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April 12, 2010

Long Overdue Yacht Columbia Arrives

Much to the relief of her crew’s family members, the 45-ft cutter Columbia arrived safely at Coquimbo, Chile, on Sunday — 35 days after her anticipated arrival — thus ending a search that involved hundreds of vessels over thousands of miles of open ocean.

Michell Westlake and the other trainees arrived safely. We’re curious about what lessons they’d say they learned.

© Westlake family

According to several sources, the sloop’s Polish-born skipper Boguslaw (Bob) Norwid, who is a French citizen, is now under scrutiny by authorities because he allegedly refused to let his three ‘trainee’ crew members use the ship’s radio to assure their families and friends that they were safe. They drifted for weeks in search of favorable winds, more than 1,000 miles offshore. As reported earlier, crewmembers’ families first became concerned on February 27, when a massive 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, triggering a tsunami. The boat was originally scheduled to arrive at Coquimbo at about that time.

According to the U.K.’s Times Online, an Australian member of the crew, Mitchell Westlake, 23, called his family yesterday to assure them that he and the other trainees, both Canadian women, were safe and sound. Westlake explained that because of the vessel’s communications blackout, no one on board knew anything of the earthquake, the tsunami or the hunt for Columbia, which involved the search and rescue resouces of at least five nations, as well as hundreds of South Pacific cruisers.

Martin Neufeld, husband of crewmember Josee Chabot, was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying, “We’re considering legal action. . . The crew and boat came in safely, but that’s not good enough. He may be a great captain and have great experience, but he’s a renegade."

According to the Gazette, investigation by the Canadian Coast Guard found that the boat’s call number appeared to be fake and did not appear in any database.

If the names Boguslaw Norwid and Columbia sound familiar, it may be because they appeared in ‘Lectronic Latitude postings in 2002, when the same skipper and vessel became long overdue on a trip from Vancouver, B.C. to Mexico, and made no communications to parties ashore. Then, as now, she ultimately arrived safely. But as with this incident, an unnecessary search for her (in that case by U.S., Canadian and Mexican authorities) could easily have been avoided by making a simple radio call.

Guam in Danger of Tipping Over!

If you have faith in the people who represent us in government, you’re not going to want to read this. So go away. But if you can stand the truth, you’ll want to check this out, because it’s both hilarious and terrifying.

The YouTube video is of United States Congressman Hank Johnson, a Democrat who represents the 4th District of Georgia. In the video, recorded on March 31, this representative of the people questions Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific fleet, about the wisdom of relocating 8,000 Marines to the U.S. island of Guam.

As you watch the video, you’ll hear Representative Johnson say, "My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated [with the addition of the Marines] that it will tip over and capsize." In a show of steely military bearing, Willard somehow managed to keep from bursting into laughter.

Unlike Johnson, our fear is that too many of our ‘leaders’ are morons, although thankfully most not on the Johnsonian level.

On the other hand, if you’re a boatowner and you agree with Johnson, maybe you should think about sailing your boat to Guam, or any other island, to pick up survivors in case one of them tips over. 

Last Chance to Win Gear

A few months ago we set up a survey about how you feel about the magazine and website. We want to thank those who took the 10 or so minutes to complete the survey, and let them know we’ll be selecting the winners of the random prize drawing tomorrow.

But for the rest of the work day, the survey will remain live, so if you want a chance to win some hot Latitude gear, just tell us what you think and include your email (which is completely optional).

More Fun Racing in the Sea of Cortez

In last Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic, we reported on the terrific Sea of Cortez Sailing Week held between La Paz and Isla San Francisco. There were four great days of ‘nothing serious’ racing and four wonderful days of social activities with the 25 boats that participated.

‘Nothing serious’ racing in the Sea of Cortez is good for you. Bob of Bob, Bob and Debbie on the Mac 65 Braveheart said racing in the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week taught him more about sailing than he’s learned in a long time.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Since it was so much fun, we’re delighted to report that Bob McAlvain and others in La Paz have formed the Veleros de La Paz, which will be putting on the 2010 La Paz Spring Regatta to be held April 15-18. It’s going to be four straight days of sailing using courses very similar to the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. That’s an awful lot of sailiing in just four days, but it should be a blast.

More fun racing for the Sea of Cortez.

Veleros de Baja
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Yesterday, Bob and some others from the Veleros de La Paz helped run the Bay Race for the Club Cruceros’s Bay Fest celebrations. Doña de Mallorca reports that the dozen or so entries could have used a bit more wind on the Rocas Lobos-to-Muni pier course, but most boats had enough wind to carry chutes past the folks who had gathered to watch from the Costa Baja restaurant. Craig Shaw of the Portland-based Columbia 43 Adios, who also won his class in the SOCSW, took elapsed time honors, while Patsy Verhoeven of the La Paz-based Gulfstar 50 Talion, also a class winner at SOCSW, took elapsed time honors. We all understand that a bunch of local kids were taken along on boats, but at press time hadn’t gotten details.

While there wasn’t much wind for the La Paz Fest race, the competition was tight.

Club Cruceros
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We’re thrilled at what seems to be a revival of fun racing in the Sea of Cortez, and look forward to working with the folks at the Club Cruceros, Veleros de La Paz, Sea of Cortez Sailing Week and the upcoming Loreto Fest to coordinate all these events. It should make sailing in the Sea in April — one of the best months of all — more enjoyable for everyone.

For more info on the Spring Regatta, visit There is a 200 peso — about $15 — entry fee.

For information on the 14th Annual Loreto Fest, the biggest Sea of Cortez event of all — although it’s more social than sailing —  visit There you’ll find all the info, including 20% discounts on berthing and moorings.

If you weren’t one of the 70 or so people who showed up last night to see ’08-’09 Vendée Globe veteran Rich Wilson kick off the Corinthian YC‘s speaker series, you really, really missed out.