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I recently purchased a nice, clean, 1969 Columbia 26 MK II named Tabooma. She was pretty inexpensive, and I know she's not the greatest boat in the world. Nonetheless, the more time I spend with her, the more I think she's all that I really need.

The hailing port painted on the transom is Bora Bora, and belowdecks there is a mounted map of the Society Islands along with a photo of what appears to be Tabooma sailing inside the unmistakable reef of Bora Bora. This baffled me at first. I thought whoever mounted it must have been a joker to list Bora Bora as her hailing port, but now I'm beginning to suspect she was actually sailed there and back.

So I have a list of questions for you. Have you ever heard of Tabooma? If so, do you know if she indeed sailed across the Pacific? Or was she most likely shipped there for daysailing around the islands? Could a 36-year-old Columbia 26 still make the trip if properly equipped? Have you heard of other Columbia 26s making it?

The folks I bought the boat from don't have the answers to these questions. From what I gather, they hardly sailed her at all, but worked hard to make her as pretty as she is now.

P.S. I really like Latitude and am always happy to see the fresh stack at the top of the steps at your office in Mill Valley. I grew up down the street never knowing what Latitude was until a few years ago. I thank you for opening up my world a bit more each month.

Teo Schujman
Tabooma, Columbia 26
Bora Bora / Stinson Beach

Teo - Thanks for the kind words. We don't know if you're going to be disgusted or amused, but Tabooma stands for 'take another bite out of my ass'. In the bad old days when young male sailors tended to drink a lot and sometimes behaved uncouthly, there was a nasty game called Tabooma that they sometimes played in yachtie bars in the Caribbean. The idea was that when a guy spotted a young woman that caught his fancy sitting on a bar stool, he was supposed to go over and bite her on the butt - and then hang on for dear life with nothing but his teeth. Naturally the woman would scream at the top of her lungs. Upon hearing a woman's screams, all the guy's mates would know exactly what had happened and would start chanting "Tabooma! Tabooma! Tabooma!" Inevitably the woman would smash her assailant around the face trying to get him to release his dental grip. Since the goal was for the guy to hang on as long as possible, the assumption was the more beat up, the better job he'd done.

A few readers might think we're making this up. We wish we were, but it was all too real. That testosterone is nasty stuff. Fortunately, young men are much more mature these days, at least in temperate climes. And when they are sober.

We don't know if a previous owner of your boat was a practitioner of that misogynist Tabooma game, or just liked the sound of it. In fact, we don't know anything at all about your particular boat.

We do know, however, that quite a number of folks have sailed boats like Columbia 26s to places such as French Polynesia - to say nothing of around the world. Indeed, it's probably easier to sail back to California from French Polynesia by going the rest of the way around the world.

Whether your specific Columbia 26 is up to the job of sailing to Polynesia depends on her condition. Because the boat is nearly 40 years old, and because she was primarily designed for sailing between Southern California ports and Catalina, and in protected waters such as San Francisco Bay, you'd want to make sure all the critical parts - particularly the metal parts - are in good shape. Of primary importance would be things like the keel bolts, the rudder stock, the chainplates, the mast and boom, and all the rigging. Old metal on a boat is pretty creepy because it could have weakened significantly without showing much sign of it. You might also want to reinforce the critical areas of the hull with stringers, which is an easy but messy job.

While you could probably make it to Bora Bora with your current boat, we think it might cost more money than it's worth to bring her up to snuff for a long offshore passage. We think there are much more suitable boats - ones that are larger, faster, safer, more rugged, better equipped, and with inboard engines - that you could get for not that much more money. Maybe a Hawkfarm or a Ranger 29 or 33. Even if you had to work two jobs for a year and save every cent, we think it would be a better way to go in the long run. But that's just our opinion.


My father had been running a charter service with his boat out of Colon and Panama City, Panama. He passed away here in the States in January. The boat should be mine. But the co-captain and hostess have stolen her. And now they refuse to answer any of my emails. I've tried everything, but I can't get any help in tracking down the vessel.

In addition, I would like to post an apology to those people in Colombia for behavior that was not becoming of my father. I apologize to you first.

Cheri Knutsen
Planet Earth

Cheri - If you want help in locating a boat, it's important that you provide the name, type, age, last known location, and hopefully a photo. We've been burned in a previous case like this, so you'll need to provide proof that you are the legal owner before we can try to help. As such, you'd have to send us a copy of the current registration or document. As for the alleged 'thieves', they wouldn't be able to get far without a current ownership document because customs officials won't check them in or out.

But you've managed to pique our curiosity. What was it that your father did that makes you feel the need to apologize?


The March issue article on the Zihua SailFest that raised so much money for charity was quite interesting. But did you know that five years before you came up with the idea for SailFest, the cruisers there during the '95-'96 season came together, under the leadership of Carrie McCann from II Carried Away, to gather and distribute clothing to underprivileged children? While there weren't any bake sales, games on the beach, or a sailing regatta, the passing out of donated clothes during a gathering at the central basketball court was something to long remember.

Back then we may not have had the big yachts of today, and while our Nor'Sea 27 Sunchaser II was the smallest boat in the bay, I think we had the best group of people that I have ever met. To all those who were there and are still cruising, fair winds and good sailing!

Jerry & Jan Tankersley
Aiken, South Carolina

Jerry and Jan - We hope that we didn't give the impression that the Zihua SailFest was the first time cruisers have ever donated money or clothes to deserving folks in Mexico, because that's certainly not the case. We can remember similar, although more modest, efforts as far back as the late '70s. Cruisers have always been pretty generous, but seem to be getting even more so with the passing of time.


Approximately how many people, or better yet, what percentage of the billions of people who sign up for the Crew List actually get to participate in the Ha-Ha?

I would very much like to sail in the next Ha-Ha, but the list looks formidable. My little Santana 22 would have to be cut amidships and lengthened six feet before you all would let me sail in the event.

Also, like you've said many, many times before, 'go now' before something in your life changes. I have recently become the lucky father of twins, so the final 'go, no go' decision will likely come from the COO/CEO at home. Nonetheless, I always keep a copy of Latitude on my nightstand so I can I sneak a peak between feedings.

Craig McDow
Sweet Reward / CYC
Velocity / Discovery Bay

Craig - We don't know how many folks who sign up for the Crew List get on boats for the Ha-Ha, but it's more than a few. In last year's Ha-Ha there were 145 boats that ultimately carried a total of 550 people, so a lot of bunks needed to be filled. And we know for a fact that there were some skippers looking for crew the day before the start in San Diego.

As for Latitude being the Ha-Ha, that's not correct. Latitude founded the Ha-Ha and ran it for several years, and the publisher of Latitude happily continues to serve as the unpaid Grand Poobah. Nonetheless, the Ha-Ha has long been an entirely separate company from Latitude, with entirely separate ownership. So when May 1 rolls around, you can petition Ha-Ha President Lauren Spindler to be allowed to enter your Santana 22. She's made exceptions in the past for knowledgeable and experienced owners of small boats, and she may do it for you also.

Here's something to run by the CEO: Ms. Spindler was born in late February. In the fall of that year, her father sailed his boat down to Cabo San Lucas. Ms. Spindler was brought down by her mother, and it was in Cabo - specifically in the plaza in the old part of town - that she learned to walk. Maybe your CEO would like the idea of the twins learning to walk on the sandy beaches of Cabo.


March 8 of this year marked eight years since I met my wife Laurie - thanks to the 1997 Latitude 38 Crew List Party at the Encinal YC. I don't know if it was love at first sight, but it was close. At the time I was living aboard my Hunter Legend 37 Strange Bird at Marina Village Yacht Harbor in Alameda.

Laurie and I were married in February of '99 at the Golden Gate YC. One of the first things she made me do was sell my boat. She hated it! It wasn't that she didn't like sailing, she just didn't like sailing that particular Hunter - which was fairly tender and whose big spade rudder was hard for her to handle except on a beat. I sadly agreed to sell the boat.

Lest you think this is a story of doom and gloom, let me assure you there was a major ray of sunshine in her demand. Her next great idea was that we should buy a brand new boat that she would be able to sail and which would be comfortable to live aboard! Women can be so difficult because of all their demands.

In September of '99, we took delivery of our new Strange Bird, a Catalina 42. We spent the next several years learning the boat, making modifications, and buying lots of stuff for her.

I was offered an early retirement in the summer of 2003, and Laurie resigned from her job with a package that included a full year's salary. We sold the condominium and moved aboard our boat. Over the course of the fall and winter, Laurie learned what living aboard a boat was really all about. The big thing was that nothing is easy. Even getting a pot or pan can involve moving 10 other things.

By the time spring rolled around, she knew that she could handle the close quarters and all the little things that make living aboard so much different from living ashore. However the real test was still yet to come. We sold the Jeep and the Miata, and spent time with family as much as possible. Then there was only one thing left to do - we left our dock at Marina Village on June 5 of last year and headed for the Golden Gate.

We did not get far on our first 'passage'. We stopped in at Pillar Point for what we thought would be for a single night - and ended up being there three days while we waited out the gale that started up during the night. Monterey was our next stop and we spent about 10 days there while we did some work on the boat and played tourists around town.

A good friend joined us in Monterey for the trip down the coast and around Point Conception. Laurie had never stood any night watches and we felt it would be good to have someone else aboard for that first long stretch of coast. As it turned out, the passage was a non-event as we motored the entire way, but Laurie did learn a little bit about fatigue and late night cold. And that taking a shower while underway is not a major priority if you're tired.

We spent two weeks in Santa Barbara, mainly because we had several systems melt down on us. After spending a lot of money and time fixing this and that, and waking up to a sea lion in our cockpit, we headed for the Channel Islands. Things were still not completely right with the boat, but we just had to get away from Santa Barbara. It's a great town, but not the place you want to be if you have to get work done. We did get a great view of the Fourth of July fireworks show put on by the city, and then left the first thing in the morning on July 5.

