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March 4, 2013

An Oyster 82 on the Beach

According to Darling’s owner, she was stolen from her slip in Sausalito. Parker Diving is en route to effect a salvage.

© 2013 Steve Hajnal


That’s our reaction to this morning’s news that Darling, the second Oyster 82 built — launched in 2007 or 2008 and worth about $3.5 million — went up on the beach at Pacifica’s Linda Mar Beach, one of our favorite surfing haunts from back in the day.

The initial report in the Chronicle was that Darling had three crew — which is about normal. And that somebody had to swim out with a handheld radio for communication, which is not normal. As if such a luxury boat such as an Oyster 82 didn’t have a VHF radio — as well as a full complement of every other electronic known to the world of sailing.

An updated Chronicle item on the incident reported that the owner of the boat — name not given — had seen video of the boat on the beach while watching television, realized she was his, and called the Sausalito Police to report she’d been stolen from a local marina.

We’re dying to hear how this story plays out, because we imagine it’s a bit more picturesque than we know now. After all, we can imagine there might be one person dumb enough to think they could steal a very large and expensive blue-hulled yacht and get away with it — where are you going to hide with something so conspicuous? But three people that stupid in one place? On the other hand, the crew apparently managed to put the boat on the beach in not particularly bad weather, which strikes us as quite an accomplishment. So maybe they were in over their heads.

After riding the boat all the way to the beach, one of the alleged culprits is led ashore by police. We assume he’ll have plenty of time while in custody to contemplate what went wrong during this ill-conceived caper.

© Erik Simonson /

We want to emphasize that we know very little now, but suspect the story is going to get a more interesting in the next couple of days.

For a closer look at the boat before it was in distress, visit Ashley Perrin’s blog of doing a delivery of the big boat.

Cap’ns and Crews to Mingle at GGYC

There’s a common perception among many non-sailors that access to our sport is difficult-to-impossible unless you’re a billionaire. Ironically, though, there are many boat owners who struggle to find reliable crew for racing, cruising and daysailing.

You’ll see what we mean if you show up Wednesday evening at the Golden Gate YC for our annual spring Crew List Party. It’s a no-stress mixer that’s open to all, with the simple goal of introducing capable crew to captains in need.

You can’t help but make a few new friends at our Crew List Parties. And if you like, you can test the roominess of a liferaft.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Doors open at 6 p.m. sharp and the schmoozing ceases at 9 p.m. Cost to attend is $5 if you’re under 25, and $7 for all others. Inside, you’ll find, free snacks, door prizes, and a no-host bar, as well as many like-minded sailors either looking for a ride or needing crew.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the Golden Gate YC, it’s located out on the spit that forms the northern perimeter of the San Francisco Marina (just past the St. Francis YC). Click here for directions.

This year’s party will again be preceded at 3:30 p.m. by an in-the-water liferaft demo by Sal’s Inflatable Services — a rare opportunity to see how this essential piece of offshore equipment functions. (Info/RSVP: 510-522-1824)  Other exhibitors may also attend the 6-to-9 shindig, including reps from the sailing app maker Kroocial.

So instead of sitting at home watching re-runs of South Park, we urge you to show up at the party with a smile on your face and sailing resumes in hand. With any luck, doing so could jump-start exhilarating new sailing experiences within the Bay and beyond. See you there!

Full Story on Boarding at Caleta de Campos

The following is Judy Lang’s detailed summary of what happened the night she and her partner Bill Lilly of Newport Beach were victims of an armed robbery aboard Bill’s Lagoon 470 catamaran Moontide. Bill and Judy are good friends of Latitude‘s. Bill is a veteran of many Baja Ha-Ha’s and much cruising in Mexico. He and Judy have requested to be entry #1 in this fall’s 20th annual Ha-Ha.

First, some context. Although a small town, Caleta de Campos, which is not a tourist stop, has something of a history for armed boardings of cruising boats. About 10 years ago Blair Grinol’s 45-ft Capricorn Cat catamaran was boarded in the middle of the night by an armed man who claimed to be the police. The culprit got away with a small amount of money. In 1997, the Kiwi family of Bob and Jennie Crum on the CF37 Gumboots was robbed there. (Coincidentally, in the next issue of Latitude, we have a report from their daughter Naomi. She is cruising Central America with two other young women on her Columbia 23, and wrote about being attacked by several men late at night in Nicaragua. The angry gals drove the men off!) Three incidents in 10 years is not a lot, but it’s way more than any other place we’re aware of in Mexico.

To our knowledge, armed boardings of yachts is extremely rare in Mexico. In fact, the above listed incidents at Caleta de Campos constitues the majority. In the other incidents we’re aware of, weapons were never used. The exception was about 30 years ago, when a young man who had been living in Los Angeles, returned to Turtle Bay, and murdered a cruiser from Red Bluff with — literally — a thousand cuts in a very bizarre incident.

Here then, is Judy’s report:

February 19, 2013, anchored off Caleta de Campos, Michocan, Mexico.

