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May 2008

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Sorry to bother you about this, but I don't know where else to research it, as Baja Ha-Ha, Inc., and its website stay in hibernation from after the Ha-Ha in November until May of each year. But as I want to enter this fall's Ha-Ha, I have two questions:

1) How do I get the application form, rules, and all the other stuff I need to sign up and participate?

2) Does anyone at Latitude know if/how/where to go about lining up a slip in La Paz if I decide to leave the boat there for awhile after the Ha-Ha?

Robert Valentine
Pleasant Hill

Robert — Details on how to sign up for this fall's 'Fabulous Fifteen' Ha-Ha can be found in this month's Sightings. As for slips in La Paz — or anywhere else in Mexico — Ha-Ha entry packs include Latitude's First-Timer's Guide to Cruising Mexico, which provides a listing of the email addresses and websites of every marina in Mexico. You can also find this listing online at by going to 'First Timers' Cruising Guide to Mexico', and then clicking on 'Marinas'. If you're looking to get a post Ha-Ha slip in La Paz or Banderas Bay, we encourage you to make reservations sooner rather than later, as they go fast.


With regard to the sailing tragedy that claimed the lives of Kirby Gale and Tony Harrow on the Cheoy Lee 31 Daisy, it's all too easy to forget that yacht racing is an extreme and hazardous sport, particularly when sailing shorthanded, and that conditions outside the Gate can be treacherous. We've lost a number of good, well-sailed boats in the past few years. A friend of mine lost his J/35 Jammin' in similar conditions in which Daisy was lost, but he and his partner were lucky enough to survive.

Daisy apparently wasn't equipped with an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), a piece of equipment that migh have alerted the Coast Guard in time to save their lives. There's been discussion of making EPIRBs mandatory in ocean races, but so far there hasn't been any action — even though the price of personal EPIRBs has come down to a quite reasonable $500. Hopefully, this tragic incident will improve the chances of EPIRBs, preferably the ones that go off automatically, being made mandatory in all ocean races.

John Navas

John — Statistics prove that yacht racing is not a particularly hazardous or extreme sport — at least when enjoyed inside the Bay and in most popular coastal locations. Nor do we think there are any statistics to indicate there is anything particularly dangerous about doublehanding. The extreme and dangerous part comes from sailing in big seas, particularly when in relatively shallow water — two conditions that are often found just outside the Golden Gate. Unfortunately, the same conditions that make for very spirited sailing aren't that much different from those that can result in tragedy.

We're not sure that many mariners understand the limitation of EPIRBs. As you'll read in this month's Sightings, it may take quite some time for an EPIRB signal to be received by the Coast Guard, and their response might be much less than you imagine it would be.

The members of our editorial staff are split on whether EPIRBs should be mandatory. Despite knowing their considerable limitations, the publisher believes that they should be mandatory. However, several other members of the staff strongly believe that carrying one should be a personal decision. After everyone reads the Sightings report on the limitations of EPIRBs, and what a typical Coast Guard response would be to an EPIRB signal, we'd like to know your opinion on whether they should be required when racing offshore.


There are probably a number of letters speculating on what happened to the Cheoy Lee 31 Daisy during Island YC's tragic Doublehanded Lightship Race on March 15. As I'm pretty sure that Daisy was once my boat, then named Viajero, I might have some insight.

In my opinion, a Cheoy Lee 31 would sink relatively easily once water got into the cabin. The problem is that the design has low freeboard and very little buoyancy aft, which makes her vulnerable to big following seas. I made a passage from Cabo San Lucas to Mazatlan with Viajero one time when it got rough, and the thought of a wave breaking over the stern had me wondering about what might happen. We simply ended up being lucky — and scared — and arrived at Mazatlan six hours ahead of schedule. But I was careful to avoid following seas after that incident.

My full-keel, low freeboard Cheoy Lee 31 was heavy to begin with, but then the owner before me put a layer of concrete in the bilge for extra stability. I used to joke that she felt like a submarine. Another problem is that her engine sits beneath the middle of the cockpit, putting that weight in an area that is particularly bouyant in most boats. The upside was that you've never seen such a sea-kindly 31-footer. We had a pretty hard bash up the Baja peninsula, and while she was constantly wet, she was also amazingly stable. It took a constant diet of french fries and a bad hangover for anyone to get seasick.

