April 13, 2015

In Admiration of Old and Simple Ways

The Paul Johnson-designed gaff ketch Sequel of Bermuda at the dock in St. Barth. 

©2015Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We’re big fans of simplicity, so when we saw the ‘autopilot’ on Sequel, Stevie Hollis’ Bermuda-based 34-ft Venus ketch, at the water dock in St. Barth, it tickled our fancy. We’re pretty sure that Hollis, a very successful restaurateur and sailmaker in Bermuda, had the same autopilot on his 28-ft Venus ketch, a wood boat he’d sailed all over the Caribbean some 35 years ago.

The family of Venus gaff ketches, 28, 34 and 42 feet, are generally similar to Colin Archer ketches. It’s not surprising, as Paul Johnson, their designer, grew up aboard a Colin Archer ketch.

Put the pegs in the appropriate holes, adjust the sails, and Sequel sails herself. We can’t imagine the pegs ever needing to be at either extreme end. 

©2015Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Johnson, a Brit, is closely associated with Bermuda because he crossed the Atlantic and arrived there aboard his 18-ft ketch in the mid-1960s. Not many folks were doing things like that then. He hooked up with John Frith to build what would be the first of 13 Johnson-designed boats in Bermuda. Other famous sailors who own or have owned Venus ketches are Lulu Magras and the artist Bruce Smith. The latter built his from timber knocked down by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Frith is a direct descendent of Hezekiah Frith, the famed ‘Gentleman Privateer’ of Bermuda. One night in the late 1790s Hezekiah sailed into the harbor at Santo Domingo, then the center of the Spanish fleet in the Atlantic/Caribbean. He brazenly stole one of the Spanish ships and towed her, under sail, back to Bermuda.

Sequel arrived in St. Barth in early March, having been sailed there from Bermuda by Hollis, his wife Suzanne, Suzanne’s son Austin Ross, and William Tucker, all of Bermuda. They had a fast passage for such a heavy and relatively under-canvased boat, covering the 869 miles in 6.5 days.

About that autopilot. It’s merely an athwartships board with scores of holes in which pegs can be put to hold the tiller in place. The position of the pegs is determined by the amount of weather helm. Using such an autopilot requires proper sail trim, but with a heavy, full-keel ketch such as the Venus designs, it’s not that hard. Such autopilots don’t need electricity, and if they ‘break’, one only needs to replace a peg or drill a new hole. Ah, simplicity!

Do you have anything super simple on your boat that you love? (Email us here.)

Tenacatita Reopens to Locals & Cruisers

Easter Sunday was especially festive at Jalisco, Mexico’s Tenacatita Beach, as federal officials finally removed fences that had blocked public access to this formerly popular beachfront for nearly five years. Nearby lagoon anchorages, which had been immensely popular with cruising sailors prior to the August, 2010 shutdown, were also reopened. 

Before the abrupt and highly controversial closure of Tenacatita Beach in August, 2010, the beachfront was a thriving vacation site, with many beachfront businesses. Nearby anchorages were favorites of cruising sailors.

Sparks Mexico
©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

According to American expats familiar with the area, public rights to the beach and anchorages had been embroiled in a lawsuit for years, as local interests fought with a development corporation called Rodenas for control of the beach and lagoon. With that suit now having been settled in favor of the residents, Mexican vacationers and tourists flooded the beach on Easter, with some camping overnight as they had done in years past.

The abrupt shutdown of the area in 2010 was a shocker to former local residents as well as to cruisers, as modest waterfront homes and businesses were bull-dozed, and mariners were ordered to exit the adjacent lagoon anchorages immediately.

One look at the broad natural crescent of Tenacatita Beach, and you can see why developers would want to get their hands on it.

©2015Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Issues surrounding property rights here have been thorny and contentious for decades. According to the news organization MasPorMas, the first lands endowed under the Mexican ejido system date back to 1942, and a previous eviction of beachfront merchants and fishermen took place in 1991. In 2010, after all businesses and residences within the disputed area were demolished, the Auxiliary Police insured, via an electrified fence and guard posts, that no tourists, boaters or locals could access the beaches or anchorages. Although the courtroom battle has been concluded, given the area’s contentious history, we suspect we have not heard the last about the longtime struggle for control of Tenacatita. 

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Good News from Mexico

"The Aduana official at Puerto Chiapas in southern Mexico who said 10-Year TIPs have to be surrendered when a boat leaves Mexico has been corrected," reported Tere Grossman, president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association, in an email to Latitude 38.

