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A FATHER REFLECTS ON AN UNSPEAKABLE SAILING TRAGEDY
My 18-year-old son Andy Brinkley, who had sailed most of his life, was swept overboard and lost in very rough conditions at 7:45 a.m. on June 6 about 30 miles west of Pt. Reyes.
A short time before the tragedy, I'd bought the Cal 29 Fat Chance in the Bay Area, and was taking her north to her new homeport in Portland, Oregon. The crew consisted of my longtime sailing buddy Paddy Tillett, my son Andy, Paddy's son Marcus, and my son's friend Max Hamlin. All the boys were 18 and had just graduated from high school earlier in the week. The sailing trip north was their graduation present.
Andy, who had been on watch, came below to use the head. When he was about to go on deck again, I suggested that he use my offshore foul weather jacket. One of his buddies had suffered a touch of seasickness, so my son's last words to me were, "Does it smell like vomit?" It didn't, so he put it on.
Ten seconds after Andy went back into the cockpit, but before he had time to clip on, a 20-ft wall of green water hit the boat. Much of the water cascaded down the companionway. The next thing I heard was, "Man overboard!"
I ran topside to find that Paddy had been swept off the boat. I saw a hand clinging to the starboard side of the boat, and looked over the side to see my buddy Paddy. His face was bloodied, and he was struggling to maintain a one-handed grip on the boat. He later told me that the D-ring on his lifeline had failed, and he was just about to lose his grip when I pulled him back aboard.
As I was helping Paddy get back on the boat, I realized that my son had also been washed over. I yelled for the other two boys to come on deck, then spotted my son 10 boat-lengths astern. I turned the boat around, then let her drift down to him until he was just three feet from my outstretched hands. I will never forget the look on my son's face. He was unconscious and his eyes were rolled back. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought ahead, and had nothing ready with which to try and reach him. My foul weather coat was keeping Andy's upper body well out of the water but, God help me, I couldn't jump in and grab him. The boat's engine wasn't working, so I couldn't use it to try to get any closer.
Passing the tiller to one of Andy's friends, I told the other boy not to take his eyes off my son, and scrambled below to get a boat hook and some line. But when I got back to the cockpit seconds later, my son had disappeared, having been swept away from the boat by a big wave. I would never see him alive again.
We set off the EPIRB and threw in the man overboard pole. We also tried to contact the Coast Guard, but had problems with the radio.
About an hour later we could hear Andy blowing on his safety whistle, but we were never able to find him.
The Coast Guard responded with a C-130, an 87-ft cutter, two 47-ft patrol boats, and two helicopters. They spotted our boat about 9 a.m., but didn't locate and recover Andy's body for another 3.5 hours. By that time he was three miles northwest of our boat.
I lost my boy. He was good swimmer and I'm convinced he passed away from hypothermia rather than drowning.
I'm writing about this tragic experience to remind all sailors to be careful. A freak wave hit Fat Chance and washed two of our crew over. It wasn't as though we were unprepared. We had three experienced sailors aboard, three radios, two GPS units, and tons of safety gear. We thought we were ready, but we were wrong. I'm urging everyone to please review their man overboard procedures - especially the procedures for cases where the victim is unconscious. Things might have turned out differently had Andy been conscious.
God help me, my life will never be the
same without my son. As I write this, it's been 26 days since
I lost Andy. It's the longest time I've ever been without my
little buddy. I'm a very distraught father and a much sadder
Ken - On behalf of all our readers, thank you for taking the time during your grief to share your experience. Hopefully it will save the lives of others. We can't imagine the torment you're experiencing, and hope that someday you'll be able to find some peace.
WE LOVED SAILING IN THE MASTER MARINERS
I wanted to express how much I enjoyed Latitude 38 sponsoring my 71-ft schooner Dauntless in the 2006 Master Mariners Race. We love sailing on San Francisco Bay!
Even though the weather was a little bizarre behind Angel Island this year, we still really enjoyed the event. For other than that little bit, we had great weather. We particularly enjoyed dicing across The Slot in 25 knots of wind alongside the schooner Volunteer. And I want to congratulate Paul and Chris Kaplan and their 55-ft schooner Santana - they smoked us! Although we were humbled, we'll be back again.
We enjoyed having Latitude's Christine Weaver along on our boat, and thank her for the terrific action photo she took for the opening Master Mariners spread. Wow!
As usual, we'll be out to see the Baja
Ha-Ha off when they start from our homeport of San Diego
in late October.
Paul - Thanks for the kind words, but it's we who should be thanking you for again making the long trip up the coast from San Diego to grace the waters of San Francisco Bay with your lovely schooner.
WE LEFT SOMETHING BESIDES OUR HEART OFF MCNEAR'S BEACH
Just a heads up about an underwater gremlin at McNear's Beach. My wife and I sailed there on July 2 to join up with other Oakland YC members on a club cruise. We anchored in 11 feet of water with a 22-lb Bruce anchor with 15 feet of chain and 55 feet of 3/4-inch rode.
Our fin-keeled Hunter 34 always runs amok at anchor there, so I slid a sentinel weight eight feet down from the bow to prevent getting the keel wrapped when the tide ebbed and the wind pushed the boat past the anchor. This worked very well, even with the anchor behind us for the entire duration of the ebb.
I marked the anchor with a float attached separately to the hole in the top of the anchor. Relative bearings to shore for the next two days showed no movement, and the anchor rode did not foul the keel or rudder when the tides changed.
However, we were awakened at 6 a.m. on the Fourth of July by a loud knocking on our hull. "You're dragging like mad," announced the kind skipper from the Island Packet Mama Bird. He also informed us we'd been all over the anchorage.
I pulled up the anchor rode, and found that it had been completely chafed through 22 feet from the bow. That meant there was 33 feet of line and the chain still on the bottom. My sentinel was still attached to the boat by a 1/4 inch line. It's a small grapnel-type anchor on a carabineer with four folding flukes - all of which were deployed and covered with mud. So we passed through at least eight feet of shallow water sometime that night.
We motored back to our original anchor spot - 38.0',0315'N, 122.27'24'W - and there was no float to be found! We can't figure out where it went, as the float labeled with our boat name, Alchemie, and OYC was separately attached directly to the anchor. Did someone pick it up between daybreak and 6 a.m. while we were drifting around the anchorage? Or could the rode have crossed over and held it below the surface before it parted? I'd last seen the float at 10 p.m. the night before. It's very strange. There was no bottom paint on the rode at the break point, which leads me to conclude we snagged something big and sharp on the bottom.
I'm glad we didn't damage anyone's property while
we were drifting freely for however long, and I'm very grateful
to the skipper of Mama Bird for alerting us to our situation.
But stay away from the above listed location unless you have
all chain rode. And if my anchor float turns up, I'd be happy
to offer a nice dinner at the yacht club for its return.
Allan and Debbie - We have no theories to solve your mystery of the deep, but can tell you that we've always thought McNear's Beach - thanks to some often-strong winds and powerful reversing currents - is one of the least secure anchorages on the Bay. Many years ago, we moored our Freya 39 to a mooring buoy at McNear's Beach. Our boat was still attached to the mooring buoy when we woke up the next morning, but we were under the San Rafael Bridge.
WHEN IS THE SEASON?
My sister and I - we're 21 and 25 respectively
- are giving serious consideration to posting on the Latitude
38 Crew List. When is the season to sail to Mexico, and what
are the other seasons? Also, when do the new postings come
Kelley - The Mexico season pretty much starts off with the Baja Ha-Ha on October 30. If we do say so ourselves, the Ha-Ha would be a good event to begin with because you'll have no problem making a hundred new sailing friends at the Halloween costume kickoff party and at the R&R stops at Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria. This means by the time you reach Cabo, you'll no doubt have any number of options should you wish to continue on. And when it comes to gals your age, who probaby attract more attention than you'd like from guys sometimes, the Ha-Ha is great because you'll have about 300 'big brothers' in the fleet to make sure nobody annoys you.
