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March 28, 2008

Our Fling with Gitana 13

Some lucky Latitude crew were treated to the ride of a lifetime yesterday. They’re still smiling this morning.

© Peter Lyons

We used to think of the Bay as a big place. Until yesterday. That’s when we learned that, with the right boat, the Bay is not very big at all. And we sure were aboard the right boat: Gitana 13, the 110-ft French catamaran that set a new 43-day record from New York to San Francisco just last month.

Since press junkets on giant multihulls aren’t exactly something we deal with on a regular basis, we were as unsure of what to expect as everyone arriving at Corinthian YC for the shoreboat ride out to Gitana. Although the sun was out, clouds and even rain had been forecast — and worse, the Bay seemed devoid of wind. As it turned out, the day could not have been more perfect if we’d special ordered it. Under brilliant skies and about 8-10 knots of breeze, our ‘two-hour tour’ began.

Flying ahull aboard the maxi-cat Gitana 13.

latitude/John A
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

First we beat out the Gate and beyond Point Bonita in bumpy water and perhaps 15 knots of wind. The big boat didn’t seem to like beating any more than any other boat, but she did it at wind speed or better. As impressive as that was, it hardly prepared us for when skipper Lionel Lemonchois turned around and cracked off. Gitana almost leapt out of the water, she accelerated so quickly — 20, 26, and a burst to 30! Holy s**t! Did we just see that? Did that just happen? It was all the more deceptive because the boat doesn’t fuss much at speed. Did we just say "doesn’t fuss?" Hey, the thing rides like it’s on rails.

A jibe or three later — the boat carries so much apparent wind around with her they barely let the traveler down — we were under the Bay Bridge. Wait a minute: weren’t we just out at Point Bonita, like, 20 minutes ago? Well, maybe 25.

Latitude racing editor Rob Grant (right) manned the coffee grinder with Gitana crewman (and famed Japanese solo sailor) Koji Shiraishi.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Turning back toward Tiburon, Lemonchois headed Gitana across the Slot. And just like that, we doing high 20s again — and flying ahull! On a 110-ft catamaran with 28 people aboard! And only 9 of them were crew and knew what they were doing! While the guests were whooping and hollering, the crew kind of smiled politely then continued their conversations with each other as though we were all sitting at the dock. And just in case someone missed it, the skipper fell off a bit and did it again, even higher and longer. It was like he was sailing a Hobie Cat. . . a really, really big Hobie Cat.

By 4:15 p.m., we were back on the dock. We’d done the equivalent of a ‘Two Bridge Fiasco’ — and sailed back to Tiburon — in a little more than 90 minutes. Even though we have the pictures to prove it, we’re still pinching ourselves, just to make sure.

Managing Editor John Riise has a new lady love – and her name is Gitana.

© 2008 Peter Lyons

If all goes as planned, Gitana 13 will depart the Bay on Saturday for an attempt at the 4,482-mile San Francisco to Yokohama record, which was set in 2006 by the 110-ft French trimaran Geronimo: 14 days, 22 hours, 40 minutes. We will watch her go with a skip of the heart — like everyone who has an exciting but brief love affair.

Marina Nuevo Vallarta For Real

Cruisers – and especially commuter cruisers – looking for less expensive yet brand new berthing on Banderas Bay, should take a look at the plans for the new Marina Nuevo Vallarta. Paradise Marina is just across the way.

Marina Nuevo Vallarta
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

One of the most familiar consumer axioms is: When businesses compete, the customer wins.

Usually that’s true, but when it comes to berthing at new marinas in Mexico, they don’t always compete. Some marinas keep very high prices despite the fact that they have countless empty slips. We Americans don’t understand this thinking. We figure they would be smarter to cut their prices in half and fill the marinas rather than lose out on the income that can’t ever be recovered. And once the marina fills, the management can then jack up the prices. Mexican businessmen don’t always see it that way.

But fortunately, some do. As such, we’re pleased to announce that Marina Nuevo Vallarta, which was poorly designed from the outset and then was allowed to become a wreck, is starting to rebuild as a luxury marina — with prices that are close to 30% lower than their competitors.

Part of dilapidated Marina Nuevo Vallarta as of yesterday. The boats are in ‘The Sticks’, meaning they are tied up between two pilings. All the pilings and docks will be removed and/or replaced. That’s Marina Paradise in the background.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Marina Nuevo Vallarta is located about five miles north of Puerto Vallarta proper, and is just across the way from Paradise Marina. In fact, the two marinas share the channel in from the sea.

