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December 22, 2008

l’Hydroptere – The Record and The Wreck

L’Hydroptere ‘airborne’. The cockpits are on the weather side of the main crossbeam. The foils are controlled by hydraulic rams under each ‘wing’.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Moments before it capsized on Saturday, the 60-ft French foiler l’Hydroptere hit 61 knots. That’s a tic over 70 mph, the legal speed limit on some California highways. It’s doubtful the brief burst will be ratified by the WSSRC, since to qualify as official, a speed must be maintained over 500 meters. But for Alain Thébault and his team of believers, the evening of December 20 was one of vindication and celebration. There was time enough on Sunday to tow the boat home and start feeling their cuts and bruises.

Thébault and famed French sailor Eric Tabarly conceived the idea for l’Hydroptere (‘the hydrofoil’) way back in 1975. The complex, 5-ton boat — which in winds above 12 knots rises onto port and starboard foils forward and a combination rudder/’elevator’ in back — was launched in 1994. Since nobody had ever built anything like her before, the learning curve consisted of sailing the boat, seeing what worked or broke, and then fixing any problems before the next outing. And lots of stuff broke. Thébault has suffered, nursed and repaired the boat through many breakdowns over the years.

Prior to the latest one, the ‘flying boat’ had a good couple of months. In early November, Thébault sailed to two new records off the team’s homeport and proving ground, Port Saint Louis du Rhone, which is on the Mediterranean coast of France near Marseilles. The first was 43.09 knots over a measured mile, which beat their own previous record. The second was 46.52 knots over 500 meters, which finally dethroned a 1993 record set by the Australian podsailor Yellow Pages Endeavor as the fastest sailboat on the planet. In early December, Thébault and his team made several personal appearances at the Paris Boat Show which drew enthusiastic crowds. Then it was back to the waters off Napolean Beach for the big push: break not only the top speed of any water craft under sail — currently 49.84 knots set by a kitesailor in September — but also break through sailing’s sound barrier, the almost mythical 50-knot mark.

Crew awaits pickup after the capsize. The tow back to base had to be delayed until Sunday due to rough conditions.

© 2008 Gilles Martin-Raget

On Saturday, Thébault and his nine-man crew did just that. With winds in the 35- to 38-knot range and a smallish swell, l’Hydroptere was flying along in the high 40s when she encountered a 45-knot gust. Boat speed climbed to 50 knots, then 55, 60, and finally, 61. Shortly thereafter, the boat pitchpoled, tossing the crew into the water and coming to rest upside down. The cause of the capsize was the very gust that permitted the extraordinary speed burst. “The gust was very violent,” said Thébault. “l’Hydroptere was in full acceleration at over 61 knots when she stopped and capsized.” As the crew were pulled out of the water by chase boats — a routine many of them are doubtless used to — there were the usual cuts and bruises. But there were also big smiles and high-fives and hugs. Official or not, they had finally done it. See more on l’Hydroptere at

The Barra and Tenacatita Report

Miela on the hook in an exceptionally uncrowded Tenacatita Bay. But it’s been warm and the living easy, with lunch and dinners for less than $4.

© 2008 Karen Vaccaro

Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita Bay, located on Mexico’s Gold Coast between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, have always been popular with cruisers. Bill Vaccaro of the Chico-based Moody 44 Miela offered this report:

"After the Baja Ha-Ha we had a nice run from Cabo to Tenacatita Bay. Unfortunately, the fishing wasn’t very good. The only hook-up was a giant marlin that stripped several hundred yards off my new Shimano TLD50 reel spooled with 80-lb test braid. He turned back toward the boat, jumped four times, then thankfully released us!

"We spent a week anchored in the lagoon at Barra before my crew flew home. I subsequently made the short trip north to Tenacatita Bay, where I’ve spent a couple of weeks. The weather has been beautiful, with highs in the low 80s and nights in the mid 60s. But it’s been quiet down here. There were only three other boats in the lagoon at Barra when I left, and as of the end of the first week in December, there were only four boats anchored in Tenacatita Bay. But I expect more to show up soon. Two years ago mid-January we participated in the Mayor’s Night Out, a Friday night happy hour raft-up. There were 50 other dinghies. And we’ve shared the anchorage at Tenacatita at other times with 40+ boats.

The lagoon side of the jetty at Barra Navidad.

© 2008 Karen Vaccaro

The palapa is open here on the beach here in Tenacatita. In fact, we had a fish dinner there for Thanksgiving. The few of us cruisers who are here, meet in the afternoon to play cards and swap stories over beers and a late lunch. There’s a place called Tienda Annakaren in the little town at the end of the jungle ride up the river, and it gets fresh vegetables on Wednesday. So I’ve been making that trip with friends Terry and Vicki Fahey of Tenacity to provision and to snorkel at the ‘aquarium’.