In this and next month's issues, you'll find forms for the Mexico Only Crew List, the results of which are published in the October issue. There will also be a Mexico Only Crew List Party at the Encinal YC in Alameda on October 4. The party is a great opportunity to meet potential skippers face to face.
If you're interested in sailing to Central America and Panama, the 'season' really begins in early February after SailFest in Zihua. However, there won't be as many choices or opportunities as in the Ha-Ha.
If you're looking to do the Puddle Jump from Mexico to the Marquesas and South Pacific, you'll want to be around Puerto Vallarta and Marina Paradise during the last week of February for the Latitude/Marina Paradise Village Puddle Jump Kickoff Party.
If you want to go deep into the South Pacific, you'll want to be in Papeete around the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations. A lot of the Ha-Ha and Puddle Jump boats will be changing crew there around that time for the passages through the South Pacific to New Zealand.
Looking to fool around in the Caribbean a little and then sail across the Atlantic to the Med? The one and only place to be is Antigua during the month of April for the Classic Sailing Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week. As soon as Sailing Week is over, lots of big boats immediately head across to the Med.
In addition, if you're looking to work on a big boat in the Med or in the Caribbean, Antigua in April is the place you want to be. You make your bones crossing the Atlantic to Palma and/or Antibes, during which time you bond with scores of others in the game. If you can't land a job on a boat in Antigua at that time, you're either not trying or don't have what it takes.
If you want to come back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, the only place to be is Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in early November. This is the staging ground for the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean, and is about the only rally in the world that is larger than the Ha-Ha.
Naturally, you can try to hitch rides on boats to almost anywhere at any time of year, but trust us, your odds and choices will be many times greater at the places we've mentioned above.
THE SAME PLACES AND THE SAME SUNSETS
I'm firmly in the 'go small, go now' camp of cruisers. I'm now 50, but my wife and I began cruising more than 20 years ago when we were relatively young.
Why go before you get too old? We now receive emails monthly from our friends and contemporaries with news of cancers, heart problems, and death. We went home for Christmas, and soon received news of a good friend who died shortly after a holiday get together. My wife has had multiple brain surgeries. It happens.
But if I die tomorrow - which will happen to someone - I will die happy for the things that I did, not the things I planned on doing but didn't get around to.
We never had a lot of money. So we took off on boats that we could afford - which meant starting out with a 30-footer that cost $10K. We worked along the way, or we worked hard for a few years then went back out again.
We're currently cruising with our two children
aboard our Finnsailer 38, working when we can and when we need
to - and we're loving it. We're currently in Panama at the beginning
of what we expect will be a circumnavigation. It's true that
we don't have the ideal boat, and we don't have all the latest
stuff, but we go to the same places and enjoy the same sunsets
as those who do. We say don't wait, because tomorrow may be too
BANKRUPTCY OF PURSE OR LIFE?
There has been a lot of advice and comments in Latitude 38 recently about when or at what age people should go cruising. Some say go while young, some say go while old, but one very important point has been carefully avoided in most comments. That point is that people should go cruising when they can afford it.
I have worked for 65 years, and cruised for 43. But I don't think what age you go cruising is of great importance. You have more muscle when you are young, but less wisdom and money. Those things usually reverse themselves when you get older. I enjoy both cruising and working, and am always excited when making the change back and forth.
But far too many times I've seen the damage done to both the cruising and boating communities when inevitable expenses are incurred during extended cruises. Those expenses must be paid, and if the cruiser cannot afford it, other boaters or locals must pick up the tab.
This puts the under-funded cruisers who started out by thinking he/she could ignore surprise expenses in the same category as Joe Dimaggio when he supposedly gave up smoking. The Yankee great was notorious for being parsimonious, so his friends said, "Joe didn't give up smoking, he just gave up buying cigarettes."
Here are examples of cruisers who have shortchanged others and therefore the cruising community. One circumnavigating couple told other cruisers they stretched their budget by taking all the toilet paper and paper towels they could from the bathrooms at marinas and yacht clubs. Another couple described how they would sneak into marinas late in the day and just dock in a vacant slip hoping the tenant would not return that evening. Then they would leave early the next morning, in effect stealing a night's slip fee from the marina. That rankled me because I had been paying rent in one marina they mentioned for many years.
Another young man who had grown up cruising on the cheap wrote a magazine article advising other young cruisers to save money by doing things like quickly making friends with someone who had a washing machine so they could do their laundry for free. Another couple sat on our boat and bragged about how many oranges and other stuff they had been able to get from a native on the island of Ua Pou in exchange for a couple of worn out T-shirts.
The ages of these people ranged from very young to well into middle age, so age was not the principle factor - but rather cruisers who couldn't afford to be cruising.
While in Whangarei, New Zealand, we experienced first hand the damage such behavior does to the cruising community. Having come to Whangarei to have some extensive woodwork done on our Cheoy Lee Offshore 50 Orient Star, we made inquiries at a real estate office about renting a house for several months. The woman in the office was polite, but told us that the local community had been stiffed by cruisers so many times that she doubted she would be able to find anyone willing to rent to us. After meeting us and seeing our boat, she was able to find a place for us, but I've often wondered how many cruisers weren't so lucky, and suffered because of the bad behavior of cruisers who had come before them.
This happened nearly 20 years ago, but I'm sure it's even worse now.
Similar things happen close to home, too. We arrived in San Diego before the start of the 2000 Baja Ha-Ha, and there were no places to dock. But the Marlin Club, next to the fuel dock on Shelter Island, had some docks. Because it's a non-profit club, they aren't allowed to charge rent for slips. But they graciously advised Ha-Ha entries that they could use the slips. Although they couldn't charge for the use of the slips, they could accept contributions from those who used the slips.
It was very easy to discover that the going price for slips in San Diego at the time was about $50/night. So a number of boatowners, including myself, gladly made donations of about that amount. But several other boatowners used slips without giving anything - or maybe just a token donation.
The members of the Marlin Club weren't very happy about this, so when we returned in the spring, they were no longer allowing sailboats to use their docks. However, the person in charge of the docks remembered us as one of the boats that had paid what would have been a typical slip fee, and by special permission allowed us to berth there again. But the damage by those sailors who either couldn't or wouldn't pay had already been done.
So in my mind, the most important factor in deciding when you can go cruising is not how old you are or how big your boat is, but whether or not you can afford it. Everyone has to be ready for all the basic expenses - as well as those caused by things like losing a mast or having a hospital bill.
And there is no hurry to go cruising, for although the harbors will probably get more crowded with time, the open ocean will always be there.
So as I said before, the best time to go
cruising is when you can afford it.
Ernie - This is one time that we're going to have to disagree with you, as it's been our experience that those people with a lot of discretionary funds are just as likely to be tightfisted and dishonorable as are those who get by on small budgets. Indeed, there's a world of completely self-sufficient and honorable folks out there cruising on minute-to-modest budgets.
Of course, there are exceptions. Who can forget the author of a French cruising book who advocated stealing dinghies when leaving ports as a way to finance the cruising life?
And certainly you must realize that your 'cruise when you can afford it' philosophy flies directly in the face of Sterling Hayden, who cleverly insisted that the very best time to take to sea is precisely when you can least afford to:
"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea . . . 'cruising' it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
"'I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it.' What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of 'security'. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.
