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Photo of the Day

May 2 - Cape Town, South Africa

Today's Photo of the Day is of one of the amateur-crewed entries in the Global Challenge 2004/5 departing Cape Town, South Africa, with cloud-shrouded Table Mountain in the background. Lovely, no?

Photo courtesy onEdition Photography

America's Cup Fever Alive And Well, With 12 Official Entries

May 2 - Valencia, Spain

We're personally not big fans of the America's Cup, but we have to admit, it has an amazing attraction. At the end of the last Cup, a lot of experts said that only a couple of teams would be willing to put up fortunes to get slaughtered by Alinghi and BMW Oracle's $150 million efforts. Well, it turns out there are 12 teams who have officially signed up, and it is the most diverse field in the 154 years of the event. Five continents are represented, as well as teams from three countries - China, South Africa, and Germany - competing for the first time.

The entries are: Team Alinghi, Victory Challenge, BMW ORACLE Racing, China Team/Le Défi, Emirates Team New Zealand, Team Shosholoza, Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team; Luna Rossa Challenge; +39 Challenge; K-Challenge; Desafío Español; United Internet Team Germany/Fresh Seventeen.

Two Teenagers Saved After Six Days In The Atlantic On A Sunfish

May 2 - Atlantic Ocean

Troy Driscoll, 15, and his best friend, Josh Long, 18, set sail from Sulllivan's Island, South Carolina, aboard a 14-ft Sunfish on April 24 when small craft warnings were flying. They immediately got into trouble and tried to swim back to shore, but ended up having to cling to the little boat. They had no food or water. Somehow they managed to survive for six days at sea, splitting the use of a wetsuit at night when it was cold, and taking cold dips in the ocean during the day when they got hot.

Nonetheless, Driscoll told reporters that by the end, he was so tired he wanted God to take his life. Fortunately, a fishing boat wandered by before the Almighty could get around to fulfilling the request. By that time they were 111 miles from where they started, and outside of the area Coast Guard models suggested they would be. The Coast Guard is scratching their heads wondering how their drift models could have been so wrong.

Port Captains In Mexico Told To Obey Directive That Eliminated Domestic Clearing

May 2 - Mexico City

Tere Grossman of Marina San Carlos, and five other members of the Mexico Marina Owners Association, traveled to Mexico City for meetings with government officials on April 25-26 to work out the implementation of the new reglamente that eliminates 'domestic clearing' as it had been known - and hated - by cruisers in Mexico.

The April 19 reglamente (or directive) from President Fox stated that as of that date, mariners would no longer have to jump through the traditional port captain to immigration to aduana to the bank and back to port captain hoops while tossing money in the air just because they had arrived in a new port captain jurisdiction. Thanks to the directive, all that's required now is that the port captain or a marina be "informed" of the arrival or departure of a vessel. (This does not, of course, eliminate the need for a boat to clear into Mexico at the first port of entry, and out of Mexico at her last port in Mexico.)

The big question everyone wanted answered, of course, is what constitutes "informing" a marina or port captain. Can it be done over the radio - as Grossman is battling for - or will the port captain or marina have to be visited during working hours and something put in writing? A final written decision is expected in a week or two. How this question is answered will determine if the new rule is a complete victory for visiting mariners or just a partial victory.

Other issues discussed included what to do about boats that are already in Mexico but which no longer have their clearing papers from their original port of entry. What to do with boats that are trailered into Mexico. And whether port captains can require that mariners use a ship's agent when clearing into Mexico for the first time and clearing out of Mexico. Grossman was promised that port captains won't be able to require that mariners use agents, but she hasn't got it in writing yet.

The new rules took effect on April 19, but compliance has not been universal on the part of port captains. Grossman reports that Jose Lozano, the Executive Director of Mexico's Merchant Marine, reiterated that the new policy indeed went into effect on April 19, and said that all port captains were reminded of the change in policy a week later.

Grossman tells Latitude that Lozano is asking all mariners to provide him with specifics if any port captain tells them - as some have - that the policy doesn't take effect for a few months, or that a ship's agent can be required to "inform" marinas and/or port captains of arrivals and departures, or if any other aspects of the old system are required. So if you come across a port captain who is not adhering to the new policy, carefully note the specifics - what port captain, what district, the date, the time, the name of your boat, and your name. For the time being, send this information to richard, and we'll get that information to Lozano. We hope to have a direct email address for Lozano in a day or two. But the bottom line is that port captains will not be permitted to ignore implementation of the reglamente.