But there was a downside. If a wave had ever broken over her stern and flooded the cockpit, I don't think the cockpit drains could have cleared the water in time to prevent her from being very vulnerable to subsequent waves. With a flooded cockpit, the Cheoy Lee 31 would have sat dangerously low in the water, and it wouldn't take much more to completely submerge the aft section. I think it could happen very quickly, as it would be just a matter of that one wave that many of us never see. I was in my late 20s and early 30s when I owned the boat, and like a lot of guys that age, felt immortal. I always figured I could bail her with a bucket if I had to, so I kept one handy.

Rick Niles
Gentle Storm II, Catalina 42

Rick — Cheoy Lee built a number of Offshore 31s, and we have no way of knowing if your old boat Viajero became Daisy. However, it sure would be interesting to know given the cement added for extra stability.

Antonio des Mortes, the noted Basque 'bank robber and Caribbean terrorist' who was the captain of our Ocean 71 Big O in the Caribbean for a number of years, once owned Scorpion, a ketch-rigged Cheoy Lee 31. While approaching Panama one afternoon in heavy Caribbean trades with huge following seas, he was handing his ladyfriend an afternoon martini when the low freeboard boat raced down the face of a wave, buried her bow, and pitchpoled. Antonio was thrown from the boat, which lost both her masts and took on a frightening amount of water. A resourceful and supremely confident sailor, Antonio clambered back aboard, bailed as though his life depended on it — which it did — and miraculously managed to get the diesel started. They limped into Panama, glad to be alive.

Although it wouldn't surprise us if someone has circumnavigated with a Cheoy Lee 31, it's not the kind of design that we'd choose to race offshore in challenging conditions.


I agree with Latitude's thoughts on the reponsibilities of those who race in the ocean. Just like the driver of a car, the captain is the one in charge of the vessel and is responsible for the safety of the vessel and her crew. No one will ever know what happened to Daisy, so it's not wise to make judgements about it.

Gregory Clausen
Wisdom, Santana 30/30
Marin County


What the hell happened in the Doublehanded Lightship Race that claimed the lives of Kirby Gale and Tony Harrow?! The yacht club responsible for this race has major problems. Not only should they have had a race boat stationed somewhere between the Lightbucket and the Gate, but there are so many problems with their response to the Daisy situation that they should be taken out and shot. Period.

The last boat in the race made it back to the dock at 2:45 p.m. After trying to raise Daisy on the VHF and getting no response, the yacht club should have declared Daisy overdue at 3 p.m. sharp, and immediately called the Coast Guard. Had they done that, the search and rescue operation would have had a two- to three-hour head start in broad daylight. The Coasties might well have found the one crewmember who washed up wearing a lifejacket, at the very least. An earlier start by the Coast Guard would have given the two sailors a fighting chance to survive what was clearly a catastrophic failure of their boat.

But it's much, much worse than that. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes the yacht club officials as saying they tried to hail Daisy because they wanted to go home! Unbelievable! Furthermore, the yacht club officials were quoted in the paper as saying that it was not their responsibility, but rather that of the family, to call the Coast Guard! Can you fathom this kind of behavior!?

The race organizers left it to the skipper's wife to call the Coast Guard at around 6 p.m., after the yacht club had contacted her to see if she had heard from Daisy. Perhaps this kind of lack of action on the part of the race organizers is not criminal, but my God, they left two of their own to drown. There's no other way to put it. The performance of the race officials can, at best, be described as 'amateur hour' — except in this case they killed two people. Where we come from, we take care of our own. They left theirs to drown. Bastards.

Andrew Barnsdale
Little Wing
Planet Earth

Andrew — Given the loss of two very fine men, we can understand your anger and frustration — but it's misplaced and based on ignorance. For you to charge the race committee with 'killing' two sailors, while not having any idea of what you're talking about, is reprehensible. For the record, we're writing this having no idea of who was on the race committee.

You claim that the race committee should have had a boat stationed between the Lightbucket and the Golden Gate. Pray tell, precisely where would you have had that boat stationed? Given the larger seas toward the end of the day, which often limited visibility to a couple of hundred yards, they could have had 20 boats stationed on the course — which would have been an extremely reckless thing to do — and Daisy and her crew still could have disappeared without a trace. Indeed, the race committee could have had several helicopters hovering over the course — an unthinkably expensive thing to do — and still not have seen the boat go down.

