'Lectronic Takes a Busman's Holiday

December 27 - St. Barts, French West Indies

Some folks might assume that each issue of 'Latitude 38' just puts itself out, but it actually takes a lot of work by a dedicated crew - and the publisher. After 23 years, we still put in a few hours on, for example, Thanksgiving, and a few more on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It's nothing the owners of a lot of small businesses don't do. Nonetheless, at the end of each year, we feel we deserve one true vacation, and this year we're going to try to take you along.

For the last six years, and 10 out of the last 13 years, we've spent New Year's at St. Barts, a 3 by 7 mile French island about 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and about 80 miles north of Antigua. We'd never heard of the place until 1986, and then only because it was homeport to an old Ocean 71 we wanted to look at - and eventually bought. It turned out that parts of the island were very chi-chi and parts were a century or two behind the times. When most people think of St. Barts, they think of very expensive vacations. And while it's true we've seen $1,000 bottles of champagne in supermarket aisles, $350,000 pieces of jewelry in store windows, and restaurant bills that could choke a horse, it's also possible to enjoy this island on a rather limited budget. We'll tell you how in the next couple of weeks.

To get this story in gear, we took the Christmas evening flight from San Francisco to Miami, then flew from Miami to St. Maarten. It was warm in Miami, but there were thick gray skies overhead and all the way across the Bahamas. Just before Puerto Rico, some 1,200 miles to the southeast, the thick overcast was replaced by tradewind clouds and blue skies. Beautiful! Off to the right of the plane was Puerto Rico and the more popular cruising destinations of Vieques and Culebra - which some charter companies are now marketing as the 'Spanish Virgins'. From mid-December through mid-March, these areas are often subject to reinforced trades, meaning 25 knots or more of wind, huge seas and somewhat limited visibility. But today, the Caribbean has never been more Caribbean blue or the sun more brilliant. The folks who take photographs for the postcards should have been out.

A short time later, we could look down on the Virgins, both the U.S. and British. There was St. Thomas, Red Hook, St. John, Buck Island, Coral Bay and more. Having had a boat in these waters for more than 10 years, the memories of fine adventures, great friends, terrific parties, sensational sailing - and even hurricanes - flooded back. As the plane continues to St. Maarten, we parallel the Sir Francis Drake Channel, so beloved by charterers for flat water and rum punches. Just outside of the channel to the north is Jost van Dyke. We wave down to Foxy, who is no doubt getting ready for another wild New Year's Party. We're still at 30,000 feet, so he might not have seen us. As we continue on, there's Virgin Gorda Boatyard, the finish line for the Caribbean 1500 and where we hauled 'Big O' for a survey prior to buying her. We wonder if the Bath & Turtle is still going strong in Spanishtown. It was - and probably still is - a fine place to get a meal, a drink and listen to some live music. Because it's directly below us, we can't see Anegada, home to literally hundreds of shipwrecks. Despite the advent of GPS and other nautical aids, one of our friends piled his C&C Landfall 48 up on one of the reefs after Antigua Sailing Week a couple of years ago. While we can't see Anegada, even at 30,000 feet it's easy to see that the nearby waters are very shallow and littered with coral.

Further off to the right is Virgin Gorda's North Sound, home to the Bitter End YC and a million adventures. Each November, the Bitter End YC hosts a brilliant Master's Regatta, inviting great sailors and friends from around the world. When Rob Moore, our Racing Editor, did it a few years ago, he was on a boat along with Paul Cayard of the St. Francis YC, well known for his many America's Cup campaigns; John Kostecki of the St. Francis YC, who will be heading Germany's first-ever America's Cup effort in 2003; and Heidi Klum, currently the most celebrated of the international super models. Right now, Virgin Gorda is home to 'Latitude's Senior Editor Andy Turpin's son, who is just out of high school and working for the resort. He spends his days rigging small boats and sailboards, and finds a lot of time to hone his skills on both when he's off duty. "He's living the life I always wanted to live," his dad moans.

