The Whale Sharks of Utila

March 28 - Utila, Honduras

Bernard Slabeck writes from the NW Caribbean, "I'm on the Lagoon 38 Beyond Reason (Ha-Ha 2001) with owner Jerry Lumbard. The diving here is blowing my mind. We are one island west of Roatan, Honduras, an island called Utila, surrounded by reefs. A small island, it's only about 3 by 8 miles, so none of the dive sites are very far away. You can get open water certified for under $100.00 U.S. I rented a tank, BCD, and regulator (dive equipment) for the amazing amount of $6.00 U.S. per day. That's not a typo - six bucks! And then two bucks for refills!

"The only town on the island is basically one street that runs along the water's edge around the only large bay on the south side of the island. The street is lined with dive shops, funky restaurants, funky hotels, little food stores, a hardware store, and government offices (read: Post Office and Port Captain). Of course there are also some bars! Coco Loco seems to be the happening bar. It's located on the water - more like a dock with a bar on it. We tie our dinghy up there when we go into town.

The bar at Coco Loco

The 'dance floor' at Coco Loco. Watch your step!
Above Photos Bernard Slabeck

"We had heard that Utila is a great place during the full moon, which was yesterday. A big part of the full moon is that whale sharks hang out off the east end of the island, and for some unknown reason they tend to really show up around full moons. Fortunately Honduras has passed some laws protecting the whale sharks. The boats that take people out to see the sharks can only snorkel, not scuba dive. You're also not supposed to touch the whale sharks.

A whale shark
Photo Courtesy Bernard Slabeck

"David Lee and his wife Linda, on the Privilege 43 catamaran Expectation, organized with a dive shop to go out and see these incredible beasts. Twelve of us cruisers, with our snorkel gear, two video cameras and a couple of still cameras, went out the other day, and let me tell you, it was a humbling, amazing, once in a lifetime experience for me! The Captain of the dive boat was a Utila native who has grown up with these whale sharks.

"Here is the way it goes: We go out to a sea mound area about a mile or so off the East Point of the island and look for a boil of bonita. This is just what it sounds like, hundreds of bonita jumping up and down and acting like a forty-ft whale shark is chasing them. The whale sharks come straight up, vertically, with their mouths open and actually break the surface of the water. If I understand this correctly, the sharks aren't really interested in the bonita, but rather the tiny fish the bonita are feeding on, or krill or something. Anyway, we come motoring up to this fish boil and we got these guys up on top of the superstructure of the boat spotting and yelling to the captain, "Over there, no, over there, two o'clock, ten o'clock!" Meanwhile, as far as I could tell the captain was doing fine without the spotters. But everyone was excited and we were all having a great time! They got all of us hanging our finned feet over on the starboard side, poised and ready as we chased to the action. Then as we coast up at about one or two knots with the engine off, the captain yells, 'Jump, jump, jump!!!' We all jump on top of each other and stick our faces in the water, and at first I see millions of splashing bubbles and legs and arms and fins. Then all of a sudden, right in front of me, in the clearing bubbles, is this forty-foot spotted gray whale shark. He was big, and we were very, very small. Truly a thing of beauty, sleek and graceful. He looked at all of us flailing around and then he very gently moved his huge tail and slowly faded into the depths. Then we did it six more times over the course of the next couple of hours. We saw 30 to 40-ft whale sharks - some of them could have been the same ones, it was hard to tell.

"David and Linda managed to get some pretty good video and stills of the whole event. They made a bunch of copies of the video and sold them to us for ten bucks each, which they donated to the Whale Shark Institute of Study, on Utila. So when I find myself wondering if I really swam with these great creatures, I can watch my very own video."

New Fees to Cruise the Sea of Cortez Clarified

March 28 - La Paz, BCS

Mary Shroyer, who, with husband Mac, runs the Marina de La Paz in the Baja town of the same name, explains the new system, "You have known of the Protected Area near Loreto, I am sure. Perhaps you had also heard that ALL the islands of the Gulf have been incorporated into an 'Area de Proteccion de Flora y Fauna Islas del Golfo de California, Oficina Regional en Baja California Sur'. A charge was established for the 'use and enjoyment' of the islands at 20 pesos (about $2 U.S.) per person per day. While the regulations and fees were primarily established to charge kayak groups and others who camp overnight on the islands, the fee is to be charged to anyone who steps ashore. While government authorization for this fee was established on January 1, 2003, in the Mexican 'Congressional Record' or Diario Oficial, it hasn't been enforced until now, because the group did not have even minimal enforcement methods in place. Now they do: a minimal ability only, to date. Administration of this fee will be by a system of wrist bands (brazaletes) which will be issued when one pays the fee. For example: A boat pulls out of La Paz heading north, planning to spend two days at La Partida, one at Isla San Francisco, one at Isla San Jose, and later one at Isla Monserrat, before putting in at Puerto Escondido. There are two people aboard, and they both plan to go ashore each day they are on the trip. They would need to purchase a total of 10 brazaletes, for 200 pesos, before they leave La Paz.

