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January 12, 2011

California Coastal Beauty

The sunrise was beautiful. But then it rained, as it often has in Southern California this winter.

© 2011 Devan Mullins

The above photo of Newport Harbor, taken by Devan Mullins on January 2, is his response to our recent ‘Lectronic photo of a sunrise at Barra Navidad, Mexico.

It’s a beautiful scene and a beautiful photograph. The only improvement would be if it was 30 degrees warmer in Newport in the winter. Maybe that’s why Mullins, a Newport resident, keeps the family’s Shannon 38 in South Florida.

Questions About the Cup?

What the America’s Cup waterfront will look like on San Francisco Bay.

America’s Cup 34
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Wondering what "exclusive use of the Bay" will look like? Wondering how fast an AC 72 will be? Wondering what the ACEA, ACRM, and ACOC are?

Us too. With the help of our readers, we’ve put together an America’s Cup 34 FAQ page where you can go to find answers to these questions, and a whole lot more. We’ve put out a couple calls in ‘Lectronic Latitude for readers’ questions, and the response has been fantastic. We’ve incorporated many of them into the FAQ sheet, which we hope will prove to be a useful guide to the event for those of us who don’t have as much time as we’d like to follow the details of AC 34 as they emerge. This is a work in progress, and we’ll be updating the page periodically. So please don’t hesitate to send in your questions as they pop into your head; we might not answer them right away, but we’ll try to get to them in an update. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send in their questions!

The Case for Winter Sailing Lessons

There are all sorts of reasons why summer is the prime time for kids to take sailing lessons, but as staffers at several San Francisco Bay sailing institutions will tell you, there are also some strong arguments for learning the ropes during the winter months.

Off the couch and out on the water, that’s what we like to see. Richmond YC has one of the most active kids’ programs in the Bay.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Veteran racers often recommend that newbies learn the subtleties of on-the-water competition during mid-winter races because — unless it’s storming — winds are light, waters are flat, and the action is slower. The same is true of taking sailing classes during the winter months. True, students do have to layer up a bit more, but learning to sail in light air is much, much less intimidating to newcomers — especially those who didn’t grow up around the water.

Compared to the fast-action of high-wind sailing, maneuvers during wintertime seem to take place in slo-mo, giving neophytes extra reaction time. Students are typically less nervous sailing in light air, and playing the gentle puffs of winter will give them a more accute sense of the sublte nuances of sail trim.

So who’s offering such courses? While virtually all sailing clubs offer adult programs year-round, as far as we know only a few organizations offer kids winter instruction: Richmond YC (510-237-2821), Oakland Parks and Rec (510-238-2196), Treasure Island Sailing Center (415-421-2225), and both the Marinship (415-956-5700) and San Francisco (415-517-3943) Sea Scout Programs. 

If you’re running a winter program not mentioned above, we’d love to receive your info — and give you some publicity. Happy sailing!

Cita and Sea Diamond

Back in the December 10 ‘Lectronic, we ran a little quiz asking what fun-loving woman owned the colorful toes in the photo accompanying that ‘Lectronic item. We gave some hints: 1) She’s a West Coast woman who had considerable success racing a cutting-edge sailboat; 2) More importantly, she’s completed the magnificent restoration of a 55-year-old, 90-ft yacht, one of the most beautiful classics in the United States — if not the world; 3) Having cruised the yacht 10,000 miles on the East Coast, Caribbean and Mexico last year, she intends to sail her big ketch in the Los Angeles to Honolulu TransPac in July, and then continue on to New Zealand and, if the continent is not still underwater, Australia.

The most common guess was Elizabeth Meyer of Newport, Rhode Island, who, with the complete restoration of the J Class yacht Endeavour from a rotting hulk, inspired a whole movement of restoring grand old yachts. But they weren’t Elizabeth’s toes.

The magnificent Sea Diamond on the hook off Punta Mita, Mexico, is all old-school class. We should all look so good at 55 years of age.

©2011 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

No, the lovely painted toes belong to Cita Litt of Newport Beach, the justifiably proud co-restorer and owner of the spectacular Newport Beach-based Phil Rhodes 90-ft motorsailor Sea Diamond, a yacht that had been built in 1956 by the by great German yard of Abeking & Rasumussen. When Cita and Sea Diamond aren’t gallivanting around — she had a fabulous time in the Northeast last year — the yacht is kept behind the Lido Isle home of Cita’s 91-year old mother, because the dock behind Cita’s Newport home isn’t big enough.

Living well and joie de vivre come easy to the fun-loving Cita, who is holding her ‘Queen of Everything’ coffee cup.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Having moved back to her childhood home of Newport Beach from Aspen about 12 years ago, Cita decided to get into low-key yacht racing with a Harbor 20. She shanghaied her then 79-year-old mom as her first crew. Enjoying the competition so much, Cita bought one of the innovative Shock 40s with the forward rudder and canting keel, a forerunner to all the famous canting keel boats. In fact, it was after seeing Cita that the owner of the game-changing Wild Oats decided to opt for a canting keel.

Cita then named her 40 after herself — why not, as she’s also got a coffee cup with the self-depreciating inscription, ‘Queen of Everything’? — put together a group of fine sailors from the Newport Harbor YC, and entered "every race that would let us in." After sometimes having to battle to be allowed to participate because of the canting keel, Cita says Cita was raced very successfully in a number of Key West Race Weeks, St. Francis Big Boat Series, and Ensenada Races.

Cita and Doña de Mallorca gaze across Sea Diamond’s wide foredeck.

