'commuter cruisers' someday, and are considering basing our boat in Puerto Vallarta. We visited the main marina last spring to check out the area. When we asked about the Banderas Bay Regatta for cruisers, we discovered that it was based out of Nuevo Vallarta, several miles up the coast.
We would very much like to contact someone about crewing at the 2004 Banderas Bay Regatta, and go to the correct marina this time. Do you have any suggestions on how we might make contact?
Steve & Terri Dale
Steve and Terri - The Banderas Bay Regatta has been based out of Paradise Resort & Marina - just a few miles north of the airport - for a number of years now, and it will be held out of there again next March 24-28. It's great 'nothing too serious' cruiser racing, so lots of boats will be looking for crew. Just show up and ask around. The Banderas Bay Regatta is much more than racing, however, as it's also the last big cruiser social gathering of the season on the mainland. Check out www.banderasbayregatta.com for full information and photos.
You almost certainly visited Marina Vallarta, right next to the airport. It's popular with cruisers who want to be closer to stores and downtown, but don't mind the hustle and bustle. Paradise Village Marina is more popular with folks who like a more upscale facility, a five-mile long beach, and quieter surroundings.
By the way, along with La Paz and Mazatlan,
Banderas Bay is one of the best 'commuter cruiser' bases in Mexico.
It's only three hours by direct flight from San Francisco, the
air and water are warm throughout the winter, the sailing is
excellent, the surfing is uncrowded, there are many nearby destinations,
and the sealife is prolific. The only downside we can think of
is that the megayachts are discovering this beautiful area, and
are therefore reducing the amount of berthing for smaller boats.
In answer to Allen Edward's question in the September Latitude about whether his L36 Papoose ever did a TransPac, she did not. But at least nine other L36s did - including Sayonara ('59), Vamanos ('61), Nomad ('61), Jo Too ('63 & '65), Yuletide ('65), Nyon ('65), Bellwether ('65), Gambit ('67), and Woodwynd ('71 & '73).
Bill Lapworth designed the L36 in 1952, one criteria being that it was the smallest boat then eligible for TransPac. George Griffith owned L36 #1 Cassandra and, except for the keel-hung rudder, the underbody of the L36 is remarkably similar to the more familiar Cal 40. Not surprisingly, George Griffith collaborated with Lapworth on the design and construction of the Cal 40, and Griffith also owned Persephone, the first Cal 40, launched in 1963.
It was fun for Griffith and Lapworth, two staunch friends, innovators and competitors, to visit us aboard the Cal 40 Illusion prior to this year's TransPac - which also happened to be the 40th birthday of the Cal 40. When asked whose idea the spade rudder was for Persephone, both Griffith and Lapworth smiled and nodded their heads.
With regard to the mysterious cause of the sinking of the Spirit back in the '70s, I'd like to throw in my two cents. Here's a quote from the archives of our circumnavigation:
"Another odd thing at sea. We were heading to Australia for the first time, the wind was light, it was a nice day. Off the starboard beam we suddenly saw about a 10-foot pole with two orange pennants sticking out of the water. We looked at it for a couple of minutes speculating on why we hadn't seen it before, and then decided to go have a look. After a 90° right turn and hardening up the sails, it was right ahead of us, but as we watched, it disappeared in a flash and was gone. We thought it had gone downwards, but couldn't be sure. We sailed over where we thought it had been, and saw nothing. So we resumed our course for Australia. We finally came to the conclusion that a submarine had come up to periscope depth, stuck up an antenna to check in with the home office, and then re-submerged. If so, did they know we were there? Sailboats don't make much noise. Did we perhaps narrowly avoid a collision? I think I'd rather hit a nice soft whale than a steel sub."
As we know from the well-publicized case of an American sub hitting and sinking the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru off Barber's Point in Hawaii 2-1/2 years ago, even a periscope search doesn't guarantee that a surfacing sub will see another vessel. And in the case off Hawaii, it was a motoring vessel that I think should have been quite audible.
Perhaps a submariner - if submariners read sailing magazines - could tell us whether or not a vessel under sail is detectable. Out in mid-ocean with no apparent traffic around, I doubt that any periscope search would be made - especially if it entailed the risk of being observed.
