January 10, 2014

Midwinter Wrap-up

Last Saturday’s well attended Manuel Fegundes Seaweed Soup Regatta hosted by the GGYC reminded everyone in attendance what midwinter racing is all about — patience with more than a dab of frustration.

Tim Knowles’ Lilith eaks out a lead over Mike Manix’s Harp.

© Zac Turpin

The diminishing morning breeze collapsed completely prior to the first warning gun and racing was delayed for about an hour until some semblance of wind returned. Once under way, racers faced light-air sailing, strong currents, dramatic wind shifts and the possibility of being swept out the gate. Although most boats finished, frustratingly, twenty-two boats got DNFs. If you didn’t see it all live and in slow motion, you can read the results here. On the upside, the air temperature was pretty incredible for this time of year and the sunset was spectacular.

Bright and sunny conditions carried over into Sunday’s racing during the Richmond YCs Small Boat Midwinter series. Results show that conditions in the East Bay had improved from those on the Cityfront the day before. Eighteen classes competed on three separate courses in breeze that actually allowed competitors to start and finish each race. 

Over at the Sausalito YC midwinters there was a 10-knot breeze out of the ENE forcing the race committee to set up their usual Knox area course with a reverse windward-leeward configuration, putting the start line near Yellow Bluff and the leeward mark at Knox shoal. Several skippers remarked after the race that it was a bit weird to be sailing upwind toward Angel Island. Four divisions got around the six-mile course in short order once the wind built into the low teens in the mid-afternoon. You can read the result here.

This Saturday’s forecast is for a chance of something called ‘rain.’ But it shouldn’t be too cold, and Sunday looks to be a bit warmer and sunny. So be sure to get out and enjoy some of the many racing opportunities. The Bayview Boat Club is hosting their Midwinter Madness series, while across the Bay Island YC in Alameda and the Lake Meritt Sailing Club (Mark Marlett: 925-245-0287) are also hosting midwinter regattas. The Richmond and the Santa Cruz YCs each host laser racing on Sunday, and in the area of the Berkeley Circle, you’ll find RegattaPRO and the Berkeley Midwinters taking place as well. 

Nelson’s Auction Moved to Feb 8

In the aftermath of the abrupt closure of Nelson’s Marine last May, a wide variety of boats and marine equipment remained unclaimed on the boatyard’s property at 1500 Ferry Point, Alameda. All these items will be auctioned off February 8, beginning at 1 p.m. (The event was originally scheduled for this Saturday.)

Before its forced closure last May, Nelson’s Marine was a longtime Bay Area institution.

© John Tuma

Acting on behalf of the city of Alameda, Michaan’s Auctions will handle the liquidation, which is said to include approximately 50 vessels. In addition to a variety of sailboats from 20 to 45 feet, there will be motor yachts from 40 to 70 feet, plus various runabouts.

As the date draws nearer a complete list of auction items will be made available on Michaan’s website.

Auction items can be previewed per the following schedule:

  • Thursday, February 6, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Friday, February 7, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Day of sale, beginning at 10 a.m.
  • also by appointment (800) 380-9822 or (510) 740-0220

Although the city of Alameda’s closure of Nelson’s marked a sad end to one of the Bay Area boating scene’s most well-known institutions, a potential silver lining may be that auction ‘winners’ will breath new life into many boats that have been long neglected or abandoned.

Rolex Sydney-Hobart

The Bay Area’s calm wintertime weather serves as a dramatic contrast to the wet and wild conditions experienced during the recent Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The 69th edition of this annual 628-mile bluewater classic was considered by many to be the most competitive fleet ever, and it not only lived up to the pre-race hype, but also to it’s well-earned reputation as one of the most grueling and challenging races on the planet.

The 92 starters saw every sort of condition imaginable — becalmed to 40-knots downwind, 50-knots upwind, and everything in between — classic Sydney-Hobart.

Australia’s most famous maxi, Bridabella taking on rough weather.

© 2014 Carlo Borlenghi

Before the race started, there was one major question among race fans and journalists alike; could anyone beat wine magnate and AC 35 challenger Bob Oatley’s 100-foot supermaxi Wild Oats XI? While vying for a record-tying seventh line honors victory, she would be thoroughly tested by an über-competitive fleet that was headlined by Anthony Bell’s 100-foot Perpetual LOYAL, which was navigated by Bay Area rockstar Stan Honey.

Upwind after the start, the fleet faced their first tactical dilemma; tack to port and begin heading south, or stay on starboard and work further offshore into presumably more reliable breeze and positive current. LOYAL chose the latter and worked to an early lead, before sailing into a windless hole. By contrast, Wild Oats XI found the building northerly first and shot out to a 30-mile lead that she would continue to extend on until the finish. 