It all started a few hours after a delightful potluck on Moontide. It had been a small gathering, including Bob from Viva and Bob and Deanne from Dos Leos.   Eagle and Jupiter’s Smile had come in long after we started our soirée, so they just anchored down for the night. There were a total of five boats in the anchorage, and a couple of boats were fairly close to Moontide (Viva and Jupiter’s Smile).

We enjoyed a fun evening, and went to bed with smiles. At about 1:50 a.m., we were awakened by lots of loud banging on our sliding glass door and boat hull. We thought it was an emergency, and Bill jumped out of bed (buck naked) and leaped up the stairs. He saw a young man he did not recognize as he opened the door. Immediately a gun was put in Bill’s face, as the young man slipped on a mask.

The gunman said something to the effect of, “This is a robbery, give us all your money.” He motioned for Bill to step back, and the gunman and two other masked men came in. Bill yelled at me that they had a gun and to stay in bed.

Immediately the other two started to ransack the boat, while the armed man followed Bill down to our cabin to get pesos. I saw the masked gunman, as he stood in the doorway and Bill got money out of the small bedside desk. They then went back up to the salon, and once again Bill told me to stay in bed. All I could do was listen, hope they were not violent, and try to determine what action I should take, if called into play.

The armed man spoke broken English, and he was clearly not happy with the sum of money (only about 1400 pesos) that Bill gave him. He said with such a large boat, we should have more money. Bill, who always thinks quickly on his feet, said he was not the owner of the boat, he was the Captain, and was taking the boat from Zihuatanejo to Mazatlan. Again the man insisted he had more money, and Bill said if he needed more, he could always use an ATM at the next stop.

Bill was told to sit down, and the gunman kept watch over Bill while the other two went through the starboard hull and salon. It is strange they never came back over to the port side. Bill says they probably didn’t want to mess with me, but I guess we’ll never know.

The men were in their early 20s, and stood between 5’6" and 5’8". Only the armed man spoke some English, and he gave orders to the other two in Spanish. At one point, Bill heard someone call another Carlito. All were very fit, so they must do some other work for a living.

Bill told me that, at the time, he was looking at what he might do, if the violence escalated. He looked at the gunman and could have taken him out, but that would leave the other two, and he did not know what weapons they carried. If they tried to tie him up, Bill was not about to let that happen. He would resist and call me into action (as once tied up, they could toss us overboard or whatever else they wanted).

The robbers hadn’t brought a sack for goods, so they emptied one of mine that had clothes in it. They used it to put in two cameras, two handheld VHF radios, two pairs of binoculars, a GPS, a notebook computer, my cell phone, flashlights, gin, tequila, two Baja Ha-Ha beer coozies, sunglasses, and a black folder containing some business records.

During this, Bill got up and said he had to pee (he really did, this was not strategic maneuver). The gunman told him to sit down. Bill insisted that he seriously had to pee, which irritated the man, and he again told Bill to sit back down. After about 10 minutes, the two men who had been taking orders from the gunman left and got in a panga on the starboard side of our boat. The gunman put Bill’s brimmed hat on and Bill got up as the man exited the salon. He told Bill to sit back down and stay there and not to follow him. Bill did so.

We heard the motor of the panga start up and immediately Bill yelled for me to come up. He was so pumped and excited, and he immediately reached for the VHF radio and began his call on Channel 22 to the other boats. We were concerned that the men where headed for them, and we wanted to warn the others. No one responded.

Bill ran and got the flare gun and started shooting flares, but they did little to light up the sky towards shore. He then grabbed the air horn and gave five blasts, hoping to alert the other boats. He then got on the VHF again, and this time Jupiter’s Smile and Viva responded. We told them that three masked, armed men had left our boat, and they may be headed to them. They said they hadn’t seen the men, but would be on alert. We then tried to hail the port captain at Lazaro Cardenas on Channel 16, but got no response.

Luckily, Bill had taken his cell phone, our Banda Ancha (Telcel’s internet access link), and another computer to bed. (In the past, I had complained about this nightly practice of his of sleeping with electronics — hardly romantic, and it interfered with certain moves. Trust me, I won’t be complaining again).

We tried calling 066 (supposedly same as 911), but could not understand the recording. We called a US consulate and their answering service gave us the number to the embassy in Mexico City. The embassy operator told us that 089 was the same as 911, and to call it to get the local police. We tried that, but again could not understand Spanish well enough to understand the recording.

So, feeling helpless and without any other method to try to alert others or capture the men, we retired to our cabin. Sleep was not possible, so we talked about what had just happened and tried to calm down. We also sent emails to cruiser friends that we knew were north and south of us, so they could warn others via the various nets. 

After a few hours, we got up and typed up a short report of what happened, and included a list of stolen items. Bill used Google Translate and translated the report from English to Spanish. We then printed out four copies, along with a copy in English, with the printer we have onboard (in our port side office/cabin). The other boats checked with us first before lifting anchor. We thought twice about reporting the incident vs. just getting out of there. We concluded we had to go ashore and report the incident to the police.