In our case, what we saw was only a couple of hundred feet away, and if it was a submarine, I think that we could call this a very near miss. I don't remember the Spirit case, and I don't think I'd have cared to add the Helaine case to it. As for my comment that I'd rather hit a whale than a sub, I think I'll make that contingent on the whale not hitting back!
Mike - Based on the firsthand accounts we read by the Spirit survivors, it seemed as likely as anything to us that she might have been hit by a surfacing submarine. Since this happened during the height of the Cold War, it's possible that such an incident might have been covered up.
The one thing we do know for sure is that some submariners do read sailing magazines - such as Gene Crabb, former submarine commander, who did the last Ha-Ha with his Catalina 400 Liberty Call. Maybe he can shed some light on the dangers of surfacing subs.
CAT SAILING SEEMED STERILIZE
You published my September issue letter asking for recommendations of books for sailors with an interest in cruising catamarans. You gave a very halfhearted recommendation to Charles Kanter's Cruising in Catamarans, and suggested I page through it before spending $40. I did, and as you said, it contained a lot of dated information.
I know that on-the-water experience is more important than reading about it, which is why I took the opportunity to charter a Norseman 43 catamaran in the British Virgins in 2000. It was a lot of fun, but I never really got comfortable with the boat. I have sailed Hobies, Prindles and other small cats with large-roached mains, but on the Norseman I didn't get any feedback from heeling or the steering, so I didn't feel as comfortable as I do with monohulls. The Norseman's boom vang didn't provide much assistance, and it seemed that I used the mainsheet as the boomvang and the traveller for trim. Maybe this is what you do, but it sure seemed strange.
I asked two of the charter company skippers for some pointers, but they weren't much help. "But didn't it go fast?" was one reply, and "Ah, it's just a vacation," was another. They didn't satisfy my interest in learning more and possibly becoming a potential buyer. My learning curve on cats didn't improve as much as I'd hoped on that charter.
Anyway, I was writing to try to find more
info so I could perhaps discover what I'd done wrong. Maybe I'll
have to look for more sailing opportunities with more experienced
catamaran skippers. But for right now, all I can say is that
the cat's extra room was nice, the stability was great, and the
speed was good - but it sure seemed like sterilized sailing compared
to what I'm used to.
Randy - Like you, we wish there was a better book on sailing cruising cats. We'd be the first to buy a copy.
Although cruising cats vary tremendously - much more than do monohulls - most of them don't offer anywhere near as much feedback as do monohulls. With monohulls, the helmsperson is almost always turning the wheel, responding to changes in wind pressure and chop or waves. With catamarans, it's more like you point the cat where you want her to go, and she goes there. In that sense, we'd see how you'd characterize catamaran sailing as being a more "sterile" sailing experience. As much as we love our cat, it makes perfect sense to us that many sailors would prefer monohulls.
THE 'MAGIC BULLET' ON THE WATER
This is one of those stories you can't believe unless it happened to you. On the Friday morning of the J/105 North American Championships, I left Gas House Cove in San Francisco for the St. Francis YC in my Protector motor launch. I'd peeled out and was doing 40 mph until I was abeam of the utility hut on the Marina Green, at which point I backed off to 30 mph in order to do an 'S' turn to kill my wake before entering the 5 knot, no wake zone of the St. Francis yacht harbor.
There were four other people on the Protector with me, and I was driving facing forward, my head perhaps 18 inches from the windshield. As I powered down, there was a big crash, I was stunned and saw stars, then there was a rattle followed by a couple of clunks and silence! Evidently, I told Jim Kirriakis to take the wheel and went below to grab some tissue.
"What happened?" asked everyone else on the boat. Then they saw me crumpled on the cabin sole with a wad of bloody tissue on my face.
Evidently, we had picked up a fishing line with our antenna, the line pulled up the sinker, whipped around the antenna a couple of times, dove into the cabin, missed all four passengers, headed for the windshield, stopped, made a U-turn, hit me in the face, rattled off the roof, and exited the cabin, again without hitting any of the four passengers.