There are currently 88 boats in the marina, some nice, some not fit for sea. As for the slips . . . well, they were built about 15 years ago and were crap from the start. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were all 30-ft slips. They’ve been torn apart to accommodate boats mostly in the 40- to 60-ft range. It’s a real mess — but cheap, at about one-third the price of other marinas.

Emilio Oyarzabal Garcia, a very nice fellow who is the Director General of the project and the son of one of the Monterey, Mexico-based partners, tells us they are tearing everything down and will be putting in a total of 230 slips. Of these, 65 will be less than 30 feet, while there will be 39 41-ft slips, 24 46-ft slips, 25 56-ft slips, and a bunch of larger ones.

Here’s the good part. Oyarzabal tells us that slip fees for a 44-footer — the average size of boats in the Ha-Ha — will be just $649 a month, plus 15% tax. That’s 25 to 30% less than the other marinas in the Bay. So, not only is Banderas Bay getting another 150 berths it didn’t have before, the pricing is going to put pressure on some of the other marinas not to raise their prices much more — and who knows, maybe even lower them a bit.

Marina Nuevo Vallarta may not have as many on-site facilities as Paradise Marina, be as convenient to town as Marina Vallarta, or be located next to such a cool town as the Nayarit Marina, but we think that lots of cruisers — particularly commuter cruisers — will jump at the chance to get a big discount  at a brand new luxury facility. One that is also going to have a fuel dock.

Emilio Oyarzabal Garcia, a very nice guy who is fluent in English, points to the old facilities, which are soon to be torn down. If you’re going to commuter cruise on Banderas Bay next year, and want the least expensive berthing in the area, we’d email him today. Not mañana by which time you’ll have forgotten, but today.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While Oyarzabal plans to be at the Ha-Ha kick-off party in October, you can make reservations right now by emailing him. During our visit with Emilio yesterday, he also told us that boatowners will soon be able to make reservations online "just like at a hotel."

If you’re planning on coming to Banderas Bay next season, and particularly if you will be a commuter cruiser, we suggest you email Emilio immediately. One reason is because 190-berth Marina Paradise, despite Harbormaster Dick Markie’s drive to accommodate as many boats as possible, was jammed this season. A second reason is that Marina Vallarta, with 350 berths, was also jammed all this season. A third reason is that Marina Riviera Nayarit is the most expensive marina on Banderas Bay.

Oyarzabal showed us the molds for the docks, which will soon be made by the same outfit that built all the docks for the Marina Riviera Nayarit. We’re told that the marina will be done in two stages, with most of the larger slips to be done in time for the start of the next cruising season. We can’t guarantee that will happen, but we have seen what lightning fast progress was made by the contractor at Marina Nayarit, and the folks at Nuevo Vallarta don’t have to build a breakwater or even dredge. The whole marina won’t be done by November, but we could see a bunch of the larger size slips being ready. If everything goes well, all the berths will be in a year from now.

Think of it, 550 new slips having been added to Banderas Bay over an 18-month period. It couldn’t have happened in a better place. Better still — hundreds of boats can still anchor on the bay for free.

Apologies for Irving Johnson

If you were one of the several readers who made your way to the Bay Model in Sausalito Wednesday night to catch two films on Irving Johnson only to find they weren’t being shown, please accept our apologies. The notice for this event had the wrong date listed in it — the actual showing date was way back in February! If the films are presented again in the future, we’ll be sure to let you know in ‘Lectronic . . . after double checking the dates!

The Old Fijian Backpeddle

We don’t want to say ‘we told you so’, but when Fiji recently announced that it was going to reduce the time foreign yachts were allowed to stay from nine months to three months, we suggested cruisers not get excited. Our thinking was that as soon as the Fijian marine and associated industries gave the government an earful of the money they would lose, the government would do an about-face faster than a disco dancer from the ’70s. And that’s exactly what happened.

The other country that announced similar limitations was Tonga. If they haven’t caved yet also, we expect them to shortly.

Boaters and their families celebrating Easter Sunday at Marina Village had a holiday they’d probably rather not remember when the body of a berther was found floating next to his boat.
If you’re a fan of ‘real’ reality shows, skip tonight’s American Idol, Wife Swap, Supernanny and Big Brother 9, and head on over to the Bay Model in Sausalito to catch a couple of historic Captain Irving Johnson films.