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February 1, 2008

It’s All About the Kids

These young scholars from the Nueva Creación School seem genuinely happy to be receiving a primary school education. Thanks to the generosity of the cruising community, they now learn within modern classrooms rather than in a crumbling wooden shack.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

To the casual observer, the annual five-day Zihua SailFest would appear to simply be a gathering of cruising sailors focused on frivolous fun. But it has a much deeper and more serious purpose. Every aspect of the event, from the chili cook-off to the parade of sail to the live music concert generates income for a non-profit dedicated to building and funding schools for disadvantaged local children.

During a visit Wednesday to the Nueva Creación School, several dozen cruisers saw firsthand the result of past Z-Fest fundraising, as this six-classroom school was built almost entirely from cruiser donations. Most of the students here are from extremely poor indigenous families who would otherwise have little access to education. So this school, and the partial funding of 15 others, is something the cruising community can be proud of. You only have to observe the smiling faces of these kids to realize that they are truly happy to be receiving an education. One look into their big brown eyes and you too would be moved to aid their cause.

Retired school teacher and itinerant juggler Louis Kruk of the SF-based Beneteau 42 Cirque wows the kids with his prowess.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

For further info on this worthwhile project see Z-Fest continues today with a pursuit race in Zihua Bay and a Parade of Sail on Saturday. Look for a complete report in the March edition of Latitude 38.

Singlehander Dealing with Bad Weather

Kiwi Robert Botha left the Bay aboard Flyer on January 9 bound for his homeland.

© 2008 Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson of Orangevale reported this morning that Robert Botha, who left San Francisco solo on January 9 aboard his Alberg 30 Flyer en route to his native New Zealand, has been pounded by storm after storm since leaving the Bay. Botha, who was part of Rutherford’s Boat Shop’s restoration crew for the stunning 126-ft 1901 steam yacht Cangarda which was relaunched last September, spent the fall refitting Flyer for the trip. He’s been communicating with his wife Lydia Mondino via sat phone and email, who has then passed on his progress to his circle of friends.

Botha has been using his sat phone to keep his wife Lydia updated.

© Mike Robinson

"Flyer‘s main blew out the week of January 14," Robinson told Latitude. "Bobby jury-rigged it so it was still useable, but then on January 26 he was hit by another storm that pinned him on the foredeck for 2 1/2 hours trying to reduce sail and deal with a fouled halyard. Then his self steering vane broke so he’s been hand steering down big seas in fear of broaching.

"Bobby was able to deploy his sea anchor on Tuesday and heave to but he’s still stuck in the shipping lane so he notified the Coast Guard of his situation. They’ve issued a Safety Alert to all vessels within 300 miles and are standing by to assist him if he doesn’t think he can make it.

"Yesterday Bobby lost his sea anchor and the seas were building again but in today’s email he reports having been able to successfully rig the tiller with bungees so he can get some rest. His current position is N 17° 34′ W 130° 34′." In the middle of nowhere, in other words.

We’ll keep you updated on Botha’s progress but in the meantime, we’re sending all our best vibes to Botha and his wife.

Bound for Glory – Groupama and Gitana

Franck Cammas’ Groupama 3 is one of two giant multihulls currently in pursuit of long-distance sailing records.

© Yvan Zedda

Two giant mulithulls continue to blast south through the Atlantic as you read this. One is Franck Cammas’ 105-ft trimaran Groupama 3. The other is Gitana 13, the 110-ft cat skippered by Lionel Lemonchois. The former is bound nonstop round the world from Ushant to Ushant in the Trophée Jules Verne. The latter is bound from New York to San Francisco. Both are ‘bound for glory’ in the pursuit of new sailing records.

Groupama 3 departed on January 24 and has been stretching out a lead from the very start over current Jules Verne record holder, Bruno Peyron’s 125-ft cat Orange II, which set the current record of 50 days, 16 hours in 2005. Groupama 3 has already broken the Ushant-Equator mark (6 days, 6 hours), and yesterday reeled off 685 miles (28.5-knot average) in 24 hours. She is currently running 680 miles ahead Orange II’s pace in her 28,000-mile run around the globe.

