November 16, 2009

Hittin’ the Snooze Button

Kym and Armand Renga of Santa Barbara sent us this shot of their 14-year-old Brittany, Storm, doing what sailors have been excelling at for centuries: finding a cozy, out-of-the-way spot to catch a few winks. "We were aboard Charity — our 1962 wooden gaff-rigged ketch, designed by Billy Atkins and built by Alameda’s Dean Stephens — when we spotted something strange in our old mizzen," noted Kym. "There was Storm, totally asleep and rolled up in the sail — with no help from us!"

After an activity-filled weekend, a cozy spot like that looks mighty inviting right about now . . . .

Groupama 3 Abandons Record Attempt

Structural failure ended the ’round the world record attempt of Franck Cammas’ Groupama 3 this morning at about 4 a.m. PST. Sailing at 90° true in a north-northeasterly breeze of up to 35 knots, Thomas Coville and Bruno Jeanjean were on deck and averaging 25 knots of boatspeed when "a bulkhead attached to the aft beam simply gave up the ghost," according to a statement released by the team.

A detail enhancement of the area where Groupama 3 suffered record attempt-ending damage. She will now be attempting to limp through the 1,700 downwind miles between her and Cape Town.

Groupama 3
©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"There was a small fissure between the aft beam and the port float," Cammas said. "Conditions were really bouncy — we came to a standstill with the wind right on our tail so as to be able to open the hatch and get down inside the float. Part of the section between the beam and the float, level with the bulkhead, had become detached . . . We’re going to draw up a route to avoid having too much wind and excessive waves. We’re heading south to let the second low pass by us tonight and then we’ll head off towards Cape Town tomorrow morning. We’re continuing with the same watch system and I’m working with Stan to see what we can do next."

The "Stan" Cammas is referring to is of course the Bay Area’s Stan Honey, who had navigated the 105-ft trimaran to a 345-mile lead over the reference time of the current record when the damage occurred. We’d hoped to see Honey and Groupama 3 demolish the record this year; according to the skipper, that may still happen.

"The idea then is to get back to France as quickly as possible," Cammas said. "The crew’s up for that, and if we can set off again before the end of January, then it’s still feasible to make a new attempt!"

Here Spot!

In view of the loss of J/World as a result of a collision with a whale during the Baja Ha-Ha, we’re reviewing the pros and cons of the various electronic methods of calling for help. Those methods are VHF radio, SSB/Ham radio, EPIRBs, satphones and Spot GPS messaging.

Spot’s Personal Tracker retails for $99, while the new Satellite Messenger runs $149 – not including the $99 service subscription. Is it worth it? You tell us.

© 2009 SPOT

Of these five, we’re not personally familiar with the Spot GPS messaging system. As such, if you’ve used it, we’d love to get a short review from you of the technology and service. Send that info to Richard. ¡Muchos gracias!

Mexico After the Ha-Ha

While skies in Mexico have been mostly blue, there have also been some dramatic sunrises and sunsets.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Sometimes we’re asked why we don’t schedule the Baja Ha-Ha for mid-November or later. The answer is because the early November weather along coastal Mexico is spectacular!

Ever since we left Cabo for Banderas Bay on November 9, we’ve had 90% clear blue skies. The daytime temperatures have been warm, but not uncomfortable, and it’s been ‘no sheet’ sleeping at night. As for the ocean temperature, the local dive shop says it’s been 88 degrees. We don’t doubt it, as it’s like stepping into a bathtub. Consequently, people are swimming and surfing from first light until after sunset. But the most fantastic thing about early November is that the jungle is as wild as it will get all year. Take a 10-mile ride from Punta Mita up to Sayulita, and you’ll see the thickest jungle you can imagine, with colorful flowers, huge butterflies and all kinds of wild bugs and insects. It’s gorgeous.

November is a perfect time for a hike on Isla San Francisco.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

But had we not had obligations on Banderas Bay, we gladly would have continued on up into the Sea of Cortez for at least a month. November is a fantastic weather month in the Sea — except for the occasional Northers in some years — with warm water and, thanks to drenchings from hurricanes, the desert as green as it ever gets. If anybody cruising the Sea right now wants to send some photos, we’d love to see them.

The only downside so far has been the pervasive light winds and small surf. But hey, after the ultra-active Ha-Ha, muy tranquilo is just fine for awhile.

The most troubling thing about Mexico is the totally whacked out perception most of the mainstream media in the United States — and therefore most Americans — have about life down here. If you were to believe the media, every other person in Mexico is getting their head chopped off by a drug thug stepping out of a black Escalade, people are dropping like flies from swine flu, nobody has work because of fewer tourists, and the hurricanes wrecked all of Baja.