I only deduced this chain of events after the fact. The scarring on the antenna and my broken face seemed to make it clear. But how can something entering from behind hit you in the face? I looked and the windshield was intact. No one else got hit. Boy, talk about a magic bullet. It's no wonder JFK got it in the face from behind after the magic bullet passed through Connelly's shoulder, thigh, the seat, and made a U-turn to hit JFK in the throat!
But seriously, this is yet another hazard that one wouldn't think to anticipate. So power boaters - and especially Protector owners - watch out. I have even heard stories of fishermen deliberately casting out to ding Protector owners - but I wouldn't know how to respond to that. It's just another reminder that no matter how much experience, time or familiarity we have with the water, we also have to respect it.
By the way, I always look up in the sky before exiting a building to make sure no birds or airplanes are dropping anything in my way.
Having ridden out Hurricane Juliette at anchor in La Paz in September of 2001, and thereafter adjusting most of the ensuing marine insurance claims for Blue Water Insurance, USAA, and a whole bunch of other brokers with policies written through Lloyds of London, and having just recently ridden out Hurricane Ignacio while tied up at Marina de La Paz, I'd like to make a few points about boats and hurricanes:
First, there are three places you may want to be or have to be aboard a vessel - afloat at anchor, tied up in a marina, or on the hard.
Second, there are two places you don't want your boat to be after a hurricane - on the beach or on the bottom.
I've got some tips for preventing the latter:
1) Be sure to remove all roller furling sails. Even if tightly wrapped, they tend to undo themselves above the clew at higher wind speeds. They and the heavy rains contributed to the domino-like fall of boats at the Marina Palmyra boatyard during Juliette. Thanks to the new management's fastidious attention to the boats in dry storage, there were no problems during Ignacio.
2) If you are at anchor, unattended vessels are your worst enemy. Treat them as drunk drivers on a freeway - unless you can confirm with a reliable source that their mooring or anchor and tackle are adequate and properly maintained. In any case, determine the anticipated wind direction of the hurricane before and after the eye passes, then anchor in front of any unattended vessels. But remember, they may end up upwind of you when the wind shifts.
During both Juliette and Ignacio, all the vessels that dragged or broke loose did so before the eye passed to the north of La Paz. These vessels either ended up on the beach or the bottom. In both cases, the wind from the southerly quadrants didn't dislodge the stricken vessels from their resting place.
3) Tie up extra lines to the pilings in case the dock cleats let go. Remember that using old jib sheets or halyards for docklines is not a good idea. Those should be low stretch lines, just what you don't want when there is a lot of surge. Low stretch line will make it more likely that both your deck cleats and the dock cleats will pull out, as something has to give. Use nylon or cheap polypropylene for docklines.
Blue Water Insurance appointed me to handle their cases after Ignacio, but thank goodness there was no serious damage to the boats they covered. I also want to recognize the gallant efforts made by the marina staffs at Marina de La Paz, Marina Don Jose Abaroa and Marina Palmyra to limit the hurricane damage.
I tried to make a reservation for a slip at Jack London Square in Oakland yesterday, but was told by a woman that a lot of the staff had been laid off, and so they were not letting boats use the empty slips because they did not have the staff to oversee them. She said that another organization will be administrating the harbor starting in November.
I am assuming that the Jack London facility was paid for by taxpayers, and am therefore outraged that we taxpayers can't use it. I called the mayor's office, and was told to call them back if I didn't get any cooperation from the Port of Oakland, which apparently is in charge. We've been playing phone tag ever since.
With regard to whether cruisers have to use an agent to clear into San Blas, Mexico, I have been assured "that if the agent wants vessels to check in with him, the Port Captain must step aside." I have been told that this is how it is in other places in Mexico also.
Personally, I believe that the cruisers brought all the San Blas problems upon themselves. For many years, when the cost of clearing in was between 80¢ and $1.20 U.S., most cruisers did not check in. The Mexican government felt that I was the cruiser's rep, and they drove me nuts asking why - when the fee was next to nothing - cruisers wouldn't do the paperwork. How was I supposed to answer that? For years I warned cruisers that them not checking in was causing a problem for themselves and for me. And let me assure you, I paid dearly for it. And I don't think the cruisers cared one friggin' bit.