At last report this morning, Groupama 3 had passed 20°S and was starting to bend left, surfing the tradewinds of the St. Helena High toward Cape Town and beyond. For the most up-to-date reports, log onto

Meanwhile, over off Argentina, Gitana 13 is lining up for one of the trickiest sections of their 14,000-mile run from New York to San Francsico: rounding Cape Horn. The big cat, just two weeks out of the Big Apple, was also hitting speeds into the mid-20s yesterday, but near the end of the day, they dropped below 10 knots as Lemonchois and his nine-man crew negotiated a minefield of weather systems on the way to Tierra del Fuego. At last report yesterday, they were 25 miles offshore, not far from Cape Blanco, Argentina, in dead calm. By now, they should be riding a strong north wind southward as fast as possible. If all goes as planned, G-13 should make it through the Lemaire Channel tonight.

Old Cape Stiff won’t be so easy. The major roadblock for sailors for centuries could easily play havoc with one more sailboat. “At this point, we’re not sure we’ll be able to make it around Cape Horn on our first go,” writes Lemonchois in his online log. “The window is very narrow, and given the forecast of strong winds, if we don’t take it Saturday morning, we may have to take shelter until 4 February.”
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Life Aboard in the French West Indies

A cool and rainy day in the Eastern Caribbean. This is Latitude’s R&C 45 ‘ti Profligate, as seen from Tim Schaff’s R&C 45 Jet Stream.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Some folks are under the impression that it never gets cold in the Caribbean. Well, last night the temperature plummeted to a near frigid 71 degrees. It was so cold that several thin-blooded locals were actually seen wearing long pants, which are novelty items on the island. For those who got too cold, there was a quick way to get warm — jump in the 82 degree water.

The Martinique version of Vaval goes up in flames on Ash Wednesday.

© 2008 Pierre de Martinique

Fortunately, the daytime temps will be back in the low 80s today for the Carnival School Parade, during which time all the costumed kids on little St. Barth will march through the streets of Gustavia. Carnival falls very early this year, with February 5th being Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. At midnight on Tuesday, all the celebrations end on the Brit or formerly Brit Islands. But not on the French Islands, where the really big deal of Carnival is Wednesday the 6th, which is Mercredi des Cendres or Ash Wednesday. On that day the revelers dress in black and white costumes, and that night Vaval, the spirit of French Caribbean Carnival, is taken to Shell Beach and burned. It’s sort of like a mini Burning Man, but with lots more young French girls in sexy outfits dancing to a Caribbean beat.

But we’re here for work, and we can’t think of a better place to have a winter office of Latitude than in St. Barth. The reason is simple — sailing and sailors permeate the island life. When we’re in St. Barth, the interesting sailors, sailing news, and great yachts all but come to us. If you’re a sailing junkie, this is the place to get your fix.

Last night, for example, we were in Le Select Bar when we bumped into Luc Poupon — brother of former round-the-world record holder Phillipe Poupon, who also lives on the little island — who is a fine and still very active transocean racer. We started talking about the great Francis Joyon, who as you all know just set the around-the-world record with his 97-ft trimaran IDEC. Luc had a funny story to illustrate the kind of guy Joyon is.

If we’re to believe Luc Poupon, Francis Joyon painted his 90-ft trimaran IDEC in two hours using “normal” paint from a hardware store.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"One day IDEC, Joyon’s sponsor, said that they’d like his trimaran —  not the current one, but the previous 90-footer he raced around the world — to be painted red for greater publicity value. Francis said that was fine, went to the local hardware store, bought some normal red paint, got in his dinghy and started going around the boat painting the hulls. In two hours he was done. That’s Joyon!"

When we asked if Luc knew where Joyon was sailing next, Luc said that he would be arriving right here in St. Barth very soon with his family.

"On the maxi trimaran IDEC?"

"No, no, no. Francis collected a bunch of stuff from old boats and put together a 36-ft cruising catamaran. He’ll be sailing here from France with his family aboard the little cat. That’s Joyon, too!"