Only You Can Make Sure Domestic Clearing Stays Eliminated!

May 2 - Mexico

While the new regulations are sensational news for cruisers, make no mistake that some folks are very unhappy about it. Among them:

-The Secretary of the Mexican Navy. We're not sure why he objects. Perhaps it's simply because it's a change in a very old policy.

- Some port captains are also very unhappy because it means a loss of revenue for their office. On the Pacific Coast, most port captains charged about $20 in fees to check in and about $20 to check out, which we understand is the correct amount. However, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, there have been reports of port captains charging as much as hundreds of dollars to clear boats.

- Perhaps the biggest losers will be ship's agent and clearing services, for it generated a lot of income for them. It's not been uncommon for ship's agents to charge $35 in fees to clear a boat in, and $40 to clear the same boat out the next day. This wasn't a problem when using an agent was optional, but in some places - such as Puerto Vallarta and up until recently, Mazatlan - it was mandatory.

To give you a context for the $40 fee to do the paperwork to clear a single boat out, consider this: minimum wage for a full day of work in Mexico is about $4 U.S. A laborer makes about $15 U.S. a day. A security guard makes about $16 U.S. a day. A house girl makes about $17 U.S. a day. Given that context, and the fact that some ship's agents can clear four or five boats in a couple of hours, a $40 fee always struck us as being excessive if not outrageous.

Because the fees have been so high, there has long been widespread speculation in the cruising community that there must have been kickbacks to either officials or marinas or somebody. We don't know if this is true, but we'd be lying if we said the thought hadn't crossed our minds, too. This is particularly true in certain situations, such as at San Blas a couple of years ago, or when a port captain suddenly decides that a ship's agent has to be used when they were never required before. After all, if just 100 boats check-in and out during a month, the agent's fees alone could come to nearly $8,000 - a large sum of money in Mexico.

Grossman tells us that some ship's agents, such as Vilma in Puerto Vallarta, realize that her income is going to take a big hit, but nonetheless see the new rules as a victory for Mexico because it makes the country more attractive for boat tourism.

Other losers are some marinas, which had been 'delegated' to do the clearing for port captains. They also will be losing a lot of money. Tere Grossman freely volunteered the fact that Marina San Carlos made a good profit from handling such paperwork. But she believes getting rid of domestic clearing is in the best long term interests of marinas such as hers, and of Mexico. It's a similar case with Enrique Fernandez, who for a long time had been the manager of Marina Cabo San Lucas. He battled to get rid of domestic clearing even though his wife ran the ship's agent's office next door and stood to lose a lot of income.

Because the new policy came in the form of a reglamente rather than a new law, it's possible - although not probable - that it could be rescinded at some time in the future. This is why we could use everyone's help once again. You see, during her visit to Mexico City, Grossman presented Lozano with copies of more than 100 emails - most of them from Latitude readers - in support of the reglamente. He was very impressed. The large number of favorable emails was also reported on in the Mexico City newspapers.

We made the suggestion - and Grossman agreed - that it could be very beneficial if as many of us as possible would take just a few minutes to send a simple email thanking the key officials for the change, and letting them know that it makes us more likely to visit Mexico, stay longer, and spend more money. Hopefully, this would 'seal the deal', and virtually eliminate the chance of the reglamente ever being rescinded. We're in the process of finding out exactly who to send these emails to. When we find out, we'll let you know, and we'll count on your assistance. If we could get 500 emails to the right people, it would have a tremendous effect. And trust us, if you haven't cruised Mexico before, getting rid of the 'domestic clearing' is tremendous progress.

The Secrets on How to Come North from Southern California

May 2 - Santa Barbara

Doña de Mallorca and her crew on Profligate made the trip north from Santa Barbara to Sausalito last Friday with the greatest of ease. The secrets, as always, were patience and timing, as the crew encountered no wind and flat seas.

What makes things so much better these days is the greater accuracy of longer range - three to seven day - weather forecasts from folks like Commanders Weather or services such as www.buoyweather.com.

Santa Barbara Yacht Harbor, as seen from the compass rose on Stearns Wharf, on departure morning after a night of rain.

By the way, check out the Southern California sunset, with the orange ball dropping behind West End, Catalina.
Photos Latitude/Doña

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