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November 21, 2012

Vendée Drop-Outs & Drama

Gutek was forced to withdraw after Energa’s autopilots wouldn’t steer a consistent course.

© Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendée Globe

This morning brought the bad news that Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski on Energa has bowed out of the Vendée Globe. From day one, Gutek has been struggling to overcome problems with his autopilots. Many calls to his shoreside team and many failed efforts at fixing the situation forced him to make the tough decision. 

"Having no autopilot means I can’t race, and if I can’t race, I have to retire," he said in his retirement email to race officials. "I cannot go without an autopilot in the Southern Ocean, that is impossible. I need to keep the boat in one piece I don’t want to lose it and maybe my life in the Southern Ocean. Being brave is not only about fighting, it is also about knowing where to stop."

Gutek’s retirement follows that of Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ, who dropped out late on Monday after failing to find a safe fix for his broken canting keel. "The situation is clear, the way the keel head is tied right now will resist the tide and has allowed me to go find shelter," he told race officials. "But it won’t be enough to stand all the pressure and weight throughout the race around the world. I’ve started the engine. The race is over."

Sam Davies is smiling again after scrounging a piece of a broken mast and a Laser sail for Savéol’s jury rig.

© Sam Davies / DPPI / Vendée Globe

The irrepressible Sam Davies, while still grieving over having to withdraw after her dismasting, cheered up considerably when she and her team were able to set up a jury rig for Savéol for the sail home. Using a donated Laser sail and part of a broken mast, Davies and her boat captain Erwan Lemeilleur are slowly making their way back to France. "The worst thing that can happen is when you abandon a race and you have to get straight on a plane," Davies said. "I think it’s going to take us a long time to get Savéol home so that’s quite a nice way of gently coming back down to earth."

So that leaves 14 racers to tear their way around the globe. Leading the pack, as he has almost since the beginning, is Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire. "I’ve just crossed the equator and I’m drinking champagne, with a toast to Neptune, the boat and the skipper," he said as he cross the line today. "Now going south to Brazil. I’m not too drunk. I’m happy to be ahead, but there’s only a very small gap — 40 miles is nothing in the Vendée Globe."

Armel Le Cléac’h keeps pushing Banque Populaire to stay ahead of the fleet.

© Armel Le Cléac’h / DPPI / Vendée Globe

In fact, 40 miles could be just a couple hours worth of sailing on an Open 60, which is exactly the penalty several skippers were hit with after protests by Hugo Boss and the Race Committee taking exception with the way they sailed in or through the Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme. Jean Le Cam (Synerciel), Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), Javier Sansó (Acciona), Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur), and Gutek (he withdrew afterward) were penalized two hours, while Mike Golding (Gamesa) took a 30-minute hit and Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) was dinged 20 minutes.


Alessandro et les dauphins by VendeeGlobeTV


Kelly Blythe of Vallejo’s CS Marine Constructors, who keeps his Ranger 26 at Treasure Island Marina, sent in a suggestion that those interested in the race join in the Virtual Vendée Regatta. "It’s a fabulous way to ‘sail’ the race in real time with over 340,000 other sailors," he reports. "It’s a free race (though you can buy upgrades) and is rather addicting."

Kelly goes on to report that the race is run from France, with twice daily wind updates (around 11 a.m. and p.m. PST), and that they recently teamed with a company to make the site better for English speakers. "Check it out, and don’t blame me when you find yourself say over the next three months at 11 and 11, ‘Excuse me, but I have to go check my race!’"

Hoisting Your Dinghy No Longer Enough?

"On November 12, we had our dinghy — with outboard motor attached — stolen while at anchor at Isla de Piedra outside of Mazatlan," report John Gratton and Linda Hill of the San Francisco-based Hans Christian 33 Nakia. "The theft occurred at 12:30 a.m. local time. The dinghy was a grey Achilles with a newly painted white floor. The outboard was a 9.8-hp Tohatsu two-stroke.

"The method of theft was unusual. Our dinghy was raised high out of the water on a halyard, with the outboard mounted on the transom. The outboard was locked to the dinghy, and cabled and locked to Nakia with 3/16-inch lifeline wire. The thieves placed their panga beneath the raised dinghy, cut the bridle suspending the dinghy, then cut the cable. I was woken up by the sound of the cable pulling tight on Nakia, and was on deck in time to see the thieves cut the cable and race away in their panga.

"Linda and I have been in Mexico since ’04, and this is the first time we’ve ever had anything stolen from Nakia, but the theft is disappointing. Normally our motor would have been mounted and chained to the stern pulpit, but just after sunset a SeaDoo was having trouble with its engine, so I put the motor on the dinghy and went to see if I could help. Rather than put the outboard back on the rail and chain it down, I just raised the dinghy with a halyard and used the cable to secure it — which is nicer on the teak cap rail than the chain.