"As for the services in the Barra area, there’s a new laundry in Colamilla, the little town on the south side of the lagoon, and Restaurante Fortino’s on the south edge of the lagoon serves the best coconut shrimp I’ve tasted. Maria’s tienda in Colamilla, which monitors VHF 77, has gringo groceries as well, and will deliver water and groceries to boats. Internet service is provided by John and Vicki of the motoryacht Low Maintenance, who can be reached on VHF 22. For a $35 U.S. donation to the local school, you get a month of access to their encrypted SailTrac network.

The view of ‘downtown’ Barra and, across the channel, the Grand Bay Hotel and Marina, from the top of the Alondra Hotel.

© 2008 Karen Vaccaro

"I’m looking forward to not cooking for a few days, as Mexico Lindo has great authentic Mexican food where, for under 50 pesos, I can get breakfast, lunch or dinner. My other favorites in Barra are Seamaster for garlic shrimp and great ribs, and for high end cuisine, Izadora’s. The French Baker has started his seasonal morning delivery service of fresh pastries and baked goods to boats in the marina and lagoon. It’s about 20-30% more expensive than visiting his bakery in Barra, but it’s a special treat to get them delivered. I suggested he add espresso to his marine service. He’s thinking about it.

"The water taxi (VHF 23) picks up in the lagoon or Grand Bay Marina — 20 pesos round-trip to Barra. While I’m anchored in the lagoon, I spend most afternoons in the pool at The Sands Hotel, a cruiser friendly bar/hotel just north of the water taxi landing. There’s a cement wharf where you can tie your ‘car’, and there’s usually something going on — a cruiser jam session, book swap, etc.  Our favorite happy hour destination is Hotel Alondra in the center of town. You can’t beat the sunset from their rooftop bar/ lounge. Piper Lovers will have some good dancing music around and after Christmas. As I said, it’s still pretty early in the season and quiet here.

"I see a couple of kayakers and a dinghy headed toward the beach for a hot game of gin rummy and cold beers, so it’s time for me to sign off. I hope to see everyone down here when Karen and I return after Christmas."

Making Friends the World Over

Junji Nakamura is undoubtedly a hero to many Mazatlan sailors:

"We just got back from Mazatlan where it was 85º and beautiful, as always. When my wife and I went out on a 45-ft catamaran for a short bay cruise, the captain asked if we just wanted to sail all day — heck, yeah! We had a fantastic trip as a pod of whales followed us for a long time, breeching and performing fantastic side rolls out of the water. We were happy to bring along some copies of Latitude 38 — we passed the 40-lb test at the airport so they must not have weighed very much — and deliver them to the El Cid Marina Harbormaster’s Office. There are plenty of boats in Mazatlan but so little to read about sailing and we were thrilled to fill the void."

If you’re planning a trip to visit cruising or chartering friends in far-flung places, we know how you can earn their undying admiration (at least until you break the head): Take down a bundle or two of the most recent Latitude 38s! Just drop by our World Headquarters in Mill Valley to pick them up or shoot us an email — we’ll be happy to UPS some to you.

Sailing For Sanity

What keeps folks sailing, even after the days where the head clogs, the furling jams, the new handheld GPS decides to show it can sink like the Dow, and we swear to the heavens that we will never, ever go out again?

We here at Latitude 38 go sailing for lots of conscious reasons, and suspect there are also a few subconscious ones too. We’re referring to the element of spiritual rejuvenation — ‘recreation’ in the most fundamental sense of the word — that one feels after a day on the water.

We bring this up for a couple of reasons. One, because it might help us all get through the rough economic seas we’re sailing in, and two, because it’s a great holiday gift. And while we obviously don’t know how to fix everything that’s wrong with the world and our economy, or how much worse it’s going to get, we have one suggestion when it comes to the belt-tightening we’re all facing — don’t cut sailing out of your life. In fact, plan to do a bit more of whatever kind of sailing keeps you buoyant. The price of everything else might be going up, but the wind is still free, and even packing a bunch of lunches for some sailing therapy will cost less than an hour with a shrink.

If you need put a label on why you’re going out, call it ‘escape’. Call it ‘releasing the pressure valve’, ‘recharging the batteries’ or ‘temporary insanity’. Call it what you will, but make sure you make it happen — and don’t go alone. Take your wife or husband. Take the kids. Take your friends. Take your friends’ kids. Take people out who have never been sailing before: the next-door neighbor, your co-workers. How about those nice folks you see at the coffee shop every morning? How about the in-laws coming in for the holidays?

Take them all out for a sail. Put smiles on every face. It’ll be a holiday gift they’ll remember forever, and so will you. While it may not get us to the light at the end of the tunnel any faster, at least it’s a little soulshine for the journey.

With that, we wish you a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year. We’ll be taking a break from ‘Lectronic Latitude until December 29 — we’ve got some sailing to do!

Mark Guillemot’s Safran approaches the stricken Yann Elies aboard Generali. © Mark Guillemot It’s only six and a half feet, but the distance separating Yann Eliès from his medical kit might as well be intercontinental.
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