When the front hit, the leaders sailed upwind into 40-knots of breeze out of the south while the bulk of the fleet sailed into a 50-knot westerly in Bass Strait and down the coast of Tasmania. Broken bones, broken rigs, broken egos and retirements were the story of the day as the fleet dealt with the classic, fast-moving depression that rolled over Tasmania. When the spray settled, Wild Oats XI claimed line honors for the seventh time in just nine Sydney-Hobarts, while Daryl Hodgkinsons’ canting-keeled Cookson 50 Victoire claimed the overall victory and coveted Tattersalls Cup.

Elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the bi-annual Cape 2 Rio race started on January 4 in Cape Town, South Africa. Setting sail in light and sunny conditions, the 36-boat fleet braced for impact from a cold front that would bring up to 60 knots of breeze and nearly 20-foot seas by the first night. Ten competing yachts sustained damage and retired in the rough conditions including the Angola-based Bavaria 54 Bille. Initially reporting mainsail problems and turning back for Cape Town, Bille was dismasted, killing one and injuring two. The deceased crewmember was António João Bartolomeu, a 47-year-old radio operator for the Angolan capital of Luanda. António had been sailing since he was nine years old and was one of his country’s best sailors in the popular Vaurien two-man dinghy.

Leading the line honors race and currently second in Division 1 on handicap is Giovanni Soldini and crew aboard the turboed Volvo 70 Maserati. With the cold-front having moved east and dissipated, the fleet is now enjoying mellow, albeit inconsistent downwind sailing towards the finish in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Foreign Boat Impoundment Story Goes Mainstream

If you’re tired of reading about the foreign boat impoundment fiasco in Mexico, you can imagine how sick we are of writing about it. But we’ll soldier on until there is a resolution. The following are our comments to an AP news story that has appeared in Yahoo, the Washington Post, Fox News, MSN, and all over the place.

1. U.S. and Canadian boats are not left "in limbo." If impounded, they can be restricted to the dock to up to four months . . . at which point the Mexican government could decide to release, fine or confiscate them.

2. "Storming" the marinas wasn’t an accurate characterization of what happened in late November. While AGACE agents arrived with marines armed with machine guns and a prison bus, and worked all through the night, the auditors were unfailingly polite. Indeed, they often told boat owners everything was fine, which is why some boat owners were so surprised to later find their boat on the impound list after all.

3. Big boats have been impounded, too. In just a short circle of our boat on Banderas Bay, five boats worth a total of more than $5 million have been impounded.

4. A Temporary Import permit does not prove ownership, a boat document does that. A TIP does not guarantee Mexico that a boat owner won’t leave Mexico without their boat. Indeed, TIPs were created specifically to give foreign boat owners a legal means to leave Mexico without their boat. Having a TIP does not make it illegal to sell one’s boat in Mexico, although there are legal guidelines that have to be followed.

5. It is indeed the responsibility of boat owners to comply with Mexican laws, which are easy to comply with. The problem was that if a boat owner wasn’t aboard his or her boat, the auditors couldn’t see some of the information they needed to see, and their default was to put most of these boats on the impound list. Even if the auditors were shown the necessary information when they visited again 10 days later, the boat stayed on the impound list. In the case of the marina we’re in, AGACE discovered that 52 of the 53 boats they’d put on the list were in fact in compliance with Mexican law. Alas, they are still on the impound list and may be unable to move for four months.

In the last 17 years, our catamaran Profligate has been cleared into virtually every port and marina in Mexico without a problem. Despite there being no change in the law with regard to TIPs, she was nonetheless impounded because nobody was aboard to show auditors things like the documentation number in the hull, engine serial numbers, and point out she’s a custom-built boat and therefore doesn’t have a brand or model name. Unfortunate and ridiculous.

6. In one case, a rep for the owner of a number of boats showed AGACE agents the same information for all the boats in his control. Most were not put on the impound list, but one inexplicably was.

7. A TIP is not a tax, it’s a permit.

In the case of the AP story that appeared on the ABC International news site, the reader comments were devastating, citing a list of alleged abuses that would tend to make one’s hair stand on end. Such as this one from Lou Kief: "In 1984 we came to Mexico on an old wooden sailboat we had rebuilt and spent the hurricane season in Puerto Vallarta’s only marina at the time. We did all our paperwork to the letter, were good visitors, and waited for the weather to be favorable for us to continue our trip to the Panama Canal. While in Mexico, our "Temporary Import Permit" — which is issued for one year at that time — was set to expire. In bold letters at the bottom of the permit it said that it could be renewed at the port captain’s office for an additional year for no fee. When I went to the port captain’s office to get my free renewal, he told me it would cost $600 US dollars! I showed him the print where it said the renewal is free on the page. His reply: ‘It is free but I’m going to make you go back to the United States to get it for free there. If you want it renewed here it will cost you $600 USD — that’s how much you will spend on airfare to go to San Diego, hotels, meals.’ It was extortion plain and simple, something officials in Mexico have been very good at for a long, long time."