"What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all ?- in the material sense - and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
"The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
"Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"
For younger sailors who may not be familiar with Sterling Hayden, he was a successful Hollywood actor who abandoned the business at the height of his career, walked out on a shattered marriage, and defied the courts by setting sail for the South Pacific with his four children and Spike Africa aboard the 98-ft schooner Wanderer. Broke and an outlaw when he sailed to the South Seas, he spent his last years in Sausalito where he died at age 70 in 1986. He was the author of the much-acclaimed autobiography Wanderer.
THE WHOLE STORY ON SANTA BARBARA CRUDE
I recently read about how the U.S. House of Representatives approved an Offshore Drilling bill. As I did, I kept thinking of our sail around Pt. Conception aboard Daydreams, along with our buddyboat Tiki Iti, on our way to the '05 Baja Ha-Ha. The sun rose on the Santa Barbara Channel, and we decided to get our lines wet and do some fishing. After a couple of hours with no luck, I reeled in our line to see if we had picked up some kelp or something. We could smell oil, and we could see it on the surface of the water every so often.
When the leader surfaced I could see raw crude oil caked on the line. I thought I might clean it off with my fingernail, but it was hard and very sticky, and increased the diameter of our fishing line to about 1/8-inch.
This sticky crude brought back another memory from 35 years ago when I visited the Southern California beaches shortly after another oil spill that left the beaches covered with the sticky goo. I remember it pretty well, as I got it on my new shoes and couldn't get it off. You could only imagine what it would be like to get it in your hair, fur, feathers or skin.
All these repressed memories remind me of when I felt our country was moving forward with enviromental concern and protection. Now I am reminded of Arnold's backwards commercials and the administration's willingness to ruin the world - all for the price of some crude. I'll continue to do my part by razzing the powerboaters at the pump about how little fuel I'm burning, and try to keep our little part of reality really moving forward.
During our year of cruising, we covered almost 3,000 miles and only burned 300 gallons of diesel and 12 gallons of propane.
My family thanks you for a great Ha-Ha,
and we hope to see you down Mexico way this next season!
Folks - Things aren't always how they appear, and the Santa Barbara Channel throws a lot of visiting environmentalists for a loop. They all remember the 1969 rig blowout at Platform A that allowed three million barrels of oil to escape and create a very large oil slick. When they visit the Channel today and see and smell oil and tar, they seem to get the idea that the spill has continued for the last 36 years, and that for some inexplicable reason, nobody is doing anything about it.
This is a complete misunderstanding of what's going on. While attending UCSB before the spill of '69, we did a lot of surfing in the Santa Barbara Channel, and every surfer and beachgoer knew damn well about the infinite number of blobs of tar and oil that bubbled to the surface from the thousands of cracks in the surface of the earth in and around the channel. If you surfed Isla Vista or Ellwood, for example, you knew you were going to get tarred, and there was no telling where you were going to get it. The worst was if you somehow managed to get a blob of gooey tar on your pubic hairs and happened to have a date with one of the stimulating Gaucho coeds that night. You either had to chop all your pubic hair off - a pretty weird thing to do in the early '60s - or you were going to be in for some major pubic discomfort when things hopefully got a little physical later in the evening.
The U.S. Department of Energy explains the current situation as thus: "The Santa Barbara Channel has huge, natural seeps where gas bubbles to the surface and oil oozes into the ocean from cracks in the seafloor - causing an oily sheen on the water and, to the dismay of beachgoers, collecting onshore as globs of tar. These seeps have been known for millennia. Archeological evidence shows that Native Americans used the tar to waterproof woven water bottles and plank boats, and to cement fractures in broken bowls and vessels."
But here's where it gets kind of interesting. "In the 1980s, two 350-ton, 50-foot high steel pyramids called 'seep tents' were positioned on the ocean floor to capture gas and oil from the seeps in South Ellwood field. Collecting the gas and oil has eliminated the oily sheen on the ocean, reduced pollution of the sea water, made the Santa Barbara Channel healthier for marine mammals, and eliminated new tar on the beaches."
Initially, these two tents eliminated 25% of all hydrocarbon pollution in Santa Barbara County. While the figure is no longer that high, and Venoco has taken over maintaining the two tents, they still eliminate the equivalent of hydrocarbons from 35,000 cars in Santa Barbara County. So this is actually a case in which an 'oil company' is preventing rather than creating hydrocarbon pollution.
SO HOW DID THEY DO IT?
You often write about how difficult it is for boats to sail from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean. If that's true, how did the Spanish galleons get the Inca gold from Cartagena, Colombia, to Spain? After all, the city was founded 470 years ago for just that purpose.
P.S. I'm currently cruising Hurley Burley,
a Hurley 20, from Baltimore to Canada.
Sally - Good question. Because galleons didn't have canting keels and therefore weren't particularly weatherly, they had to utilize courses that allowed them to sail off the wind and with the current as much as possible. Here's how they did it:
The Tierra Firme flotilla, comprised of ships bound for the Spanish Main, usually left Seville in August, and its main purpose was to go to Nombre de Dios, in what's now Panama, to collect treasure from the Peruvian mines. All the way across the Atlantic and the Caribbean was downwind. The vessels in this fleet would continue on and/or rejoin the other members of the flotilla at Cartagena, where they stayed until January of the following year. Although you're going west to east when you sail from Nombre de Dios to Cartagena, it's not particularly difficult, as you can dip down into the bay to often escape the worst of the wind, and there's a rather strong countercurrent that flows east down there.
After January, the Tierra Firme flotilla would sail northwest in the easterly trades - meaning a reach to a broad reach - to round the western tip of Cuba, and then on to Havana. For those not familiar with the geography of the Caribbean, Havana is even further west of the Eastern Caribbean than is Cartagena. And it's downwind and down current of it, too.
It didn't hurt that once in the Western Caribbean, the Tierra Firme flotilla started to ride the escalator that is the Gulfstream, which carries warm water all the way from the northwestern Caribbean across the Atlantic to Europe. While in Havana, the Tierre Firme flotilla was joined by the New Spain flotilla, which had left Spain the previous April to collect treasure in the Greater Antilles, Honduras, and Mexico at Vera Cruz. The combined Spanish fleets would then attempt to sail back to Spain. With any luck, they'd have favorable current and following winds almost the entire way.
So the galleons basically sailed a circular route that allowed them to be off the wind and with the current almost all the time. It's true that in Columbus' first voyage, he landed in the Bahamas, then Cuba, and managed to work his way east to Hispanola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic). But even that's a long way downwind and downcurrent from the Eastern Caribbean. It didn't take mariners long to realize how to 'go with the flow' in both the Atlantic and Caribbean.
As we've mentioned before, it's not uncommon for cruisers to use this same strategy to get from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean. They sail up around the western tip of Cuba, and ride the Gulfstream as far northeast as it takes to get above the northern limits of the easterly trades. Then they have to sail as far east as they can so that when they flop over on the other tack, they lay St. Martin or the Virgin Islands. Such a route may be four or five times as long as the direct route from Panama to St. Martin, but for galleons - and even many cruising boats - it's the easiest way to do it. Nonetheless, we wouldn't recommend it in either a Hurley 20 or Santana 22.
THE RETURN OF ECLIPSE
Earlier in the year, there was a report on the SSB Nets in the Central America region that the catamaran Eclipse had been abandoned during a big blow in the Gulf of Tehuantapec. The captain and crew were rescued by the Coast Guard, although I can't remember if it was the Mexican or U.S. Coasties.
That catamaran, minus her mast and rigging, is mooring at the La Playita anchorage at the end of the causeway here at Panama City, Panama. It appeared in the anchorage during the first week of June.
