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November 14, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle

Having crossed from Cabo, Bob Smith’s self-built 44-ft cat Pantera takes a breather at the Punta Mita anchorage. Bob and Pantera headed off for Huatulco earlier today.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

After the Ha-Ha, boats generally head off to one of three main destinations: La Paz, Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta. We on Profligate joined about six other boats last Sunday morning in fleeing the tourist chaos that is Cabo to make the 270-mile passage to Puerto Vallarta. Although we didn’t see any of our fellow travellers, we could sometimes hear them over the radio. Curiously, this was because a number of them — Bruce Anderson’s Alaska-based Perry 59 Free Range Chicken, Bob Smith’s Victoria-based 44-ft custom cat Pantera, and Barritt Neal and Renee Blaul’s San Diego-based Peterson 44 Serendipity — were buzzed and inspected by a French military helicopter. Exactly what a French military chopper was doing flying around on the layline between Cabo and P.V. remains a mystery to all of us.

Welcome to the jungle indeed! At the end of the rainy season the vegetation is going wild – and looking spectacular.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We made the passage in 36 hours, often motoring economically with one engine, but also getting three or four nice hours under the chute on the first day. A small cat that arrived in Banderas Bay just last night was luckier, having been able to sail all but the last two hours of the passage. But don’t feel too badly for us, as things are quite nice in the Punta Mita, La Cruz, Nuevo Vallarta, and Puerto Vallarta areas. For one thing, the incredible humidity of summer suddenly ‘broke’ on Tuesday. Even hardened locals had been suffering. But in just that one day, people started to pull out sheets instead of sleeping naked, naked, naked. On our crossing, for example, it was well over 80° even in the middle of the night. Nonetheless, we’ve had nothing but cloudless blue skies ever since.

Trying to do a little nose work at Sayulita. When the water and air temperature are in the 80s, you’re not so picky about your waves. And yes, you can often anchor right off the break.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Another nice thing about hitting the mainland in mid-November is that the jungle is in full bloom. We took a 10-mile ride from Punta Mita up to Sayulita, and were blown away by how the vegetation had seemingly run riot over the summer and fall wet season. The vegetation was vivid green — except for the red, yellow, blue and other colored flowers — and thick. In fact, if the vegetation was any thicker, it would have been a solid. And there were butterflies everywhere, most noticeable among them being the 747-sized white ones. The jungle in full bloom is excuse enough to get to the mainland in a hurry. In a matter of weeks, it will no longer be in peak form.

As if the warm weather and jungle weren’t enough, there’s been decent surf, both at Sayulita on the coast and on the north shore of Banderas Bay. Of course, there’s nothing that makes surfing more pleasurable than warm water. Here in the bay, the water had been in the low 80s. Last night we dinghied down to La Lancha to catch a few sundowner waves. Even at the end of the warm day the ocean felt like bathtub water. We surfed for 40 minutes after sundown — until a monster full moon came up over the mountains — and never felt a chill.

To top off a great day, we stopped by ex-cruiser Philo’s Bar and Restaurant in La Cruz for a taste of his live music. It still a little early in the season, so the crowd was still a little thin, but there were lots of old friends to say hello to. And Philo vets will be delighted to learn that Leon, well into his seventh decade, is still knocking it out of the park with his washboard, bells, horn and slide whistle. Some of you probably think the last line was a joke. Once you see Leon do his thing, you’ll know it’s the truth. So the cruising season on the mainland is getting off to a ding-dong start. We’d love to hear how it’s going for those of you who opted to sail up to La Paz.

Eight Bells – Joanne McFee

We were shocked to receive the news last evening that Joanne McFee of Island YC had passed away on Wednesday. When she didn’t answer repeated phone calls, authorities were called and found her dead in her Alameda home. She was 62.

In addition to bringing a warm and friendly presence to any room or situation, Joanne was the ultimate ‘go-to gal’ when it came to getting things done at Island YC, where she had been a member since about 1990. She was the club’s race chair almost from the start, and we’ve often wished she could have given classes to other yacht club race people — she was always there (or quick to return calls), always helpful, and always quick with results and details. In short, a race editor’s dream contact. And when the going got rough, Joanne never flinched. She gained an additional measure of respect during last spring’s tragic loss of the Cheoy Lee 31 Daisy and the two sailors aboard her during IYC’s Doublehanded Lightship Race. Joanne did IYC and indeed the entire local sailing community proud, fielding most reporters and every tough question like a pro.

Joanne’s parents emigrated from England to Northern California after World War II. She was raised in Orinda and went to college at UC Davis, where she met her first husband, a veterinarian. Their only son, Brian, lives in Sacramento with his wife and two daughters.

It was her second husband who got her into sailing, first through Encinal YC and later at Island YC. She became an accomplished sailor in her own right, occasionally showing up owner-skippers with her knowledge of rules and tactics, or her deft touch on the helm. And she sailed the smart way, never owning a boat, but sailing on a variety of other people’s yachts over the years.