We played all over Southern California during the months of July and August. We attended the All-Catalina Rendezvous at Two Harbors on Catalina, visited Channel Islands Harbor, used reciprocal privileges at three yacht clubs in Marina del Rey, Alamitos Bay and Seal Beach - where I went surfing for the first time in 25 years. At Newport Beach we treated ourselves to 'Balboa Bars' and smiled at the $5/night charge for a mooring. Our visit to Dana Point inspired me to read Two Years Before the Mast, and when we got to Mission Bay, we got to see the Sea World fireworks everynight from our anchorage.

September and October found us attached to a mooring ball in San Diego's America's Cup Harbor. Laurie almost got run over by Dennis Connor as he was pulling out of the parking lot at the San Diego Marine Exchange. All the marine supply houses in San Diego were fantastic, giving us great service. For a well-earned break from cruising, we took a side trip to Florida and then up to the Annapolis Boat Show to visit friends and make last-minute purchases.

We didn't participate in the Baja Ha-Ha, but did take advantage of some of the seminars given in conjunction with that event. We left San Diego on November 10th and headed into Mexico. We stopped in Ensenada for a couple of days, and were boarded by the Mexican Navy when we tried to leave. Everything was in order, so we were off to Turtle Bay.

What a great place! We would have liked to stay at Turtle Bay a little longer, but the weather window was open, so we left after only two days. We had planned to stop at Bahia Santa Maria, but arrived well after dark and decided we would need to stop in Cabo San Lucas for fuel anyway, so we kept on going.

Because we'd always been attempting to move during weather windows, we always left when there was no wind at all - or so it seemed. So since leaving San Francisco, we'd motored more than 90% of the time! That played hell with our fuel budget. I have never wanted to stop in Cabo San Lucas for any length of time, so after 25 minutes spent fueling, we set off for Mazatlan. We burned another 30 gallons motoring across the glass-smooth Sea of Cortez.

We arrived in Mazatlan on November 20, the day before Laurie's birthday. We stayed at Mazatlan for just over two months, as it was the first place where we felt like we didn't have to be somewhere else soon or have to keep any kind of schedule. We took advantage of that. In the month we were there, we thoroughly explored the city by foot and bus. We also took a bus tour into the interior, and did one or two more road trips before we left. I also started surfing again at Playa Bruja, and am totally stoked!

As we write this, it's February 22, and we're in Tenacatita Bay. We've got lots of great new stories, so if you want to enjoy them, visit our web page at

We plan on staying in Mexico for two full seasons, then head for the Panama Canal in the spring of 2006. After that, who knows?

Okay, so I know the Latitude 38 Crew List Parties are not supposed to be for picking up women (or men), but when things work out, what can you do? So thank you for giving Laurie and me the opportunity to meet.

Jay & Laurie Ailworth
Strange Bird, Catalina 42
Home Is Where Our Boat Is

Jay and Laurie - Thanks for that report on how well the Crew List worked out for you, and on your trip to Mexico. But motoring 90% of the time? When you're going to be sailing downwind, a good 'weather window' is 10 to 20 knots from anywhere but on the nose, not no wind at all.


I'm responding to Charlie Ellery of San Diego who, in the February issue, wondered if a crewman is ever even partly responsible for damage he causes to a boat. He was writing because a guest on his boat damaged the prop shaft by backing up over a dinghy painter.

As the owner of a boat, and a skipper who has run over his dinghy and/or painter more than once, I'm qualified to respond. I'm sorry Charlie, but as the owner, who is presumably in command of your vessel, you are responsible for your vessel and her crew. So stop whining, it's embarrassing.

My Los Angeles-based boat is currently berthed in Gladstone, Australia. I'm only back in the Excited States because I'm broke and need to earn more fun vouchers.

Jules Darras
Los Angeles / Gladstone, Australia


I feel the owner/skipper is always responsible for his/her vessel. I personally would not let anyone except myself approach a dock or other potentially dangerous situation with my boat. I frequently let others take the helm, but I keep in proximity of the helm to be able to take over if needed or to give instructions as to right-of-way or courtesy. In the Delta we frequently cross paths with freighters and other large vessels in restricted waterways, so an owner absolutely cannot take a chance with a crewman making a wrong move at the helm.

Even in a case where a guest is manning the helm, he/she should always be operating under the orders of the skipper, and the skipper should take responsibility for the helmsperson's actions.

Ellery also said that he couldn't get insurance because his Islander 30 had been built 30 years ago. Many insurers will offer coverage without regard to the age of the boat. The important things are that the boat has a clean survey and that the owner is an experienced, safe operator.

Bill Wells


Is a guest on a boat even partially responsible for the financial consequences of damage he/she might cause while crewing on a boat? Not in my opinion.

The way I see it, it's the owner's boat, and unless he has explicitly surrendered the position of skipper to a tested, trusted crewmember for the day, week, or however long, he's still the skipper, even if he doesn't have the helm in his hand. The skipper must always be ready to give direction, take the helm away, solve a problem, or do whatever is required to keep his vessel and crew out of harm's way.

A sailing yacht is generally not a democracy - experienced sailors feel comfortable in either the lead or not-lead role. They toss it back and forth with ease, and always know who has the ball. In my opinion, the owner of the boat who sustained propeller shaft damage was not out of luck, he merely failed to act in his own interests when it was necessary to do so.

Marc 'Man Without A Name' Fountain
Rise, Moore 24
Richmond YC


Should the guest of a boat who wraps a dinghy painter around the prop and causes $1,500 damage be liable for the expense? As both a boatowner who regularly has friends aboard, and as a delivery captain who regularly hires crew, I say the crew is not liable. The skipper - who, in this case, was also the owner - is 100% responsible for the boat. Even for an old boat, as it was the owner's choice to go without insurance.

Last year I did a delivery of a new 60-footer. One of the crew was getting some personal gear out of an overhead bin when his camera fell out, landed on a table, and took a chip out of all three million coats of varnish. Clearly, this crewmember was a little careless, but overall, he's a dynamite crew and mistakes do happen. So I gave the owner a $500 credit out of my pocket because it was not normal wear and tear, and because it happened on my watch.

But here's another situation that I don't think is as clear: An instructor, who is a licensed captain, is giving an owner docking instructions aboard the owner's pilothouse trawler - which therefore has limited visibility between skipper and crew. The instructor is at the helm with the owner handling lines from the stern cockpit. The owner drops a line in the water and it wraps the prop. Who pays the diver? And reverse the situation. Suppose the owner was at the helm and the instructor dropped the line and wrapped the prop?

Peter Pisciotti
San Francisco

Readers - In a world where seemingly everybody will do everything they can to avoid any responsibility for anything, isn't it interesting that skippers and boatowners seem to be the exception? Anyone care to speculate on why that might be?


I can see by the responses to my Who Is Responsible? letter that some clarification is necessary on the details of the incident.

First, all four of us aboard knew that we were towing a dinghy all day long on a 15-ft painter. Second, all three of my guests had an hour each at the helm that day. Third, the final guest to take the helm claimed to be experienced. He professed to having an ASA certification for keelboats, plus tons of time on his own boat back in England.

The final guest docked the boat with no problem, as one of the other guests and I secured the bow and stern lines. It was only then - and for no apparent reason - that he put the engine into reverse gear and ran the throttle up to 1,500 rpm. In doing so, he sucked the dinghy painter and dinghy under the stern, causing all hell to break loose. All this happened in less than five seconds.

Subsequently, it was discovered that the 3/4-inch prop shaft had become bent 1-1/2 inches off center, and that the yard wanted $1,620 to haul and fix everything.

The guest helmsman did not think when putting the engine into reverse, nor did he take any responsibility for the accident, nor did he offer any financial aid to remedy the problem.

I took all the information to Small Claims Court in San Diego. The judge found that the helmsman had indeed acted in a negligent manner - and awarded me damages. There was no appeal on the part of the defendant, but as yet I haven't received any funds.

For those who disagree with the verdict, let me use an analogy. If I'm a passenger in your car and I'm asked to drive for a spell. Then I run into something that causes $1,620 in damages. Who should pay? The law says that as the owner of the vehicle, you do not give permission to others to damage your vehicle while it's under their control. If they do damage it, it's an act of negligence, pure and simple.

Charlie Ellery
Gusto, Islander 30
San Diego / Sausalito

Charlie - We're glad you shared the details of the incident because it makes it absolutely clear that it was indeed a case of gross negligence. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but it was clearly a case of negligence on your part as the skipper.

Before starting the engine on any boat, or slowing or stopping a boat towing a dinghy, it's the responsibility of the skipper to make sure there are no lines - be they painters, sheets, halyards, or whatever - in the water that could foul the prop. This is particularly true when docking a boat, because it's almost always necessary to put a boat in reverse to prevent the bow from doinking the dock.

Your car analogy completely misses the essence of the issue. A more accurate analogy would be that you asked a friend to drive your car when it was towing a trailer by nothing more than a rope. When he slowed down to pull into your garage, the trailer rammed into the back of your car and caused major damage. The problem was not that the operator of the car/boat manuevered the car negligently, but rather that you were negligent by giving him control of something that wasn't in the proper condition for the manuever which you wanted to be executed.

Not making sure the painter is drawn tight before slowing down or putting the engine in reverse is the skipper's bonehead mistake. Nonetheless, we bet there isn't one sailor in 10 who hasn't done it at some time or another during their sailing career. And we can't imagine that there is one skipper in 100 who wouldn't agree that it was his/her own damn fault for not making sure that the crew had all the lines clear.

