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October 22, 2008

Omar was a Different Story for St. Croix

It took a while for the news to get out, but Omar hit St. Croix, U.S. Virgins, hard.

Peter Bennett
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In our last report on Hurricane Omar, which ripped up through the Caribbean, narrowly missing the huge bareboat charter fleet in the Virgin Islands, we said  there had been very little damage to marine interests. That was based on the fact that nobody had gotten the word out about what happened in St. Croix. Here’s a report from charter skipper Peter Whitney, a former resident of Northern California:

"We were in St. Croix the day before Omar hit. Learning that Omar had turned into a hurricane, we left early in the morning from the anchorage off the St. Croix YC for our base at Tortola in the British Virgins. That meant four hours at sea. As we left, everyone was very busy ‘hurricanizing’ their boats for the impending storm.

Charter skipper Peter Whitney, who has a home in St. Croix, estimates that 40 to 50 boats were destroyed. He successfully ran with his charterboat back to the base in the British Virgins.

Peter Bennett
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"We spent that night hunkered down, expecting the worst. But as you reported, Tortola and the British Virgins were spared, suffering minimal damage. It was a different story in St. Croix. We have a home there and returned the day after Omar.

"Because Omar deflected to the east, it left the east and north coasts of St. Croix vulnerable to the most fierce winds. So upon our return to the yacht club, we found many sunken, dismasted, and beached boats — many still attached to the moorings they’d dragged. After securing our home, we went to Christiansted Harbor, only to find many crushed and sunk vessels on the boardwalk as well as at the marinas. In all, I’m guessing that 30 to 40 boats met their end from Omar.

Many boats went ashore or crashed into each other despite being still attached to their mooring.

Peter Bennett
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"I also found it disturbing that a radio station reported that as many as 80 people were reveling at one of the boardwalk bars the night before, anticipating the hurricane’s arrival — which was supposed to be out of the south. We were not there when the full force hit, so I can only imagine the intensity with which it struck. I was in Cabo for the famous storm of ’82, but based on the damage to our property, the downed power poles, and other destruction, I’d have to say that Omar hit with over 100 knots of wind.

"The good news is that no lives were lost."

New Free Dinghy Dock at Nayarit Riviera

"With the new cruising season upon us, I’d like everyone to know that the Nayarit Riviera Marina has already assigned an area for dinghies to land in the marina, and that there will be no charge to use it," reports marina manager Christian Mancebo.

This is welcome news. Last year the marina charged anchored out cruisers an unusuallly high fee to tie up dinghies for even a short time. It became a substantial source of friction. Many cruisers said the high cost of tying up caused them to stop patronizing the marina’s bar and restaurant. So hopefully this will be a win-win situation.

Mancebo also writes, "We will also be having a cruisers’ park on one of the breakwaters to be managed by former cruiser Philo, who runs the very popular Philo’s Bar, Restaurant and Music studio in La Cruz." We have no idea what a "cruisers’ park" might be, so we’ll have to wait until we see Mancebo at the Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party in San Diego on Sunday to get details. But this is certainly has to be more good news.

Although only a year old and located in the wonderful little town of La Cruz on the north shore of Banderas Bay, the Nayarit Riviera Marina has nearly 200 open slips. In addition, their fuel dock and boatyard should be up and running by the end of the month. If you’re a Ha-Ha skipper desperate for a ‘commuter cruiser’ slip in Mexico this winter, remember that Banderas Bay is only a two- to three-day sail from Cabo, and therefore should be a viable option.

Virgin Money Starts Record Attempt

The 98-ft Virgin Money is off to the races, setting off early this morning on a west-east transatlantic record attempt.

Virgin Money
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

With a weather outlook of breeze, breeze, and more breeze, Virgin Money set off early this morning on an attempt at the west-east transatlantic record for monohulls with powered sailing systems. The Juan K-designed, 98-footer chartered by billionaire Richard Branson is expected to run into a depression packing northerlies to 50 knots off the coast of Newfoundland tomorrow evening. Although the pressure will certainly be helpful, its direction probably will not — they’ll be sailing well south of the great circle route and adding distance to the trip should the weather forecasts pan out.