Apparently you don't understand the nature and responsibilities of race committees. They are volunteers who work so others can play. The event in question — in its 37th year, by the way — was put on by the Island YC, an unpretentious everyman's club, as a benefit for United Cerebral Palsy. Such events are funded by the participants' entry fees alone. Perhaps you should poll them to see if any of them think entry fees should be raised to hundreds of dollars so a useless 'rescue' boat could be stationed at the Lightbucket. Offshore racers understand that everything you do in life is a calculated risk, and when they enter, they assume these risks.

To suggest that the race committee should have called the Coast Guard 15 minutes after the last boat finished is similarly ridiculous. Because winds can die and tides turn, it's common for the last boat to finish such races much later than the next-to-last boat. For example, in last year's Singlehanded Farallones Race, the last boat finished three hours after the second-to-last boat, and there was nothing unusual about that. As you might expect, the race committee tried to contact the skipper by radio. He heard them, but his handheld wasn't powerful enough to reach the race shack, and he was too busy sailing his boat and pumping the bilge to go below to use the more powerful radio at the nav station. Race committees can tell you an endless number of similar stories.

Are you under the impression that the Coast Guard would have responded immediately with a helicopter if the race committee had called them at 3 p.m.? Nothing could be further from the truth. If you knew that 99% of all overdue boat reports are false alarms, you know why the Coast Guard doesn't do stuff like that. And as you'll read in this month's Sightings, even if the Coast Guard had received an EPIRB signal — Daisy was not equipped with one — it would have been a considerable amount of time — from 20 minutes to 3 hours — before they would have responded with a search. And the search would have begun with a motorlifeboat, not a helicopter or airplane. And frankly, the chance of a motorlifeboat crew searching such a big area of ocean — roughly 33 square miles — in such weather conditions and finding the boat would have been less than that of finding a needle in a haystack. And as you'll also read, depending on locations of satellites, it could take up to three hours before they had a position and sent out a helicopter. The Coast Guard will be the first to tell you that they are no deus ex machina, able to rescue all distressed mariners in all situations.

While we can't be sure, we very much doubt that the Coast Guard would have been able to help the two men, even if they had the capability — which they don't — of responding with a helicopter the instant they received a signal from the EPIRB that Daisy didn't have. In our opinion, it's most likely that Daisy was hit by a large wave, swamped, and went down very quickly. Lifejackets or no lifejackets, it's highly unlikely that two 70-year-olds — or anybody else — could have survived the combination of frigid water and breaking waves for more than a few minutes.

What everybody who goes to sea understands is that it's not a controlled environment like a boat ride at Disneyland or some other amusement park. And there are few places that are less predictable than just outside the Golden Gate. It's not like racing inside the Bay, off Newport Beach, in San Diego Bay, or off Marina del Rey. On days when the seas are big, the Gulf of the Farallones should be the domain of experienced sailors who understand the challenge. Every skipper in a yacht race signs a document confirming that it's his/her responsibility to make the decision to start and continue the race. We've declined to start races and dropped out of races with both our Ocean 71 and our Surfin' 63 catamaran — two boats that are much bigger and more seaworthy than a Cheoy Lee 31 — because we felt the conditions were too dangerous for either the crew or the boat. And we're not ashamed to admit it.

For those who feel that the race committee should have called off the race, veterans said it was typical Gulf of Farallones conditions. Even those in boats as small as a Santana 22 reported not being particularly concerned. Indeed, every participant we spoke to was jacked about the thrilling conditions — until, of course, they later learned about the missing crew.

As for the race committee leaving the race shack at 6 p.m. and turning the matter over to the skipper's wife, it sounds much worse than it really was. At the start of every Ha-Ha, we cajole, beg, threaten and do everything else we can to get finishers and dropouts to report — either to us or to one of the other 150 boats — that they are still alive and well. It's a simple request, but annually ignored by about 5% of the fleet, who have all kinds of excuses from broken radios to simply forgetting or having better things to do. Such behavior drives us and other race committees nuts, but it's human nature. The truth of the matter is that volunteer race committees have families and other obligations, and while they care deeply about all the participants, their staying in the race shack all night wouldn't have been the least bit productive. What would you have them do that the Coast Guard couldn't or wouldn't do? To blame the race committee for the tragic loss of Gale and Harrow is playing the blame game in the worst way possible.


