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January 14, 2008

Life in the Caribbean

Capt. Scotty and his family and crew romp along aboard the schooner Juno on the way to the Columbier anchorage.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Sunday is the Day of Rest in the Caribbean, so many of the locals and visiting sailors at St. Barth go for an abbreviated sail, then head over to the Columbier anchorage for a picnic, swimming, and some good old-fashioned chilling.

Among the boats that followed that tradition yesterday — and seen in the above photo — was the Nat Benjamin-designed 65-ft gaff schooner Juno that’s based out of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. Elegant in her simplicity, she was built using traditional methods by the Gannon and Benjamin Boatyard of Vineyard Haven. Promptly after her launching, she was sailed across the Atlantic to the Med, racking up a number of 200+ mile days in the process. She’s a lovely sight under sail.

If you’re looking for a beautiful and fast yacht, the Pacific Cup vet Mari-Cha III is on the market for $9,950,000.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Also looking lovely on the hook off Shell Beach was the great Briand 147 Mari-Cha III, which not only competed in the West Marine Pacific Cup a few years back — as did the 144-ft schooner Mari-Cha IV the next time around — but broke the monohull transatlantic sailing record. She’s a lovely proportioned yacht, the kind that really brightens up an anchorage.

The photo is not just of the ketch, but also of a weather anomaly — light winds and flat seas during the winter in the Caribbean. No matter if you call them Christmas Winds or Reinforced Trades, they normally blow like snot in the Eastern Caribbean from early December to at least early March. Even more troubling than the winds, of course, are the seas, which are big and relentless, having marched unimpeded across the Atlantic.

The winds blew strong and the seas were impressive all through Christmas, New Year’s, and the first week in January, but ever since it’s been quite calm with unusually flat seas. Even in the windiest years, you might see a day’s break in the strong trades and big seas, but it’s very rare to have it go on for more than a week. We’re told the calms are the result of a big low that’s interfered with the trades in the mid-Atlantic. We really don’t care about the cause, we’re just enjoying it. So are the skippers and crews of boats that have had to make what’s normally a rough crossing between the Virgins and St. Martin, or even up or down island.

Don’t expect John to be sailing anywhere cold anytime soon.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

One of those who took advantage of the mellow conditions for the sometimes rough sail between St. Martin and St. Barth was John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling. Anderton came through the Canal in ’01 and has been cruising the Caribbean ever since. He’s spent six summers in Trinidad, and during the winters sails up to the Virgins, then back down for hurricane season. He’s only been home to see family and friends twice in all that time, and wasn’t impressed with life back in the States and Canada. "Everybody just watches television and bitches and moans," he told us.

As far as Anderton is concerned, "there’s no greater place to sail in the world than between Antigua and St. Martin, thanks to the reliable winds and good weather." It’s been his experience that south of Guadeloupe, the winds are more boisterous, in part because the channels between the islands are narrower. Nonetheless, his three favorite islands are all down there: Dominica, St. Lucia, and Bequia. We’ll have more on Anderton and his adventures in the February issue of Latitude.

Injured Singlehander Calls Pub for Rescue

The story of British singlehander Alan Thompson’s mid-Atlantic rescue illustrates that there’s more than one way to call for help.

According to a story today in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, the 61-year-old fell and broke his pelvis while singlehanding his recently purchased 37-ft Hunter Legend Padolu from Florida to the UK. Unable to reach rescue resouces via radio, Thompson used his satellite phone to call a familiar number, his local pub in West Sussex. There, his friend Roger Pocock instituted a rescue effort by alerting the Falmouth Coastguard, who worked out a rescue plan with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Thompson was eventually rescued by U.S. Guardsmen, who got him safely aboard an oil tanker which had been diverted to the scene, 600 miles off Bermuda. The uninsured sloop was abandoned. "Sailing is his life," said Pocock, "It’s always been his passion. He’ll be very sad. This was his last big adventure."

Thompson’s story is further confirmation that every year sat phones play a larger roll in both coastal cruising and ocean passage-making as a primary rescue resource. 

Baby on Board

Peter and Antonia Murphy, who embarked last summer on what they called the Trans-Pacific Baby Project aboard their wildly painted Mariner 36 Sereia, welcomed their new deckhand, Silas Joseph Murphy, into the world at 2:23 p.m. on January 4. "Though a week early," Antonia wrote, "Silas already weighed nine pounds, thus proving our theory that massive quantities of French cheese and puff pastry make babies grow big and strong."

