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Two Cruising Boats Badly Damaged in Panama Canal Accident

March 12 - Panama Canal

On March 2, John Pearlman's Islander 37 Nepenthe from Sausalito and Ulrich and Barbara Sandmeier's Dufour 1200 45-ft ketch Antares Royale from Switzerland were dismasted and severely damaged during an attempted transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Fortunately, none of the nine people on the two boats suffered any physical injuries. David Wilson, author of Transiting the Panama Canal Small Vessel, explains what happened:

"Rafted together - 'nested' in Canal terms - the two boats entered the lower chamber of Gatun Locks to tie alongside the 95-ft, 300-ton PCA tug Lider. The Lider was tied bow and stern about 75 feet behind the 650-ft container ship CGM Renoir. Once the 'nest' was securely tied with breasts and springs to the tug, the gates closed behind them and they were ready to let the water fill the chamber and lift them to the next level. What happened next was like slow motion. As the chamber filled, the stern of the tug pulled away from the wall because the bosun on the aft deck of the tug had lost control of the stern line. He tried without success to signal the tug captain to make him aware of the problem. The transit advisors - one each on the cruising boats - who are fully qualified tug drivers, expected the tug captain to take the controls of the 3,000 hp omni-directional tug and maneuver them away from the ship and back alongside the wall. But he didn't.

"As they were about to hit the ship, John, the captain of Nepenthe, ran aft and, in a desperate effort to save his and the other yacht, applied full reverse power. But his 25 hp engine couldn't move a 300-ton tug. The advisor aboard the Nepenthe, seeing that nothing was being done by the tug to save the yachts, and that the rigs of the two boats were about to come crashing down, called for everyone to abandon ship and board the tug. Unknown to all, one of the crew of Nepenthe was sleeping below - until the base of the mast came out of the step and started sweeping around inside the cabin destroying all in its path. Awakened by all the commotion, the crew member scrambled up the companionway, screaming for her life. A brave soul ran from the tug onto the stricken yacht and jerked her to safety.

"Nepenthe, decks awash, was completely under the low stern of the ship, with Antares Royale squashed on top of her, pinned between the tug and the ship. Finally, the tug captain started to gradually bring the wreckage back away from the ship. As he pulled the boat away, three masts crashed to the deck. Rigging covered almost every square foot of the decks of the two yachts and some of the tug. Nepenthe, her engine left screaming at full throttle when the call to abandon ship came, was enveloped in a cloud of steam and smoke as the engine died. Unbelievably, no one suffered more than a few bruises.

"The immediate danger having passed, the ACP sprang into action to stabilize the situation and to protect life and property. The ACP's Colón Canal Port Captain arrived to take control of the situation and document the accident. The yachts were taken the rest of the way through the Gatun Locks and into Gatun Lake. The destroyed rigging was carefully lifted off by an ACP crane and laid alongside one of their docks. Released from the tug, Nepenthe and Antares Royale were moved to the Gatun Yacht Club where Nepenthe was tied to a buoy and Antares Royale anchored. (Gatun YC now serves not as a yacht club, but as a recreational area for ACP employees and cruise line ships.)

Barbara Sandmeier, before the accident, video camera in hand.

John Pearlman of Nepenthe with CGM Renoir in the background.

Nepenthe's runaway mast.

Photos Courtesy John Pearlman

"The Board of Local Inspectors (BLI) of the ACP held a fact finding hearing on Monday afternoon to determine the cause of accident. Chairman Captain Miguel F. Rodríguez conducted the meeting in English with a translator provided by the ACP for the Sandmeiers, of the Antares Royale, as they are German speakers. Carefully and patiently questioning the tug captain, the bosun, the advisors and finally the yacht owners, the chairman brought forth the facts surrounding the cause of the accident.