A couple of hours earlier, we’d bumped into South African Peter Pixton, who we’d met in the mid-’80s in Antigua when he was the captain of the Ocean 75 Ocean Mermaid, a slightly larger sistership to the Ocean 71 Big O we owned back then. For the last bunch of years, Peter has been working for Tom Hill, who has owned about 25 racing boats named Titan. Peter actually runs the mother ship, which is Hill’s 115-ft sailboat, but also crews on the race boats. In a five-minute conversation, we learned:

1. That having done Malta’s Middle Sea Race last summer, Hill had sold his R-P 77 Titan.

2. That Hill was having a R-P 80 built in the Northeast, a boat that would hopefully be done in time for the next Miami to Jamaica Race. Hill holds the record for that event and doesn’t intend to have anyone else take it.

3. That Hill bought a Q boat, similar to Cotton Blossom, the Q boat Dennis Conner bought and restored in California, so Hill could also do the classic regattas.

4. That Dennis Conner had recovered at least part of the fortune he’d spent restoring Cotton Blossom by selling her for somewhere in the $1 million range in Europe, where classic wood boats are king.

Dennis Conner reportedly sold Cotton Blossom for somewhere around $1 million.

Cotton Blossom
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The next day, Tim Schaaf and Marsha McCroskie sailed in from the British Virgins aboard their Robertson & Caine 45 cat Jet Stream. Lots of Mexico vets will remember Tim as the Dockmaster at Cabo Isle Marina for many years, and as one of the main guys behind saving all the boats tossed up on the beach at Puerto Escondido by hurricane Marty.

Tim and Marsha do "sailing and golf" charters on their cat in the British Virgins, but having a break, and seeing a great weather window, had made the 130-mile sail to St. Barth. Usually it’s a bitch coming across the Anegada Passage in winter, sort of like the worst of a Baja Bash. But thanks to some strange weather, they managed to motor across with light following winds. It was like getting a southerly for the Baja Bash.

Tim and Marsha aboard their British Virgins-based R&C 45 charterboat Jet Stream.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Tim told us he was disappointed he hadn’t been here a few days earlier when Mike Harker of Wanderlust 3 had come through in the process of completing an 11-month circumnavigation. "I was the Dockmaster in Cabo when Mike was about to do the Baja Bash in ’01, and the thing that I recall was how disillusioned he was with sailing. He gave me the impression that he was going to sell his boat as soon as he got to California, and that would be it for his brief sailing career. To think that he’s done about 55,000 miles since then, mostly singlehanded, is very interesting to me."

Tim also told us a few of the invariably hilarious charter related stories. For example, a friend of his with a Lagoon 55 was doing one of his first charters with a strange couple and their two kids. As they approached Trellis Bay and the drop-off at the end of the charter, as per the contract, the captain couldn’t wait to get rid of the guests. But suddenly the woman demanded to be dropped off at Road Town instead. The captain said he was sorry, but he was following the contract, and that they’d be dropped off at Trellis Bay. The next thing the skipper knew, the police, weapons drawn, were coming up to board his cat. It turns out that the angry woman had disabled the boat’s VHF, then got on her cell phone and called the police to tell them that she and her family had been kidnapped and were being held hostage! It took almost no time for the police to decide who was the real nut in this case, so it was all over. But the story will live on in the lore of Caribbean chartering.

We and Schaff also had a good laugh about how insanely inefficient things are in the Caribbean compared to the States. He told us about the Ice Man at the Anegada Reef Hotel. "If you go to the hotel and want ice, and it’s the Ice Man’s day off, you can’t get any ice, even if there are six other staff members on duty and the freezer is full of ice. ‘No ice today,’ they’ll tell you, ‘it be the Ice Man day off!’ Then again, if the Ice Man is working, and has bagged 20 bags of ice, but still has 20 more to go, you have no choice but to wait. The Ice Man will absolutely not sell any ice until he’s bagged every single bag." By the way, Anegada is remote and ice is hard to come by, so it’s $7 a bag.

Here’s to hoping that everyone back home is warmer than the locals are here, and that your Mercredi des Cendres is a wild one.

PHOTO On the penultimate day of the Acura Key West Race Week presented by Nautica, Newport Beach sailmaker Dave Ullman and his Pegasus 505 crew were lying in fourth place, 11 points out of first in the 46-boat Melges 24 class.
The 5th Annual San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, the first of its kind in North America, kicks off Friday at the Cowell Theater in the Fort Mason Center, and runs through the weekend.