Because of the resulting situation, I have even been abused by cruisers - especially the guy on Gemini. Who the hell is he to belittle me on the ocean in front of my wife? If it still bothers him, he can come back to San Blas and we'll settle it.
I'll give you another example of bad cruiser attitudes. Two sailing vessels came right up the estuary to San Blas this season, bought the cheap fuel, didn't bother to do their paperwork, and left! Just good-bye and screw you! They passed right by the Port Captain's office, the Navy Base and a check point. This is the attitude of the 'new cruisers'. It didn't used to be this way.
Cruisers came to San Blas all season long in droves, and did exactly what they wanted. For many, that meant stopping without doing their paperwork.
There are many very fine cruisers in Mexico. The problems that exist are those caused by the ones that break many of Mexico's Immigration and Customs laws, and the ones running illegal businesses, selling contraband, running their scams in the marinas, and so forth. They are an embarrassment to decent people.
Let me assure you that Mexico has never forgotten that Americans took half of their country away. They are reminded of it every day in school, and it's even on their currency. Feelings toward foreigners were pretty good for many years, but that has changed recently, and the actions of cruisers has been part of the cause. I know this for a fact. Although we came here from New York, we are Mexicans, and having lived here all of our lives, are considered to be Mexicans by the people and their government.
The solution to the problem is simple: If there is an agent anywhere you cruise, and you don't want to do your paperwork, don't go there. It's that simple. You're in a foreign country. Don't violate the law.
The bottom line is that if some cruisers continue to not check in at some ports, they are going to either lose their boats or suffer fines in the many thousands of dollars. It has certainly been done before. This is gospel.
Regarding myself and Jan, we will continue to do all the many things we've done for almost 40 years for the cruisers without pay. However, we will only assist those who have completed their responsibilities, as I cannot endanger my position here.
Capt. Norm & Janet Goldie
Capt. Norm - With all due respect, who was it, what position of authority is he in, and what chapter and verse of the law did he cite when he said that cruisers have to use agents to clear in? The problem is that everywhere else that cruisers go where there are agents - Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, San Carlos, Mazatlan, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad, Manzanillo, Zihua, and Acapulco - the use of an agent is optional. Furthermore, if agents supposedly have to be used, why aren't those in other places demanding that port captains make cruisers use their services? Do you think they don't want the business? These reasons have quite naturally lead many cruisers to believe the ship's agent in San Blas is probably a relative of the port captain, and that the two of them are in cahoots to screw both cruisers and the Mexican government out of money. And cruisers don't like being played for chumps. If the port captain and ship's agent in San Blas are to have any crediblity, and if San Blas is going to stop being harmed by having a negative reputation, they'd better start citing the applicable law.
When the Mexican government supposedly asked you why cruisers weren't doing the paperwork back when it was really cheap, there was a simple answer available to you: "I don't know. You're the government, why don't you ask them?" If they pressed you by saying that you were the "cruisers' rep", you could have pointed out that while you liked to help cruisers, you certainly didn't represent them in any formal or legal sense, and each cruiser needed to answer for him/herself.
Why shouldn't cruisers have assumed that it was perfectly all right to come into San Blas, fuel up, and leave, without ever checking in? It's common practice in many other ports in Mexico. Last year, for example, there was no problem when we did it in Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, and Barra de Navidad. If the local port captain doesn't want this to happen, the solution is ridiculously easy - tell the people at the fuel dock they can't fuel boats until they prove they've checked in. But in any event, if a port captain knows people are violating the law, it's his job to warn and/or fine them, not stew about it.
It may be true that cruisers visited San Blas "in droves" last season, but possibly unbeknownst to you, they also stayed away in droves. San Blas should be known as the lovely and historic former base of all Spanish naval operations in the Pacific, as the place through which the first news of the Gold Rush in California travelled to get back to Washington, D.C., as a world class bird-watching area, as a place with some of the longest and easiest surfing waves in the world, and for great jungle rides. (We won't mention anything about the local pot.) San Blas should be known for all those great things, but right now cruisers know it as a place where the port captain and the ship's agent seem to be working some kind of scam, and where Norm Goldie, a private citizen, says nasty things to them if they anchor at Matenchen Bay without clearing in at San Blas.