"The BLI will make its findings of responsibility for, and cause of, the accident. The transcript and findings will then be distributed to the parties involved and the yacht owners will submit their claims for damages to the ACP legal department. Then the ACP, if they have been found responsible for the accident, will make an offer of settlement. If the settlement is not satisfactory, the next resort is the Maritime Tribunal here in Panama. "Most yachts pass though Panama without any problem. The transit method used by Nepenthe and Antares Royale, tying alongside a tug, is and remains a safe (usually) and easy way to pass through the Canal locks. Incidents, caused by the water turbulence in the locks during the filling of the chambers or by the wash from a ship ahead are usually limited to bent stanchions, damaged rub rails and the like. With careful seamanship most accidents can be avoided. This whole episode was captured on videotape, complete with running narration in Swiss German by Barbara Sandmeier. The frustration, disbelief, and above all anguish, are obvious without having to understand a word of German."

We'll have John Pearlman's version of what happened on tomorrow's 'Lectronic. You can see more photos at

Circumnavigator's List

March 12 - The West Coast and Around the World

A couple of years ago we started to compile a list of West Coast folks and boats who have circumnavigated, and then sort of let it languish. We've now restarted that project so we can make the list a permanent feature on Latitude's Web site. So if you've circumnavigated or know some West Coast person or boat that has, please let us know by email. We need to know the boat name, the boat type, the skipper and first mate, the hailing port, and the approximate year. The names we already have - there are about 100 - will appear in the April issue of Latitude 38. As we get names, the list on our Web site will be updated. Thanks for your help.

Eleven Years into It

March 12 - The Mediterranean

Teachers Dick and Shirley Sandys of Palo Alto are 11 years into their circumnavigation with their Islander 36 Ge-Ja. Currently in the Med, which they find wonderful for cruising, they don't see any particularly reason to rush home. They're seen below at the castle at Kale Koy, Kekova Roads, Turkey. They also took the photo at right of the fairy chimneys at Cappadocia, Turkey.

Photos Courtesy the Sandys

For more details, check out the April Changes in Latitudes.

Ellen MacArthur Not About to Rest on Her Laurels

March 12 - Europe

Having spent last year winning the Europe New Man 1 Star singlehanded race across the Atlantic and finishing a dramatic second in the Vendée Globe around the world race - both with the Open 60 Kingfisher, you'd think Ellen MacArthur might be ready to spend some time ashore. But the charismatic young Brit, sailing's newest superstar, has a full schedule of sailing planned for this year. Among her more interesting endeavors will be crewing aboard Alan Gautier's 60-foot trimaran Foncia in the European Circuit. Gautier was one of the designers of the monohull Kingfisher. Check out Ellen's heavy sailing schedule:

 April 29 - May 5 Kingfisher's first Grand Prix Regatta in Fecamp, France.
May 13-21 Crew onboard Foncia in the Challenge Mondial, Cherbourg to Tarragon, Spain. The 8-day non-stop race takes competitors via the Azores Islands, down the coast of Portugal, through the Gibraltar straits in to the Med.
 June 5-10 Crew onboard Foncia in Cap d'Agde, south of France, Multihull Grand Prix.
 June 12-17 Skipper Kingfisher in Quiberon, NW France, in the second Grand Prix Regatta for monohulls. 
June 19-24 Crew onboard Foncia in Italy, Multihull Grand Prix. 
 June 27 - Aug. 25 Kingfisher plans to compete in the EDS Atlantic Challenge Race; St Malo - Hamburg - Portsmouth - Baltimore - Boston - St Malo. Ellen should be onboard for a majority of the race.
 Aug. 28 - Sept. 2 Crew onboard Foncia in the Multihull Grand Prix at Fecamp, France.
 Sept. 11-16 Crew onboard Foncia Multihull Grand Prix, Belgium.
 Sept.-Oct. Training on Foncia for the 4,500-mile Transat Jacques Vabre.
 Nov 4 Co-skipper with Alain Gautier on Foncia, in the Transat Jacques Vabre from France to Brazil.


March 12 - 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

Weather Updates

March 12 - 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

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.:

Pacific Sea State

Seas are normal in the Pacific. But you might check out the Pacific Ocean sea states at:
For another view, see

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