What a bunch of rubbish! Yes, there are drug turf wars in Mexico, most of them inland between Acapulco and Zihua, at border towns, and in certain areas away from tourists. Why away from tourists? Because drug lords are said to try to launder much of their money in tourist hotels and other services, and therefore don’t want those areas messed with. Worrying about getting killed in a drug turf war while cruising in Mexico is like worrying that some drug turf warriors in San Francisco’s Bayview District will kill you outside the San Francisco YC in Belvedere. We don’t know of any American who has been down here for more than a few months who doesn’t feel as safe, if not safer than, as in the States.

According to the press, tens of millions of people have gotten swine flu in the United States, and almost every school in San Diego had cases when we left on the Ha-Ha. We’re sure there must be some swine flu along coastal Mexico, but it hasn’t been a topic of conversation or concern, and the only people we’ve seen coughing and sneezing are tourists. Coastal Mexico is not a swine flu hotspot. And by the way, when we flew to La Paz last June, every deplaning passenger was checked for fever by a nurse with high tech forehead thermometers. We never saw that in the States.

As for the Mexican economy, it’s hurting like those of every other country. On the other hand, you just don’t feel the gloom like you do in the States. One reason is that Mexicans live simple lives and therefore don’t have mortgages and car loans. Plus, they are family-oriented and resilient, and used to being happy with little.

One of the great things about cruising anywhere in Mexico is that the cost of living can be so low. Rotisserie chickens at CCC, Mega, Wal-Mart and Costco are as economical and delicious as Costcos in the States. And if you chose carefully, you can dine out for almost as little money as you can prepare a meal.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Nonetheless, we were surprised at the improvements we saw in Cabo. They finally redid the main road into town, dramatically improved the traffic patterns, and generally gave the place a good cleaning up. And the service people were super-friendly. Cabo may be living the ‘new normal’, but when tourism comes back, they will be ready to provide a really big bang for the buck in a great environment.

During a drive along the Vallarta Coast from P.V. to Sayulita, everything seemed lively except for the once booming real estate sector. There were not just new businesses opening up, but whole new areas. Folks with boats in Nuevo Vallarta, for example, can now shop at the spanking new Wal-Mart in Bucerias. In one disgusting development, somebody opened a Subway on the plaza in La Cruz. We normally wish that everyone’s business will succeed, but this is an exception. And for what it’s worth, some European just paid $55 million for a 17-mile stretch of coast at Cabo Corrientes, believing that in 20 years it will be the next Punta Mita.

While construction has slowed almost to a halt on the Vallarta Coast, Marivel is still preparing a hotel site adjacent to the nearly new Nayarit Riviera Marina in La Cruz.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

As for the hurricanes in Baja, they clobbered the small town of Mulege and hit San Carlos/Guaymas on the mainland. But all things considered, the damage was relatively minor, as no big cities were hit. The only effect of the hurricanes on current cruising is that the desert is unusually green.

The bottom line is that both the Mexicans and cruisers seem pretty damn happy down here, and there’s joie de vive that been absent in the States for too long. So for all of you feeling pity for people in Mexico, please save it for where it’s  needed more. And if somebody invites you down to join them on their boat, it should be a no-brainer.

Upcoming events in Mexico:

  • Thursday, Nov. 19 — Welcome to La Paz Baja Ha-Ha Beach Party at Papa’s & Beer from 4 to 7 p.m., sponsored by Marina de La Paz, Vista Coral Marina, the City of La Paz, Club de Yates Palmira, Marina Costa Baja and Club Cantamar. Free to the first 50 Ha-Ha captains and mates. For details visit
  • Dec. 1-4 — The Ha-Ha style Banderas Bay Blast, a totally free three-day, ‘nothing serious’ sailing event. It starts aboard Profligate on Tuesday night at Punta Mita with new Commodore Lisa Zittel reopening the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club. Lifetime membership is just $1, but you must arrive by boat and you must submit to a whack on the ass by Commodore Zittel with the carbon fiber paddle. No exceptions. Wednesday is the spinnaker run from Punta Mita to La Cruz, or for those boats in Nuevo Vallarta or Puerto Vallarta, from either of those places to La Cruz. There will be a super deal on berthing, plus the famous water balloon drop from the Sky Bar. Rather than eat at Subway that night, it will be street tacos — yum! — followed by live music and dancing at Philos. Thursday will be the seven-mile, upwind sail to Punta Mita, with dinner at the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club. Live music, of course! Friday will be the Pirates for Pupil’s Spinnaker Run for Charity, from Punta Mita to Nuevo Vallarta. While the event is free, it’s also a fundraiser, so give generously, please! The Banderas Bay Blast is a cooperative effort of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and the Vallarta YC.
Last November, a group of a dozen or so kids launched the product of the first youth boat building program: the 12-ft Norwegian pram named Guppy.
The start of next summer’s Singlehanded TransPac — June 19 — is rushing ever closer, a point emphasized by the fact that the event’s third monthly seminar is on Monday night.
"I don’t mind you quoting me from a public forum as long as you don’t mix me up and attach my comment with someone else’s — which you did in the Monday ‘Lectronic update on the sinking of J/World," writes Scott, no last name given.