On March 22, the weekend after the loss of Daisy, five Club Nautique boats made Coastal Passagemaking trips to Half Moon Bay. All five boats sailed out the shipping channel and passed by where Daisy had sunk, and showed our respect for her lost crew. Daisy's homeport was Kappa's Marina in Sausalito, the same as that of Club Nautique. Although I didn't personally know Kirby Gale, Daisy's owner, I'd walked by his boat hundreds of times.

As our boats got close to the R2 buoy, we could see Daisy's LifeSling floating on the surface, still attached to the boat. Daisy's final position, just to the southwest of the buoy, would indicate to me that her crew had been where I would have wanted to be in heavy northwesterly weather. Running down the shipping channel just inside/outside the red buoys would have been the best place to be, so I can find no fault with what they had been doing. As such, I suspect that there must have been some unusual factor in the loss of the boat. The odds of a freak wave twice the size of the 'Significant Wave Height' is about two million to one, a rarity indeed.

If I remember correctly, the significant wave height on the day that Daisy was lost was 12 feet, with a deep water period of over 10 seconds — or about 500 feet. To me, this wouldn't be an issue at all — except when sailing over a bar with the ebb opposing the wind. The max ebb for that day was four knots, so I suspect that many of the boats were fighting the tide the entire way back — or elected to cross the south bar in order to seek current relief. I believe that the latter would have been unsafe.

Personally, I would not cross the San Francisco Bar — in either direction — with an opposing ebb of four knots knowing that the deep water significant wave height was over eight feet and that the wind was blowing in excess of 20 knots. Perhaps the easiest solution would be not to schedule races that would require competitors to return on such a strong ebb.

When it comes to crossing the bar during a strong ebb, in my book it's a 'same day decision'.

Arnstein Mustad
US Sailing Passage Making Instructor
Club Nautique

Arnstein — We're not sure how you come up with 500 feet between waves on the day Daisy was lost, but we agree with almost everything else you said. Unless Daisy drifted significantly after going under, Gale and Harrow had the Cheoy Lee 31 right where we would have wanted to be for the safest sailing. By the way, our Racing Editor Rob Grant took a photo of the fleet from the Marin Headlands as they were returning from the Lightbucket, and it showed all the shipping channel buoys out to what looks to be the Lightbucket. At the time of the photo, the only boats seeming to attempt to avoid the ebb were doing it on the north side of the shipping channel.

We can understand some hardcore sailors who are looking for a challenge being willing to ride a four-knot ebb out the Gate when it was blowing 20+ and there were eight-ft seas, but like you, we'd probably wait for another day. But if we were entering the Gate on a relatively large and fast boat when there was a four-knot flood, we'd probably be inclined to go for it.

As for not scheduling ocean races when there's going to be a strong ebb, it might not be feasible, particularly with the longer races. After all, the tides turn every six hours, so depending on the vagaries of the wind and boat speed, it might not be possible to avoid a relatively strong ebb. We think each competitor needs to be cognizant of the forecasted wind and seas, the speed and direction of the current, and decide whether he/she and his/her boat are up to the challenge. It's obviously a decision that shouldn't be made lightly.


In the case of your having driven away bees from Profligate in Mexico, as reported in the April 9 'Lectronic, we think you might have mistaken ordinary bees for Africanized 'killer bees'. We cruised the Sea of Cortez last summer and heard many stories of bee swarms. The swarms that we and others experienced were those of ordinary bees looking for fresh water. For example, one boat with standing fresh water in their shower sumps got thousands of bees in their head while sailing away from an island — Isla San Francisco, if we remember correctly. Once they got a certain distance away from the island, every bee flew out.

We had some swarms of hundreds come into our boat and gather around our galley sponge or the spout in the sink, but they left once we dabbed some saltwater around those areas. Kristina was initially very afraid of these bees, but with time she got accustomed — if not happily so — to working around them. They swarmed our garbage and every other source for fresh water, but once we eliminated those sources by contaminating them with saltwater, they left.

We're not bee experts by any stretch of the imagination, but given your location and our experiences in the Sea last year, we're guessing that your bees were the innocuous breed. The other evidence we're taking into account is that, while you attacked the bees, you didn't mention that all your crew were stung dozens of times — as would have been the case with 'killer bees'.