As the plane begins its descent for St. Maarten, it's easy to see the distinctive shape of Saba off to starboard and then Anguilla off to port. We've just flown over the Anegada Passage, the roughest in the Caribbean, and it was flat as a pancake. Just then, the guy in front of us pulls a folio of charts out from the overhead bin, and we notice he's wearing a 'Mari-Cha' shirt. 'Mari-Cha III' is the Briand 154-footer owned by the guy who owns all the airport duty-free shops. A little more than two years ago, the big ketch smashed the transatlantic record for monohulls. That New Year's Eve, she came down to St. Barts - we'll have more about this island in the next several issues - for the race/parade around the island, establishing a new elapsed time record in the process. A year later, she set a new record in the Sydney to Hobart Race, although she was too big to be an official entry. We introduced ourselves and asked if 'Mari-Cha' was going to be back for the race/parade. The fellow assured us that she was - and would be looking to reclaim her old record. You see, last year Craig MacCaw sailed his 118-ft daysailor 'Extra Beat' to a new elapsed time record, beating the likes of the J Class 'Endeavour' and the legendary 'Ticonderoga' in the process. MacCaw, of course, is from Seattle (and until recently Tiburon, too) and is the money behind the OneWorld America's Cup Challenge. The 'Mari-Cha' guy told us that 'Extra Beat' wouldn't be back, but that MacCaw's younger brother would be showing up with 'Tatoosh', his almost new 300-foot motoryacht - a motoryacht that carries a 43-foot racing boat onboard the younger MacCaw is expected to launch and race.

After landing in St. Maarten - where there were fabulous big and small boats on the French side at Marigot, on the Dutch side at Pelican Bay and Phillipsburg, and in Simpson Lagoon, which is part on the French side and part on the Dutch side - there was mad scramble to find luggage and make the last planes of the day for the 10-minute flights to St. Barts. It's insanity, as the smallish airport is filled with jumbo jets, private jets and commuter planes. The runway is so short that the big jets can't take on a full load of fuel, so they have to fly to longer airports before heading back across the Atlantic. The small terminal is full of jet-lagged folks from Paris, New York and Miami. All the planes are late, all the connecting flights have been missed, and most of the luggage is being lost or pilfered. "It's tough getting to paradise," said one French woman who had all her luggage lost.

The airport at St. Barts is really tiny. Planes have to cross over a ridge, make a steep dive, and slam down on the runway before running into the ocean. Planes have landed on top of cars driving on the main road, they've overshot the runway and gone into the ocean, and they've landed in the bushes alongside the runway. Every landing is an adventure. One of our fellow passengers says the airport is featured in a flying video section of PlayStation - the video game, not the mega cat Fossett is about to race around the world. Somehow we make it to St. Barts, but 4/5ths of our luggage doesn't. After getting a car, we take a quick look into the harbor. Many of the familiar boats are around, as well as many new ones. The most conspicuous yacht in the harbor is the 200-foot 'Meduse' that is owned by Paul Allen. The co-founder of Microsoft, he's said to be the third richest man in the world. His boat completely outshines 'Ultima III', the motoryacht owned by Ronald Pearlman, who owns Revlon and other big businesses. The word on the dock is that Puff Daddy, one of Pearlman's neighbors in the States, is on the next dock. The hip-hop mogul often charters a boat to be on the dock on New Year's.

It's not unusual for large motoryachts to have a helicopter on the top, but Allen's yacht is the only one we've seen with a chopper with a four bladed rotor. We have no idea what it means, but it looks good. 'Meduse' left the tiny harbor to go to sea so that her owner could get off his own jet, hop aboard his own helicopter, then land on his yacht. What do they mean the rich live differently than we do?

Dennis Conner, still the biggest name in sailing and a veteran of every America's Cup for about the last 150 years, was also seen on the island, enjoying a 'ti Punch. This is a local drink that's as wicked as it is small. Everybody wonders what boat he'll be racing on come New Year's Day. So things are pretty much normal on the island - except for that peeping tom we saw in our window during the wee hours of last night.

Modern technology willing, our subsequent reports will include photos. But some days we'll just want to play, so we may not have a 'Lectronic every day. To get your fix on our off days, be sure to check out our archives!



