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December 29, 2010

New Year, New Latitude

Friday is New Year’s Eve so to ensure everyone can get their hands on the first Latitude of the year before they’re too drunk or hungover to stumble into their local chandlery, marina or boatyard, the January issue will be delivered to all the normal places tomorrow. In it you’ll find a wrap-up of the hottest stories of 2010 in Year in Review, a photo essay on the Banderas Bay Blast, the story of Catherine Baker’s travels since answering an ad on our Crew List, a foggy Eye on the Bay, and so much more it’ll blow the cobwebs right out of your head come Saturday morning.

Eight Bells for a San Francisco Legend

The San Francisco maritime community lost a living legend last week, when Harold Sommer died of complications from pneumonia on  December 21. He was 85.

Harold Sommer was a mentor and an inspiration to sailors and professional mariners throughout the West.

Sommer Family
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Born in San Francisco and raised in Alameda, Harold served in the Navy during WWII, then had a distinguished 49-year career as a tug captain for Crowley Maritime. During that span, most of the vessels he commanded were wooden. In fact, he was captain of the last wooden tugboat to work San Francisco Bay.

During later life, as a Sausalito resident, Harold turned his talents — and love of wooden vessels — to the restoration of a variety of historic craft, including the 1885 32-ft gaff sloop Freda, now the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast, and the 1883 85-ft German pilot schooner the Wander Bird. When he took possession of her, she was in sorry shape, having been used for years as a Sausalito liveaboard. But when Harold’s handiwork was complete, she was a fully restored work of nautical art. The refit was heralded by the Smithsonian Museum as the most significant vessel restoration done by a private individual in the United States.

A funeral service for this highly revered mariner was held late this morning. A celebration of his life will begin today at 12:30 at the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center, located at the foot of Gate Five Road on the Sausalito waterfront. Donations in Harold’s memory may be made to the Restoring Freda Project by clicking here, or by contacting at the Center, SWBC Donations or contact Director of Programs Andrea Rey directly. 

Look for a more in-depth profile on Harold Sommer in the upcoming edition of Latitude 38. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Impressions of Mexico

We’ve been on assignment in Mexico — lucky us — for all but three days since the start of the Ha-Ha in late October. We sailed over to Banderas Bay in early November, and in mid-December sailed down the Gold Coast as far as Barra de Navidad, which is where we are now. Our impressions:

While it can get cold in the Sea of Cortez in the winter, the temps have been salubrious on the mainland. The days haven’t been too hot, meaning mid-80s, and we’ve never needed more than shorts or t-shirts at night. Some women like to bring a light sweater for the cooler evenings.

Dawn at Barra de Navidad two days after Christmas. Pre-dawn hours are in the mid 60s, but once old Sol is up, it’s not long before the mercury hits the low 80s.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The water temps have been pleasant, too. There was some cooling in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta) in early December from the high- to then mid- and then low-70s, but farther south along the Gold Coast, it’s back up to the mid-70s. We stayed in the water for more than an hour the other day cleaning the bottom at the well-known Secret Cove, and didn’t even feel a chill. It helps that the air was warm. We were surprised to find that we’re not the only ones who view cleaning the bottom as a Zen experience.

Swayed by the offer of a couple of beers, the newly svelte Santa Dustin decided to spend a couple of Christmas Day hours helping the Wanderer clean Profligate’s bottom. “This is nothing compared to the North Pole,” he said of the water temps.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC
A dog on the beach at Yelapa thinks he smells something funny, but it’s just an enthuso/exhibisho yoga couple taking advantage of the warm weather of Mexico to engage in the man-on-top tantric position.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While you can’t count on winter sailing conditions to be as reliable in Mexico as in the Caribbean, we’ve had some great sailing. The first two legs of the Ha-Ha offered some fantastic sailing. While we had to motor the 280 miles from Cabo to Banderas Bay, some folks had great sails almost all the way across. We had some wonderful pleasure sailing on Banderas Bay, and our first day south of Cabo Corrientes down the Gold Coast, it blew 12 to 15 knots of wind from the aft quarter. Filthy bottom and all, we still hit the low teens during a simply fabulous spinnaker run. And yes, it was tropically warm. Had a little excitement, too, when a relentless tail slapper of a whale forced us to un-gybe in the middle of the act and risk driving Profligate up on a rocky shore. But we survived.

A whale off Tenacatita Bay signals that he’s headed deep for 10 or 15 minutes.

© Louis Kruk
Life is tenuous for whales, of course. Here a Mexican boy running down the beach at Melaque is temporarily traumatized by the sight of a Canadian whale, sand shovel across his belly, that washed up on the beach.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We can’t remember having seen so many whales before. They’ve been everywhere, particularly along the Gold Coast. And they’ve been polite enough not to ram us. We’ve also seen as many or more large turtles than ever before, so the conservation efforts are really helping. While five miles offshore, Louis Kruk of the San Francisco Bay-based Cirque took a great photo of . . . a barn owl! You don’t see them out at sea all that often.

Not all who wander are lost, but some surely are. Take the case of this barn owl that Lou Kruk photographed flying five miles off the coast of Mexico.