The course takes them from New York’s Ambrose Light to the Lizard in Cornwall, UK, in a race against the clock against Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard. Skipper Chris Sherlock and a relatively small crew set that record in 7 days, 19 hours and 20 minutes this May while in the midst of delivering the boat back to Europe from the Caribbean.

Branson announced the attempt in September and has since been waiting for the best possible weather window. With the exception of the 58-year-old British adventurer and his two grown children, the 24-man crew hails predominately from Britain’s nascent America’s Cup challenger Team Origin, including navigator Stan Honey and Kiwi Mike Sanderson, while four-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie has been given the con. You can follow their progress here.

Virgin Money will also be looking to better the time of Robert Miller’s 140-ft Mari-Cha IV, which set the outright monohull record of 6 days, 17 hours and 31 minutes in October of 2003. But at this point at least, Virgin Money isn’t eligible for that record in the eyes of the World Speed Sailing Record Council because the boat has powered winches.

Ha-Ha Weather Looking Sweet

As of today, Commander’s Weather is calling for mild to moderate weather on the way from San Diego to Turtle Bay.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The weather outook for the first leg of the Baja Ha-Ha, from San Diego, 360 or so miles down to Turtle Bay, is looking pretty sweet — if you’re hoping for a mellow trip.

The forecast for the Ha-Ha Kick-Off and Halloween Costume Party at the West Marine Super Store in San Diego on Sunday is 77 degrees in bright sunshine. You gotta love that. And the temperature for the Monday start is expected to be 75 degrees, again in bright sunshine. So slather on that sunblock.

As for the conditions sailing down the coast, Dave of Commander’s Weather, the official Ha-Ha weather forecasting service, says to expect northwest winds of seven to 13 knots on Monday, which would be ideal for folks wanting to ease into the first leg. But you’ll probably want to have your gennaker/spinnaker at the ready. Tuesday and Wednesday are looking to have a little bit more wind, in the 10- to 17-knot range, once again from aft. So expect to get a lot of experience with the chute up.

At this point there are no fronts coming down from the north that would affect the Ha-Ha fleet, and the tropical zone looks clear. Weather forecasts can always be wrong or change, of course, but right now it appears the Ha-Ha will be blessed with smooth sailing during the first leg.

For the record, the current water temperature just outside is in the 75- to 77-degree range, which is a degree or two higher than the 30 year average. The water temperature in Cabo should be 80 degrees or higher. Can’t wait to jump in, can you?

A lot of folks having been emailing us wanting to know what they can do to get on a boat for the Ha-Ha. At this point in the game, your best bet is to show up at the Kick-Off Party on Sunday, seabag packed, with one copy of your resume attached to your chest and another pinned on your back. During the party we’ll try to group folks still looking for crew and folks wanting to crew. Some years nobody gets a last minute berth, but other years everybody has gotten one. (In fact, one last-minute crew even ended up marrying her skipper!) As this year’s number of paid entries is the second highest ever, it might be worth the trip to San Diego. Good luck to all of you!

Two More Bay Arrivals

Lady Washington will sail under the Gate tomorrow, side by side with another Bay regular, Hawaiian Chieftain.

© 2008 Historical Seaport

What a month it’s been. First, we had the spectacular arrival of Tom Perkins’ 289-ft Maltese Falcon. Then the 54-ft engineless junk from China, Princess Tai Pin, drifted under the Gate a week and a half later. Tomorrow will see the return of Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington.

While the return of the tall ships to the Bay may not be considered ‘once in a lifetime’ — they tour the West Coast every year, acting as traveling maritime museums — we can’t think of a better way to end a month of historical moments. The public is invited to greet the vessels when they arrive at Pier 40 around 10 a.m.

Argh, matey! Taking the kids on a Battle Sail may not be as cheap as going to a movie, but the memories will last a lifetime.

© 2008 Historical Seaport

Both ships will be open for tours on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — the $3 suggested donation is ridiculously affordable — before they set off at 2 p.m. for a Battle Sail on the Bay, complete with blazing cannons and plenty of pirate-speak. A family Adventure Sail will be offered Sunday morning, followed again by another Battle Sail in the afternoon. Tickets for the sails are available at

Remember 56-year-old Reid Stowe — hero to some, whack job to others — who is bobbing around the world’s oceans as you read this, attempting to set a record for the longest consecutive time at sea?