December 27 - The Pacific Ocean and Cyberspace

Who is out making passages in the Pacific and what kind of weather are they having? Check out YOTREPS - 'yacht reports' - at http://www.bitwrangler.com/yotreps/


Thirteen Yachts Drop Out of Sydney-Hobart

December 27 - Australia

Swedish maxi yacht 'Nicorette' leads the Telstra Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race as the fleet nears the northeast coast of Tasmania, still sailing in strong west to southwest winds blowing on the nose through Bass Strait. Thirteen of the 82 competitors have dropped out due to gale force winds and rough seas, among them early race leaders 'Shockwave' and 'Xena'. The fleet set sail from Sydney December 26. 'Nicorette', an 80-footer owned and skippered by Ludde Ingvall, is followed by 'Wild Thing', owned and skippered by Grant Wharington. The two water-ballasted maxis lead the Volvo 60s 'News Corporation', 'TYCO' from Bermuda, 'Illbruck' from Germany and 'Assa Abloy' by about 40-50 miles. The boats should start finishing around dawn tomorrow morning.

For details, check out http://www.syd-hob.telstra.com.au/index.cfm.

Maxi yacht 'Wild Thing' (pictured) was passed during the night by 'Nicorette'.
Photo Sport the Library/Robb Cox

TYCO is in second place among the Volvo 60s.
Photo Daniel Forster/Volvo

Vendée Globe Update

December 27 - Southern Ocean

Thierry Dubois of 'Solitaire' announced today that he will have to make a stop in New Zealand due to the breakdown of his main alternator and the failure of his batteries. Thierry commented that, "It wouldn't be at all prudent to head into the Pacific Ocean, the longest and most difficult stretch of water, with the boat in this condition." After the repair in New Zealand, he will resume his solo sail. "It's a disappointment to not be able to finish this circumnavigation within the rules." Current standings are: 1. 'PRB', Michael Desjoyeaux; 2. 'Sill Matines & La Potagère', Roland Jourdain, 83 miles back; 3. 'Kingfisher', Ellen MacArthur, 295 back; 4. 'Active Wear', Marc Thiercelin, 380 miles back; 5. 'Sodebo Savourons la Vie', Thomas Coville, 533 miles back. Yves Parlier continues to compete in 'Aquitaine Innovations' despite a jury-rigged mast, and is currently in ninth place. Visit http://www.vendeeglobe.com.

Woman to Sail in The Race

December 27 - Marina Port Vell, Barcelona

The big news of the day comes from 'Innovation Explorer' with the addition of two new prestigious crew members: Olympic medalist Yves Loday, and the first and only woman to participate in The Race: Helena Caputo-Novak, the wife of Skip Novak, co-skipper of the boat.

Born in October 1961 in London, Helena started sailing at an early age. Her first Atlantic crossing dates back to 1986 (Transat des Alizés), and she crewed with Bruno Peyron on 'Explorer', holding the Pacific crossing record with him. "This decision is very recent, and I'm starting to get used to the boat, having delivered her from Antibes to Barcelona, however I'm not a professional sailor," Helena insisted, "my profession is first and foremost that of journalist, specializing in foreign politics, in fact I was supposed to be leaving in two weeks to cover the Israeli elections! On the other hand I am very pleased to be on board and to be sailing with Loïck, who has lots of charisma, and who instills real enthusiasm in all the crew, in addition to his great competence!"

Work continues on the boat's rigging and trampoline. The other five boats are working on last minute details, fine tuning, and stowing supplies. All six yachts participating in The Race were lined up for thousands of admirers to view on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in Spain).

Weather Updates

December 27 - Pacific Ocean

San Francisco Bay Weather

To see what the winds are like on the Bay and just outside the Gate right now, check out http://sfports.wr.usgs.gov/wind/.

California Coast Weather

Looking for current as well as recent wind and sea readings from 17 buoys and stations between Pt. Arena and the Mexican border? Here's the place - which has further links to weather buoys and stations all over the U.S.: www.ndbc.noaa.gov/stuff/southwest/swstmap.shtml.

Pacific Ocean Weather

You can view the University of Hawaii Department of Meteorology satellite picture by clicking here.

Pacific Sea State

Big seas off the West Coast of the United States. Be careful! Check it out at: http://www.mpc.ncep.noaa.gov/RSSA/PacRegSSA.html.
For another view, see http://www.oceanweather.com/data/global.html.

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