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February 2, 2009

Swimming With the Giant Manta Rays

One of the magnificent manta rays at San Benedicto Island. These rays have the largest brain-to-body weight ratio of all sharks and rays.

© 2009 Scott Stolnitz

Is there anything as magnificent in the ocean as a manta ray? The largest specimen found had a wingspan of 25 feet and weighed close to 5,000 lbs. Manta rays are known to be curious and playful around swimmers. Fortunately, they are filter feeders, so swimmers need not worry about being bitten or eaten.

Mantas are found in all the tropical oceans of the world, including off Mexico. Large numbers of them, for example, are often seen on the southern part of Banderas Bay. But mantas can most readily be seen at Mexico’s remote and inhospitable Revillagigedo Islands, which are about 250 miles south of Cabo.

In this beautiful photo, Cindy Stolnitz reaches out to a much larger ray. ‘Riding’ manta rays used to be popular, but is now discouraged as some experts say touching the rays removes the mucus membrane from their skin and can cause lesions and infections.

© 2009 Scott Stolnitz

For many years private yachts were prohibited from visiting the Revillagigedos, but if you read the February Changes in Latitude by Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House, you know that’s all changed. And you know how to get a permit. The Mexican government now almost encourages private yachts to visit because they want as many ‘eyes’ as possible looking for boats fishing illegally in the marine perserve.

San Benedicto is also home to many hammerhead sharks, which unlike the mantas, aren’t filter feeders. Stolnitz says most hammerheads stayed down at about 100 feet, but a few came up to 40 feet. But “every time” they saw Scott and Cindy, they immediately swam off.

© 2009 Scott Stolnitz

Having just returned from their lengthy visit to the islands, Scott and Cindy have posted many photos and videos of the sealife at the Revillagigedos. Check it all out at

‘Class Dismissed!’

Michel Desjoyeaux validated his nickname, "The Professor," when he arrived in Les Sables d’Olonne Sunday afternoon, having won the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe in a new record time of 84d, 3h, 9m. Desjoyeaux made up a nearly two-day delay after returning to LSD to repair his engine, which took a bath shortly after the November 13 start. Then, not only did he storm to the head of the fleet from 670 miles back, he did it while the fleet was still in the Indian Ocean. By the finish, his lead was 1,000 miles over his next closest competitior. All of that would be remarkable enough in and of itself, but remember, there were 20 brand-new IMOCA 60s built for this race, and the field was deeper than ever. This is Desjoyeaux’s second Vendée Globe win, making him the only person to have won it twice. In the words of Wayne and Garth: "We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy . . ."

Free Classy Classifieds!

You already know how well Classy Classifieds work for selling your stuff and now ads for boats or any other piece of gear you have for sale under $1,000 are completely free! Just click HERE, compose your ad (up to 40 words) and voilà! (Regular rates for photos and all other ads apply.) If you get it in by 5 p.m. on February 18, your free ad will be in the March issue of Latitude.

NOTE: This is a brand new option so until we can get the website updated, just enter zeros into the required credit card fields to process your ad.

Three Bridge Fiasco

It took awhile, but when the breeze finally did come up, it was a picture-perfect day.

© 2009 Erik Simonson

With 364 entries, the Singlehanded Sailing Society’s Three Bridge Fiasco exceeded last year’s fleet by nearly half again as much, making it the biggest race on the West Coast — last year’s Newport to Ensenada race came in with about 325.

There was plenty of traffic, little breeze and plenty of ebb for the bulk of the starters at the Three Bridge Fiasco.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Why the sudden increase in participation? We’re not sure, and we’re not arguing. Of course the additional boat-mass made Saturday morning’s start for the single and doublehanded divisions even more of a charley-foxtrot than usual.

It didn’t take much pressure to put the smiles on everyone’s faces.

© Erik Simonson

A pretty solid ebb and really light breeze didn’t help either, and we saw a couple boats with their engines still on, backing down to avoid colliding near the X buoy. There were also some choice words — in addition to paint — traded there. But the folks who started a little closer into shore had a lot more room and a lot clearer air in the light easterly that got going at about the time the Moore 24s started.

According to the Racing Rules of Sailing, any vessel underway does not rank as a ‘continuing’ obstruction. That might be a hard sell for this group.

© Jeff Berman

We didn’t make an exact count, but we estimate that about 75% of the fleet opted to head toward the Golden Gate first, with 23% heading to the Bay Bridge first and the remainder headed for Red Rock first. Of the majority, some of the Moores were the last boats to make it across the Bay to the headlands and up Raccoon Strait in any breeze, as the rest of the fleet got stuck in a huge hole off Crissy Field and Fort Point. From what we’ve heard, there were more than a few anchors dropped at that stage until the westerly finally started filling.

There was breeze at Red Rock for much of the fleet.

© Erik Simonson

Although there were a few people calling it quits as early as 11 a.m., it seemed like quite a few boats were in it for the duration, although we’re not sure, because the results aren’t yet up on the SSS website. With that many boats, it’ll probably take some heavy duty sorting and maybe even the resolution of a few start-related protests, so it might be day or so.

Posh Base Opening is Cause for Celebration

‘Mocko jumbie’ stilt walkers dance as the conga line laces through the crowd at The Moorings Tortola base opening.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Timed with the company’s 40th anniversary, The Moorings’ yacht charter firm officially opened its newly expanded Tortola, British Virgin Islands, base last week with a grand celebration. With upscale amenities throughout, posh hotel rooms that look out across Road Harbour toward neighboring isles, spa facilities and a new waterside restaurant, the dramatically improved charter base sets a standard unmatched in our experience.

The base’s new waterside reception area and upscale hotel rooms overlook the fleet and Road Harbour beyond.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Anyone who’s spent time in the Eastern Caribbean can appreciate how elated the organizers are to have finally completed this ambitious $15 million project, which included the removal of a massive sea wall and the construction of a new one. A variety of features also make it ‘greener’ than most other Caribbean bases. The installation of huge seawater pumps which accelerate the flushing action of the marina basin have already resulted in the back bay water quality being cleaner than it’s been in decades. A huge desal plant lessens impact on the city water system, as does the recycling of laundry water.

This monster pump accelerates the flushing action of the inner harbor, greatly improving water quality.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In the four decades since Charlie and Ginny Cary launched the company with six Pearson 35s, the Tortola fleet has grown to 415 boats — the largest of any bareboat base in the world. It has 800 boats total in 29 bases worldwide and, like Sunsail, is now under the umbrella of Tui Marine, whose parent company is the largest travel outfit in the world. Read more about this flagship base in the upcoming edition of Latitude‘s World of Chartering section.

The February issue of Latitude 38 is hot off the press and being delivered around the Bay Area as this edition of ‘Lectronic Latitude is uploading.
Leo Sherman, an educator from Illinois, appears to be the only survivor after a homebuilt 43-ft catamaran capsized 200 miles east of Madagascar early last week.
Roland Jourdain seen here celebrating sailing past the latitude of Rio de Janeiro.
Lake County News is reporting that the trial of Bismarck Dinius, which was slated to begin this month, has been pushed back to May.
This weekend’s Three Bridge Fiasco, sponsored by the Singlehanded Sailing Society, is one of the Bay’s most popular races, consistently drawing hundreds of local sailors.