By the way, my wife Ellen and I cruised and raced San Francsico Bay for 30 years before stepping up to a cruising boat and leaving on what we hope will be a circumnavigation. We have no specific schedule, and are sticking to it.
Our beloved boat is Hot Ice, a Robert
Perry-designed Cheoy Lee 44 based out of San Francisco. We're
now spending the rainy season at the Balboa YC and the Perlas
Islands. Last year we spent the Central American rainy season
in Ecuador. We plan to continue west in March of next year.
Frank and Ellen - We forwarded your information and photo to Richard Woods, the Brit who designed and built Eclipse, and who, along with his girlfriend Jetti Matzke of Oakland, was taken off the cat in the black of night by a helicopter from the U.S. Navy. We had complete coverage on the incident in the February Latitude.
Here's what Woods, who is currently at Saturna Island in British Columbia, had to say in response to your report:
"Thanks very much for that information. Based on the photo, Eclipse is now missing her mast, davits, rudders, companionway door - even cockpit loudspeakers! It also appears that the interior headlining is down, and all the stanchions are bent. But someone has cleaned the decks. We're still not sure what is happening with Eclipse, but two people building my boats are looking into it.
"At this stage, I think Eclipse will stay in Panama and be refitted by someone else. Dockwise quoted us $17,000 to ship the boat up to British Columbia, where we are now. And if we also had to pay even a small salvage fee, it could be more than I spent building the shell. After that, it would cost about $50,000 for a new engine, rig, electronics, interior, rudders, and so forth. I think it would be less expensive to start from scratch.
"We are now no worse off than we were on January 20 when we got off the cat. In some ways we're better off, as we now know that an Eclipse can survive storm-force winds unaided, and continue to float for six months in the Pacific without anybody aboard.
"Jetti and I are now sailing our Merlin catamaran, a smaller design of mine. But I still have to convince her to trailer it south in '07 so we can sail it on San Francisco Bay."
ARE CROCS IN MEXICO DANGEROUS?
In the March '06 Changes titled What's Shaking In Banderas Bay This Winter, you opine that crocodiles are not dangerous to humans.
In August of '93 on the Rio Ameca near Marina Vallarta, an 8-year-old girl was seized by a crocodile, but fortunately was saved by her quick-acting uncle and a neighbor, who forced the croc to release the girl. She only suffered a few cuts. This was reported in Conservacion de up reptile prehistorico en la bahia de Banderas in Mexico, Vol 3, 2001-02.
In addition, you stated, "Actually, there are countless crocs in the lagoons of mainland Mexico, from Mazatlan at least at far as Acapulco." Au contraire. The latest scientific study of the Bay of Banderas area, which was done in '97 by the University of Guadalajara, counts between 13 and 27 adult crocs (meaning two meters or longer), 37-55 juveniles (meaning one to two meters), and 31-41 hatchlings (meaning under one meter). In March of '06, Senor Rafael Garcia de Quevedo, of the University of Guadalajara, told me that there are roughly 100-200 crocs in the entire area. In the '06 edition of Centro Universitarios de la Costa, it was estimated that there are 271 cros in the Banderas Bay area. In addition, there is only one known crocodile in an estuary of Mazatlan, this according to a newspaper in Mazatlan. There are no known crocs in the estuaries of Banderas Bay south of El Salado estuary near Marina Vallarta.
The bottom line is that the American crocodile is protected in Mexico because it is threatened with extinction.
You also stated that "they must not have big saltwater crocodiles at Radcliffe-on-Trent." Let your readers be assured neither are there any saltwater crocs anywhere in the Americas, much less in Mexico. The only crocodiles in Mexico are the American crocodile, the Moreleii crocodile, and the common caiman. Saltwater crocs live on the northern coast of Australia and islands to the north.
You posit, "Maybe humans and crocs
really do peacefully coexist in Mexico." You do your readers
and sailors in Mexico a very dangerous disservice to suggest
that this is the case. Yes, crocs do eat foolish dogs, but also
foolish humans. It is impossible to spot a croc submerged six
inches in murky water. Beware. The chief biologist at Ude Guate-Ixtapa,
Rafael Garcia de Quevedo Machain had his forearm opened up by
the sharp teeth of a year old 12-inch croc that he was holding.
John - We don't think the facts support your claims, so let's look at them one by one.
We never wrote that "crocs aren't dangerous." We did report that we'd been told that crocs "don't eat humans" because they prefer the taste of cats and dogs. We said that while this sounded ridiculous, it might actually be true. And if the only croc attack on humans in Mexico you can cite is a young girl suffering a few cuts from a croc 13 years ago, that's not much of a refutation.
After all, it's certainly not that crocs don't have plenty of chances to attack humans. For example, fishermen stand knee-deep in the water throwing their nets in Nuevo Vallarta lagoon, which is the well-known home of several very large crocs. And down in Zihua Bay, mothers and infants roll around on the beach within a few feet of the still-fresh tracks of an 8-foot croc, which often spends his afternoons less than 15 feet from patrons at the Paradise Restaurant. Up at San Blas, the Jungle Ride Tour advertises "swimming with wild crocs" because, as they say, "swimming with dolphins is too boring." And during a visit to Cocomex, a government-approved crocodile farm, the reporter wrote, "Francisco León, the production manager, opened the gate to the croc corral with the same caution he would have done should there have been rabbits in it." At La Tovara spring, it's reported there is a croc named Felipe who likes to unexpectedly emerge among swimmers, scaring the hell out of them, but never attacking. Another croc there allows swimmers to pet him. It's commonly believed that crocs in Mexico aren't hostile to humans because it's so easy for them to find plenty of food that is more to their liking.
When we mentioned "countless crocs." we specified that we were referring to the area between Mazatlan and Acapulco, not just Banderas Bay, which doesn't have that many croc-friendly rivers or lagoons. In your count, you ignored the 180 or so miles of mostly coastal lagoons between Mazatlan and Punta Mita, which is home to . . . well, countless crocs. You totally ignore all the crocs at La Manzanilla on Tenancatita Bay, home to more large crocs than we've ever seen in one place. And what about the crocs known to inhabit the waters of Ixtapa and Zihua? And then there is Cocomex, where as many as 8,000 crocs are born a year under government supervision.
We're not recommending that anybody ignore the risks of crocs in Mexico or anywhere else, but the truth of the matter seems to be that there is little, if any, problem between humans and crocs in Mexico.
As for the comment about crocs at Radcliffe-on-Trent, that was just a joke, as we were confident our readers know there aren't any crocs in the cold waters of Old Blighty.
WHERE CAN WE GET A LIST OF THE '98 ENTRANTS?
My wife and I did the '98 Baja Ha-Ha aboard our Freeport 36 Phaedra IV. We thought we'd saved the listing of all participants, but can't find it. Is there any way we can get that list?
P.S. It was a great trip. We wish we could
do it again, but age and the selling of Phaedra prevent
Frank and Betty - We're glad you enjoyed the adventure. If you go to www.baja-haha.com, all the boats that have ever done the Ha-Ha are listed by year. Unfortunately, it's not presented in as clear a form as it should be, so we're going to talk to the Ha-Ha folks to see if they can't make it more readable.
I FLIPPED OVER THE LETTER ABOUT LIFERAFTS
Latitude's editorial reply to the Liferafts Often Open Upside Down letter - regarding the quality and stability of liferafts - was very informative. However, your statement, "That's why candidates for Coast Guard six-pak licenses have to get into a pool and prove they have mastered the techniques necessary for righting such liferafts - in a swimming pool, at least," is not correct. It is not one of the requirements to receive the Operator of Uninspected Vessel (six-pak) license.