Oh geez, just the kind of stories Mexico and fans of Mexico don’t need to hear. Two points: 1) There weren’t any Temporary Import Permits in 1984; and 2) 1984 was a long, long time ago, and Mexican port captains — and other civil servants — have become much, much more professional. While we’re not saying bribes and corruption have disappeared in Mexico, we don’t believe it’s anything like it used to be.

There was also a different story in the Orange County Register:

1. Auditors weren’t coming looking specifically for HINs (which are hull identification numbers), but primarily for Temporary Import Permits, document numbers in the hull and such. Unfortunately, the Mexican officials don’t realize that HINs are poor indicators of anything, as boats built in the U.S. before 1974 don’t have them, nor do most boats from many countries in Europe. In many other cases, the HIN number was ground out when the boat hull was sanded for repainting. Additionally, many hull numbers, even by companies such as Catalina, were inscribed with cheap engraving tools. As such, it’s easy for anybody to put any hull number on any boat. That’s why the document number permanently affixed to the hull is the U.S. Coast Guard standard.

2. The quotes from Juan Hussong, our friend from Ensenada, made it appear that he and the owners of impounded boats are at cross purposes: "Juan Hussong, a Mexican national with homes in both San Diego and Ensenada, had his boat inspected and cleared during the audit. He argues that the boat owners are responsible for the correct documentation. The marina managers are worried because they think they are going to lose customers, but honestly, it’s a new government and we have a new president, and they are trying to make things legal."

We agree with Juan that owners are responsible for correct documentation, which is why we and the overwhelming majority of foreign boat owners have it. It’s so easy and inexpensive to get, why wouldn’t anybody have it? The problem was that if nobody was aboard to show auditors evidence of compliance, the boat was put on the impound list — and stayed there even if the auditors were later shown the evidence within the prescribed time.

Hussong is also right about the new president and attitude toward tax collection in Mexico. Mexico has long had one of the lowest tax collection rates in the world, and the abuses are rampant. But the thing is, the abuses are primarily with regard to income and real estate taxes. Unlike the fateful assumption made by AGACE, cruisers sailing around in Mexico with a TIP are not tax cheats.

What’s next? One would hope that the tremendous negative publicity will help resolve the issue quickly. AGACE has sent most of the impounded boat’s TIPs to Banjercito for verification, and is soon going to learn that they are not fraudulent, and the owners of the impounded boats are in Mexico legally and don’t owe any tax. Hopefully AGACE will swallow their pride, with a big help from Tourism and others, and the boats will be released.

Sometimes, however, Mexican agencies can be stubborn. As such, there is no guarantee that AGACE won’t respond by hitting all the other marinas in Mexico, such as the three big ones in La Paz, the three in Mazatlan, two more big ones in the Vallarta area, as well as Barra, Ixtapa and others. If they do, and they heed the same standards as they did auditing boats in the first eight marinas, there could soon be more than 1,000 foreign boats impounded in Mexico.

The Register article notes that Mary Baker, owner of the Mary Conlin Company in Newport Beach, which specializes in boat documentation services, is advising clients not to go to Mexico at this time. Rafael Alcantara, Harbormaster at Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz, encourages U.S. mariners to come to Mexico, noting that AGACE hasn’t conducted a raid since late November.

We at Latitude 38 aren’t giving any advice. Given all the negative publicity, we can’t imagine that AGACE and Mexico would double down on this blunder. Then again, it’s unimaginable that they ever made the blunder in the first place. After all, as we pointed out, cruisers are Mexico’s greatest goodwill ambassadors. To have so severely punished innocent goodwill ambassadors has been a disaster.

The 32nd biennial San Diego to Vallarta Yacht Race is slated for March 13-21, and so far there are 22 superb entries. Presumably most of whom will stay for MEXORC, an event the Mexican government usually pours millions into. Given what’s happened, and what might happen, it’s unclear if entries will drop out or what. We hope the whole mess is resolved before then, and that Mexico starts a road back to redemption with a great Vallarta Race and a great MEXORC.

What about the Ha-Ha? We expect there will be a 21st Annual Ha-Ha at the end of October, but only because we expect this fiasco will be long over by then. Obviously we would have no interest in luring anyone to Mexico if we felt there was any significant chance their boat would be recklessly impounded or confiscated.

What to do if your boat is in Mexico now? Given the terrible publicity the first raid has generated, we can’t imagine there will be others. But you never know. If might be cheap insurance to put copies of all your documents and TIP, as well as directions to the document number in your hull, and the HIN number — assuming your boat was ever given one — in a plastic bag and tape it to your lifelines. We know it sounds crazy, but these are crazy times, and others have decided to do it.

For the sake of American and Canadian boat owners, the country of Mexico, marine businesses and workers in Mexico, and marine businesses and workers on the west coast of the United States, we beseech you to take a few minutes to send your thoughts to Mexican and US officials, as well as the US media.