The truth of the matter is that Mexico's clearing laws and regulations - which are pathetically outdated and impractical - are to blame for much of the problem. For example, if a port captain were to enforce the letter of the law, only a boat's captain could come ashore until the boat was cleared in, which means that in many instances entire crews would be confined to boats for three or four days - and cruising tourism in Mexico would effectively come to an end. Similarly, there is a tremendous lack of uniformity and confusion about how many copies of what papers are required, whether or not it's permitted to fuel up without checking in, and how close boats have to anchor to a port to be required to clear in. For example, if you can anchor at Punta de Mita without having to clear in at nearby La Cruz, why should you have to clear into San Blas if you're anchored at nearby Matenchen Bay? It's made all the worse by the fact that copies of the applicable law aren't available. They should be posted at each port captain's office, and they should be translated into English.
Everyone knows that the current outdated system of port-to-port clearing - which is a massive waste of everyone's time and money, and is stunting cruiser tourism - needs to be replaced with an annual cruising permit which requires only that boats clear into the country and out of the country. Legislation to this affect apparently made it halfway through Mexico's legislature earlier this year, but was ultimately thwarted by lobbyists for the port captains.
Until the blessed day when that legislation
is passed, we, as a friend, recommend that you, the port captain,
and the ship's agent, all read a copy of How
To Make Friends and Influence People. For there is no reason
that San Blas should be the most disliked port on the West Coast
A letter in the September issue reminded me of our visit to San Blas shortly after the 1996 Baja Ha-Ha. It is unquestionably a beautiful little town with some very interesting history, lovely people, and authentic Mexican character. However, I felt the place had a bit of an eerie pall over it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong with it.
When we first arrived from Mazatlan, we anchored Moonshadow in Matenchen Bay, as we were informed by Jan, Norm's wife, that the entrance to the Estuary at San Blas was very tricky and dangerous, and that Norm - who was gone for a few days on business - was the only one who could guide us in. Well, we later discovered a simple hand-drawn chart of the entrance that had been used successfully by some cruisers lying in the estuary. So my boat and a few others made it in with no dramas. Hmmmmm?
We later met Norm, and found him to be very helpful. Maybe just a bit too helpful for my liking. For example, he was very insistent that we anchor in a certain spot, check in daily on his VHF radio net, organize a jungle tour through him, sign his guest book, join him for dinner at his favorite restaurant, and even use a particular colored lure when fishing. I suppose some cruisers would appreciate all this helpful advice, but perhaps I'm a bit too independent, and found it all a bit off-putting. I couldn't help but think that underlying the thin veneer of 'cruiser's friend', there was $omething in it for Norm.
Norm struck me as a person who fancied himself as a big fish who had found himself a small pond in which he could be the Big Kahuna. There's an adage regarding American ex-pats living in Mexico which may or may not apply in this case: They are people who are either wanted by someone or not wanted by anyone.
During our visit to San Blas, I felt a bit uncomfortable discussing our plans to be off the boat over the VHF, as it was surely music to any lurking bandito's ears. Sure enough, while a group of us cruisers were away on the jungle tour, one of the boats in the estuary was broken into and robbed of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Another hmmmm? That, combined with a story of another cruiser's dink being stolen the week before, was reason enough for us to weigh anchor and head out of Dodge on the next high tide.
We made two subsequent trips between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, and opted to stop instead at Isla Isabella to break up the trip. It's a stark and stunning little island that has a reasonable anchorage, a small fishing camp, a bird sanctuary, some nice diving, a 'glory hole' full of 'bugs', and is well out of VHF range of the Jefe of San Blas. To me, cruising is about escaping many things - including controversy - if only for a little while. San Blas seems to me to be immersed in it, and for that reason I don't plan to return.
Changing subjects, we've spent five (southern) winters cruising the South Pacific, so we decided to do something different and remain in New Zealand for the w-w-winter. We plan to cruise to the South Island next summer, and then head north with the Auckland to Noumea race next May. But we all know about cruising plans. Any yachties coming this way in need of any cruising-related local knowledge of New Zealand can reach me via email.
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