For what it's worth, Susan on Daydream called them "happy little Ghandi bees," and we started using the phrase as well. We're not fruity bee lovers or anything, but just wanted to offer up our two cents.

Adam Yuret and Crew
Estrella, Magellan 36
Portland, OR

Adam — After doing some research, we learned two surprising things about bees: 1) The only sure way for even experts to tell an Africanized bee from a Western honeybee is by DNA testing. 2) Many hives are hybrids, in which European bee colonies are becoming Africanized. The following are some of the reasons that made us think that at least some of the bees that visited us were indeed Africanized bees:

1) They seemed unusually angry from the moment they arrived.

2) They 'visited' our boat on four separate occasions, and each time they made it clear they wanted to head inside the opening in the back of the boom. Such cavities are popular for locating hives. There was no freshwater around the opening of the boom, but there was in the nearby galley.

3) Africanized bees have migrated all the way up through Mexico and to all the states in the southern two-thirds of the U.S. Last year, the County of Los Angeles treated or otherwise disposed of 3,000 colonies of predominantly Africanized bees, and now spends more time dealing with them than with mosquitoes.

For what it's worth, there are no such things are "innocuous bees," as the venom from Western honeybees is just as strong as that of 'killer bees'. Swarms of killer bees are considered more deadly only because they tend to sting perceived threats in much greater numbers. Because so many people are allergic to or suddenly become allergic to bee venom, some health professionals recommend that cruising boats in Mexico carry Epi-Pen auto injectors of epinephrine, and that the crews know when and on whom it would be appropriate to use it. Epinephrine, for example, can be very dangerous if used on people with heart disease.

Lastly, we're cool with bees. When they visit our food and/or drinks, we know they mean no harm, so we either ignore them or casually and gently encourage them to move along.


We were recently buzzed by dozens of very aggressive bees while on our way from Mismaloya to Nuevo Vallarta on Banderas Bay. Anh, my partner, got stung on the wrist. Another bee went up my T-shirt and got me on the 'love handle'. I'd never had a bad reaction to a bee sting before, but this time I developed a huge red and itchy spot that was about six inches in diameter. I had to take some antihistamine medication, but the next day the swelling was nearly gone.

I'm glad I hadn't read the April 9 'Lectronic posting about bees earlier or I would have been petrified. But I will remember the fire extingusher trick. I have a couple of extingushers that are getting old and will need to be replaced soon, so I might as well put them to good use.

Jeannette Heulin and Anh Bui
Con Te Partiro, Bristol 32
Mexico / Emeryville

Jeannette and Anh — It takes about 800 bee stings to kill an average human. It sounds like a lot, but a human could easily be stung that many times on one arm.


While I have no experience with Africanized bees, which is the correct and non-hyped term for these insects, I have been keeping honeybees for the last 20 years or so. I can report that plain water will knock a flying swarm of bees out of the air, and soapy water will kill them. Fire extinguishers may be more handy on a boat, but because they have to be replaced or recharged, would also be more expensive. Using fire extinguishers against bees might be dangerous, too, as what would happen if you had a fire on your boat?

A bee swarm itself is unlikely to be aggressive, but as soon as they started to call Profligate's boom home, they would aggressively start defending it. And like your article said, much more aggressively than European honeybees that we keep in the United States.

My point is, depending on the size of the swarm and the strength of the water pressure, a stern shower might do the trick.

Tony Bourque
Planet Earth

Tony — We value your knowledge and suggestions, but if the same situation were to occur again, there are two reasons that we'd still reach for the fire extinguishers. First, the fire extinguisher puts out a surprisingly powerful and opaque stream that the bees don't seem to want any part of. The water coming out our stern shower isn't anywhere near as powerful, so we'd have to get much closer to the bees. Second, and even more important, using fire extinguishers gave us mobility. We could retreat or move in on the bees quickly, something we couldn't do with a stern shower.

We agree that fighting off bees with fire extinguishers is certainly more expensive than fighting them off with water, but we're more than willing to pay for what we believe is the more effective deterrent. The thought of a fire on our boat terrifies us, so we carry quite a few extinguishers.


After reading your report of using dry chem fire extinguishers on killer bees near La Paz, I would hasten to add that you, of course, immediately replenished the now-useless fire extinguishers. Didn't you? Or is your boat now unprotected from fire, thereby possibly voiding your fire insurance?

P.S. Love Latitude, keep it up.