Ashore, “Joanne was the ultimate club volunteer,” says IYC member and longtime friend Ben Mewes. “Whatever needed to be done, it got done and only later you’d find out that Joanne had had a big part in it, whether it was racing related or just being a volunteer cook. She really exemplified what a yacht club was all about.”

A remembrance for Joanne is planned at Island YC this Sunday at 4 p.m. (The course for IYC’s Commodores Cup that day will be shortened specifically to accommodate this.) The club plans to prepare some of Joanne’s favorite dishes for the occasion, but asks that visiting sailors bring a potluck dish to share. For more information, contact IYC Vice Commodore Dawn Chesney at (510) 430-9990. 

Classies Really Do Work

After this writer’s husband returned safely from this summer’s Singlehanded TransPac Race, we had a surplus of safety gear we no longer needed. We’ve always had excellent results in selling (as well as buying) through Latitude, so placing a Classy Classified was a no-brainer. We sold all of the gear within a week of the October issue hitting the streets and we’re still getting calls and emails!

If you want a proven method to sell your stuff — or your boat — it’s not too late to get your ad into the December issue of Latitude 38. The deadline is Tuesday, November 18, at 5 p.m. A 40-word ad is just $40, and best of all, you can do it online.

Cruisers Attacked in Ecuador

Although they ultimately were not seriously injured, we’ve received yet another disturbing report of cruisers being attacked while at anchor, this time in Ecuador, where we don’t remember there being any problems in the past. The couple attacked were from a Seattle-based boat. They are the authors of online cruising guides to Central America and Costa Rica, and have been cruising for the last four years.

Here’s the report from one of the people aboard: “I’m reluctant to write about our being attacked on our boat at Punta Perdernales, Ecuador, on November 7, for two reasons. First, as foreign travelers, we look forward to and rely on the kindness of strangers. Many of these wonderful people in Ecuador live an existence that is unimaginable to Americans, yet they still smile and offer what help they can. By telling our story, I don’t want the acts of a few bad people to destroy goodwill and openness towards strangers.

“Secondly, I’m reluctant because of the tendencies for humans to be in denial. ‘They must have done something wrong — that could never happen to me,’ some might say, trying to point out faults on our part. I kindly request that readers put aside that kind of thinking, as no amount of second guessing would have changed what happened to us. Sometimes other people can simply take control of your life. Despite our hesitations, we feel it’s important to get this message out in hopes that it won’t happen to anyone else.

“On November 7, we anchored behind Punta Pedernales, Ecuador, along with John Gratton and Linda Hill aboard their Redwood City-based Hans Christian 33 Nakia. Unfortunately, the anchorage offered poor protection in the rough conditions. We were awoken about midnight by a panga bumping into our port side. I assumed it was just a fisherman who hadn’t seen us on that very dark night. But when I got to the top of the companionway ladder, I saw two guys with guns entering the cockpit followed by two more large men, one with a big knife. A fifth man was waiting in the panga. Two of the men pinned me down in the cockpit, shoving a gun in my mouth and holding a knife at my throat. Meanwhile, one of the big guys pulled [my wife] into the cockpit and began smothering her by putting his hand over her nose and mouth.

“My wife thought, as did I, that they were about to kill me. As I could only hear her muffled screams, I thought she was being raped. Our assailants were extremely jumpy and erratic, presumably jacked on adrenaline and/or drugs, which made them very unpredictable and dangerous. Curiously, they made no demands. I repeatedly asked them to stay calm. When my wife’s attacker finally lifted his hand from her mouth so she could breath, she pleaded with them to stop. Meanwhile, I continued to struggle with the guys who had me pinned down. We frantically did what we could to protect each other.

“My wife continued yelling eventually woke John and Linda on Nakia. When they saw what was happening, they sounded their air horn, shone a spotlight on our boat, and shot off two rocket flares. This seemed to panic the attackers, as they headed back toward their panga. But apparently realizing they hadn’t taken anything yet, they grabbed our GPS and a backpack that contained about $40. We were very lucky to have Nakia close by, and they responded very effectively. We shudder to think what might have happened had they not be there. After there was no response by the Pedernales Port Captain’s office to our mayday calls, we weighed anchor and headed 50+ miles up the coast to Punta Galera.

“We’ve been regrouping here for the last two days among friendly fishermen. We’re getting our paper charts in order as our GPS had our electronic charts, and rigging up a temporary GPS. As a result of John contacting the U.S. Coast Guard in Alameda via SSB, the Ecuadorian Coast Guard came to our boat in Punta Galera and filled out a detailed report. We can only hope they can track down the guys who did this. That being said, we recommend that no one stops in Punta Pedernales for the foreseeable future, as we believe it is too dangerous.”

Francis Joyon was snubbed in the voting for the ISAF’s male World Sailor of the Year for 2008.
After nearly 40 years of service, the Queen Elizabeth II began her final voyage last Saturday — by being blown onto a sandbar near Southampton.
Yesterday, Peter Tong’s SC 70, OEX, finished first in the 2008 Long Beach to Cabo San Lucas Race in record-breaking time of 2d, 22h, and 50m, eclipsing the elapsed time race record set back in 1987 by just under five hours.