Righting liferafts is only necessary if
a mariner wants to obtain the Standards of Training Certification
and Watchkeeping (STCW-95) certificate. In addition to the Survival
Training, that basic Safety Training course includes CPR/ First
Aid, Basic Fire Fighting, and Personal Safety and Social Responsibility. It
isn't a substitute for the actual experience, but is designed
to familiarize the crew with proper safety standards.
I've been an avid reader of Latitude for many years, and especially enjoy the Letters section. But, I'm totally confused about your response to the letter about having to flip liferafts in order to get a six-pack license.
I have an Operator of Uninspected Vessel license, with near coastal and towing endorsements, but there wasn't any requirement to flip a liferaft. Has something changed in the last year?
I think it would be a great requirement,
but perhaps you were thinking of the STCW '95 - which only applies
to mariners employed on vessels greater than 200 Gross Register
Tons (Domestic Tonnage), or 500 Gross Tons (ITC Tonnage), operating
seaward of the boundary lines specified in Title 46 CFR Part
Jonathan - We made that statement because when Doña de Mallorca got her six-pak certification from the Cal Maritime Academy a couple of years ago, she and the others in the class had to flip a liferaft. Indeed, that's where the photograph that accompanied the letter came from. But now we've learned that she was flipping the liferaft because she was also getting a 100-ton certificate, not just a six-pak. We regret the error.
LOOKING FOR WEST COAST CRUISING GUIDES
Right now I'm scouting out how I will sail my boat from the San Juans to Redondo Beach. The only cruising guides I have found for this trip are:
1) Exploring the Pacific Coast by Don and Reanne Douglass.
2) Charlies' Charts to the Pacific Coast by Charles Wood.
3) Cruising Guide: Central and Southern California by Brian Fagan.
4) Reed's Nautical Almanac, West Coast.
Have you written any articles about sailing from the Northwest to join the Baja Ha-Ha? Have you reviewed any of the above cruising guides and suggested which may be the best choice? We'll be bringing Reed's along regardless.
Are you aware of any other cruising guides
for the trip south from Cape Flattery?
John - The latest cruising guide for the area in question is Cruising The Northwest Coast, From the Golden Gate to Port Angeles: An Aid To Near Shore Cruising Along The Northwest Coast of the United States. It's written by George Benson, who cruised the entire West Coast of the United States aboard Teal, a Coronado 25 he stretched to 27 feet. It's certainly not the most detailed guide, but it does have 125 photos.
The truth of the matter is that we don't have enough north-of-San Francisco experience to give an intelligent review of the cruising guides, so we're tossing your question out to our readership.
THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT RULE
I've been singlehanding for a long time. A while back I wrote on the subject, and said the first and most important rule is not to fall overboard - because there is nobody to come back and pick you up.
I wear a PFD when out of the cockpit, and have a mirror, whistle, and strobe in the pockets. But I still don't want to have to use them.
I'm 78 years old.
Shep - Still singlehanding at age 78 - we love it! Nonetheless, what's the deal with the mirror and a whistle? We'd much rather have a VHF or cell phone in a waterproof pouch tucked away in our PFD pocket, and maybe even a waterproof iPod so we could listen to some tunes while waiting to be rescued.
It's also important never to give up, as overboard singlehanders have been rescued in some most improbable circumstances. Who can forget the late Joliga John of Oxnard, who fell off his Ranger 29 some 50 miles south of the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. After swimming around for nine hours, a woman on the deck of a small cruise ship passing in the middle of the night thought she heard a cry for help. She convinced the captain to turn the ship around, and dang if they didn't find John. He lived another 10 years or so, long enough to leisurely cruise across the Pacific.
And more recently, of course, there was Craig McCabe, who fell off his motoryacht Heather near the Angel's Gate entrance to L.A. Harbor, and somehow managed to survive in 59° water for more than five hours before he was miraculously discovered by his brother in a one-in-a-million longshot. The last we heard, there's going to be a Hallmark made-for-television feature about that incident.
THE NEXT LEVEL FOR THE GIFTED AMATEUR
Early this year, I became determined to upgrade from my Nikon Coolpix 950, with its terrific twist body - to get prepared for summer shooting on the water. Thankfully, I recalled the review you did at one point, and took the time to search, with the help of Google, the Latitude 38 archives. I found quite a bit of helpful information, thanks, and then went to the tech world for detail.
The key to all this was your guidance in identifying the criteria most important to those of us who would shoot under such extreme conditions on the water. Given the state of the digital camera world now, it got pretty easy ?- color and shutter lag - and my history with a collection of Nikon screw-on lenses made built-in optical zoom really attractive!
As you prescribed, Fuji color is definitely
one part of the solution. Further, their shutter lag time is
far better than average. The Fujifilm E550 is certainly one of
the best deals out there, but I suggest going one step further
and taking a look at the Fujifilm S5200. With a shutter lag of
0.4 seconds, and cycle of 0.7 seconds, it shoots faster than
I can find the frame. And the built-in 10X optical zoom really
makes my results reflect much greater skill than I possess. This
may be the next level for the gifted amateur.
John - We checked out Steve's Digicam, a digital camera review site we hold in high regard, and this is a highlight of their review of the S5200:
"Fuji has struck gold with this winning combination of versatility, great image quality, and robust performance. With a street price of $399 or less, the S5200 offers an excellent value for an SLR-style 'super zoom' model . . . whether you've expecting the typical 4x6-inch print or a massive 13x19-incher."
In our estimation, the S5200 has two drawbacks worthy of mention. The first is that the widest angle you can shoot is 38mm - so if you going to want to take a photo of a cockpit full of people, you won't be able to easily get them all in. A somewhat lesser complaint is that the camera is almost SLR size, and therefore won't slip right into a pants or shirt pocket. Where the S5200 would excel is at being an all-in-one camera for shooting boats sailing the Bay, as its optical zoom is an astonishing 380mm.
The 'problem' with the most recent digital cameras is that they are all so incredibly good that we hesitate to recommend one over the other. The thing to remember is get a camera that was released in late '05 or '06, so it benefits from all the latest technology, and has all the features you need. For many folks, the convenience of a slip-in-your-pocket model - such as an E550 - is preferable to a bulkier S5200-like model, which has a much longer focal length zoom and less shutter lag. For others, the reverse is true. But as long as you buy a recent model name brand, it's becoming almost impossible to get a bad digital camera.
A CURE FOR SHUTTER LAG
Regarding shutter lag of the Fuji E550 digital camera reviewed in the May Latitude, an internet review of the camera states that the shutter lag on "full automatic" is .64 second to .75 second, the lag becoming longer as the lens focal length extends from wide to telephoto. On pre-focus - which is either a setting and/or occurs after half-pressing the shutter button - lag is dramatically reduced to .076 second.
I guess what this means is that a close reading of the camera manual might reveal a means by which the shutter lag defect can be, in at least some situations, overcome.
Your occasional camera reviews are very
helpful, and as a result of this latest one I may buy an E550.
Darryl - It's true, shutter lag can be reduced in many cameras by pre-focusing and not zooming. The problem is, if you're taking photos of active people, you can't pre-focus, and if you're taking photos of boats, you need to be able to zoom to fill the frame. This means that you can indeed eliminate shutter lag if you're taking still life photos of bowls of fruit - the kinds of shots where it makes no difference how much inherent shutter lag the camera has.
While we hope our reviews are helpful,
we're not in any way endorsing the E550 or any other camera.
The Fujifilm E550 and the Nikon D-50 with interchangeable lenses
have proven to be great products at reasonable prices for our
needs, and they may or may not be for your particular needs.