"Forget about taking your dog ashore for a run - dogs are NOT allowed ashore at all. People under 6 and over 60 are exempt from the fee, as well as 'residents', which includes foreign holders of FM 2 and 3 showing a local address. The fees are to be paid in La Paz (or Loreto), and although they should be dated, they will not be, in the hope that an honor system will work.  They are trying to be reasonable with boaters, understanding that weather and other factors don't allow cruisers to travel a specific route and date, as commercially run trips do. The fees can be paid at the Regional Office in La Paz (that is, one does not have to run off to the bank to pay, and come back to pick up the brazaletes). They will also probably be available from the kayak companies, the tour operators, and maybe here at the marina, at least for our clients (we are NOT anxious to get into the middle of this!).

"For the time being, if a patrol shows up and the persons ashore don't have brazaletes, the patrol crew will have brazaletes and receipts to sell them and not issue fines."

Sea of Cortez Race Week Rescheduled

March 28 - La Paz, BCS

A long-standing, much anticipated Mexico cruisers' event has some new competition in town. Tomas Daly, Jefe de Web for Club Cruceros de La Paz, explains the situation: "For many years Club Cruceros has organized an annual Race Week at Caleta Partida. However, this year an interesting problem cropped up which has necessitated a complete change in both the event and the schedule.

"Paradise Found, a local La Paz bar, planned a similar event for the same week as Club Cruceros' Race Week. Paradise Found advertised their event [called Island Madness] on their Web site and in their bar [and this week, on 'Lectronic Latitude]. While Club Cruceros would be at Caleta Partida, Paradise Found would be at Enseñada Grande which is located on Isla Partida around the corner from Caleta Partida.

"Paradise Found applied for a permit from the Mexican government to hold their event at Enseñada Grande, however the government declined that location, but permitted them for Caleta Partida. Clarke Waters, the owner of Paradise Found, contacted Race Week Chairman Marta Sutton after he found out that the government had moved his event to Caleta Partida. During a cordial meeting, it was agreed that both events could be held at Caleta Partida at the same time, as there is lots of beach space there.

"According to a flyer posted on the Club bulletin board by Marta Sutton, a few days later Clarke informed Club Cruceros that since the permit was in his name, Club Cruceros would not be welcome at Caleta Partida. The flyer goes on to say that, 'A meeting was then held with the governmental agency, that issues the permits, who attempted to arbitrate the problem to the satisfaction of all. Clarke was offered Enseñada Grande, but he complained that all his publicity was out for Caleta Partida. The arbitrator then suggested we share the cove. Club Cruceros agreed, but Clarke said there would be no room for the Club as he needs the whole beach to provide for the activities he has planned.'

"In light of this, Club Cruceros has decided to change the dates for Race Week to April 13 to 19, and the event will be held in La Paz rather than out at the island. The new tentative schedule is: Opening Day celebration beginning at 4 pm on the beach behind the Racing Club next to Vista Coral. This will feature dinghy races. There will be a major race on Wednesday, April 16, from Roca Lobo out to Isla Ballena, around Ballena, and back to Roca Lobo. During the week there will be daily activities on the beach, such as a Chili Cookoff, kids' activities, volleyball, and other beach games. Final information about this event will be posted on the Club bulletin board and announced on the 8 am radio net."

Some scenes from last year's Race Week:

Opening Day music

Chili Cookoff

Silly Beach Games at sunset
Photos Courtesy Club Cruceros de La Paz

The Club Cruceros event raises money to support many needy children in and around La Paz. For complete details on this revamped 20th edition of Race Week, see For more information on the new Paradise Found event, see

Pacific SAIL EXPO Update

March 28 - Oakland

The West Coast sailing community is gearing up for Pacific SAIL EXPO, coming to Jack London Square in Oakland from April 23 to April 27. The event draws showgoers not only from the San Francisco Bay Area, but from along the entire West Coast and from states west of the Mississippi. This year, just over 300 companies coming are from Asia, Europe, and 30 U.S. states to exhibit their yachts, services and products.

Among the yachts to be displayed at the docks are several new designs making debuts at the show, including the Catalina 387,Corsair 36, Grand Soleil 43, Swan 82, Tartan 4400, Tom 28. For details, see Also see the Pre-Show Planner, a full-color glossy insert in the April issue of Latitude 38, to be distributed starting Tuesday.


March 28 - The Pacific Ocean and Cyberspace

Who is out making passages in the Pacific and what kind of weather are they having? The YOTREPS daily yacht tracking page has moved to

Weather Updates

March 28 - 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

The National Weather Service site for San Francisco Bay is at

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 Winds and Pressure

The University of Hawaii Dept. of Meteorology page posts a daily map of the NE Pacific Ocean barometric pressure and winds.

Pacific Sea State

Check out the Pacific Ocean sea states at:
For views of sea states anywhere in the world, see

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