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August 25, 2010

Lessons Learned on the Path to Polynesia

Catching and boating this shark in mid-ocean brought out the animal in Argentinian Estaban Font of the Florida-based Morgan 38 Puerto Seguro.

© 2010 Maria Font

Whether you set sail for French Polynesia from Mexico, Panama, the Galapagos, or elsewhere, crossing the Pacific in a sailboat is no small feat. And the lessons learned along the way can be highly instructive to future passage-makers.

In the upcoming issue of Latitude 38 — which will be on the street September 1 — you can read all about this year’s Pacific Puddle Jump crossing, including the highs and lows, and advice from many international crews.

For example: Some of the highlights of the 3,000-mile crossing for Jim and Katie Thomsen of the San Diego-based Hallberg-Rassy 40 Tenaya were "Beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the solitude, plus visits from bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, pilot whales, and a sperm whale that swam right next to the boat. Also, three red-footed boobies spent the night on the bow about 350 miles shy of the Galapagos."

It’s a tradition to dress up and act silly when you cross the equator. Seen here, Michael and Gloria of the Vancouver, BC-based Beneteau 50 Paikea Mist toast King Neptune with some Mexican grog.

© Paikea Mist

Alex Kao and Leah Prentice of the Vancouver, BC-based Alexander 30 Reflections No. 1 offer this advice to furture Puddle Jumpers: "Just do it. Leaving the mainland is the hardest part. Everyone stalls as much as they can, but once you’re off it’s good."

Brad and Kat McMaster of the UK-based Hanse 47 Ghost say: "Keep the key boat systems simple, redundant and non-integrated, and don’t set unrealistic expectations. It isn’t about the miles per day, it’s about arriving at the other end while caring thoughtfully for your crew and their experiences."

Michael and Gloria Hanssmann of the Vancouver, BC-based Beneteau 50 Paikea Mist advise: "Be open-minded and flexible in your approach; be willing to change routes, watches, and, of course, sails in order to make the most of your crossing. Prepare yourselves and your boats well, and above all else, trust your boat. She truly is at home in the blue water!"

If you’re thinking about crossing this year, you’re not alone. All along the West Coast a new batch of dreamers is already solidifying their plans for the 2011 crossing. Our new online sign-up process should be up and running before the end of September at the Puddle Jump website. And stay tuned for future updates here. 

Solo Sailor Rescued off Fort Bragg

The Coast Guard reports that on Sunday they rescued the 29-year-old skipper of the 27-ft sailboat Amica about 55 miles west of Fort Bragg after the boat lost its rudder in heavy seas and winds. The sailor was Jon Innes from Vancouver, BC aboard an upgraded 1976 Catalina 27. "[He] had plans to sail from Vancouver to San Francisco," noted the Coast Guard press release. He apparently was seven days out of Neah Bay, WA when he lost his rudder.

Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, the pilot of the helo that rescued Innes, said that the size of the boat combined with large swell and white caps made visual contact difficult. “Fortunately for him, Amica’s captain was prepared for his ocean voyage and was equipped with a personal locator beacon, survival suit, GPS, and marine VHF radio," said Lt. j.g. Brent Hargrove, co-pilot. Check out the following video for footage of rescue swimmer PO1 James Force saving a fellow human being:

What you don’t see in the video is, after Innes has been brought aboard, Force being pulled up in the basket as a 15-ft wave washes over him.

Innes was taken to an area hospital, but is reported to have been in good condition. Contrary to the title of the video, Amica never capsized, according to Vorenkamp. We hope to get the full story for the September issue of Latitude 38.

How Much Do You Wanna Bet . . .

That the match for the 34th America’s Cup will be sailed on San Francsico Bay? In the wake of yesterday’s news that the City would not seek a one-time exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for the infrastructure improvements necessary for a Cup village, we are all but certain that the next Cup match will be held in Europe. In case you missed it, this editor made a rather lackluster appearance on KQED’s Forum Friday morning, at which time the Mayor’s office — represented by Kyri McClellan — made it very clear that they would be going after the one-time exemption to the environmental review required by the CEQA.

So why the change of heart? We’re guessing that Mayor Newsom has wisely realized that the chances of the 34th America’s Cup coming to the Bay are so slim that it’s not worth pursuing the exemption. The environmental community has rightly argued that one-time exemptions — the first of which was enacted last October for the City of Industry’s bid for an NFL team — represent a slippery slope for the state as they create an opportunity for big business to circumvent environmental protections.

With BMW Oracle Racing giving a September 30 draft-plan deadline for the City as of about 10 days ago, the keystone CEQA exemption would have been a monumental, if not impossible, undertaking. According to McClellan, the bill would have to be introduced and signed by the end of the legislative session on August 31. With pretty much all other pending legislation finalized, this would have meant that the exemption would be a stand-alone bill — introduced in the last seven days of the session, and extremely challenging to pass. As of Friday, McClellan said that the City had been talking with some of the Bay Area’s representatives in Sacramento in order to find one willing to introduce the bill. In attempting to make the case for the exemption in an article in the Chronicle last week, Newsom argued that there was no way the Cup would come to the Bay without the exemption. He’s right. But what Newsom either didn’t realize, or felt like he couldn’t acknowledge at the time, was that even with the exemption, there is no way the Cup will come to the Bay.