If it makes you feel any better, we've similarly fouled our prop at least a dozen times - and that doesn't even count the times we fouled our dinghy painter in her own outboard prop.

Since judges aren't familiar with the subtleties of sailing, they have a poor understanding of the issues, and therefore frequently make mistakes. In this case it's obvious that the judge erred out of ignorance, for had you as skipper properly prepared your boat for docking, there wouldn't have been any damage.


In the February Latitude, Matt Brown, San Diego-based designer and canting keel pioneer, made the assertion that "canting keel sailboats don't gain propulsion from moving their keels." This is demonstrably incorrect. The fact is that they do gain propulsion from this action. In fact, a boat can be designed to be driven by powered canting keel motion alone.

Brown and the other proponents of powered canting keels provide the following test as evidence for their position: If the keel is operated with the boat at rest in calm conditions, no propulsion results. This much is true, as the keel is stalled. However, if the boat is already moving forward and the keel is canted, propulsion results as a direct consequence of the power put into the canting motion.

A glider flies through the air with the same physics, producing forward motion from a force - gravity - perpendicular to the intended line of travel. Similarly, a glider will not move forward if dropped from an at-rest start, until some forward motion is first achieved by other means.

I am not a fan of power-assisted sailing being allowed on a level basis with wind and human-driven sailing. It is a Pandora's Box, leading to an arms race of who can funnel the most diesel-generated power through loopholes in the rules. The result is most unbecoming to the sport of racing under sail.

Perhaps sailors who compete with Shock 40s should be allowed to use a 3 hp motor in whatever way they choose for 10-12 seconds on each tack. Surely Mr. Brown would consider that to be fair?

Jon Fitch


In the January issue, a reader wondered about the value of image-stabilized binoculars on a cruising boat. I previously had - and still have - a fine pair of Fujinon 7x50 binoculars, which have served me well and have consistently been rated very high by reviewers. I previously had considered moving up to a pair of image-stablized binoculars, but just couldn't see spending the extra money. But then last year, during a cruise up the Sea of Cortez, I had two separate crossing instances with other vessels where I couldn't determine the configuration of the other vessel's lights - even though they were plainly visible. So I finally bit the bullet.

I bought a set of 14x40 Fujinon Techno-Stabilized binoculars. Having used them, I have to report that I now consider them essential - and one of the most important pieces of safety equipment on my boat.

From the first of November to January of this year, I have covered 1,900 miles between San Carlos, Zihuatanejo, and back to Mazatlan. During this time, I only felt it necessary to turn on my radar twice for identification. That's because with the binocular stabilization you are able to view things of interest with twice the power.

What does this mean in practical terms? I can now not only see the lights of other vessels, but can discern their light configurations, and almost immediately determine the type of vessel and direction of travel. Prior to using the binoculars, I could make out the lights, but only as one big blurry mess. That meant I had to use the radar, too. The only times I've needed radar this year were once when it was raining and another time when two working Mexican shrimpers didn't have their lights configured properly.

I can't comment on the usefulness of other brands of stabilized binoculars, but when I go sailing my Fujinon Image-Stablized binos are kept handy.

P.S. When the wife isn't looking, these binoculars are also excellent for girl-watching!

Jim Metcalf
Morgan Lea


West Marine founder Randy Repass said he was interested in hearing reports from cruisers about the reliability of marine products. I've got good news for him - we're happy campers. We left San Francisco to do the Ha-Ha six years ago. Twenty thousand miles later, we're in the Med and have good reports about our marine stuff.

Above all, we're happy with our boat, a Vagabond 47 ketch powered by her old Ford Lehman diesel. We also like the sails we got from Hood in Sausalito and our in-the-boom main furling system by Profurl. We were happy with the work we got done at nearby Anderson's Boatyard, and the paint job done by Baja Naval while we were waiting for the start of the Ha-Ha.

Other great stuff includes our San Rafael-built Spectra watermaker and our Glacier Bay refrigeration. I did the insulation for the refrigeration - 13 inches on the bottom, six inches on the sides, and four inches on the top. But both the watermaker and the refrigeration just keep on ticking.

There's a lot of good stuff which we got from West Marine, too, such as our 200-gallon fuel tanks. Having these meant we never had to hand-carry fuel. Nor did we have to sail with jerry jugs lining our decks, something we don't think is a very good idea.

We like our hard bimini with removeable see-through plastic panels, which allowed us to sail in the Med for two more months on each side of the high season without having to wear foulies. We have solar panels on top of our bimini. We think this is a good thing because most cruisers like them more than wind generators.

We love our ICOM 720 SSB radio and SailMail.

We're on our second Port-a-Boat dinghy, as the first one fell apart after 12 years. Why doesn't West Marine carry them?

Last but certainly not least, we love our Raymarine autopilot. For better reliability, folks should get an autopilot one size larger than recommended.

Our diesel heater, which makes late season anchorages cozy, has worked well.

With six years of cruising and four more to go, I can tell you that the most important thing on this boat didn't come from West Marine. It's my happy wife. She just keeps adding on more sailing years so we can cruise to more places - such as St. Petersburg, Russia.

Here's my tip to the guys. Make your boat as much like a home as you can afford, because no woman wants to 'camp out' for six years. And buy a boat for comfort rather than speed. I think a 45 to 55-footer that displaces 20 tons and has a bow thruster is just about right. So what if it takes a little longer to get to the next harbor, you'll be there for days or weeks anyway.

Two other tips: 1) Learn to wait for good weather - even if it means you have to wait weeks and not just days. 2) Never ever set a date and place for you to meet friends with your boat! We let our guests pick either the time or the place, and then a few days before we're to meet, we'll give them the time or place - whichever of the two they didn't pick. We are the target and they are the arrow.

Although we're happy campers, we've had problems, too. Take our Splendide washer/dryer. There is a design defect, as the three-way coldwater intake valve is mounted too close to the main washer drum which moves. A hard shake breaks off the solenoid that's located on the valve. I've replace three of them. It's hard to believe, but that's been our only reoccuring problem.

That's not to say we don't have lots of little problems. After all, I can't imagine living in a house and not having to fix something every day.

P.S. to Randy Repass. I've been shopping at West Marine for 30 years, starting with the West Coast Rope store in Mountain View.

John O'Connor
Windsong, Vagabond 47 ketch
Currently In Malta


In a recent 'Lectronic Latitude piece headlined Are Unions in L.A. Partly Responsible for Holding Up Your Canal Transit? you speculate, based on an item from the Financial Times, that "unions, limited work hours, and outdated technology" are to blame for the backlog at the nation's busiest port, Los Angeles/Long Beach. While it is perhaps possible that those things are partially responsible, they are but a tiny percentage of the problem.

The far more significant reason for the bottleneck here is the Union Pacific Railroad, the primary rail carrier in this country, and the huge disruption caused by the deluge of rain in early January - and continuing still. The mudslides that began occurring in the aftermath of the January storms forced the Union Pacific Railroad to close four of their five mainlines out of the Los Angeles basin, and, ipso facto, the freight pileup in the port area ensued. This, in turn, created a 'holding pattern' for the constantly arriving freighters from overseas as they had to wait for berthing to disgorge their cargos.

It is possible that some shippers opted to send their vessels through the Canal in an attempt to get their cargos delivered, but, according to the Los Angeles Times, most chose to reroute to Seattle. Those that chose to go the Canal route, by the way, would be more likely to choose New Orleans as the alternate port, not Savannah, and certainly not New York. Seattle is the logical option, as the ships are therefore able to deliver to a mainland American port yet remain in the Pacific, and can thus quickly return to their (primarily) Asian ports to reload, saving Canal fees and considerable time in the process.

The bottom line is that the Financial Times, not unlike the Bush administration, has a decided political agenda, and is quick to point the finger of blame if it serves their particular point of view. While there may indeed be a traffic jam at the Panama Canal, blaming it on the laborers at the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach is a real stretch.

And by the way, it's the 710 Harbor Freeway that is most impacted by freight trucks into and out of the port area. Without a doubt the 405 is screwed up, but it was ever thus, and not from port traffic. The west side has needed additional freeways for at least 30 years to relieve the pressure on the 405, but no mere mortal has the cajones to step on the sensitive, elite toes necessary to make that happen!

Jack Joslin

Jack - The article was reporting on the problem of badly backed-up shipping at L.A./Long Beach last summer, so this winter's record rainfall in the Los Angeles area had nothing to do with it. None of last summer's back-ups were weather-related. But you are right, the well-documented operational woes of Union Pacific Railroad, as well as the incredibly congested freeways in Southern California, are additional reasons that alternatives are being investigated. As we've mentioned before, the Punta Colnett area south of Ensenada is being eyed by some of the biggest shipping interests in the world for the possible site of a megaport.

But that would be many years away, and solutions need to be found right now. Rerouting ships to Seattle and Vancouver isn't a solution because they don't have the capacity to handle the overload. That's why so much more cargo normally targeted for the West Coast has been going through the Panama Canal, and why the Canal itself is now very often running at maximum capacity. If you want to believe that the ships going through the Canal are headed to New Orleans, suit yourself, but industry statistics show that most have been redirected to, yes, Savannah and the New York area.

The problem of the potential lack of capacity is so great that many companies have been exploring the possibility of sending ships from China to the United States not by the shortest route, which is across the Pacific, or even through the Canal, but via the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Med, and Atlantic Ocean. That they are even considering such a long and circuitous route should indicate to you that there is a genuine capacity problem, one that's only going to get worse as the world economy continues to heat up.

As we and the article mentioned, there are many factors that are limiting capacity. But you greatly minimize the effect things like limited work hours at the port can have. Just ask yourself what would happen if the workers at the Panama Canal - who currently keep that facility in action 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - decided they wanted to reduce their collective working hours by 20%. Can't you see that it would reduce the capacity of entire Canal operations by 20%? Indeed, one of the reasons a megaport at Punta Colnett seems so attractive to the shipping concerns is that there are plenty of Mexicans who aren't interested in limiting work, but rather in getting all the work that they can.