"The official was wrong, as the TIP is for multiple entries [and departures] as long as it is valid (Regla 4.2.5)."

We wrote about this last Wednesday after an unnamed cruiser was fined $900 because he hadn’t canceled his TIP before leaving Mexico. There is apparently a possibility that the American boatowner will get his money back. But we wouldn’t hold our breath.

What makes the issue confusing is that Grossman also wrote, "A TIP does ultimately have to be canceled, so if someone has a boat with a TIP, and the boat is not coming back to Mexico while it is valid, they should cancel it."

Why would somebody want to cancel a TIP if they weren’t coming back to Mexico? Because if they sell the boat, the TIP is no longer valid because the TIP is not in the new owner’s name, and the new owner couldn’t get a new TIP until the old one was canceled. But who knows if they are going to sell their boat or not return to Mexico 10 years down the road? Furthermore, the real victim would be the person who bought a boat wanting to go to Mexico not knowing it had a valid TIP.

Grossman has written a letter to government officials in Mexico City asking for the easiest way to cancel a TIP, and even better, a way in which the TIP wouldn’t have to be canceled before a new one was issued.

The bottom line of all this is to ignore Latitude’s recent advice not to check into or out of Mexico at Puerto Chiapas as opposed to Huatulco. We’ve gotten a number of letters from cruisers who have recently been through Puerto Chiapas, and, other than the marina/boatyard being in the middle of nowhere, all have been universal in their praise for the marina, staff and boatyard. Almost all have praised local officials, too. This is a huge improvement from back when it was known as Puerto Madero and the home to many problems for cruisers.

There was additional good news out of Mexico from Ms. Grossman — although the fact that Mexican officials aren’t more knowledgeable about Mexican maritime law, and that the Mexican bureaucracy is so slow and reluctant to correct obvious errors, exacts a terrible cost on that country’s reputation. Many of you will remember the case of John Hands, long ago of Berkeley, who had to flee Mexico aboard his Beneteau Idylle 1150 Pelican because of an official’s blunder and the government’s refusal to correct the obvious error.

If we remember correctly, it was at Puerto Chipias where a bungling bureaucrat mistakenly made the expiration date for his boat’s new 10-year TIP 180 days rather than 10 years, because the bureaucrat got confused and wrote down the expiration date of Hands’ tourist visa. That a 10-year TIP ought to be good for 10 years and not 180 days should be obvious to everyone, but the Mexican IRS went after Hands, assessing a large fine and saying they now owned his boat. Despite being in his 70s, Hands successfully fled the 1,000 miles from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego, having never paid the fine.

Thanks to the unstinting efforts of Tere Grossman and Lic. Elena Carrillo, the lawyer for the marina association, Hands’ boat has now been ‘released’ (even though it left the country about nine months ago).

"It’s incredible but true," Grossman wrote to Hands. "We have received the documents by which your boat has been released. The files in Banjercito show that your TIP expires in 2019, so you can enter Mexico with the same permit. Just for back-up, please carry the papers we are mailing to you."

"Incredible to say the least!" responded Hands. "Thanks again for all of your hard work, especially for doing battle with the bureaucracy when I had just about given up. I can’t say that I feel ‘lucky’, but hope that you and your team can feel some success."

Time for context. Please don’t let these two items give you a false impression of the paperwork situation in Mexico. The first was a very unusual mistake by one official at one location. The second was one of the worst results of the Mexico IRS fiasco of 2013-2014. We have heard of virtually no major paperwork problems this year, and Mexico has recently greatly improved their forms and instructions on how to fill out the forms. If, for example, you’re going to do the Baja Ha-Ha this fall, you can get your TIP, your tourist visas, and your fishing licenses online before you even cross the border. The paperwork situation isn’t yet perfect in Mexico, but it’s much better than it’s been in the past few years.

After two years of cruising aboard their Caliber 40, Bob and Mona transited the Panama Canal and soon caught South Pacific fever.
Island Yacht Club’s 34th Doublehanded Lightship tomorrow has 16 boats signed up, mostly split into two monohull PHRF divisions.
Perhaps you were as horrified as we were when we read that on Tuesday 15 Jalisco state police officers were killed in an ambush by suspected narcos "near the popular beach resort of Puerto Vallarta." We know that there have been 100,000 people killed in clashes between Mexican authorities and narcos since 2007, but almost all of the killings have taken place in the mountains away from tourists.