But as we previously stated, if you know the features you want,
it's almost impossible to go wrong with any of the recent models
by any of the major manufacturers.
I don't usually write to magazines, but I recently read a letter in a recent Latitude from a person who was driving from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara and was involved in an accident. The writer emphatically advised people not to drive in Mexico at night.
I shook my head when I wrote this, as we had just driven home to the States from Puerto Vallarta. We basically make the trip nonstop, as when I get tired, I climb into my bunk in the backseat of our 3/4-ton pickup and my wife drives. This was our sixth trip to Puerto Vallarta and back. It takes us 32 to 36 hours, with the longest wait being trying to cross the border at Nogales.
Having an accident is bad enough wherever you are, but Mexico is just as safe as the United States - if you drive defensively and expect the unexpected. We've driven in southern Baja from Cabo to La Paz and back several times at night.
When I was working for a large multi-national company, I made over 80 trips in my rental car into Mexico to visit the plant. Most of the driving was at night. Accidents can occur any place, anytime, but according to statistics, most happen within 25 miles of home. Statistics also show that Costa Rica - we've driven there, too - has the worst accident rate per capita of any country in the world. Now that I can believe! But to warn against driving at night in Mexico is, in my opinion, a little unrealistic. Yes, you can run up on stray cattle, pedestrians in dark clothing, dogs, and who knows what else, but defensive driving usually forewarns you of the dangers ahead.
One time I was driving west along I-40 late at night in Arkansas, when I was followed closely by a newer black Thunderbird with darkened windows. The the car pulled alongside. The Thunderbird mimicked my every move - until I swerved suddenly at the last second to make an exit north on another major highway. I had finally shaken them off me but, believe me, I was quite frightened.
Being in California, you're familiar with the excessive speed and non-thinking drivers. The Orange County Register once reported that police estimate that 3 in 10 drivers on Orange County highways have been drinking. At any rate, it doesn't matter where you drive, just be defensive and watch out for the unexpected.
By the way, Desperado Marine in Puerto Vallarta Marina is no more. The little lunch stand is gone, and so is Flor, the pretty waitress who had worked there for 13 years. A big company has purchased the complex and built a nice restaurant, internet cafe, Oxxo, and such. The restaurant management is very friendly and welcomes everyone.
We just bought some land in Nuevo Vallarta
and are planning on building our home there, soon.
Dana - Random statistics can be misleading. For example, the overwhelming reason that most accidents occur close to home is not because of road conditions or driving habits, but because most people do 95% of their driving close to home. So that's an impressive statistic, but not very meaningful.
On the other hand, statistics about the number of driving accidents/deaths per capita in a city, region, or country do have meaning. While it's true that accidents can happen any time and any place, there is no doubt they happen much more often in some countries and regions. And there is no doubt they happen more often at certain times of the day than others. For example, there tends to be fewer accidents at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday than at 1 a.m. on a Saturday.
We don't have any statistics, but we believe there are far more accidents/deaths per vehicle mile in Mexico than in the United States. As reported last month, Jim Elfers, author of The Baja Bash, says there is almost a death a day on the road he drives between his home near Todos Santos and his job at Puerto Los Cabos. And given the relatively small number of cars in Mexico, there sure are a lot of roadside shrines.
We've driven up and down Baja during the day and night, and thought it was safe because there aren't many cars out in the middle of nowhere. And what accidents there are tend to be single vehicle mishaps where careless drivers missed a turn or lost control from driving too fast. What scares us in Mexico are the crowded two-lane roads, where relatively inexperienced drivers, too many of whom have been drinking, tend to be overly aggressive about passing other vehicles. Alas, it's in situations such as this when you have little chance to drive defensively.
Our advice on driving in Mexico is to pick your time, day, and road with care.
As for Orange County, we were recently in Newport Beach acquiring a new photoboat, and had a chance to ask a police officer if it's really true that 3 out of 10 drivers in Orange County have been drinking. "It is true," the officer told us. "And after breakfast it's about 9 out of 10."
Seeking a more pleasant subject, let's talk about Flor, who has been as sweet as she's been a flirt for the many years we've known her. We first bumped into her in the early '90s at the fuel dock at Puerto Vallarta. It was early in the morning, and she was pumping diesel into Big O while still wearing her disco outfit from the night before. She might have even been wearing high heels. Each time we returned to the fuel dock and Desperado Marine over the years, it was always fun to see what phase of life and clothes Flor was going through. We'll miss Desperado Marine, but not as much as we'll miss Flor's big smile.
HE GOT PISSED AT ME, SAYING HE'D HAD ENOUGH OF MY SUGGESTIONS
What do you think when a landlubber buys a 36-ft sloop, having never sailed more than a day on the Bay, having never set or reefed sails, having no navigation skills, and zero, zip, nada seamanship skills? I asked the fellow - a friend - if he knew about time, speed, and distance. He told me that his wife was going to do the navigating. So I asked her if she knew the difference between true and magnetic headings? She thought that I was joking, and looked to her husband for reassurance. He said there was indeed a difference. Then I asked her if she knew about local variations? Same look! As you might imagine, I was a little concerned, but I didn't want to discourage him.
Anyway, the guy's new-to-him boat is a beautiful steel boat that has sailed two oceans, and is equipped with an SSB, Monitor vane, watermaker, good sails, and other good stuff. Standing in the cockpit of the boat, I looked around for a compass, and didn't see one. The owner told me he didn't need one. Well, this was getting better every day!
In fact, he went on about how the boat had come with a big, ugly compass with two balls - and he'd thrown it out! "Didn't need it," he said, "I have a readout from the autopilot."
I sent him an email about the smallest steel boat binnacle that I could find on the net. When I talked to him a couple of weeks later, he said there was no place to mount it, as he had a tiller boat. When I stopped by a few more weeks later, he showed me a compass with a 3-inch card he'd bought and mounted on the hard dodger. It was a compass for a nonferrous hull. When I mentioned that he should have it adjusted and a deviation card made, he got pissed at me, saying that he'd had it with all my suggestions.
I know that I'm no Bruce Schwab, but I have 40 years and 25,000 miles of offshore experience, one singlehanded trip from Cabo to Hawaii and back, and two other San Francisco to Hawaii deliveries.
Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this little story is I'd like to know what other people think of boatowners like this? I can't even put a word to this blind romance with the sea, being born into a sailing family and having my own Lido 14 at a young age. Anyway, the guy who bought the boat sailed south in December of '05.
One last question. Does the publisher have
an uncle in Southern California who makes fast powerboats?
Brad - Last question first. There is not now and never has been anyone in the publisher's extended family who has had anything to do with powerboats. And except for a brother who briefly owned a couple of sailboats 30 years ago, there's nobody in the family who has anything to do with sailboats either. We're the only boat junkie in the family.
We navigate using our eyeballs, multiple
GPS units, a depthsounder and radar. There's probably a magnetic
compass somewhere on Profligate,
but we couldn't tell you where. Doña de Mallorca has groused
about the lack of "a real compass" for so long that
she may have gone out and bought one, but we've never felt the
need for one. It's nice to know the difference between true and
magnetic headings, as well as how to take account for local variations,
but they've never been a significant factor in all the sailing
we've done. And we've been a few places. A round of smelling
salts for all the old salts who have just keeled over.
A FEW THOUGHTS FOR NEW CRUISERS
Discussions about equipment and maintenance are a lively topic among cruisers. Having spent the past six years along the San Francisco to Panama route, I would like to share some thoughts with new cruisers heading to Latin America.