As a native Californian, I bemoaned relocating to the Gulf Coast of Florida in '95. But based on the increasing amount of B.S. in the Letters in recent years, I'm glad we did so. I don't know how you stand it month after month. I admire your willingness to actually respond to some of these characters in such a reasonable and thoughtful manner - rather than simply asking if they are serious.

With the amount of correspondence you must get, you may not recall that we exchanged notes a few years ago when I was debating the merits of catamarans versus monohulls - after my wife declared it was time to upgrade from our faithful '76 Cal 29 that we'd owned for 26 years. As it turns out, we bought a Beneteau First 42, which I love. Unfortunately, she draws 6'5", which is a bit much for the west coast of Florida. In hindsight, I should have gone with the cat. I know we'll end up with a Leopard 42 or 47 cat - my wife again - before we retire and go on our grand tour of the Caribbean and the Gulf.

While we maintained our membership in Richmond YC in anticipation of returning 'home' one day, I have to say that after living here in Florida and merely commuting to California for business each month, one begins to see the extent to which people in California seem to accept nutty propositions as if they were perfectly reasonable. For example, that one dummy with the recreational sailboat who wanted to assert his "right of way" over a ship in a shipping channel.

Scott Keraney
HyLyte, Beneteau First 42

Scott - As California natives also, we know the state has always been ground zero for 'questioning authority'. Unfortunately, a lot of people here don't seem to understand that you can't intelligently question it if you don't have a basic knowledge of the subject matter. Alas, this gives rise to hilarious beliefs such as the 'eighth planet theory', which says the U.S. invaded Iraq as the initial step in the colonization of the Middle East. Why would we do that? Because U.S. scientists have detected an asteroid that will soon destroy North America - but presumably not have any effect on the rest of the planet. Right.


I've been sailing out of the Vallejo-Napa area for about six years, and as a safe boater I always check the local NOAA weather station for current conditions. But for the last six years the winds at Davis Point - right across from Mare Island Strait - have not been available. Is there any wind monitoring at Davis Point or has the anemometer been placed underwater? Can you help a North Bay mariner find out what the deal is with the wind at Davis Point?

Greg Guinn
Fete Accomplie

Greg - Apparently the anemometer was eaten by Humphrey the Whale as he headed up the Delta. Because of the budget shortfall, there's been no money to replace it.

Our feeling is that if you want to be a safe mariner on San Francisco Bay and up in the Delta, you need to assume that it's always quite possible that the wind will blow as much as 30 knots. This is particularly true from March to October, and in areas such as Davis Point where the wind starts to funnel into a narrow gap. After all, forecasts are nothing more than predictions, and who among us hasn't experienced plenty of times when the weather forecast was completely off the mark. If you're always prepared for the possibility of strong winds, you won't have a problem, and you won't have to waste time listening to computer-generated recordings.

If you still crave the reassurance of a government weather forecast, just listen to the forecasts for San Pablo Bay and further up the Delta, and figure it might blow 50% harder at Davis Point.


Here's what I learned the most about the Baja Ha-Ha:

1) Take as much of your home life with you as you can - there's nothing to do on a boat! In my case, I'm a computer junkie and I wished I'd had my computer onboard.

2) The shore parties were too few and far between.

3) The Ha-Ha Committee was no help at all. They gave all the wrong telephone numbers for finding moorage in San Diego.

4) Once in Cabo, there was no help in clearing Customs. The Ha-Ha Committee was away most of the time when newcomers - all confused - could have used some advice and greeting on arrival.

5) The Grand Poobah has a big mouth. He had all kinds of worthless comments.

6) A 44-gallon diesel is way too small for a trip to Cabo.

7) Checking in through Customs at Cabo is no fun. If it's their lunch break, customs officials don't give a damn if you've been sitting around for two hours trying to check in.

8) The party committee at Turtle Bay could use some Port-a-Potty shacks. Everyone had to walk over the hill to crap somewhere in the desert. And there weren't any bushes around.

9) $299 is a lot of money for an entry fee. What does the Committee do with all of it?

Bill Rogers
Halcyon, Pearson 385
Portland, Oregon

Bill - Speaking as the Grand Poobah, I'm so glad that you wrote in, because it will better help folks understand the kind of person who should not sign up for the Ha-Ha. Absolutely do not enter if:

1) You'd be bored without your computer.

2) You need a party every day. There was the Kick-off Party in San Diego; two informal get-togethers in Turtle Bay in addition to the official Beach Party; an official Beach Party at Bahia Santa Maria; an informal get-together at Squid Roe, plus the official Beach Party and official Awards Ceremony at Cabo. Dude, how many parties do you need in two weeks while still sailing 750 miles?

3) You can't follow numerous clear instructions on how to find moorage in Southern California prior to the Ha-Ha.

4) If the process of clearing Customs and Immigration is a major issue with you. If it is, you're not ready to leave the United States - and maybe not even ready to leave your marina.

5) You think the Grand Poobah could answer all the questions he's asked with just a small mouth. If you don't care for our style, we're sorry, but that's who we are. We do the best we can, and we're proud of the job we and all our helpers do.

6) You need somebody else to tell you how much fuel you'll need. If you're going to burn 45 gallons of diesel going to Cabo, a 44-gallon tank is indeed too small.

7) You'll be surprised that going through Customs is not particularly fun. This comes as a surprise to you?

8) You can't deal with living in a wilderness area. Port-a-Potties would be nice at Turtle Bay, unfortunately, it's a wilderness area and the nearest ones are about 500 miles away. If you can't live without First World conveniences - or using the various limited facilities in town - you're not ready to leave the States.

9) You think $299 is too steep an entry fee. For their $299, each entry got a Ha-Ha T-shirt, a Some Like It Hot T-shirt, a Ha-Ha hat, a Pusser's Rum hat, a Ha-Ha beach ball and Frisbee to play with and eventually give to kids, a pair of emergency sunglasses, a water-proof wallet, a souvenir burgee, an event program with bios of all entrants, free meals in San Diego for two with unlimited free beverages, professional weather forecasting, discounts from sponsors including on some berths in Cabo, roll call each morning, the First-Timer's Guide to Cruising Mexico, and a bunch of other stuff. But most of all, everybody had the opportunity to have a great time with hundreds of really terrific people. For comparison, the Ha-Ha is less expensive than the three-day Heineken or BVI Spring Regattas in the Caribbean, and about one-third the cost of other two-week events such as the West Marine Pacific Cup, the TransPac, and the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. For what it's worth, there's a tremendous amount of work over a period of many months that goes into putting on the event.

Those of us associated with the Ha-Ha never want anybody to misunderstand what they are considering signing up for, which is why we have a section in the Liability Release called "Just So We Understand Each Other:" It starts out with a rhetorical question: Is the Ha-Ha a good event for novice skippers to try their hand at ocean sailing?" Answer: "No. The Ha-Ha is for experienced sailors who would have been willing to sail from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas on their own. The Ha-Ha is definitely not an offshore handholding or babysitting service." We repeat, the Ha-Ha is not a handholding or babysitting service.

Should you do a Baja Ha-Ha? Mr. Rogers' negative comments notwithstanding, we suggest you decide by asking others who have done one. We can't tell you how many people have told us, "We weren't sure if we really wanted to do it," - often because there were a lot of boats - "but we had a fabulous time and are really glad we did." But don't take our word for it, ask them yourself.


I'm finally getting around to writing to say how much Mike and I enjoyed last year's Baja Ha-Ha. We have nothing but awesome memories - at least once we got to Cabo. You may recall that we got a late start, had to backtrack several hundred miles to let seasick crew off at Ensenada, and only caught up with the fleet at Bahia Santa Maria. But it was still great and we're already looking forward to this year's Ha-Ha. We won't be able to enter Tequila again, as we'll have sailed her to the South Pacific by then. But that's a small detail, as we'll catch a ride on someone else's boat. Any room on Profligate, as we'd love to sail on the cat?

Tequila is in La Paz right now. We've done a few cruises in the area that were almost as fun as the Ha-Ha. But now we're getting the boat ready for the trip to the Marquesas.

Here's a story your readers might like. In mid-January, two buddies and I were heading down to La Paz for an intense work week on Tequila when we stopped in San Diego to pick up some supplies - watermaker, anchors, more chain, new batteries, etc. We also ended up picking up three girls - well, we actually already knew them from before. Needless to say, our work party turned into more party than work. Anyway, I'm dating one of the girls pretty seriously, all because of Tequila. And to think that I almost bought a chopper instead of a boat!

Quinn Closson
Tequila, Roberts 53
San Diego

Quinn - We're glad you enjoyed the Ha-Ha and that things have been going well. Have a good trip to the Marquesas - and don't forget to send an email with a couple of high-res photos.

As for crew positions on Profligate for the Ha-Ha, everybody who went last year said they want to go again, so we think we're full. But we're sure you'll find plenty of other crew opportunities.


The January Latitude just caught up with us here in Zihuatanejo (courtesy of Scarlett, thanks guys). I read with interest your Sightings item on the Farallones Patrol - having read with interest some of the stuff - diatribes? - written about Midway over the last year.

I spent about 10 days at Midway three years ago when Mr. Bodeen was the manager. It seems to me that Midway and the Farallones are pretty similar in that: 1) they are both closed to human traffic because they are wildlife refuges; and 2) because they both have programs that allow sailors to volunteer to help out, and in return get special treatment that allows them to visit places that are normally off-limits. So why the difference in Latitude's attitude?