Paul R. Burnett
Safety Program Administrator
Santa Clara Valley Water District
San Jose

Paul — Why would it cross your mind that we wouldn't replace our fire extinguishers? Having seen how fiberglass boats usually burn to the waterline if fires are not put out immediately, we can assure you that we not only carry more than the required number of extinguishers, but that the used ones will be replaced before our boat leaves the dock again. Big box stores sell Coast Guard-approved five-pounders — the big guys — for just over $20 each. That's a bargain, not only for protecting your boat from fires, but also protecting you from bees.


The mid-March reports on the hijacking of the 288-ft French sailing vessel Le Ponant and her 30-person crew off Somalia are alarming. But piracy in those waters is nothing new. In '79, while making the same passage from the Seychelles to the Red Sea near the end of a circumnavigation aboard the 86-ft Camper & Nicholson ketch Lord Jim, we faced a similar threat. An Arab dhow of perhaps 90 feet, which had been keeping pace with us for the latter part of the day, closed on us rapidly at sundown, with many of the crew suddenly appearing on deck. Suspicious of their intentions and aware of the threat of piracy in those waters, Peter Codrington, our skipper, ordered us to break out our arms and prepare to be boarded. At the time, we carried two M-16s, one with a grenade launcher attachment, a 9mm rifle, a sawed off shotgun, and a pair of .38 handguns. The vessel's owner had been a Free French Army and Resistance member in World War II, and believed in defending himself.

We crouched in the scuppers with the arms. When the dhow came to within 300 yards, Codrington, who is ex-British Navy, launched a grenade into the water in front of the dhow. It made an impressive splash. The dhow, to our relief, did a smart U-turn and headed back to shore.

We had no way of knowing what their intentions were, but when in doubt, it's best to keep such craft at a distance — at least in the areas of the world well known for piracy.

Mark Darley
Former Mate on Lord Jim, Camper & Nicholson 86

Readers — Much of the general public thinks it's common for pirates to attack cruising boats. It's not. The exceptions are eastern Venezuela, certain parts of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Colombia, the Straits of Malacca in Southeast Asia, and the approaches to the southern entrance to the Red Sea. Just about everywhere else, the greater dangers are to be found ashore.

Most — but not all — cruisers go unarmed because of bureaucratic problems with carrying guns. For example, a couple of months ago Steve Bonner of the San Jose-based Eleuthera 60 catamaran Caribbean Soul ended up in jail — and then prison — for about a week in the British Virgin Islands for not declaring a pistol. It's a long and crazy story, in which he shared a cell with a notorious 'hit man' from St. Thomas, had a new lawyer — whether he wanted one or not — every few hours, and had to address the female magistrate as "Your Worship." What's more, the courtroom was the 3rd-grade classroom at a local school. He was eventually fined $10,000 — and it could have been worse. The other fear of carrying weapons is being badly outgunned by the attackers. After all, in many of the danger areas, automatic rifles are on sale cheap in the local versions of 7-Eleven.

Nonetheless, a few years ago a Latitude reader and the skipper of a buddyboat fought back and killed a gun-wielding assailant on an attacking boat near the approaches to the Red Sea. The attacking dhow immediately retreated.


I find it very interesting that the story of the hijacking of the large French charter sailing yacht Le Ponant never made the national news in the United States — not even the U.S. version of the BBC — for many days. It had previously been covered in the European news media, most prominently in the Italian news, for over a week. At the same time, some teenage girls getting into a fist fight in Florida and dozens of other inane stories, were covered ad infinitum in the national news. The premiere U.S. sailing magazine — Latitude 38 — did cover it in 'Lectronic.

Everyone knows that the coast of Somalia is renowned for hijackings of cruising boats and even large ships. It gets no coverage whatsoever.

Gruß Eberhard

Gruß — There has long been a big debate in serious news circles about whether news organizations should give readers what they ought to know — important, serious stuff — as opposed to what they, in their weaker moments, might like to know — such as whether Britney wore underwear when she went clubbing the night before. We're mostly getting what we want to learn about in our weaker moments, which doesn't say much for us as a society.

Somalia, which is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, has historically been the base for attacks and threats against cruising boats. The events haven't gotten much coverage because there are few, if any, news-gathering sources in that lawless area, and because there aren't many sailors in the world. While Somalia is perhaps most dangerous for cruising yachts, the real piracy and kidnapping nexus is the Straits of Malacca. The pirates used to go after yachts more often, but tend to ignore them now in favor of ships carrying big payrolls and other valuables.

