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March 3, 2014


You didn’t want to be transiting the Santa Cruz Harbor entrance this weekend.

© Skip Allan

A deep low pressure just off the Central California coast has been generating big waves, some as high as 25 feet. At sunrise Saturday morning, there were swells breaking a mile out, near Mile Buoy, in 60 feet of water. The Santa Cruz Harbor breakwater was in the shore break, with sets going over the breakwater and breaking high against the lighthouse.

The wharf at Capitola took a beating.

© Skip Allan

Four miles farther east, at Capitola, breakers were damaging the wharf and driving decking into the air. A lady sitting in her car on the Esplanade found herself being set afloat by a wave that broke over the seawall. A big cement bench, weighing several hundred pounds, was launched from the sidewalk onto the street. The police came to the rescue and closed the Esplanade as water, sand, and kelp made things impassable except to a big dozer.

The waves were so strong that planking and concrete benches went flying.

© Skip Allan

Exciting stuff for this small town that bills itself as ‘Capitola-By-The-Sea’. This weekend, ‘In-The-Sea’ would be a better moniker.

A Lack of Clear Communication

So you’re in charge of Search & Rescue for the Coast Guard, and somebody calls and says "My friend who is sailing a 24-ft boat from Hawaii to San Francisco sent me a message that read, ‘I lost my life raft, in danger now.’" What the heck does that mean? And what are you supposed to do in what could be a life and death situation?

Rimas Meleshyus sailing on board his 24-foot San Juan, Pier Pressure.

© 2014 Rimas Meleshyus

Last Thursday morning the Coast Guard was informed of just such a message from Rimas Meleshyus of the San Juan 24 Pier Pressure, who was 944 miles northwest of Hawaii and in gale conditions. After unsuccessful attempts to establish communications with Meleshyus via cell phone, computer and satellite device, the 14th Coast Guard District, Honolulu, decided such a text message warranted a search. They sent a HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Oahu, the Coast Guard Cutter Kukui from Honolulu, and two other vessels toward Pier Pressure’s last known position. Better safe than sorry, right?

But on Thursday afternoon, Meleshysus sent another text message saying he was all right and didn’t need assistance. Search called off.

Meleshyus had left Hilo on February 9, which means he was making very slow progress toward San Francisco. Last year he left the Pacific Northwest on a much-publicized proposed solo circumnavigation attempt with a boat that he’d bought for a few hundred dollars and that was clearly not designed or built to sail around Cape Horn. As we recall, he made it to Baja, then bailed to Hawaii.

Extreme Sailing Series Kickoff

With the America’s Cup in an off year and the next AC World Series not having started yet, fans of stadium racing on big catamarans fortunately have another option; the Extreme Sailing Series. Now in its 8th season, the ESS began its 2014 global tour in Singapore in a thrilling season premiere that had it all with close-quarters high-speed racing, gnarly crashes and carnage and even a Northern California native standing on the top rung of the podium!

The 2014 Extreme Sailing Series recently kicked off in Singapore

© 2014 Extreme Sailing Series

Finishing in the top three in more than half of the 29 races that were run over the course of the week, Swiss racing syndicate Alinghi and their red-hot American skipper Morgan Larson’s consistency had the event wrapped up before the double-points final race was even sailed, a level of domination rarely seen on this circuit. The Nor Cal surfer, Moore 24 owner and Alinghi skipper reflected on the weekend, “We couldn’t have dreamed of a better start… I think we just carried on from last year and we’re the only team that hasn’t changed any of our crew. We will try and build on from last year and enjoy this victory!”

Aberdeen Asset Management tangles with Groupama Sailing Team.

© 2014 Extreme Sailing Series

Aside from Larson and Alinghi’s stunning display of crew work and boat speed, the undisputed highlight of the weeks came when the blue Aberdeen Asset Management catamaran mounted Groupama from behind like something seen in a nature documentary. The video, which has now gone viral on the Internet, is well worth the price of admission.