I can't speak highly enough of the time that I spent at Midway. Everybody else aboard thought it was the highlight of the trip too. Imagine walking amongst 1.2 million albatrosses in an area the size of Golden Gate Park. But I had made arrangements in advance, and the crew and I all did a bunch of work - real work - while we were there.

I didn't pull into Midway expecting a bunch of biologists to turn into gas dock attendants. If anyone did the same at the Farallones, I bet they'd get about the same response. Yeah, Midway is a lot further out there where supplies are scarce - which cuts both ways. But then, the sailors who go by there should by all rights be better prepared. Well, maybe not, as it can be pretty tough water around the Farallones.

Don Sandstrom
Anduril, Cross 40 Trimaran

Don - The stink about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's administration of Midway started when the professional skipper of a large catamaran asked permission to stop at Midway to rest and buy fuel. He made this inquiry while he was still in Fiji planning his route to North America. He was perfectly willing and able to take another route, but made the inquiry because it would be easier on his crew and boat.

The Fish & Wildlife officials at Midway granted him permission to stop and buy fuel. Then, after the skipper had committed himself to the Midway route, officials rescinded permission to stop. The skipper was unhappy because he felt the bungling on the part of Fish & Wildlife had introduced an unnecessary element of risk to the passage.

To suggest that any offshore sailors want biologists on Midway Islands to morph on demand into gas dock attendants is a complete mischaracterization of the additional complaints we received about the Fish & Wildlife administrators. In another case, the skipper of a yacht asked for nothing more than to be able to drop a hook so he and crew could get some rest and make some minor repairs. They were apparently given lots of grief about the request because Midway is a National Wildlife Refuge, and there are understandable concerns about possible pollution. But are we to believe there isn't a single place at Midway Islands where one yacht couldn't drop the hook without jeopardizing the survival of five billion gooney birds? After all, it's not as if they haven't allowed cruise ships and jets - which are far more polluting - to drop off hordes of visitors.

That Midway is the only place to stop in a very remote area of the Pacific does makes it a completely different situation from the Farallones. If a motorist runs out of gas 150 feet from a gas station, it's no big deal if nobody gives them a ride to the pump because they can walk. But if someone runs out of gas on an isolated road 100 miles from the nearest gas station, that person is deserving of some kind of accommodation.

Nobody is asking that sailors who stop at Midway be given any special treatment - or even be able to buy food or fuel. People just want to be treated with a minimum of common courtesy. To that end, we think the Fish & Wildlife officials at Midway should be dispatched back to the States for some much-needed sensitivity training.


Being too old and weak to sail anymore, I often salivate at some of the photos you publish. Many of the shots actually let one feel and taste the salt spray. I would really be interested in purchasing some of them. Is that possible?

Jim Reaney

Jim - We're delighted you like the photographs. We make a tremendous effort to provide the best photo coverage that we can - and have tremendous photoboat bills to prove it.

You can order almost any of the photos that appear in the magazine by emailing Annie. What's more, you can get them in color.


I'm the Dockmaster at Club Nautico in Cartagena and, as such, I consider it part of my job to ensure that this part of Colombia is treated fairly when it comes to reports about the safety of cruisers. Clearly, things have improved vastly in this area since Donald Street wrote his cruising guide many years ago. And I believe the situation has continued to improve with the efforts of President Uribe. Nobody, of course, knows what the future might bring.

Randy and Lourae Kenoffel of the San Francisco-based Moorings 500 Pizazz did much to initially encourage people to coastal hop from Cartagena east along the coast of Colombia on their way to the Eastern Caribbean. They did this with their basic 'guide' and with stories about the passage. A lot of cruisers subsequently made that passage successfully, and found it much easier to harbor-hop when the winds were down rather than trying to make a non-stop upwind passage in some of the most challenging conditions to be found in the world of cruising.

Sadly, there have been three incidents in the Barranquilla area starting with Morning Dew in 2002.

Cartagena has always been considered much safer than the rest of Colombia. Unfortunately, a little more than a year ago, San Diego's John Haste was robbed at gunpoint while motoring his 52-ft Perry cat away from a boatyard in Cartagena Bay.

Although all these incidents reflect badly on Colombia, I have no doubt most of them can be avoided by taking sensible precautions. As such, these incidents don't mean people should leave Cartagena or Colombia out of their cruising itineraries. It should be noted, for example, that after going to the Eastern Caribbean for the winter season, Haste returned to Cartagena with his boat for an extended stay. And he seemed happy rather than anxious to be here.

Latitude also mentioned that there have been incidents in the past at the Rosario Islands, which are about 20 miles from Cartagena. I can report that probably more than 300 international boats have visited the Rosario Islands in the last three years, and there hasn't been a serious incident. For those of us based in Cartagena, the idea of the Rosario Islands being categorized as especially risky is almost laughable.

Clearly there are large numbers of poor and sometimes desperate people living on the fringe of certain cities - including Cartagena. But without any doubt in my mind, Cartagena remains a secure and fascinating destination.

Yes, I have an axe to grind as I work here. But I'm effectively a gringo - the term used for all caucasian foreigners in Colombia - and I'm also a very pro-American Brit married to a Colombian woman. We have three daughters approaching their teens, and we're happily living in a fairly humble barrio. I never get the sense that I'm living any kind of adventure.

As for the Gulf of Uraba on the Caribbean side of Colombia, west of Cartagena, I haven't heard of any recent incidents that should cause concern for cruisers who are considering a visit there.

On the other hand, the statistics on the Barranquilla area to the east of Cartagena would suggest that it's wise to give it a wide berth. But in the next year or so, I expect some entity to 'vigilate' an anchorage in this region to assist the passage from Cartagena to Aruba.

John Halley, Dockmaster, Club Nautico
Cartagena, Colombia

John - We appreciate your input, as situations change all the time. We can remember maybe a dozen years ago when the La Guajira Peninsula on the northeast tip of Colombia - near Cabo Velo - was one of the most remote and lawless places on earth. The problem was there were competing ruthless organizations smuggling pot and coke out of the country, while other gangs smuggled appliances and cigarettes into the country. There was no law whatsoever, most people carried guns, and life was cheap. We can also remember several very brutal attacks years ago on cruisers at the Rosario Islands. And we can remember several cruisers who cowered down below while their boats were completely stripped of everything - down to the fittings - at the entrance to Cartagena Bay.

But as we said, all that was quite a few years ago. The more recent incidents we're aware of are the three you mentioned in the Barranquilla region and the one in Cartagena involving John Haste.

Our take on the current situation in Colombia is this: We stopped at the Club Nautico in '94 with Big O, and we stopped there with Profligate in December of '03. We would not hesitate to visit again. As you suggest, we would take the normal precautions for our personal safety - and greater precautions to make sure we don't lose another dinghy and outboard there. But we're fine with Cartagena and Club Nautico which, we don't have to tell you, is much loved and appreciated by the international cruising community.

As for the area to the east of Cartagena, those three very violent incidents since 2002 are enough to keep us away until we hear some very good reasons to return. The risk-reward ratio may be acceptable for other cruisers, but not for us.

As for the Gulf of Uraba to the southwest of Cartagena that you seem to believe is safe, we've been told otherwise. While in the nearby San Blas Islands last May, we were told by both officials and other cruisers that while it was once being developed for tourism, warring groups had now made it a place to avoid.


Having just skimmed through the February issue, we have a couple of quick comments.

First, we never said that Latitude called us "fools." I think it was Craig Owings, Commodore of the Pedro Miguel Boat Club, who in last year's July or August issue was quoted as saying something like, "just because some fools cruise that coast [Colombia east of Cartagena] and write a cruising guide, and other fools follow that route, doesn't make that coast a safe place." He didn't mention Pizazz, but I think our guide is the only one written for that coast. To our knowledge, Owings has never been beyond Cartagena, so for him to say that coast is unsafe without ever doing it himself is wrong. Firsthand knowledge, as opposed to stories and rumors, are the best way to get the truth.

Also, we're happy to see that you admitted that you had been 'slimed' by the whole Dawn Wilson story. I think 99% of the people cruising the Sea Cortez around that time didn't believe the claims of her innocence. It was the first story that we've seen Latitude follow and publish without getting 'the other side of the story' first.

Keep up the good work.

Lourae & Randy
Pizazz, Moorings 500
San Francisco / Caribbean

Lourae and Randy - To our knowledge, the two of you know as much about cruising the coast of Colombia east of Cartagena as anyone. So if you say the coast is pretty safe, we believe you. Well, sort of. The problem is that it doesn't matter if anyone has been there or not, the fact is that over the past three years there have been no less than three attacks on yachties in that area. And they were very violent attacks in which the assailants were clearly willing to kill the yachties in the course of their robberies.

We have no idea whether such violence in Colombia is limited to certain areas, or is endemic because of the poverty, widespread availability of guns, and breakdown of civil society. But given all the other nice places there are in the world, we personally aren't interested in risking our lives to find out. As such, at this time the only place we'd feel comfortable stopping in Colombia is Cartagena.

On a different subject, we wish readers better appreciated the fact that while Latitude is the biggest sailing magazine in the world in terms of pages, we have a very small staff and budget. That's because we're free. We are not the New York Times, the L.A. Times, or the Wall Street Journal, and therefore we don't have the staff or resources to do detailed investigative reporting. If everyone wants to shell out $5 a copy for Latitude, we'd be happy to get on with such work, but we think most folks prefer Latitude to be free.

As such, we rely heavily on our trusted sources around the world to give us the real story - or at least knowledgeable background - on news and events. As such, if 99% of the cruisers in the Sea of Cortez really thought Dawn Wilson was something other than completely innocent, it would have been nice if someone had sent us, even anonymously, a heads-up. Given our limitations, we need everybody's help to do the best job we can for you.


