February 1, 2013

Fun Times in the Tropics

Leanne and John know how to make new friends wherever they go. (She’s seen here in Fiji, where they are currently cruising.)

Red Sky
©2012 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Although we meet hundreds of cruisers on the Baja Ha-Ha rally each year, we’ll probably never forget Aussies John and Leanne Hembrow, of the Moody 54 Red Sky, who sailed south in 2010 with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet. Why? For one thing, they both seemed to have boundless enthusiasm for joining in the rally’s activities and making new friends, thus squeezing the most possible fun out of the event.

The perfect illustration of their Ha-Ha spirit came at the Bahia Santa Maria beach party, when Rally Committee volunteers were passing out temporary tattoos: John insisted his be put right in the middle of his forehead. "Uh, are you sure?" asked a volunteer. "It won’t wash off for days." "No worries, mate," said John. "I love it!" Although similarly enthused, Leanne opted for a Ha-Ha ‘tramp stamp’.

Some people don’t need instructions on how to have fun.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

That was two years ago. Since then they’ve covered thousands of miles cruising south along the Central American coast, then west into the Pacific aboard their big, beautiful Moody. We were about to post these fun photos of them in mid-December, when we realized that they and many other cruisers had became threatened by the imminent arrival of Tropical Cyclone Evan. Although that monster storm hammered the Fijian islands, Red Sky and most other cruising boats came out with only minor damage. So now that the dust has settled and the Hembrows are happily back out cruising, we thought we’d pull this report off the back burner and share it with you.

We caught up with the couple in Tahiti last summer and learned why John, in particular, is so thrilled to be out cruising. He used to run a large painting operation with a huge staff, where some days the headaches were colossal. As these photos confirm, he’s having much more fun now, taking a slow cruise home to Australia. By the way, one way that John and Leanne are helping to finance their cruise is by selling a line of polarized bifocal sunglasses through their company Aquatic Optics. The connectivity of the modern world — even in places like Fiji — allows them to keep the business afloat while being thousands of miles from the warehouse.

There’s no shortage of fresh water aboard Red Sky, but this method of showering is a lot more fun.

Red Sky
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

February Issue on the Streets

If you’re one of the many sailors planning to participate in one of this weekend’s midwinter racers — or the sole non-midwinter race on Saturday: Coyote Point YC’s Double Up & Back — you’ll want to grab several copies of the February issue of Latitude 38 before you head out. The five knots of predicted breeze for the weekend will allow your crew loads of time for some leisurely reading!

The good news is that there’s plenty of worthwhile content inside to take their minds off the fact they’re drifting around the Bay. There’s a recap of the Vendée Globe, if you haven’t been keeping up with it online, and an introduction to the new SF-to-SF Round the World Race, set to start in the fall of 2015. We celebrate Lake Merritt’s 75th birthday, see what remains of a shipwreck on a remote piece of coast looks like several years later, get a different view of the Farallones, and learn that not all cats are unsinkable. And that’s just in the Sightings section!

Elsewhere in the magazine, you’ll learn about the history of the New York-to-San Francisco sailing record (currently being challenged by Giovanni Soldini on Maserati), find a schedule of events to plan your sailing year around, meet the last batch of season champs, and much more.

So don’t forget to grab a stack before you head out on the water this weekend or you might find yourself with a mutinous — or bored — crew.

One Bucket Cabin Left

In Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic, we announced that the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca had three double-cabins — heads ensuite — available for a charter aboard their Leopard 45 catamaran ‘ti Profligate for the the spectacular St. Barth Bucket at the end of March. Two of the three cabins are now taken. If you’re into having an incredible experience in the Caribbean, check out the full briefing at the link above.

Best Deals in Mexico

We were in La Cruz last night with a bunch of other cruisers at a birthday party for Lionel Bass of the Perth, Australia-based M&M 52 cat Kiapa, when the subject of bargains in Mexico came up.

We mentioned that the night before we had eaten at the El Coleguita restaurant at the edge of town. Right then Bill Chapman of the San Diego-based Tayana 460 Peregrine reminded us that he, his sweetheart Maria Gates, and Jeff and Melody Christensen of the Anacortes-based Lagoon 440 Double Diamond, all of whom were also at the party, had been dining at the table next to us that night. Yes, the restaurant is popular with cruisers; yes, it’s a very small world; and yes, sometimes we can’t remember what happened the night before.

Anyway, the accompanying photo shows just part of our dinner order. It started with the standard chips and salsa, and moved on to a cup of tasty fish soup. The main platter was killer. In addition to a large green salad and scoop of rice, we got generous portions of chicken, beef, white fish, and shrimp — all of it cooked to tender perfection. Then came a sweet after-dinner beverage, and a half-a-banana-in-cream-sauce desert. Prices have gone up a bit in Mexico, so it cost all of 119 pesos — about 10 bucks. Did we mention that the price includes all the tequila that you can drink?

Food prices have gone up in Mexico. This plate of grub costs nearly 10 whole dollars!