Once ashore, we were unable to find anyone who spoke English, so we showed our report to one young girl at a palapa restaurant. She spoke to the owner and he motioned us to get in his truck. He drove us to the Turista Informacion office, where we spoke to Juan, who is apparently the equivalent of their mayor. He did not speak English, and he could not locate anyone who could speak English. He called the police in Lazaro Cardenas (the nearest police station), and then he motioned for us to come with him.

Juan drove us in his pickup the 1.5 or so hours to Lazaro Cardenas (slowed by a lot of road construction along the way), where we met with Rafael Reyes of Ministerio Publico. He did not speak English, nor did his staff, and he could not locate anyone who spoke English. After a long time, mayor Juan called a friend, Joselin, who worked nearby. Her English was very good and she acted as an interpreter, so Rafael could prepare a lengthy affidavit of what had transpired and what had been stolen. That was signed by the interpreter, Bill and Rafael, and we were given a copy of it.

There was no mention of what was going to be done with the report, or whether any action whatsoever would be taken. Neither Juan nor Rafael had asked Joselin to relay to us that they were sorry about what had happened to us, or what they were going to do (at the official or local level) to try to apprehend the men. At that point, we questioned whether our efforts would result in anything other than filling some paperwork folder in Lazaro Cardenas, but by then we just wanted to get out of there and back to our boat.

We tried to give Joselin some money for helping us with the translation, but she refused and said she was embarrassed about what had happened to us. She bought us Cokes, and reluctantly accepted our reimbursement, again saying how sorry she was for what we’d been through that day.

The ride back to Caleta de Campos was another lengthy one, complicated by a front tire blow-out (with no spare tire, of course). Juan walked up the road to a nearby house and was able to borrow a car that did not run well. I saw the gas gauge showed ’empty’, but it seemed to run, even though there were strange noises coming from the engine. Just as we hit the edge of town, the car made some awful noises and Juan pulled over, stopped and threw up his arms.

We thanked Juan and told him we would walk the rest of the way. We gave him some pesos for gas, but he refused anything more. We were glad to see our kayaks were still on the beach and Moontide was still at anchor. We were anxious to get out of there, and we finally were able to motor out at about 6 p.m.

We hadn’t eaten all day and we were dogged tired. It had been a long, unlucky day, but we fully understood how lucky we really were to have survived the ordeal. And additionally lucky to have Bill’s cell phone, computer and Banda Ancha. (Also my computer, which I had put in my closet when cleaning up for the potluck, and our printer/scanner).

Thereafter, I called Kelly at the US Consulate in Paradise Village,  and she asked that I email her a copy of the affidavit that the Ministerio Publico prepared, and she would forward it to the correct Consulate for the Lazaro Cardenas area. I have done so, but have not received any word from them.

As we traveled north, we talked about what happened, what we did right and wrong, and what we would do in the future. We both agreed that this was not going to ruin what had been a fabulous cruising season up until now. We both still love Mexico and most of its population, and we fully intend to keep enjoying our cruising here — but with precautions in place.

Although we had to agree that this cove at Caleta looked nice, we noticed that this was not a place that catered to foreign (usually Canadian, US) tourists, and we did not see a single gringo onshore or in town. No one we came in contact with spoke any English, and aside from the main, paved street in that part of town, most of the other roads were dirt. Seems there might be more economic incentive here to rob, especially since there is no police presence.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty lucky. Bill and I have managed to avoid any violent threat/armed assault until we were in our 60s. We are also lucky that Bill is 6’4", as this may have made the men think twice about trying to control his long limbs through use of physical force. Lucky also that they only had one gun. Lucky the Mexican population is generally shorter than we are (I’m 5’8"). Lucky that Bill is very bright, thinks well on his feet (apparently even under extreme, adrenaline-pumping stress). Lucky that Bill told me to stay in bed, not only for my own sake, but it allowed the gunman to focus in on just one person as opposed to two, which may have made him more nervous with his gun pointing. Lucky they did not bring a bag for looting, as that indicated they did not intend to spend much time onboard. Lucky that other boats were around, as that may have prompted the robbers to act quickly, as opposed to take their time with us.

Although I feel we are lucky, these young men were inexperienced — professionals may have tried tying us up, harmed us or taken us for ransom, ransacked the entire boat, getting all computers, passports, phones, etc. Bill says it was their inexperience (acting nervous, jumpy, possibly high on something, waving the gun around) that really had him concerned for our safety.

So, as a result of all of this, we have modified our preparedness plans, and will continue to do so, as more ideas are formulated. We have also gathered suggestions from and for other cruisers, which I’ll describe in another report.

Among the things that cruisers will learn about during our Vallarta YC Send-Off Party this afternoon, is the warm Polynesian welcome they’ll receive in the islands.
After smashing the existing monohull sailing record from New York to San Francisco, the turboed Volvo 70 Maserati has hauled out at the KKMI boatyard in Richmond.