I know that Latitude felt burned by the whole Dawn Wilson business last year, but I want to report that we just got a very nice personal thank you note from her for our efforts on her behalf. I think we sent her sponsor $25. In my book, anyone who sends a classy note like that can't be all bad. So few people have good manners left that it's almost an exception to see some displayed.

It's hard to know what the real truth was in that case, but I feel better after hearing from her. Maybe you will, too.

We're planning to be at Two Harbors, Catalina, this August 13th, so maybe we'll see you there for the Baja Ha-Ha preview.

Doug Thorne
Tamara Lee Ann, Celestial 48
San Francisco

Doug - Although we do feel that we and the cruising community at large were burned by the whole episode, we're still happy that Dawn is no longer in a Mexican prison. We wish her the best of luck with the rest of her life.

As for the Baja Ha-Ha Preview Party at Two Harbors on August 13, we'll have more on that in the May issue when the details of the Ha-Ha itself are announced.


I'm in the process of buying a 1974 Westsail 32. I believe that it's time to repower the boat as we're planning to do a South Pacific cruise. But I have some questions. For instance, what businesses in the Bay Area are reputable and charge reasonable rates to replace engines? Are there local companies that specialize in re-powering? Where can I haul my boat, have the use of a crane, and do the job myself for a reasonable rate? For what it's worth, I don't consider $25/day for laydays to be reasonable. If I do the work myself, I expect that the job will take me a couple of weeks.

I'm leaning towards the Beta Marine engine. Any thoughts on this choice of a marine engine?

Joseph Graham
Pt. Richmond

Joseph - As you can surely appreciate, it's not our place to recommend one business over another. There are a number of companies that advertise the goods and services you need in these pages. We suggest that you contact them and discuss your project and budget.

If you think $25/day is too much for laydays, don't haul your boat at all. Engines - and even prop shafts - are commonly removed and installed with the boats in the water.

You also want to make sure that you really need a new engine. Just because a diesel is old doesn't mean it's not perfectly fine. It's much more a question of how many hours it's been run and how well it's been maintained.

Also, keep in mind that we're just entering the high season, so everybody wants work done on their boat right now. If you can hold off replacing the engine - if it's even necessary - until the end of the season, you'll probably get more attention and perhaps even a little better price.

We're not in a position to recommend specific brands of engines, and in any event you may be somewhat limited in what engines will fit and work well in a Westsail 32. You might check the Westsail website for recommendations from other Westsail owners. If you plan on going to the South Pacific, a primary consideration should be the availability of parts.


Reading Latitude's February report about the loss of the Cheoy Lee 42 Pagurus II saddened my family. Albert Towle, my father, first owned and captained Pagurus II. She faithfully carried us on many coastal voyages out of her homeport of Santa Cruz, and also safely carried my parents and brother to the Galapagos Islands, the Marquesas and Hawaii. That trip was the subject of the book, A Paguran Adventure.

My father, who was a marine biologist, passed away in Kona two years ago while looking out at the sea he loved so much. As he did, he had memories of Pagurus II on his mind.

In the last few years, the family has continued the sailing tradition on our Pearson 365 ketch Laelia, which my husband and I have berthed in Sausalito for many years. We regret that Francois did not have fair winds and following seas with Pagurus, and wish him the very best.

Linda & Bob Imber
Laelia, Pearson 365


What kind of advice, tips and notes might you have on sailing from the ABC Islands - Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao - to Isla de Providencia and Isla San Andres, the Colombian islands that are 500 miles north of Colombia and 150 miles east of Nicaragua. I'm here in Bonaire waiting for the Swan 44 that I'll be crewing on. I'm still looking for people who have done the trip before and know something about it.

P.S. Thanks for publishing such a great mag. Relative newcomers such as myself learn a lot from Latitude.

Ronnie Colby
Soon to be on Laetitia, Swan 44

Ronnie - Our advice is to be prepared for winds to 35 knots and big seas, particularly in the longitudes between Cabo Velo and Cartagena. This is the windy time of year for those waters, and it really does blow like stink, and often the hardest at night. The good news is that the wind will be from dead aft to a broad reach. With a Swan 44 it could be pretty fast, but expect to do some rolling.

Other than the potentially rough conditions, you'll want to keep an eye out for logs and stuff when you're abeam of the Rio Magdalena River. When we did this passsage a little less than a year ago, we came across significant river debris 100 miles out to sea.


"If you want to build a boat, build a boat. If you want to go sailing, go sailing. Don't ever, ever try and mix the two, as you'll accomplish neither." This is what Jim of Long Beach told us when he heard we'd bought a Westsail 32 kit.

Jim had built three boats, never finishing any of them himself, and never actually going sailing. He was a hell of a builder, but he didn't actually like to sail, so he'd sell the boats when they neared completion. Once he'd sell the boat, he'd soon get the boatbuilding bug again and start on another. By the way, two of the boats he built went on extensive cruises.

We actually 'finished' our boat, lived aboard, and cruised for three years. Nonetheless, during the building process hardly a moment passed when I didn't wish I'd listened to Jim before we started on our boatbuilding adventure. It would have been way cheaper for us to have bought a completed boat. Plus, we'd have been off to the South Pacific two years sooner.

Peter Ogilvie
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Peter - For 99.9% of the population, Jim's quote is as valid as 'men and ships rot in port'.


As you are probably aware, the 'hookless catch-of-the-day' featured in last month's Letters section is a female fish. Male dorados have a much more squared-off head - similar to the bow of amas on today's multihulls. Female dorados, such as in the photograph, have more rounded heads.

Steve Bondelid
Whidbey Island

Steve - We know the heads of male and female dorado are very different, but we had it backwards as to which one has the blunt head. Thank you for the correction.


I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Dick Markie and his staff at Paradise Village Marina for helping us out in a difficult time.

The story starts with my boy-toy, Richard, and I sailing off into the sunset last October aboard our catamaran Mystic Rhythms. We had planned on puttering about the small anchorages in Mexico for awhile before leaping into the great unknown - to us, that is - of the Marquesas and South Pacific.

But life first decided to whack me upside the head. While in Chamela I received the news that my father had been killed in an automobile accident in Costa Rica. After recovering from sobbing hysterically, I realized that we needed to get our boat into a marina so I could get to an airport at soon as possible.

We left that night for Nuevo Vallarta hoping to find a slip in which to leave our baby while I went to deal with both the grief and bureaucracy of death. On that long overnight passage, we used our Winlink email to contact Dick Markie at Paradise Village Marina. His kind response to our request for a slip - "Just come on in, we'll find something." - set me to crying.

Even though the marina was full to the gills, Dick and his crew squeezed us in, helped with the paperwork, and enabled me to fly out the next day. It was only upon my return that I realized just how busy the Paradise Village Marina is and how difficult it must have been to find space for our 44-foot by 23-foot home.

My father died full of life, living his dream in the country he adored. The kindness we encountered while there helped to reaffirm our decision to keep living our dream as well. By the end of March we will have left, and hope to find kindness wherever we go. Kindness in all things - except, of course, when it comes to hoarding chocolate chips. In that case it's every boat for themselves, no?

Jennifer Eaton
Catamaran Mystic Rhythms

Jennifer - We're very sorry to hear about the loss of your father.

Given the nature of your emergency, we think almost all harbormasters would have been able to accommodate your boat for a week or two. Nonetheless, we can't think of a better harbormaster than Dick Markie for you to have emailed in your situation. He lives to help cruisers out. We've never seen another harbormaster so eager to guide new tenants down the channel and welcome them at their new berths. He's as hands-on as they get.


When I looked at the photo of the fish stockade on page 157 of the March issue, which accompanied the Indonesian Interlude article, it brought back a happy and funny memory.

As a young intelligence officer assigned to Taiwan circa 1956, and working in liaison with a Chinese intelligence group, I was given the task of training a Chinese intel asset for infiltration of the mainland via boat. For training of this asset I was given an 11-ft flat-bottom aluminum boat with a knife-edge bow and a 25-hp Johnson Seahorse long-shaft outboard.

Since the infiltration would be in the dark of night from a much larger vessel, I wanted to give the asset some training on how to get onto shore from a small boat, and at the same time see if he could carry out a reporting assignment. The only place available for training was the Tamsui River, which runs from Taipei to the Formosa Strait. It was a fairly dark night when I took the asset in the boat up-river to an area east of the then-international Sung Shan Airport. The asset's task was to prepare a report on the airport and be prepared for pickup several hours later.

The infiltration and exfiltration went according to plan and, happy that it worked out so well, I started back down the river towards the Tamsui Bridge where we would pull the boat out of the water. Full of youthful exuberance, with a calm river and enough illumination from houses along the river bank, I twisted the throttle wide open and we roared down the river. I suppose we were doing 25-30 mph when all of a sudden there was a horrendous crashing sound and the boat bounced a bit before continuing down the river. I then realized I had hit a Chinese bamboo fish trap head on, destroying the center of it. The asset was quite scared.

The following day I drove to the river and located the fish trap. The only thing left were the two six-foot long bamboo sides. I thought if I could locate the fish trap's owner I would compensate him for the damage. But I couldn't locate him.

The end of the story. The Chinese intel organization successfully infiltrated the asset onto the mainland. He reported for a while to a post office box in Hong Kong. I subsequently learned from another source that he had been given another post office box that was operated exclusively by his organization and kept hidden from me. The asset was subsequently arrested on the mainland. That was one of the problems with running joint operations with the Chinese Nationalists targeting the mainland.

P.S. I thank you folks at Latitude for such a great publication, and for the hundreds of sailors who write in and share their thoughts and adventures.

Name Withheld By Request
Planet Earth


Regarding Nicolas Williams's letter in the March issue regarding sailing from San Francisco to Seattle, I've only done it once. Based on my limited experience, that trip is all about luck and finding a weather window.

