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December 18, 2013

And Now for Something Different

One of the more dramatic moments on Esprit’s recent Atlantic crossing.

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Because Latitude is based on the West Coast, we usually feature sailing photographs from California, Mexico or the South Pacific. But here are a couple of shots taken during the Henderson, Nevada-based Esprit‘s crossing from the Canary Islands to Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean. The crew are Chay, Katie, and Jamie McWilliam, who have spent at least half a year each year cruising around the world since starting with the 2003 Ha-Ha. We’ve have complete details on their nearly 3,000-mile crossing in the January 1 issue of Latitude 38.

Katie and Jamie in the cockpit of Esprit enjoying what appears to be breakfast. While the rock ‘n roll conditions frequently made it difficult for Katie to cook, she soldiered on. Jamie looks as though he’s feeling fine.

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The McWilliams report having had a "rock ‘n roll" crossing, what with winds aft of the beam most of the time and sailing wing-on-wing. In this photo the conditions look a little gloomy. But looks can be deceiving, as when we made this same crossing with Latitude‘s Ocean 71 Big O nearly 20 years ago, the sea and sky often looked like this, but it was delightfully warm, day and night. Indeed, it was one of the great passages of our life.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Race Preview

While much of the sailing world is stuck in the dead of winter, things are just now heating up down under, with the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race now just about a week away. This year’s Boxing Day classic will see a star-studded fleet of 94 yachts make the annual 628-mile pilgrimage from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania. With a fleet that is regarded by many as being the most competitive in decades, this year’s race should be a thriller from start to finish.

Consisting of five 100-ft supermaxis, three Volvo 70s, the Clipper Round-the-World fleet, and countless other maxis and mini-maxis, this year’s Hobart fleet is one of the most interesting mixed fleet of ocean racing hardware ever assembled. Perennial line-honors favorite Wild Oats XI, Bob Oatley’s 100-ft supermaxi, has been extensively modified and updated as she aims for a record-tying seventh line-honors win, but she’ll have her work cut out for her.

Wild Oats XI experienced crew might give it the edge over Perpetual Loyal in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

© Christian Wright

For the first time in years, WOXI isn’t the fastest boat in the fleet. Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (ex-Rambler 100) was moved to Australia and has been rebuilt since her famous keel failure and subsequent capsize in the 2011 Fastnet Race. If the breeze is on the beam, the wider, more powerful Juan K-designed Loyal should be the fastest boat in the fleet — though her crew knows she’s a delicate, somewhat-fragile beast and will have to sail her accordingly.

If the breeze stays northerly and the fleet gets a run to Hobart, WOXI isn’t out of the woods as the new Botin 80 Beau Geste should be an absolute demon off the breeze. If a Southern Ocean low passes through and the breeze comes out of the south, no one can count out Ragamuffin 100 or Wild Thing. Playing the role of the spoiler are the three Volvo 70s, Giacomo, Southern Excellence II and Black Jack, all of which have been optimized for the race. Another boat to watch will be the new Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban, which should likely school all of the Clipper fleet and potentially a couple of the supermaxis.

In addition to the big boats, the little boats should offer up plenty of excitement. There are seven former winners in the fleet, including Primitive Cool (ex-Secret Men’s Business 3.5) and a couple of small but interesting one-design fleets, with the Sydney 38s and Archambault 40s registering four boats apiece (this writer will be sailing aboard the Newcastle-based A40 One for the Road). The TP52 Frantic makes her Hobart debut with 2010 Singlehanded TransPac champion Adrian Johnson as navigator. With the crew fresh off a major victory in the Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race, the boys on Frantic will be ones to watch.

Bitter rivals on the race course but best buds on shore, Singlehanded TransPac vets Adrian Johnson (left) and Ronnie Simpson are in Sydney preparing to once again sail against each other. But until then, they’re enjoying all that the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has to offer.

© Adrian Johnson

We’ll be on the scene live with an update from the start, a recap from the finish in Tasmania and a full race report in the February issue.

Toys and Tools for Cruisers

We’ve got an update of a product we previously reported on, and a new product that may be of interest to many cruisers.

The update is on the DJI Phantom quad copter equipped with a GoPro camera. As many readers may remember, Kurt Roll has used his Quad/GoPro combination while crewing through the South Pacific, on the Little Ensenada Race and the Ha-Ha with great results. Indeed, he made a 20-minute Ha-Ha video, which is really cool, and which you can buy from him for $25 by emailing him (check out the two-minute trailer below). He needs the money, too, because his Phantom drone suffered a power failure while over San Diego Bay recently, crashed, and all was lost. The good thing about drones is that when they crash, the pilot isn’t killed, he just has a lighter wallet.