Much of the debate has pivoted on what we believe is the correct view that Larry Ellison would like to see the Cup contested on the Bay. But we just don’t think it’s as simple as that. Ellison has a day job and so has delegated the running of the team to his CEO Russell Coutts. We can’t imagine Coutts would have signed on without making it clear that all the decisions were his and his alone as he attempts to realize the vision he first thought — incorrectly — he would be seeing through with Ernesto Bertarelli in ’07.

If Coutts and Ellison were concerned solely with defending the Cup, they would host the event here in a heartbeat, as an event on the Bay would likely bring fewer challengers into a venue with some distinct hometown advantages. But it would seem that both have an abiding interest in doing what’s best for the Cup. And what’s best for the Cup, from the standpoint of attracting more teams, more commercial sponsorship, more worldwide profile, and a sustainable existence is to hold AC 34 in Europe. Coutts also has two important things to consider. The first is that if the rumors are true, one or more European countries are offering big money to land the event, and let’s face it, Coutts is not running a charity. The second is not pissing off his constituents — the professional sailors — who would be paying about 28% more income tax if the event were in the U.S. than they would pay working under the 12% cap on income tax that was present in Valencia for the 32nd match. Don’t kid yourself into thinking this isn’t a significant concern for someone like Coutts — he would be giving up a pretty significant chunk of change himself if the rumours of his salary being in the multiple seven figures range are true.

Consider all of this in light of the fact that the nearly all-Kiwi team is based out of Valencia this year, and there are just too many indications that the event won’t come here in ’13 or ’14. We think Newsom understood this when he decided to no longer seek the CEQA exemption. Who knows, if BMW Oracle Racing successfully defends wherever the Cup lands, there just might be a chance we could get the next one.

Talking ‘Bout Venezuela

Tales of having our boats in Venezuela was one of the topics of conversation when we had a great dinner aboard Serendipity, Barritt Neal and Renee Blaul’s Peterson 44 at the Pacific Corinthian YC in Oxnard the other night.

The Wanderer had Latitude‘s Big O in Puerto La Cruz in the mid-’90s, and told about buying fuel for 25 cents a gallon. Barritt laughed, and said that when he was there in ’05, diesel was just 8 cents a gallon! "I filled the diesel tanks with diesel and the dinghy tanks with gas, and it still only cost me a little over $4." Four dollars is what it costs for a gallon of diesel at a lot of fuel docks in California.

The price of fuel reminded Barritt of the time some not-very-experienced mariners borrowed a friend’s 50-ft powerboat and took her to Avalon for a good time. Having had a few drinks, they pulled into the fuel dock, told the attendant to top the tanks off, and went off in search of more refreshments. They quickly sobered up upon their return because the fuel bill was $4,800 — and they only had $450 among them!

We also talked about the threat of violence in Venezuela when both of us were there. We remarked on how it was the only place we’d ever been where the boatyard’s women’s restrooms were guarded by a guy with an AK-47, and that boats in the long-term storage areas were guarded by not just barbwire, but by packs of fierce and teeth-baring dogs.

Apparently the crime rate in Venezuela declined for a few years, but now it’s gone through the roof. According to a story in today’s New York Times, Venezuela and war-torn Iraq have about the same population, yet Venezuela has had four times as many people killed as a result of violence. Since Hugo Chavez took over Venezuela in ’99, there have been 118,000 homicides, 44,000 of them since ’07. The number of homicides has tripled since Chavez came into office.

An exception to the rule of violence in Venezuela? To the best of our knowledge there have been no attacks on cruisers at Los Roques National Park, which is off the north coast of Venezuela, and which is home to 1,500 people who fish in the traditional way for fish, lobster and conch.

Venezuela Tourism
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Venezuela, and particularly the eastern part of the north coast, has been the site of a number of attacks on cruisers over the years, many of them French, and more than a few of the attacks have resulted in deaths. We always thought it might have been because of some peculiarity in the region, not realizing that crime and homicides are a huge fact of life in all of Venezuela. Despite having to battle 30% inflation and an oil industry in a production tailspin, at least Chavez has done something about the crime and homicide — he’s had the courts forbid the newspapers from publishing photos of violence. That will take care of it.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently revealed that an unspecified number of crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard vessel that collided with a small boat in San Diego Harbor on December 20 were either texting or talking on their cell phones.
"All the Photoshopping allegations that were tossed at Ethan Smith’s pargo fish awhile back reminded me of the attached photo," writes Dennis Olson who sails his Laser Beastie out of Tomales Bay.
If you have a boat in the Caribbean or the Gulf or East Coasts of the United States, now is the time to be concerned about hurricanes.