We made the trip in the month of June a couple of years ago - and had a wonderful four-day trip in light winds and small swells. However, on both sides of that weather window there were gale warnings up and down the coast. And I can't really say that we sailed it either, as the winds were so light that we were forced to motor almost the entire way - except for a couple of hours one afternoon.

David Cahak
Northern California


Having sailed my Baltic 42dp Zafarse from Ventura to Lopez Island, Washington, I'd like to share my observations on taking a sailboat north. First, do not have a schedule. I repeat, do not have a schedule. You want to allow plenty of time to sit in port until there is a good weather window or a southerly. Be advised that there aren't many ports along that stretch of coast that can take boats with more than minimal draft.

Sometimes you have to wait in port for a long time. While in Brookings, Oregon, I met a singlehander who had been there three weeks waiting for the 30-40 knot northwesterlies to subside. He gave me an excellent recipe for an enjoyable sail north. He told me to stay in port unless the waves are less than eight feet and the period greater than 10 seconds. I have followed that advice and found the sailing tolerable - and as Zafarse loves a beat, often exciting, too.

On another issue, I'd like to register a complaint about the California State Board of Equalization. Five weeks after purchasing my boat in Ventura, I sailed north to the San Juan Islands. Nonetheless, I am still being hassled by the California State Board of Equalization about supposedly owing taxes. Apparently because I left the homeport as San Diego rather than changing it to the San Juan Islands, the tax people feel I should pay tax on a boat that has rarely seen the California shore under my ownership. The boat spent the entire summer in the Northwest and was put on the hard for the winter. Last fall I sailed down to Mexico, and am currently berthed in Marina Mazatlan.

Paddy Barry
Zafarse, Baltic 42dp
Marina Mazatlan

Paddy - We regret to say this, but if you bought a boat in California without going through very specific steps of taking 'offshore delivery' - and being able to document those steps - the Board of Equalization is never going to stop coming after you. And they are going to start piling on the penalties. As we understand your situation, it would be best for you if you just paid it and were done with it.


While reading 'Lectronic, we saw the comments you made to Mexico City's La Journal with regard to Mexico's 'Nautical Stairway' and what they can do to lure more boating tourists to their country. I agreed with most of your opinions, but not all.

My husband Tim and I - with Doug and Carla Scott as crew - did the 2003 Ha-Ha aboard our Pearson 422 Sogno d'Oro. We all had a great time and it was educational, but we are some of the few who would have really enjoyed taking our time while going down and back up the Pacific Coast of Baja.

We agree that there should be limits to how many marinas get developed along the Pacific Coast of Baja, but one or two more along that lovely stretch between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas would be most welcome. And it seems like a couple of communities - such as Turtle Bay and Mag Bay - would benefit from the business opportunities.

And a couple of more marinas along the Pacific Coast of Baja would make a big difference to folks trying to decide between trucking their boats home and enjoying making the trip back up the Pacific Coast. We ended up trucking our boat back from San Carlos last September after spending almost a year in Mexico. We had so many mechanical issues with the boat that it just wasn't worth risking a trek through hurricane areas.

We thank you for doing all you're doing to try and change the clearing in and out system in Mexico, but we found that some of our most interesting experiences came from interacting with all the nice folks while doing our check-ins and outs.

Karen Crowe
Sogno d'Oro, Pearson 422
San Jose

Karen - The main problem with the concept of marinas along the Pacific Coast of Baja is that they aren't economically viable. Nobody hangs out along that coast during the winter and spring because it's too cold and/or windy. And nobody hangs out there during the summer because it's hurricane season. The only really good time of year to enjoy the Pacific Coast of Baja is for a few months in late fall and early winter - but that's certainly not long enough to keep any kind of facility in the black. And even if they did build marinas in places like Turtle Bay and Mag Bay, how many of your cruising friends would pay $30 to $50 a night for a slip when they could anchor 100 feet away for free?

Suppose your boat did have a problem, and you limped into one of these places. They aren't going to have a place to haul out if you're having rudder or prop and shaft problems; they aren't going to have any inventory of parts, and they aren't going to have any mechanics; they aren't going to have any of these things because there would be such an infrequent call for them.

If marinas along the Pacific Coast of Baja made any kind of economic sense, a private company would have opened one long ago.


During our 1996-2000 circumnavigation, we had plenty of opportunities to see green flashes at sunset. While island hopping through French Polynesia, I figured that the rate that the sun sets, meaning the upper limb moving down towards the horizon, can be worked out with some spherical trigonometry. The relative rate of set at the observer's latitude is the speed at which the observer's eyes must rise to keep the sun's upper limb right on the horizon. Since the speed of the earth's rotation is roughly 1,000 mph at the surface, you might think that a fast quantum leap might be required. But trial and error proved that a slow rise is all it takes in the tropics.

This means that somebody sitting in the cockpit would see the green flash a few seconds before someone standing up would see it. But someone rising slowly would keep it in view until he/she was standing, turning a green flash into a green dash. I tried this several times, once during a raft-up potluck dinner in Bora Bora. I kept the green flash in view for few seconds as I stood up in the dinghy, making for the perfect end to a delightful day in paradise. Unfortunately, we had to break up the raft-up a short time later when the current started pushing us toward a reef.

Ernie Mendez
Formerly of Quiet Times
San Jose


The end of January found us - Capt Steve, First Mate Zoe, 12-year-old daughter Shanan, and guests Mark and Melinda Spindler of Michigan - anchored for three days at Los Frailes, which is between La Paz and Cabo. We were waiting out a moderate Norther before beginning our 300-mile crossing to Puerto Vallarta. It was windy - some gusts to 25 knots - and overcast, but what a great place to wait out the weather. We enjoyed long hikes along the coast, diving on one of the few coral reefs on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and watching numerous whales and other sea life.

We eventually had a lovely crossing toward the mainland, with five to 15 knots of wind. On the third morning we could see Isla Isabella 20 miles in the distance. The Nature Reserve is rumored to be both a mini-Galapagos and a difficult place to anchor securely. Because the swell was out of the NNE, we couldn't anchor at Las Monas on the east side of the island. Twice we tried to get the hook to grab in 45 feet in the south anchorage, but we weren't satisfied it was holding.

We asked for some anchoring advice from the ketch Maxine, which was anchored closer in on the south side. They suggested that we anchor inside of them, being careful to get our hook in the sand. We dropped our hook in 25 feet just inside Maxine, and when we backed down, the boat stopped with a reassuring jerk.

But when Steve dove on the anchor, he discovered that we had missed the strip of sand by 20 feet, and that the chain had fallen deep into a crack between two rocks. He was able to pull the chain out of the crack, so we raised the anchor. On our fourth attempt, we got it perfect, right down to getting our anchor to grab in the strip of soft sand. Alas, the trip line had hobbled the anchor, so we soon found out that it hadn't set properly either.

While diving, Steve set a buoy on an underwater pinnacle to be a marker if we happened to drag and needed a point of reference. With this done, Zoe and Shanan went for a refreshing snorkel. They found the underwater landscape to be rugged - and alive with fish. But Zoe soon felt a chill and intuitively urged Shanan back to the boat. Sure enough, a squall came up strong and we began to drag. We quickly weighed anchor and got out of there. We waved to a woman on Maxine on our way out, and she responded with a thumbs up.

Unbeknownst to us, we were going to be doing a lot more anchoring at Isabella. First, we motored to the west side of the island and dropped our hook below the red cliffs in the island's lee. That night was fairly quiet with the wind from the SE at 20 knots. We did, however, take note that a number of shrimp boats had come in and anchored in the lee of the island. This suggested we might be in for some rough weather.

The following day the wind blew even harder and began to come out of the south, pushing us toward the cliffs. On our way to finding another place to anchor, we thought we'd check in to see how Maxine was doing, as they were now on a lee shore. Alas, the wind and swell were too much to get around the point to see them. So we set sail and hove-to in the lee of the 1.5-mile by .75-mile island, gently tacking back and forth as required to stay out of the worst wind and waves. The wind built all afternoon, and we experienced gusts to 40 knots.

Nonetheless, we had lunch in the cockpit and were entertained by the whales and the birds. Late in the day we returned to the west side of the island - the wind was now coming out of the southeast again - and set the anchor for the night. We also hailed Maxine on the radio to make sure they were okay. Their response was scary - they were issuing a Mayday!

Their main problem was that they couldn't get their anchor up because it was caught between two rocks, and because the windlass clutch had jammed, they couldn't even let it go and leave it. They were stuck on the lee shore. They were also taking whitewater over the bow, they'd had their dinghy and dinghy davits swept away, and their dinghy outboard was already on the bottom. They said their boat was breaking up, and understandably sounded scared and sick. They had been sending off flares toward the beach, but the fishermen and researchers were unable to respond because of the weather. Their SSB wasn't able to transmit a call, so they were desperate for any assistance anyone could offer.

Unfortunately, all we could offer without jeopardizing our own safety was encouragement. The gale was simply too strong for either us or the fishermen to do anything. Since our SSB was also down, we couldn't even hail the Mexican Navy as requested by the crew of Maxine. Zoe did get on every VHF channel asking - in Spanish - for assistance in the hope that a shrimp boat would respond and perhaps place a call for help. But there was no response.

We maintained an anchor-watch throughout the night in case the wind shifted or we dragged. The six shrimp boats that had pulled in behind us were all in a row. They became our point of reference and added to our sense of security. Fortunately, our hook held well in southeast winds of 20 to 35 knots.

By morning it was almost calm. Steve went exploring in the kayak while Mark and Zoe took the dinghy over to one of the shrimp boats to talk with Capt Carlos. Zoe was thrilled that her limited Spanish, combined with the captain's patience, allowed for an informative conversation. They talked about the storm, that the gringos on Maxine had made it through the night and had been taken by small boat to San Blas to seek medical treatment. Why hadn't Carlos responded to the call for help? He feared having to respond to a gringa in English! Carlos gave Zoe a huge bag overflowing with shrimp - enough for many meals - for free. In parting, he advised that our Contigo was in a secure anchorage and that because of the weather we shouldn't take off for another 24 hours.