Speaking of Groupama, one of their old boats has just been delivered to her new home on the West Coast. The VPLP-designed tri that debuted in 2004 as Groupama 2 and crushed the ORMA fleet into extinction has been purchased by West Texas ambulance magnate and multihull lover Loe Enloe. Bought to replace his aging ORMA 60 Loe Real, which was originally built as a prop for the movie Waterworld, the new Mighty Merloe is based in San Diego and will make her West Coast racing debut in April’s Newport-Ensenada race. With the fastest ORMA ever built and a MOD 70 (Orion) both campaigning this year, no West Coast course record is safe!

The Fiasco South of the Border Isn’t Over Yet

"I was also in a meeting at the SAT (Mexican IRS) with their legal department, Banjercito (the military bank Temporary Import fees are paid to), Aduana (Customs),  and other agencies, with Maria Elena Carrillo, the attorney for our Mexican Marina Owner’s Association," reports Tere Grossman, president of the Mexican Marina Owner’s Association. "We told them our idea about changing the TIPs. They are being changed, and new ones will start to be used in a couple of months."

‘In a couple of months’ could mean anything in Mexico, so don’t hold your breath.

"Maria Elena spent all day at the SAT," continues Grossman, "and they gave her the paperwork to release 83 boats from our Marina San Carlos. That means we only have nine boats that are still impounded. Two of these boats have been abandoned, one was sold in Mexico, and some are owned by Mexican nationals.

About 20 of the boats in our marina didn’t have a TIP or had an expired TIP. The day after the inspection by AGACE, our marina personnel applied for new permits, and paid for them, on behalf of the owners in order to protect the boats. Initially AGACE didn’t want to accept the TIPs, but after my trip to Mexico City, they decided to change their minds. One of the boats was sold in Mexico with a TIP, which is a no-no. On the back of the TIP it clearly states that the boat had to be taken out of Mexico to get a new TIP. I know that foreign owned boats are bought and sold all the time in Mexico, but in this case the owner hadn’t been careful to make a bill of sale that say the boat was being sold in the U.S., so SAT has proof that it was sold in Mexico. I don’t know what will happen with that one. The owners of boats that didn’t have TIPs or had expired TIPs will have to pay small fines.

"Thanks to this action by AGACE, I have never worked as hard in my life as in the last three months! We were lucky that the Marina Owner’s Association lawyer had worked for the SAT many years, and knows all the ins and outs, as they have looked at all documents with a magnifying glass. That said, some foreign boat owners don’t take Mexican law — such as the need for TIPs — seriously. We usually don’t accept anyone without insurance or a TIP, but often they promise they will bring them the next time they come down. And they don’t. We often send them to another marina. That marina was lucky their boats weren’t inspected by AGACE."

While countless foreign cruisers are currently having a glorious time cruising Mexico, there are still more than a few unlucky ones who are still wrapped up in the grips of the Mexican bureaucracy, living lives that are right out of Kafka. We say "unlucky," because in many cases the boats complied with all Mexican law. Given the recent release of 88 more boats — see above — more than half of the boats impounded by AGACE have been released. But that hardly does anything to solve the problems of those whose boats are still trapped. Consider the following report, greatly paraphrased for clarity, sent by a captain to the boat’s owners:

"The owners of four other boats and I have just spent the last three hours with SAT (the Mexican IRS). We have been signing documents and writing ‘acceptance of document’ letters — all dictated to us — in Spanish. If anyone even wrote the date in English, it was unacceptable! The number of copies required, the need to write long pieces in Spanish — it was insane. With that over, we need to go back to the AGACE office again — about an hour drive away — and present all the papers. The same papers I have already presented! They say the boat should then be released in seven to 10 working days. But that’s the same thing we were told a month ago."

This boat, which we’re assured has all documents and checked into Mexico properly, has been impounded for three months. One can only imagine what the owners of the boat will tell their friends when asked about how they liked their time ‘cruising’ Mexico.

The March issue of Latitude 38 is out. Although today’s weather is pretty gray and wet, this issue should brighten your spirits.
John Spicher of the Anacortes-based custom Coast 34 Time Piece has been released from a hospital in San Diego following the amputation of the lower part of his mangled left leg.