April 9, 2008

The Buzz on Killer Bees in the Tropics

Using the first of two extinguishers, the courageous Wanderer drove away the bees.

latitude/Doña ‘Unstung’ de Mallorca
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Thanks to the accidental release of 26 Tanzanian queen bees in Brazil in 1957, cruisers have had another thing to worry about — swarming ‘killer bees’. There have been a number of reports from cruisers of being attacked or threatened in Central America and Mexico this season, and we got our first taste of them just a few days ago while sailing into La Paz on Profligate.

We were just outside of Pichilingue when the first of several hundred — maybe several thousand, as we weren’t counting — arrived. Curiously, they seemed intent on entering the opening in the back of our boom which, until a month ago, had been home to several bird nests. Presumably they were looking for a new location for a hive.

Swarming ‘Western bees’, as are common in the United States, are generally harmless because they aren’t protecting a hive. But the ‘killer bees’, considered to be "hyper defensive," are a different story, as they have more guard bees, respond to threats over a larger area, and are relentless when they attack. While their venom is not stronger than that of Western bees, there is a greater chance of death because victims tend to get more stings.

On Profligate, the response of the crew was as follows: John Foy, who is allergic to bee venom, headed inside the boat and began sealing it up while looking for his Epi-Pens, which are made for fast and simple injections of epinephrine. John’s wife Gilly and Doña de Mallorca headed for the bow. The Wanderer, having read several years before in Latitude that bees hate being sprayed with dry chemical fire extinguishers, grabbed a couple of the white canisters and uncharacteristically went on the offensive.

We can report that, in our incident, the killer bees wanted no part of dry chemicals. It didn’t seem to make them mad, but rather made them want to find another location for a hive. Groups of them returned four times, each time heading for the opening at the end of the boom. But each time they were relatively easily driven away with a couple of blasts of dry chem.

So based on our experience, dry chem extinguishers aren’t just for fires anymore. If you’ve had a killer bee experience, we’d like to hear about it.

BMW Oracle Confirms Multihull

Coming as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the America’s Cup saga, BMW Oracle Racing officially announced that a multihull build is underway in Anacortes, Washington. The team’s last two IACC boats were built on tooling sourced from Janicki Industries in nearby Sedro-Woolley and this boat will be no different. Although the team hasn’t yet officially announced it, most pundits and educated observers believe that, at 90 feet by 90 feet, the boat will almost certainly be a trimaran.

How do you feel about the upcoming Deed of Gift multihull America’s Cup match? Do you feel it will be the worst or the best thing to happen to the Cup — or is there a middle ground to this question? We’d love to hear your answer and a quick explanation in 75 words or less. Send your thoughts to our racing desk.

Snickers Rescue is Imminent

After our March 24 ‘Lectronic Latitude story about the grim future for two pets abandoned by their American owners on Fanning Island after their boat wrecked on the atoll, we received a hopeful email from a dog and parrot lover in Nevada who wanted to save both animals.

TaoJones, as he prefers to be known, has spent countless hours working to get Gulliver the parrot and Snickers the dog off of Fanning and back in the U.S. With the invaluable help of Robby and Lorraine Coleman, American cruisers who are on Fanning aboard their Angelman ketch Southern Cross, not to mention the efforts of Rigo Neira of the Hawaiian Humane Society to cut through the red tape, it appears that Snickers will be the first to escape a terrible fate.

Through their tireless communications with the U.S. government, the state of Hawaii and Norwegian Cruise Lines, the necessary equipment — crates, food, flea powder, paperwork, etc. — are on their way to Fanning as you read this. The Colemans will deliver Snickers to the crew of the appropriately named Pride of Aloha where he’ll be treated as an honored guest of the captain while on the way to Hawaii. TaoJones will be there to greet Snickers and whisk him away to his new home where he’ll be loved and cared for. Miraculously, this will be the last time a NCL ship will stop at Fanning.

If U.S. officials don’t bend the rules, Gulliver – who responds excitedly to English – will eventually be killed.

© 2008 Lorraine Coleman

Gulliver’s fate, however, looks grim. Though he has a leg band, there is no number inscribed on it. TaoJones’ research leads him to believe that the bird may have been bred illegally. "If he were properly banded and registered when he was a hatchling, I think it might be possible to re-patriate him to the U.S.," he said. "The way the authorities here look at it, he’s possibly the product of illegal trade in endangered species, or he may be infected with avian influenza, or both. As I’m sure you know, bureaucrats aren’t in the habit of sticking their necks out, and making exceptions, but I will continue to work for Gulliver’s rescue."

While the local authorities want nothing more than to see Gulliver, who has many friends on the island, find his way home, the Kiribati government takes a dim view on illegally imported animals, especially birds, and are pressuring the Fanning officials to destroy him. "If they can be persuaded that many people are working in Gulliver’s behalf," surmised TaoJones, "perhaps they can grant him more time while we try to find a solution."

We’ll keep you updated on any developments but, in the meantime, if you know of any government officials who could help Gulliver, contact LaDonna.


Gitana 13 Within 100 Miles of Yokohama

Gitana 13 looks set to finish her San Francisco to Yokohama record attempt early this evening, taking more than three days off the existing record.

Gitana 13
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Despite battling a confused sea state and winds ranging from 15 to 58 knots, Gitana 13 is rapidly closing in on Yokohama with a lead of nearly 1,000 miles over current record holder Geronimo. As of 10:30 a.m. PDT, skipper Lionel Lemonchois and his crew of 10 were 92 miles from the finish, sailing a beam reach at speeds of 17 knots in 15 knots of wind under reduced sail.

“We are in the home stretch and there’s no way we can rush things," Lemonchois said. "We’re making headway with care, trying to prevent too much pressure on the gear." At this point Gitana 13 looks set to finish in roughly five hours, with a total time of just over 11 days. If they’re able to keep the pace, this multi-national crew will have taken more than three days off the time set by Olivier de Kersauson’s Geronimo in 2006.

Besame’s Close Call

A marine insurance industry professional in Southern California sent us an incident report from the 100-ft Northstar motoryacht Besame. The report, filed on March 5, details an attempted boarding by suspected pirates in international waters off Mexico.

It appears Besame had left Zihua in the morning, bound for Tenacatita, and by evening were about 20 miles offshore doing a little fishing. Around 7 p.m., they were hailed on VHF 16 by a "Mexican Navy Ship" and asked a seemingly normal series of questions: How many persons onboard? Where is the vessel registered? and so on. The crew of Besame were then informed that the Navy wanted to board the boat for a "routine inspection."

The owner and captain were suspicious when the Navy ship wouldn’t identify itself — "That is secret," they were told — but stopped the boat and waited for the boarding party. In the meantime, they also called the Coast Guard via satphone for advice. They had yet to talk with an official when the boarding party came into view. They were understandably alarmed to see that the six masked people in the launch were armed with automatic weapons trained on the crew of Besame.

Besame‘s owner and captain called for them "to remove your masks and show proper identification if you want to board Besame. Otherwise we assume, given the attire and lack of identification, that you are terrorists!" The men refused so Besame took off full speed ahead.

By then, Besame‘s crew had reached the Coast Guard, who instructed them to continue on to Tenacatita and not allow anyone to board the boat. While the "Navy ship" followed them for several miles, they did not attempt another boarding.

This is the first incident of this sort that we’ve ever heard of in Mexico. We believe it’s an abberation and is likely related to the fact that Besame is a very large boat. We’ve yet to hear of any really bad incidents in Mexico, where cruisers will tell you how safe they feel.

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