©2011 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"I had a great bunch of guys, we raced against the best sailors in the world, we were very successful, and it was wild fun," she says. One of Cita’s fondest memories is of a remark by the late, much-beloved Roy Disney. "We’d beaten his boat a couple of times, so when he saw me before one race, I heard him curse, ‘Oh, it’s that damn girl’s boat again!’ Did he think I was deaf?" she asks.

But Cita remembers the incident, as she does most things, with a hearty laugh and a twinkle in her eye. The fact of the matter is that Cita is a real charmer, who loves to laugh and to enjoy life. She knows that she’s been dealt a nice hand, and unlike some folks in that position, she’s not one to let it bother her. Widowed for a few years like her sidekick Sharon, who she grew up with and who she lived with in Aspen, the two gals seem to have joie de vive, rather than blood, pulsing through their veins. "There’s a block party somewhere in downtown Puerto Vallarta tonight? Let’s go!"

Cita had the honor of springing for Sea Diamond’s new spruce mast. She insisted that the steps and crow’s nest be put on because they were original.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

A little more than two years ago, Cita decided she wanted a bigger and more luxurious boat on which to cruise. When she learned that Sea Diamond, a 90-ft Phil Rhodes motorsailor, which just happened to be the old family yacht, was sitting in a shed on the East Coast and was for sale, she knew just what to do. She phoned Tom Corkett, another old Newport school chum, at Ardell Yachts and told him she wanted to buy it. A steel-hulled centerboarder with an impeccable pedigree, Sea Diamond had been partially restored over nearly four years at tremendous expenses by her then-owner. "After I bought her," Cita told Latitude, "one of the carpenters told me that just the wood for one door in the head in the master stateroom cost $10,000."

Multi-colored fingernails and toe-nails, stylishly ripped top, the semi-Gabby Hayes style hat, Cita marches to her own tune. It might have something to do with that Spanish Basque heritage.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

After the normal wrangling of any boat purchase, Cita completed the restoration, also at tremendous expense. "I’m the lucky one who got to pay for the new spruce mast," she laughs. Because Cita insisted that many parts of the restoration be authentic — "I had to fight everyone to keep most of it as original as possible" — it was a far cry from being the least expensive first-class restoration. But the result is that Sea Diamond is again one of the world’s fine yachts. And Cita has nothing but admiration and praise for the skills of the craftsmen of the Northeast who did all the work.

Launched with the most improbable name of Bar-L-Rick, the Rhodes motorsailor had been originally built as an avant garde yacht for the Sperry Electronics Company of New York to showcase their futuristic electronic goodies — and to no doubt entertain management and clients in style. A year later, she was purchased by William Bartholomew, Cita’s uncle. He rechristened her Sea Diamond, mostly because the family’s money came from owning the Diamond Bar Ranch which, although only 27 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was once the largest operating cattle ranch in the West. Diamond Bar is now a city of 60,000 people.

You don’t even want to know what detail work such as this costs.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While the general public may have known William Bartholomew primarily for having his 180-ft motoryacht Paragon sink in Newport Harbor as a result of the famous hurricane of ’38, and for being murdered by his maid — she got off — he was also an accomplished sailor. For example, he represented the U.S. in sailing in the ’36 Olympics. Then he campaigned the 8-Meter Yucca, a yacht that in recent decades Sausalito’s Hank Easom has sailed to hundreds of first-place finishes. He also owned Senta, a 55-ft schooner that was the sistership to Humphrey Bogat’s Santana, now owned by the Bay Area’s Paul and Chris Kaplan. In fact, Bartholomew and Senta were victorious in a famous match race between the two yachts.

It was from Cita’s early days on Sea Diamond that she developed her passion for the sea — and for Sea Diamond. "I remember a lot of trips to Catalina on Sea Diamond, with everyone going over the boat with chamoises all the way to White’s," she laughs. "My uncle was an absolutely meticulous man. All shoes, for example, had to be left on the dock, and the crew was up the rig each morning at 7:30 to dry the drips of moisture off the varnish. And because William was a perfectionist, Sparkle, Sea Diamond‘s tender, was perfect, too. In fact, I’ve just acquired Sparkle, and she’ll be restored to original condition, too."

Rob Wallace, Sea Diamond’s captain, marvels at the windlass. Not just people like Sea Diamond. While she was at Tenacatita Bay, tens of thousands of bees tried to set up shop on the ketch’s mizzen.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

There was fun on the ketch, too. "One of my best memory’s was of sailing back to Newport from Catalina at 8.5 knots with the rail almost under. She was going as fast as she could possibly go because William was one of Newport’s great sailors."

But Cita’s biggest motivation in buying Sea Diamond was knowing how beautiful she’d been in her youth and how, after being out of the family for 47 years, she could be again. Having accomplished those parts of her goals, Cita keeps marveling at how successful the project has been. And she’s not alone. We can’t tell you how many cruisers have told us what a treat it’s been for them to have been berthed in the same marina or on the hook in the same anchorage as the gorgeous classic yacht. There’s never a sense of envy, but rather appreciation.

Oddly enough, the only slightly cheesy thing on the great yacht is the original nameplate.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Sea Diamond, with Rob Wallace as captain, will soon be returning to Newport Beach to prepare for entry in the Aloha cruising class of the TransPac. "I know Sea Diamond is no racing machine," laughs Cita, "so if the race committee lets us start tomorrow, maybe we’ll have a chance."

Standby, Honolulu! Lookout, South Pacific! Cita, Sharon, and Sea Diamond will soon be headed your way.

©2011 Latitude 38 Media, LLC
After being knocked down and having her boom snapped in half on her approach to Cape Horn last Wednesday, the indefatigable Jeanne Socrates is safe and sound in Ushuaia, Argentina.
Last week was a whirlwind of America’s Cup activity, not the least of which — as far as we’re concerned — was the planning of a Frequently Asked Questions page for our website.