"There was a time when we didn’t even bother with a cable. I reported the theft to the Port Captain via VHF 16 and filed an ‘Aviso’. The authorities are, understandably, apathetic to the theft, as there are greater law enforcement issues in Mexico.

"Finally, a warning. If you think that you will hear such dinghy thieves, you are right. But they will probably already have your dinghy, and they will be committed to the theft before you hear them. I’m convinced that thieves can case your boat and make a go or no-go decision on the theft in complete silence. So make sure to secure your dinghy in such a crazy way that it’s clearly impossible to touch without making noise — and by clearly, we mean clear to anyone seeing it from 20 feet away in the middle of the night."

For the sake of others, if your dinghy is stolen in Mexico, please let us at Latitude know so we can alert others to hot spots and dinghy theft techniques. Historically, dinghy theft has not been a big problem in Mexico. Let’s work together to try and keep it that way.

Kiribati Requiring U.S. Clearance Papers

Celestial anchored at peaceful Palmyra Atoll.

© Scott Hansen

If you’re planning a trip to the Republic of Kirbati anytime soon, you’d do well to heed the advice of circumnavigators Scott and Donna Hansen who just returned to Hawaii aboard their Tripp 47 Celestial. The Hansens left Kauai in September, sailing for legendary Palmyra Atoll. "Before leaving, we emailed Amanda Meyer at Fish and Wildlife to arrange for a permit and a $350 rat inspection," reports Donna. "While we understand the desire to keep Palmyra rat-free now that they’ve completed a $2 million eradication, we feel the fee is too high. I spoke to as many people as I could to get them to lower it, and we ended up paying $260 for the inspection. 

The cost of this fresh breadfruit and papaya breakfast gave Scott quite a fright.

© 2012 Donna Hansen

"Palmyra was our first stop after Hawaii during our circumnavigation (’89), so we really wanted to experience its magic once more. After a wonderful week exploring, we zigzagged our way to Fanning, making it in 52 hours. We arrived after 4 p.m. on a Monday, so the officials claimed overtime when they checked us in and asked $50 for their visit.

"They asked for our clearance — known as a zarpe in Mexico — and when we told them the U.S. doesn’t require them to leave the country, they warned us we might be subjected to a $500 fine. The officials at Fanning sent word to their superiors at Christmas Island, and in the meantime we paid an extra $20 for a three-month anchorage fee. We’d planned to stay a few weeks there, then spend time at Christmas Island before returning to Hawaii.

Two enormous lobsters for $20? Not too shabby.

© Scott Hansen

"We admit we didn’t do our homework, instead going on our past knowledge of checking into Fanning. Since our return, I’ve scoured the internet and can’t find any mention of Kiribati’s requiring a U.S. ‘zarpe‘. But we found out they do now. Three days after arriving, we were told we’d have to pay $900 or leave immediately! Not only did Christmas Island want us to pay $900, but we understand they also charge $150-250 to check in, as well as another $50 for a rat inspection — even though the island already has rats. We believe we were being punished for two American yachties — one had his U.S. clearance, the other didn’t — who have reportedly been a source of trouble at Fanning. 

It’s missing out on meeting more I-Kiribati, like this school teacher, that the Hansens regret most about their premature departure from Fanning.

© Scott Hansen

"We asked for an extra week to make desperately needed repairs to our mainsail, which they allowed. During that time, we did get to do a little shopping, which was expensive but we needed some fresh food, plus it helps the I-Kiribati. Lobsters were $10 each, onions were $1, and three paypayas and a pumpkin cost $20. The country is in trouble so, if you do visit, anything you can bring for trading or gifting — from flour and rice to T-shirts and goggles — is appreciated. But if you bring nothing else, don’t leave home without your clearance papers!"

Happy Thanksgiving!

A meme that’s been trending on Facebook over the last couple days shows a woman pushing a shopping cart with the caption, "Black Friday: Because only in America do people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have." We think it’s worth paying a few bucks more for Christmas gifts later to avoid the nightmare that is Black Friday and go sailing instead. The Bay Area forecast for Friday looks pleasant, with scattered clouds and a high of 68. Pack some turkey sandwiches and be thankful you’re on a boat.

Speaking of being thankful, Latitude‘s World Headquarters will be closed tomorrow and Friday so we can spend time with our families (but you can bet we’ll be on the water at some point over the weekend). We’ll see you back here on Monday!

John Rice, a marine engineer, spent 18 years building Argonaut. She has a steel hull and deck, and an aluminum house.
Regular readers will recall our previous posts on the fate of the famous Sausalito-based schooner Lord Jim.