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We then reported that other Aussie cruising friends — and previous night’s dining companions Verdo and Gabby Verdon aboard the Catalina 42 Larrakin — had gotten a great deal on health services while in La Paz. Feeling it was time for a physical, Verdo had a half-hour consultation with a doctor he liked, plus complete blood tests, and an EKG. The total cost was 580 pesos, or about $50. Based on the what the husband and wife doctor team in Punta Mita charge for the same thing, that’s not unusual. In addition, the Verdons were able to get all kinds of prescription medicines that they might need while crossing the Pacific.

Alan Bradley and Elizabeth Baggs of the Northern California-based Calibre 40 Vivacia chimed in that they’d paid far more for blood tests in La Paz. Way more than anybody else reported, so they felt they got ripped off. No doubt they did. Like everywhere, you need to compare prices and services.

However, Bradley and Baggs also stepped into one of the best Mexican deals ever — three years of free government health insurance. We don’t know if Mexico was having a ‘no-cost special’ on complete medical and basic dental and vision, something that usually costs about $350 a year, but Elizabeth told us that for reasons unknown to them, they got it for free. And that’s not all. They also got their new visa way faster than many others who used agents. "It was a little hard to get the online process started, but easy from then on," said Bradley.

We started our new visa process in mid-November with the agent in La Cruz, Maria, who is well-known bar owner Philo’s sweetie, and finally got our new one about a week ago. We’re a Temporary Resident, with a ‘lucrativo‘ endorsement. Whatever that means.

The secret to clean panga bottoms? Applications of straight bleach. Mexico could improve on its relationship with the environment.

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Do you have a favorite bargain you’ve gotten in Mexico? If so, we’d like to hear about it.

While we’re talking about Mexico, we’d like to give a shout-out to Jim and Chris Machado of the new-to-them Catana 43 catamaran La Paloma, Too. This really terrific couple never planned to go over to the dark side, but then raced on a cat. At age 70, and with a back that required surgery, Jim — with Chris — took the cat plunge. If we’re not mistaken, last Saturday’s Vallarta Cup race was the couple’s first with their new boat, and in winds that topped out at about five knots, they kicked ass. Boat-for-boat they finished only a few feet behind the high-performance Kiapa, killed us on Profligate, and were far ahead of others. We loved it! By the way, the Machados are the proud parents of Rob Machado, one of the finest soul surfers ever, and Jim spent half of his younger years taking his son and the legendary surfer Kelly Slater to contests around the country and around the world.

Speaking of shout-outs, we’d also like to give them to Bill and Sue Houlihan of the San Diego-based Lagoon 410 Sun Baby, the owners of the Catana 43 Nina Mae, and Eric and Pam Sellix of the Clatskanie, Oregon-based Seawind 1160 Pied-a-Mer III — and anyone else who raced a cat in the Vallarta Cup. No matter the size or speed of the cat, or the skill of the crew, everybody was out there having a blast. It wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about everybody having fun with their boats — exactly what racing at this level should be like. More of you should try it.

Mexico is finally getting some good press. In last Sunday’s New York Times, a US entreprenuer wrote a detailed article explaining why he chose Mexico over China for his new manufacturing business. Indeed, Mexico is starting to eat China’s lunch in some areas of manufacturing. Wide screen televisions by the likes of Samsung and Sony, for example, are made in Tijuana, and all of the world’s luxury Audi SUVs are about to come from Mexico.

After a rocky few years, Mexico could be dawning on a new era.

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The Financial Times also had a very positive article about Mexico, giving credit to new President Enrique Peña Nieto for working to end monopolies in such notoriously monopolistic or corrupt fields as television networks, the energy sector, and the teacher’s union. When it comes to economics, Mexico — only a few years ago described as being on the verge becoming a failed state — is now being spoken of as the ‘Aztec tiger’. It is the bright star of Latin America, having attracted five times as much foreign investment last year as Brazil, which is a fading number two. Mexico is "an incredible growth story," said Larry Fink, who is the head of Black Rock, the largest asset management company in the world. With a growing middle class, and their stock market at an all-time high, there is optimism in Mexico.

But make no mistake, Mexico has issues. The recent taking down of a number of drug lords seems to have increased the infighting of ever-more-splintered narco gangs. Fortunately, the level of violence still seems to be going down and is mostly limited to more remote areas.

At least until yesterday, when a powerful bomb exploded in the basement of the 51-story Pemex building in Mexico City, killing more than 30. As yet, it’s unclear whether this was an accident, a revenge killing by an angry narco group, or some kind of attack on Pemex itself, which has long stood for government inefficiency, corruption and union featherbedding.

Interesting times south of the border.

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"Hey, do you guys know what happened to www.pinkboat.org?" We’ve found this question by readers in our inbox over the last few days so we checked it out and, sure enough, the site is down.
The racing never stops in the many islands of the Eastern Caribbean, but the major events — most of which are from Antigua north for English speakers — run from late January to early May.