That afternoon the wind shifted yet again, backing to the west, then quickly to the NW at 20 to 30 knots. We followed the shrimp boats as they moved around to drop their hooks on the east side of the island to the north of the Monas. Capt Carlos and his crew kindly signalled for us to move even closer to shore than the shrimp boats. Soon it began to rain hard. We took advantage of it, dancing while we bathed on the foredeck! It was a good way to maintain crew morale and entertain the fishermen.

A short time later the wind shifted again, so we followed the shrimpers once more, this time dropping our hook on the south side of the Monas. With continuing strong wind and rain, and fears the wind might continue to clock, we raised our anchor again just before dusk to check out our first anchorage on the south side of the island. It was out of the question. Even from a distance we could see that the now-abandoned Maxine was pitching ferociously in the combination of a strong north wind and a big south swell. The sight was daunting enough that we all readily agreed not to tempt fate, so we returned to the anchorage south of the Monas.

Fortunately, the wind let up and we all went to bed.

Until midnight, that is, when it began raining hard in about 25 knots of wind from the northeast. Now the wind was clocking some more. With whitewater smashing over the bow and Zoe getting another layer of clothes drenched raising the anchor, we all agreed that we'd had enough. Although we'd been to all the island's anchorages, yet hadn't been ashore, it was time to leave. Fortunately, the wind direction meant we'd have a fair wind on a sail to Chacala. Our evening sail was wet - but otherwise lovely.

When we arrived at Banderas Bay on February 7, we reported to the net that Maxine had been afloat the last time we'd seen her. Two days later it was reported that she'd sunk at the south anchorage.

We've since learned that there had been intense weather all up and down the coast when we were at Isabella, weather that was extremely rare for the winter on the Mexican mainland. The weather gurus called it an LLC - a low level cyclonic, meaning an off-season tropical storm.

Steven Shelendich, Zoe Wolfe & Shanan
Contigo, Cooper 416
New Mexico / San Carlos, Mexico

Folks - Thanks for your report, as it paints a much clearer picture of the events and conditions surrounding the loss of the ketch Maxine.

For folks planning to cruise mainland Mexico in the winter, be advised that the weather is normally muy tranquillo. But from time to time there can be exceptions. Every couple of years there seems to be a brief but powerful storm cell with maybe 40 to 50 knots of wind that blows through various anchorages. And every 10 years or so, there seems to be a season that's a little odd.

To our mind, this winter has been as atypical on mainland Mexico as it has been in L.A. - which has gotten the most rain in about 4,000 years. While the weather in Mexico has been mostly nice, there seems to have been an above-average number of short-lived but nasty blows, lightning storms, and rain. In addition, there have been more overcast winter days on mainland Mexico than we can ever remember. On the other hand, it's been a terrific winter for surfing, with swell after swell. And the Baja Bash conditions haven't been too bad. Doña de Mallorca reports she and the crew of Profligate were wearing swimming suits 200 miles north of Cabo while motoring to windward!

Next year we expect the weather will be back to 'normal'.

It's also important that cruisers realize how little help is available to them if they get into trouble. In the case of Maxine, it was pretty much limited to the other cruisers and the fishermen in the area. If they couldn't do anything because of the weather - and they couldn't - there wasn't going to be any help coming at all. Even if Maxine could have reached the Mexican Navy, it probably wouldn't have done any good. They don't have the resources or interest to attempt such rescues. And given the situation the Maxine crew was in, it's unclear if the navy could have helped. The moral of the story is to always assume you have to be 100% responsible for your own safety and well-being.


It is regrettable that the Newporter 40 ketch Maxine was recently lost at Isla Isabella because her anchor could not be slipped due to a jammed windlass. Had it been a chain-line combination, the line could have been cut, releasing the boat as soon as the fouled anchor was discovered and before the windlass jammed.

In addition, most anchor chain can also be cut in a few minutes using good hacksaw blades.

For the safety of boats that use all chain, they should be rigged to be easily slipped. The traditional way to do that in the days when rope was still subject to rot, was to use a special shackle to secure the bitter end. The pin of this shackle wouldn't have threads, but rather a hole was cross-bored in the end of the pin. Most people thought this was for an oversized cotter pin, but actually a small wooden peg was driven into the hole. So in an emergency, a smart rap with a hammer would shear the peg and the pin could easily be removed. An important point then, as now, is that the bitter end be secured high enough in the chain locker to be accessible at all times - and not buried under a pile of rusty chain.

With the advent of synthetic rope, a better way to achieve the same goal is to use a short piece of suitable line, long enough to be accessible on deck after passing up through the hawse hole. Then when the bitter end of the chain is reached, it is simple enough to cut the line to save the boat. I still have my old-type shackle, but I have been using the short length of rope for many years. I also carry a large net float to use as a buoy to make it possible to recover the ground tackle if I ever have to let it go.

I hope this information will help save someone's boat someday.

Ernie Copp
Orient Star, Alden Cheoy Lee 50
Long Beach


You may be curious as to exactly the method by which Alcatraz moves. I think I know. While racing, perhaps you have also been becalmed just south of the island at mid-tide. As you know, your boat will float around in big circles until you finally decide to break out the snacks. This has to be prop wash. No wonder the prisoners never managed to swim to the mainland.

Margaret Gwathmey
San Francisco


It's with interest I've been reading about Alcatraz and the questions people have about whether it's floating or permanently attached to the bottom.

About 10 years ago I was sailing close to the island on my Zephyr daysailer when I got swamped by a big wave. My boat and I were carried onto the rocks by the swell and the flood tide. Luckily, I found a buoy near the northwest side and tied my boat to it. I decided to wait until sundown, when the wind would be lighter, before attempting to get underway. It was then that I first noticed there was a cave nearby. If the tide had been high, I don't think I would have seen it.

I managed to get to shore, and when I crawled inside I heard voices and smelled food cooking on a fire. Whoever was there was speaking an Indian dialect mixed with a little Spanish. Not being the brave sort, I decided it was best to get the hell out of there. That's when I spotted these huge links of chain which hold Alcatraz in place.

Each link was severely rusted and looked about four feet long. They moved slightly when some big chop hit the island. The links were so old that they looked to me as though one of them might break in a storm. When I reported the poor condition of the chain to the Coast Guard, they said that maintenance of the chain is the responsibility of the Park Service and that it was scheduled to be replaced soon.

When I returned a few months later, the buoy was gone and I couldn't get back into the cave to look at the chain. But I could still hear groaning.

Jim Frey
Spirit of Arnaldo
Marina Bay, Richmond


I read with interest your assertion that Alcatraz is a floating island at anchor in San Francisco Bay - as well as your responses to those who wrote in requesting references and verification. I am appalled that a respected and trusted publication such as your own could print such nonsense. The claim that Alcatraz is afloat is preposterous - and I believe I can prove this assertion with some simple physics.

While it is true that certain types of igneous rock are less dense than water and thus capable of floating, a large proportion of an island thus constituted would, like an iceberg, lie below sea level. I am not familiar with the geological makeup of Alcatraz, but if for argument's sake we assume a density of 66% - that of seawater, and a not-uncommon figure for this type of island - then approximately two-thirds of the island would be underwater. If the height of Alcatraz is 135 feet, then we could assume a depth of 270 feet. A quick look at the chart shows that the deeper areas of the Bay are approximately 250 feet deep depending on tide and sedimentation. If my calculations are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them, then Alcatraz is indeed hard aground, not afloat. In support of this theory, one can observe a barely perceptible list of the island to the east on flood tide and to the west on the ebb.

For an example of a true floating island, one need look no further than Anacapa Island just off Ventura. The very name is Chumash for 'mirage', a reference to the island's propensity to disappear without notice. With the coming of statehood in the late 19th Century, efforts were made to fix the island in place with cables. This met with limited success as the cables were apt to part in a stiff northeaster and the island would come adrift, roaming at will until it could be located and returned to its place. In fact, a lighthouse had to be placed on the east end to make it easier to locate in the dark.

Several times Anacapa drifted as far south as the Mexican border, and had to be quickly towed back before the Mexican government could lay claim to it. The last time this happened, the Mexicans got there first. There was a brief but furious naval battle, which resulted in a hole being blown through the east end - a hole that can be seen to this day. The island spent so much time knocking around Southern California during this time that it actually fractured into three pieces. It wasn't until the recent advent of nylon rode and modern ground tackle that the island has stayed put long enough to fix its position with any confidence on a chart.

I apologize if my tone is somewhat pedantic and my argument semantic. It is not my intention to dazzle you or your loyal readership with science. However, I feel that misinformation, no matter how innocent, should not be encouraged in public discourse.

Mike Reed
Coyote Angel, Catalina 30
Santa Barbara

Mike - The calculations you give to attempt to prove that Alcatraz is aground rather than floating are off because you make the false assumption that the entire island consists of igneous rock. In truth, it has about a 10-foot-thick igneous shell that surrounds a central core of molten Velveeta cheese spread. The density of Velveeta is only 37%, which means that Alcatraz indeed floats, and therefore needs to be secured to the bottom with chains.

Like Anacapa, Alcatraz has broken free on several occasions. It last broke free during the '06 earthquake, then drifted out the Gate and down to Southern California. Since Anacapa had already broken loose at the same time, it was decided to enter both islands in the first-ever TransPac starting from L.A. in '97. Thanks to a longer waterline, Anacapa was first to the Diamond Head finish line, but Alcatraz corrected out first in the Island Division.

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