So what lies in store for the Murphy family? "Unless New Zealand kicks us out in June, we may well be here for a few years, teaching Silas how to tack and jibe." We’d like to say you can check their website for updates but it seems the exceedingly entertaining couple are considering putting the site on hold. "We don’t really want to transform our sailing adventure site into a ‘baby’s first gurgle’ site." They’re asking for opinions so hop on over and tell them how you really feel.

Funky Clearing Games

Over the last year or so, we’ve gotten several reports of cruisers having to pay big bucks to: 1) Use an agent; and 2) Clear out of Puerto Madero, which is at the very southeastern tip of mainland Mexico. Based on those reports, it was unclear if it was a scam or if local officials were coming up with a unique interpretation of the laws.

In any event, John Thompson —  who, along with Rick Canter, was crewing aboard Tom Marlow’s Sunnyvale-based Freedom 39 Ketch 22 — reports they had the same problem early in January. Having cleared out of Mexico at Huatulco, then crossed the Gulf of Tehauntepec, they stopped at Puerto Madero, 12 miles shy of the border with Guatemala, to buy diesel.

From left, Tom Marlow, John Thompson and Rick Canter ran into paperwork hassles in Puerto Madero, Mexico.

Ketch 22
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"A man showed up at the fuel dock, identified himself as a ship’s agent, and told us that we needed to hire him to check in with the port captain, and pay the port tax."

About two years ago, Mexico passed a law that recreational mariners didn’t need to use ship’s agents.

"We weren’t sure whether he was just trying to scare us to try to get money, or if it was really necessary," Thompson continues, "but we hired him. Tom and I spent about an hour and $28 driving to the port captain’s office and harbor office. This turned out to be cheap compared to what happened to another boat we met. The agent wanted $200 for helping them to get a zarpe!"

While Marlow and Thompson were gone, Canter had to host the crew of a military drug inspection boat and their dog. "The inspectors wanted to review the boat’s paperwork and complete a long form, but all the paperwork was with Tom and me while we were going to the various offices. Rick told the officers that we would call them on the radio when Tom returned with the paperwork."

That’s when frustration set in. "We got so aggravated with the all the useless paperwork that when Tom and I got back to the boat, we decided to just skip out on finishing the inspection and make a run for the border. So we cranked up the motor, getting six knots out of the boat, and motored out the long harbor entrance. Once clear, we set a course straight for Guatemala. For the next two hours we kept looking back, expecting to see a military boat racing after us. We were relieved when we finally crossed over into Guatemalan waters."

We’re not sure we’d recommend skipping out on anybody, but we sure wouldn’t try it on a drug interdiction team. After all, they’ve got fast boats, guns, and are used to dealing harshly with people.

If you’ve stopped at Puerto Madero recently, we’d like to hear about your experience. If you’re nearing that area, you might want to give it a pass.

Wednesday Three Bridge Fiasco Meeting

With all the miserable weather we’ve been getting this winter, this weekend’s sun and relatively light breeze were a welcome relief and we hope to see more of it, including for the upcoming Three Bridge Fiasco. Weather likely won’t matter to the single and doublehanded racers who’ll turn out January 26, to contest this zany Bay Area classic — the TBF is one of the few races anyplace where the racers choose the course (marks near the Bay’s three large bridges can be rounded in any order). Maybe that’s one reason it’s among the best-attended local events all year, typically drawing upward of 200 boats. The skipper’s meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, January 16, at the Oakland YC, although entries will be accepted throughout the following week when accompanied by a $15 late fee. For more info on the TBF, check out the sponsoring Singlehanded Sailing Society’s website at You can find this and nearly any event in Latitude 38‘s Sailing Calendar, an indispensable one-stop guide to sailing in Northern California. Pick one up today and plan your season before it starts!

A 300-ft oil barge carrying more than 2.6 million gallons of heavy black oil struck the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last night around 6 p.m.
Francis Joyon’s trip up the Atlantic Ocean so far has been anything but an easy home stretch for his non-stop solo round-the-world record attempt.
"I just returned from Ecuador after answering a Crew Wanted ad posted by a woman skipper," Dave Hohman wrote to us in an email.
Jerry Eaton of the Belvedere-based Hallberg rassy 43 Blue Heron, the only West Coast boat to participate in the last Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, reported in January’s Changes that he, along with crew Wyman Harris and Walter Sanford, had a great time in the ARC.