We were so impressed with Roll’s set-up that we bought the exact same thing, as we figure it will be great for photos for the magazine and ‘Lectronic. But we’re a novice pilot, so we’ve been doing a lot of crashing and stuff. In fact, just yesterday we clipped a palm tree on take-off, learning that the Phantom makes a pretty decent Weed Wacker. Didn’t even wreck the rotors. Later in the day, we tried a take-off from inside the Vallarta YC. For some reason our Phantom elevated to about two inches, then flung itself sideways in the napkin holder, hot sauce and other condiments, flinging that and other stuff all over the floor. Miraculously, the Phantom and GoPro were undamaged, as was the chastened pilot.

Undaunted, we went down to the dock and took some video and stills, and had some success, just as we had previously in the day. See the three following examples.

A late afternoon shot of the Vallarta YC and pool, and docks at Paradise Marine in Nuevo Vallarta.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC
An aerial view of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and surrounding area at Punta Mita.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC
Our Phantom ran out of juice, so we coaxed a boobie into taking our GoPro camera up and shooting this shot of Profligate at Punta Mita.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The Phantom is about $500 from Amazon. GoPros are around $200-300, depending on the model. For our purposes, we needed the most expensive GoPro because it allows us to take video and stills simultaneously. You can take great photos and video with this rig — the accompanying stuff was shot at the lowest quality — but you are flying blind, which means you’re sort of guessing what you’re shooting. In addition, once the little bugger gets a couple of hundred feet away, it can be hard to tell what direction it’s pointing and going, and thus be hard, if not impossible, to control. For another $2,500, you can get a gyro for automatic leveling and camera control, plus a screen on your controller which allows you to see what the Phantom sees, allowing you to know where you are flying. We have this stuff, but we’re in the baby-steps stage, so that’s way beyond us right now. 

Oh yeah, to our limited knowledge, you can’t really have the Phantom take off from a boat that’s moving at much more than a knot or two. It seems to screw up the drone’s navigation system. There may be a way around this problem, but at this point we’re not aware of it.

Almost all the guys who have seen the Phantom/GoPro rig have gone as gaga over it as we have. But please, don’t be like us — instead read the directions and start slow.

The little LED projector that could. There are a bunch of different brands with a bunch of different features, but they are a huge improvement over the non-LEDs, and may be suitable for many boats.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The other really cool product are the new LED digital projectors, as made by Dell, 3M and a bunch of others. These allow you to project photos and video on walls or bulkheads. Unlike the non-LEDs, they don’t get hot, the bulbs aren’t expensive, and they don’t burn out after 20 minutes. Using a small 3M projector, we were able to project photos of all four days of the Riviera Nayarit Splash and Blast just a short time after taking them. With some units, you can just stick the memory card into the projector, but you have more control when you do it via a computer. While many of our photos were unedited and sloppy, people still loved seeing their boats under sail, and we think the ramp up to quality will be steep. The projectors run about $350 to $600.

Bill Gates Invests Big in Mita

Is Bill Gates getting tired of the Seattle gloom? Who knows, but Cascade Investment, which he and Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal own 95% of, just told the securities and exchange commission they are paying $200 million in cash for the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, plus an adjacent 48-acre parcel of development land. The properties are "behind the gates," if you’ll pardon the pun, as access, except along the beach, is restricted. But it’s right next door to the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club.

This aerial photo shows the ‘Four Seasons’ area of Punta Mita. There’s a great surf break to the left of the point, and the Mexican Malibu, home to many SUPers, is in the bay at the right. The anchorage is just off the Mexican Malibu and can handle hundreds of boats in shallow water, although there are rarely more than 20.

Mexico Tourism
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Cascade Investment recently paid $62 million for the Four Seasons in Atlanta, and $140 million for the Four Seasons in Houston.

Cruisers know Punta Mita as a well-protected anchorage at the northwest tip of Banderas Bay, about a 40-minute drive or 12-mile spinnaker run from Puerto Vallarta. Mita has close access to many of the best surf breaks in the bay. In fact, it’s easy to paddle to the best breaks from your boat. Whales abound in the winter, and other sea life the rest of the year. Unlike most tourist areas of Mexico, somewhat-remote Mita is muy tranquillo.

The surf at the Mexican Malibu, as seen yesterday before the last race of the Riviera Nayarit Sailor’s Blast.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The lesser known news is that there is a growing connection between Silicon Valley and Punta Mita. Silicon Beach anyone?

While many Americans remain spooked about Mexico, Michael Larson, Chief Investment Officer of Cascade Investment, released a statement saying, "We are a significant investor in Mexico and hold a long-term positive view on the country and its economy."

The inaugural Audi Melges 20 Worlds concluded Saturday in Key Largo, Florida after four days of intense racing and picture-perfect conditions.