One boat manufacturer included a low-priced Racor diesel fuel filter housing in their package. However, replacement filters for that model were either unavailable in many places south of the boarder or at $35+ were expensive. Filters for Racor's more expensive housings cost a third of the price and are easily available - as are other popular filter brands. Over years of use, a housing upgrade makes the switch worthwhile. Carrying four or fewer spare filters is marginal, while eight or more is adequate. Why? One tank of contaminated fuel - especially in a blow when it will get all sloshed about - can quickly make a mess of three or four filters.
Carry large, impressive locks and chain or extra thick cable to secure tenders - even when storing them aboard. Theft is rampant in popular harbors. Weather is hard on locks - even ones supposedly suited for external use. Master Lock replaced or upgraded my locks when they didn't perform as promised, and even refunded the shipping cost. Congratulations Master Lock.
Honda outboards have an excellent reputation - but cruisers should think twice before taking them to Latin America, where there is no service or parts available. Calling the factory for phone assistance is not rewarding - unless the suggestion of taking the outboard back to the States is your idea of help. Latin American mechanics are wizards, but Honda is not their specialty. Most other outboard brands are plentiful.
A company with an exceptional return policy is Taylor Made. They promptly replace damaged fenders - that haven't been improperly punctured or badly misused - as long as you own the boat, typically without a sales receipt. A cruiser I know replaced a 12-year-old, ugly deflated specimen with no questions asked. Incidentally, take one or two sizes larger than recommended, and have several spares when headed south. Otherwise, be prepared to need cosmetic work on your hull. Too bad Taylor Made doesn't make refrigeration systems.
In contrast to Taylor Made, Polyform required their fenders to be returned to the factory for inspection at owner expense - unless you find a kindly retailer willing to exchange the fender and battle with the manufacturer. Also, Polyform employs a much more stringent determination for warranty consideration, although they were willing to discount the price for a new replacement. Given a choice between two good manufacturers, stick with the company - Taylor Made - that has a liberal warranty policy.
Several cruisers experienced paint-blistering problems on both fiberglass and steel hulls. The problem stemmed from overprotection by zinc anodes. More protection is not always best.
Be prepared for frequent bottom cleanings in the warm waters of Central America. Cleanings at longer than 3-4 week intervals allow substantial barnacle growth, with more paint then having to be removed during the process of cleaning. Hired cleaners can be hard on sloughing paint, especially fresh paint, as they sometimes scrape rather than lightly scrub. Unless you are born with gills, hookahs or extra long scuba hoses with a tank topside make the job much easier. Expect to repaint with antifouling at 18-24 month intervals. While some captains claim much longer intervals, I have not found magic in brands or application methods that account for those lucky experiences.
Watermakers are fussy, complicated things, and useless when in the dirty waters of many harbors. It's worth the effort to devise a simple rain catcher to help fill water tanks. The system doesn't need to be fancy, although it could double as a sun shade. Use filters, as rainwater can be dirty inshore.
Welcome to the adventure, new cruisers.
Roddy - We can confirm that Taylor Made is wonderful about backing their fenders - we'd never buy another brand. The only point where we might disagree with you is with regard to watermakers. The first one we bought 20 years ago was a disaster. Our much newer model has been simple to use and has required very little maintenance.
BAJA COULD DISAPPEAR IN 10 YEARS
Most of my life, I have relished the relief I felt while retreating to Mexico. But after reading the following, I had a knot in my stomach. It was written by Serge Dedina, Director of the environmental group Wild Coast, and sent to me by Martha Armenta, my business consultant in Mazatlan:
"Summertime's coming and just about everyone who lives for the long point waves of Baja believes in the Pristine Myth - the conviction that Baja will be empty, desolate and wild forever. This delusion is erroneous at best and dangerous at worst. The Baja California that drives us to live for that frenzied first round-the-bend glimpse of a pumping swell at a 'secret' point we've surfed for the past quarter century is going fast and could disappear in 10 years.
Here are five reasons why the Baja you love, the Baja you dream of, the Baja that makes you feel like a primeval surf explorer, will no longer exist in a decade - unless you take action to save it:
1) Energy Development. In the past four years, some of the world's biggest energy companies - Sempra, Shell, Chevron-Texaco, and Marathon Oil - have either built or proposed the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals along Baja's Pacific coast. Sempra-Shell is already halfway through a terminal that destroyed famed Harry's. Next on the list of doomed sites - the Coronado Islands, where Chevron-Texaco plans a massive facility, and Cabo Colonet, where a LNG terminal would also be housed next to a major new port and industrial complex.
2) Port Construction. The Port of Ensenada is planning a massive $5 billion industrial, LNG, and urban complex on one of the last pristine stretches of coastline between Ensenada and San Quintin at Cabo Colonet. This new port will be larger than the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles combined. The city associated with the port will eventually rival Ensenada, and will envelop every surf spot around Cuatros.
3) Marinas and Mega-Resorts. In 2003, John McCarthy, Mexico's Chief of Tourism Development (FONATUR), announced plans to roll back a plan to build marinas at six point breaks on Baja's Pacific Coast - including Scorpion Bay and Punta Abreojos. Unfortunately, FONATUR recently announced plans for new marinas at Punta Abreojos and La Bocana. These projects are planned despite the fact that a similar marina at Santa Rosalillita is filed in with sand and will forever sit idle. Major resorts and marinas are also now on deck in Bahia de los Angeles, San Jose del Cabo, and Loreto.
4) The Baja Land Race. With the detonation of the second home market in Baja and the availability of once previously locked-off coastal property - due to the previous inability of ejidos or collective agrarian cooperatives to sell land - the race is on to buy up and develop every speck of coastal Baja.
5) Coastal Pollution. Runoff from the Tijuana
River has made Imperial Beach, Coronado, one of the most polluted
surf breaks in California. Just north of Baja Malibu, a creek
at San Antonio delivers about 12 million gallons of sewage to
the coast every day, 365 days a year. Expect new coastal development
to pollute your favorite wave in Baja."
Ray - While we probably share many of the same environmental sentiments as the author of that piece, our eyes glazed over when we read the typical activist hyperbole such as, "the race is on to buy up and develop every speck of coastal Baja". This is such monumental bullshit that it makes it nearly impossible to put credence in any of Dedina's other claims.
The coast of Baja is some 1,500 miles long, for God's sake, much of it is all but inaccessible, there's little water, and it's never going to be that popular because it's often very cold in the winter and the Sea of Cortez side sizzles in the summer. If the real estate rush for every speck of Baja coast really was on, why hasn't there been any development at Turtle Bay, the most protected bay on Baja, one which, with the addition of greenery, would also be one of the most beautiful on the coast? Why have the series of attempted developments at beautiful Puerto Escondido been nothing but failures for the last 30 years? Why did FONATUR back off of many of their initial - and idiotic - plans for resorts, airports, marinas, and golf course projects on Baja? We'll tell you why - because such projects weren't financially viable.
The truth of the matter is that there is very serious interest in developing certain strategic parts of Baja - such as a huge port at Punta Colnet - but we'll bet a nickel that most of the projects Dedina is getting hysterical over won't ever see the light of day.
Dedina also bemoans that there are "major resorts and marinas now on deck at Bahia de Los Angeles, San Jose del Cabo, and Loreto." This is just more bullshit. Nobody is going to build a major resort and marina at Bahia de Los Angeles because there is no airport anywhere in the vicinity, and because it's way too hot in the summer and way too cold in the winter. Loreto has had an international airport for 30 years, but it still hasn't been able to support any significant amount of tourism. Again, the problem is that it's extremely hot in the summer, and sometimes very cold in winter. When we were in Loreto a couple of months ago, most of the waterfront hotels were boarded up. Nobody is building a big marina at Loreto - nor even at the much more likely spot of nearby Puerto Escondido.
