March 9, 2016

Cruisin’ Through the Crossroads

Forty-six boatloads of westbound cruisers attended the free Tahiti Bon Voyage seminar and party Sunday at Panama’s Shelter Bay Marina, which lies near the Caribbean entrance to the world-famous Canal.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

At this time every year, a diverse international armada of cruising sailboats converges on the Panama Canal. Most of them are headed west to the fabled isles of French Polynesia on the ambitious, weeks-long passage we call the Pacific Puddle Jump. Once on the Pacific side of the famous ‘ditch’, the fleet swells with dozens of additional westbound boats that have worked their way south along the Central American coast.

On Monday, a second gathering on the Pacific side at Balboa YC drew many more sailors. Representing Tahiti Tourisme, Manoa Rey and Stephanie Betz shared a wealth of info on French Polynesian cruising and culture.

©2016Latitude 38 Media, LLC

This week we joined South Pacific partners from Tahiti Tourisme and from New Zealand’s Whangarei Marine Group and Opua Marina in hosting Tahiti Bon Voyage parties on both sides of the Canal. Forty-six crews representing 14 countries attended our event at Shelter Bay Marina Sunday, and 35 crews representing 15 countries turned up Monday for our fiesta at the Balboa Yacht Club.

In addition to representatives from Tahiti Tourisme and from North Island, New Zealand, marine groups, Tahitian yacht agent Tehani Li was on hand at both events to organize ‘bond exemptions’ and get (half-price) duty-free fuel for fleet members.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

As you might imagine, the back-stories of these fleet members are as varied as the boats they sail. At least two crews were on their second lap around the planet and several had been ‘out there’ cruising for more than 15 years, contrasted with others who’d recently bought cruise-ready boats and were in their first months of cruising. There were lots of families with kids, too — the youngest being 10-month-old Brian, who was born in Panama to American cruisers Brian and Nok Christianson of Margarita.

The Reinke 52 Seute Deern was built by Niels Frommann’s uncle, who cruised her for 12 years before Niels became her second skipper. For the crossing, he is lucky to have San Francisco-based David Kory (right) along as crew, a vastly experienced sailor who has already made 13 previous trips to French Polynesia. They met 13 years ago, when Niels helped David bring his Catalina 38 Barking Spider back to the Bay Area from the 2003 Transpac, and they’ve sailed together off and on ever since.

©2016Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We’ll introduce you to dozens of these fascinating folks in an upcoming issue of Latitude 38 magazine. But we warn you, hearing their stories may inspire you to quit your job, load up your boat and follow in their wakes across the western horizon.

"Our only plan is that we have no plan," quipped Canadians Kyle and Shelley Benger of the Dufour 46 Blowin’ Bubbles. After working for 20 summers as dive instructors in Cozumel, they sold their house and began their cruise to the tropics. "Our kids didn’t believe we’d do it, but when the for-sale sign went up, they knew we were serious."

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Red Light at Night No Sailor’s Delight

If you’re going to have your bilge pump alarm go off, it’s best if it happens when: 1) The water is warm. 2) The water is blue. 3) It’s daytime. Two out of three wasn’t bad for us. 

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The bilge pump light on our Leopard 45 catamaran ’ti Profligate came on right when you would expect it — after we’d had a big day, a great meal and a glass of wine, and had just hit the sack.

We thought about crossing our fingers and hoping whatever leak was causing the bilge pump to go off would be slow enough so that we could postpone investigating until morning. But we decided to be responsible.

The starboard hull checked out dry.

There were a couple of possibilities for water flowing into the port hull. Several months before a number of thru-hulls and associated fittings had been replaced because of old age. Maybe one of these or the hose clamps on them had shifted or come loose on the sail from Antigua to St. Barth. Then again, we’d had the refrigeration compressor bracket removed from the port engine earlier that day for replacement. Maybe the mechanic had accidentally cracked a water-filter case or something.

These are some of the 15-year-old thru-hull fittings on ‘ti Profligate that had been replaced a few months ago. The new fittings were a prime suspect in the bilge pump alarm’s going off. But Joe Naysmith, who replaced all the fittings on ‘ti Profligate, had done a good job, so none of the new fittings were the source of the leak.

© 2016 Joe Naysmith

Alas, there was no obvious leak. So we pumped the port hull and hit the sack again, fingers crossed. Ten minutes later the dang bilge pump light came on again.

Obviously there was no connection between the water in the bilge and the fact that we’d just switched from one empty water tank to a full water tank. And the fact that we couldn’t get the air out of the pressure water system. But sometimes it’s good to confirm the obvious. Which was this: When we checked the water tanks, the full one was losing water quickly. What had once been obviously innocent had now become a prime suspect.

De Mallorca did some more poking around in the closet behind the starboard head and found a 3/16-inch hose pouring water into the bilge. We were stumped as to where this narrow hose had come from and what purpose it served. It didn’t seem to go anywhere except to empty what might come out of it into the bilge.

We poked around again under the galley sink, where the levers that switch from one tank to another are located. Almost completely out of sight was a 3/16-inch hose. It even had a label, ‘water bleed’. We’ve had a lot of boats in our time, and most of them had pressure water systems. As best we can remember, not a single one of them had a bleed valve with a hose that went into the bilge. And why would you have one?

We turned the valve to the opposite position, and life became good again. No more water poured into the bilge. The air automatically purged itself from the pressure water system. And we could get to sleep.

Ever had the light for your bilge pump light come on? What was the cause and how did it turn out? (Email Richard.)

Friday Is Dry Sail Day

As you’ve been reading on ‘Lectronic Latitude and in the pages of Latitude 38 magazine, recent developments have put the future of the Alameda Marina at serious risk. Plans are in the works to redevelop the site with up to 389 housing units. Details of the proposal are available here at and

On March 1, the Alameda City Council discussed a petition to consider revising 2012’s change of zoning to Mixed Use. Some who attended that meeting called it "grueling. It started at 7 p.m., the Alameda Marina Zoning issue was not discussed until about 11 p.m., and there were 25 speakers on the issue who were each given three minutes to speak." If you’re feeling especially masochistic, you can watch the entire meeting at

"From the tone of the City Council’s discussion that followed, I believe that there is support to try and retain the marine and other types of businesses within the complex," reports our source, who wishes to remain anonymous. "However, what was not mentioned was the important water access that the dry-storage area provides. To the contrary, I believe that the City Council sees the dry storage as an RV storage yard for boats. As such, it is critical that we educate them that the dry storage is actually a land-based marina, and not just a storage yard."

Boats such as these (and some much bigger) are dry-sailed out of Alameda Marina and actively raced and sailed on the Estuary, on San Francisco Bay, and beyond.


"We were told that on Friday, March 11, City Council members and staff will be touring several northern waterfront properties, with their first stop being Alameda Marina, at about 9 a.m. This provides a critical opportunity to demonstrate to the City Council how the dry storage is utilized and the vital access to the water that it provides."

We realize that most sailors have jobs and work on Fridays, but if you have a boat in the Alameda Marina yard and can play hooky on Friday morning, we encourage you to launch your boat to show the Alameda City Council how the process works. "If we do not take advantage of this rare opportunity, then we will have nobody to blame but ourselves when the dry storage goes away."

Paul Allen of Santa Cruz was one of the crew on the untouchable Phaedo3, seen here setting an around-the-island record. 
A parade of J/120s at StFYC’s Spring One Design on Sunday, with a parade of J/105s going the opposite way in the background.
The San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, screening on March 10-13 in the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason, will include a documentary about the unlikely North American winner of the first Whitbread Round the World Race, Ramon Carlín of Mexico.