© Louis Kruk
Perhaps the owl had been mislead by the charts of Mexico, which aren’t that accurate. For example, notice the arrow indicating that Profligate is doing 7.8 knots — not bad at all — over mountainous terrain several miles inshore of the beach.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The people of coastal Mexico are sooooo sweet and nice, and despite having so few material things, are relentlessly happy. Maybe they’re happy because they have so much less crap, and therefore derive their happiness from family, friends and new acquaintances. It’s the god’s honest truth that we haven’t seen a frown or a sulk, or been treated rudely since we were in the States. Nor have we once felt concern for our personal safety. Well, except when on one of the local buses, which was pretty beat up. Fortunately, it didn’t go much more than 15 miles an hour.

Nonetheless, the fact that the U.S. media keeps suggesting that all of Mexico is as dangerous as parts of San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, has had a huge effect. While tourism in the Puerto Vallarta area seems pretty strong, the outlying areas have definitely been hurt. Since many people in Mexico, particularly along the coast, rely on tourist income, they are really suffering economically. Think about that the next time you light up a bowl of Mexican weed.

The streets of Barra were crowded on the nights after Christmas. The ‘kids’ on our boat stayed out late almost every night, going to various music venues, and reported not one bad vibe. Mellow Mexico.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While the Ha-Ha had a record number of paid entries, the number of cruisers is clearly off from previous years. And the further south you get, the more off it seems to be. For instance, earlier in the week we saw only six cruising boats anchored in Tenacatita Bay, whereas a few years ago we would have seen 30 to 40. The ‘land grab’ dispute may have discouraged some visitors, and you can no longer complete the ‘jungle cruise’. And down in the Barra Lagoon for Christmas, there were only 23 cruising boats, and the Barra Marina wasn’t even full. These numbers are way off.

Nonetheless, the cruisers who are here, are loving it. In Barra, there is the usual mix of first-year cruisers, folks who are back for their second, third, or fourth season, Americans who brought their boats down 35 years ago and decided to never go back, and foreign cruisers. There are two sets of very experienced Aussie cruisers who bought boats on the West Coast expecting they’ll be able to cruise for several years, then recoup all their costs when they sell the boats in Oz. Yet they are pretty happy right here in Mexico. As Peter and Cheryl Ainsworth of the Fremantle-based Hylas 47 Stolen Kiss report, the booming economy in Australia — home of full employment — has resulted in skyrocketing prices. "Our yacht club back home announced a great special on Corona Beer — $6 a bottle," Peter laughs. "We buy it here at places on the beach for just a dollar!"

And then there’s the hard-to-find Aussie guy on the 40 or so foot sloop named Super Tramp. He’s on his fourth circumnavigation. We need to track him down for a story.

You can live pretty pretty inexpensively in Mexico. Up in Punta Mita the other day, we got our haircut at a ‘Salon Aesthica’ for less than $5. And it’s the best looking thing about us. Doña de Mallorca got her hair done, too, also for less than $5. While you can spend all the money you want on food in Mexico, you can also dine out on the cheap. We had lunch yesterday at what used to be Philomena’s place in Melaque, overlooking thousands of Mexicans playing in the surf and the anchored boats in the distance. Both de Mallorca and we had delicious and filling lunch plates, hers being pollo and ours being carne asada, plus one beer. The total was $10 U.S., the Sol beer having cost just 80 cents. For dinner, de Mallorca had a filling pollo pozole, while we had a filling pork pozole. The total cost was less than $5. Soup is good food, but this was 10 times better than anything Campbells has ever put in a can.

When the circus came to Melaque, Laura and Lou of Cirque got painted up and took their juggling gear to the big tent. It was Mexico so, of course, they got to perform. The crowd loved it when Lou ‘tripped’ stepping into the big ring.

© Santa Dustin

As for things to do, there’s just not time enough time in the day. Or night. Yesterday evening, there was a waterfront place holding some kind of a private party. But the band, which played a hilarious Mexican version of polka music, and which had everybody from infants to grandmas dancing for hours, was so much fun, we just had to slip in for a cocktail. No problem, of course. And much fun and laughs.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention how hard the people of Mexico work. Sweet Jesus, do they put out, and always with a smile. In return, they make just enough to keep their family fed with the most basic food in the most basic of shelters.

No place is perfect, of course, and our biggest gripe about Mexico is the litter problem. It’s even worse than the U.S. was in the early ’60s. The government is trying to educate the people, but progress has been slow.

Of course, we’re not perfect either. While we did get a Telcel memory card for our computer, we neglected to get one for our iPad. We can’t tell you how much we miss waking up in our bunk in the morning and rolling over to all that baby offers.

We hope all of you are having a wonderful holiday season, and want to assure all of you who have a dream of cruising Mexico, that it’s a dream well worth pursuing.

Dutch 15-year-old Laura Dekker arrived at Simpson Bay Lagoon on St. Martin on Monday, 18 days after leaving the 2,200-mile distant Cape Verde Islands aboard her 37-ft Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy.
We received the following note from Dobie Dolphin about beleagured Tenacatita Bay, the four-mile by four-mile bay on mainland Mexico’s Gold Coast between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, and just north of Barra Navidad: "As many of you know, on August 4, villagers, land owners, and tourists were forcibly evicted from their restaurants, homes, and palapas on Tenacatita Beach by a wealthy land developer, with the help of the governor of the state of Jalisco.
In Monday’s posting we published the remarkable photo (below) of former San Diego sailor Brenda Manceau standing proudly next to a massive yellowfin tuna that’s she’d supposedly caught in a recent tournament in Tonga.