On the other hand, it is true that the very large Puerto Los Cabos development, which will include a 500-berth marina, continues to march toward completion. But it's not "ruining the last pristine stretch of Baja." Puerto Los Cabos is just one small part of the enormous - and much developed - Los Cabos resort area, one that receives 1,500,000 visitors a year. Los Cabos is Baja's Waikiki, and as such, it brings in an enormous amount of tourist dollars and creates lots of much-needed jobs.
We're all for protecting the environment and saving surf spots, but one can't be simplistic about the problems and solutions. After all, what's more important, a much-needed new west coast port at Punta Colnet, which would bring lots of good paying jobs to Baja and take much of the strain off the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, or saving a couple of surf breaks for affluent American surfers? It's important to note that every ship diverted from L.A./Long Beach would have a significant positive impact on the air quality and traffic problems in the Southland.
Any surfers or environmentalists who thought/think that Baja will remain an undeveloped playground forever for rich gringos was/is/are, as Dedina points out, delusional. As such, the most intelligent thing to do is not to work for a prohibition of all development, but for limited and intelligent development.
In a somewhat hilarious ending, Dedina notes that the "surf industry" will be holding their annual Waterman's Weekend, "a summertime gala that provides a serious source for funding for organizations working to save Baja's surf breaks, at the luxurious St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa in Dana Point," where the nightly rate for a room costs about as much as a surfboard. Odd, isn't it, that the industry is patronizing just the kind of wealth and job-creating development they piously want to prevent from ever being created in Baja.
OVERPRICED, OVER-RATED, AND OVER-POPULATED
Last year we wrote in with a question - is it possible for a couple to get by on $2,500/month while cruising in Mexico? We were delighted by the editor's inspirational response, and the letters that followed from readers.
Now we're responding to the June issue letter, We Don't Want To Live In A Crappy Apartment, which was all about planning for a post cruising life.
First, what to do with a current house you might own. There are so many ways to approach this, and so many 'experts' willing to give advice, that the choices are baffling. If you truly like/love your house, its location, and can afford to, by all means rent out the house. Be aware, however, there are lurking dangers that come with renting, because once you rent it, it changes from being a home to being an investment.
Single family houses rarely provide positive cash flow - unless you have minimal debt. You will need a leasing agent, who will take 10%. There is no guarantee of a return - remember the '89 earthquake, the '91-'94 recession, and so forth. We owned and managed rental real estate in the Bay Area for almost 15 years, and can attest there is nothing fun about it. In addition, keeping the house means you keep one foot on the beach, so if cruising gets tough for awhile, will you long to return to your home?
However, if six months of cruising alternated with six months back home is what you're looking for, by all means rent - at least until you completely embrace - or not - the cruising lifestyle.
If you are going to sell, now is likely to be the best time you will see for many years. We chose to sell three years ago because we wanted a life change. We moved aboard, cut our expenses to the minimum, and are retiring at ages 47 and 51. It's funny how much money you can save living on a boat. And, there are no lawns to mow. We may also buy a small home in Mexico, for cash, during what we believe will be the upcoming U.S. recession. Yes, there is always another one, when home prices will plummet - or at least sag.
Second - the boat. It's amazing how many wealthy individual's first boats seem to be some 47-footer. They are told that such boats are safer, faster, more comfortable, and so forth, by all of the pundits wanting to sell them something. Balderdash. Go with what you can afford. And we suggest that you pay the boat off before you leave. Make a plan to go cruising and stick to it. And by all means, get all the experience you can before taking off. Never lived aboard? If it's too difficult to find a berth to do so in the Bay Area, how about chartering up here in the Pacific Northwest in November the rump season, when it's windy, cold and grey. If you can liveaboard in that weather with your significant other, you can liveaboard anywhere.
As for ourselves, we started with a 34-ft
boat, sailed her year round in all conditions for three years,
developed our skills and escape plan, and then traded up. Our
maximum size boat was going to be 39-41 feet. In 2001, we bought
a fancy new boat - a Malo 39 - but by living aboard it made financial
sense. Because we'd sold our house, we have no debt. We
cannot imagine ever wanting to return to the Seattle urban megacenter
- it's overpriced, overrated and overpopulated. And we think
once you have a few years of 'sea change', the Bay Area will
be the last place you want to live.
Gary - Thanks for the warning that renting out one's house is not as simple as just cashing the rental checks. We know cruisers who have had very good experiences doing it, but also others for whom it wasn't such a good experience.
We tend to agree that urban areas are overpriced and overpopulated, and usually overamped, but obviously lots of people like them - including a lot of 'six and six' cruisers and 'commuter cruisers' who are still maintaining jobs or businesses. To each their own.
HOW TO AFFORD THE POST-CRUISING LIFE
I read in the June issue letter about the couple that doesn't want to end up living in a crappy apartment when they are done cruising. They were expressing the concerns of a lot of boomers - how to afford an active lifestyle, in their case fulfilling a dream to go cruising, after they stop working. As a sponsor of the Ha-Ha, a cruiser, and a financial advisor, I hopefully can provide a methodology for solving the cruising financial dilemma.
I would like to commend Anonymous for having the forethought to start planning a couple of years before 'switching gears'. First of all, I'd suggest the couple develop what I'd call a 'cruising plan'. This would consist of a timeline for going cruising, where and how long they would probably cruise, and what kind of boat and equipment would fit their needs and financial constraints. Second, they would need to put together some budgets of what it costs to live under various scenarios. Third, they would need to look at their assets, pensions, social security, to see where the income is coming from, and then get professional help to model various cash flow scenarios. Lastly, they'd have to implement the plan they decided on.
As Latitude suggested, taking equity out of a house and renting in order to buy a cruising boat is one option to selling the house to buy a boat. But what if the couple couldn't find a renter, or the rent didn't cover the cost of the boat payments? I believe it's very important to explore all the options in order to determine the potential effects of each.
Having advised many couples on how to achieve
the cruising lifestyle, I've found the key is to be flexible.
Remember that the goal is to cruise, not to have the fanciest
boat on the water. One's cruising dreams can almost always be
accomplished with a little creativity. And with a little planning,
boomers should be able to cruise, and not have to settle for
living in a "crappy little apartment" afterwards.
Readers - Normally we wouldn't include an email address in a letter that could be potentially so self-serving, but Kaplan has been a Ha-Ha participant and sponsor for the last two years without requesting any special treatment - so what the heck?
WE'RE ASKING FOR A GOOD HOME, NOT MONEY
My father has that sickness called 'old age', and therefore is no longer capable of maintaining Mareve, our family's 51-ft ketch. We would like the boat to go to a good home, but are not asking for money because we don't need the funds. We just want Mareve to sail in good hands again.
I care because I grew up aboard Mareve, and sailed her all over the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Rim for 13 years of my youth. This was back in the '70s when I was a young buck. Now my brothers and I are spread all over - I'm in Auckland building John Kilroy's new TP52 Samba Pa Ti - and we're just not able or interested in caring for the boat anymore.
Could you let people know about Mareve's availability? She has a teak hull and decks, and was built at the famous Cheoy Lee Yard in Hong Kong in 1940 to a George Wayland design. She has a 80-hp Mercedes diesel.
She's currently located in San Carlos, Mexico. My dad kept her up as well as he could, with annual haulouts and painting and so forth, but due to his failing health, hasn't been able to visit her in some time. So she does need some work.
We members of the Arndt family would like
to see Mareve go to a good home. I can be reached at (805)
570-3651 in California or 011-64-210-407-924 in New Zealand,
or via skype at Samba52EricArndt.
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