As a result of the seizing of the 30-person Le Ponant crew, French President Jacques Sarkozy proposed an international military cooperation to prevent such attacks in places such as the entrance to the Red Sea and the Straits of Malacca. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.


We read the April 9 'Lectronic item about Besame, the Southern California-based mini-megayacht that was approached by a panga full of armed and masked men off the coast of mainland Mexico recently.

On the evening of March 5, off the coast of Zihautanejo, during our passage from the Galapagos Islands to Zihuantanejo, we heard a frantic call on the VHF from a large sportfishing boat to the Coast Guard reporting they were being approached by a vessel manned by men in black masks. I don't recall the exact description of the vessel the men were in, but I'm pretty sure it was a large panga.

After several responses from English-speaking folks on boats in the area, none of which were Coast Guard vessels, the men on the approaching panga lifted their masks — and turned out to indeed be members of the Mexican Navy about to conduct a routine vessel inspection. They were allowed aboard, and the skipper of the large sportfishing boat said that the boarding party was professional and courteous, and that the inspection was minimal. They gave no explanation for the masks.

The skipper of the sportfishing boat also said the boarders were all dressed in SWAT team-like garb, were heavily armed, and that it was quite frightening at first. No mention was made as to whether or not they were hailed by the Navy in advance of the boarding, but we heard many hails to vessels from the Mexican Navy in English and Spanish that night.

Many boats were boarded by the Navy off Zihua on the evening of March 5, but somehow we avoided the picket line. Once we got to port, I asked the port captain about Navy personnel being masked. He said he knew nothing about it.

I have to admit, seeing a boatload of black-masked men approaching would be unnerving, but in this case at least, they were indeed Mexican Navy personnel.

Guy and Deborah Bunting
Élan, Morrelli & Melvin 46
On Our Way To La Paz

Guy and Deborah — We're pretty sure we understand what the masks are about. Thanks to the uncounted legions of controlled substance abusers in the United States, there are literally billions of dollars for illegal syndicates to earn transporting drugs via Mexico's roads and coastal waters. One of the first things that current Mexican President Felipe Calderón did was take on the notoriously powerful and violent drug cartels, and the cost in human lives has been tremendous. According to news sources, 3,500 have been killed, including many police. In addition, the drug cartels have tried to scare off the government by doing things like decapitating police and delivering the heads to police stations and discos. It's something to think about the next time you inhale or snort the latest import.

Because of the threats to representatives of the government, even police, federales and members of the military have sometimes taken to wearing masks. Like Guy, we'd be freaked if approached by a panga full of masked and armed men, but we think they'd be the real deal, and they'd probably be courteous and professional as most Mexican civil servants have become. In certain beach areas where common crime has started to become a problem, members of the Mexican Army have been ordered — in full uniform, and carrying automatic rifles — to patrol. Everybody welcomes them.


We just read your 'Lectronic posting about members of the Mexican Navy boarding boats in mufti. They are not the only ones.

In '02, we made a passage from St. Maarten to Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean aboard our Berkeley-based Sceptre 41 Indigo. As we were motoring at dawn on our second day some 20 miles west of Guadeloupe, Hillair was on watch and listening to a French Navy frigate vetting a freighter on the VHF. They were just barely visible in the distance. She then saw a large Zodiac leave the frigate and come streaking across the calm waters directly for us! The boat had 15 sailors in full riot gear with bulletproof vests and helmets with mirrorlike shields, and they were carrying automatic weapons. After Hillair waved the VHF and got no response, she called me up.

Now we get to the really strange part of the story. I keyed the VHF mic and, using my best high school French, said "Bonjour." Suddenly the Zodiac spun around and raced back to the mothership! There was no word, no explanation.

We had heard the French Navy in radio contact with yachts, using very good English, go through a long protocol of documentation numbers, F.C.C. license numbers, and the like. But in our case, rien. So there is a good use for those rusty language skills.

Michael Sheats and Hillair Bell
Indigo, Sceptre 41
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands / St. Croix


In the April issue, Mark Johnston asked about dealing with aging knees and boat docking in a letter titled 'Senior Sailors and High Freeboard'. He expressed his concern about docking with a potential future bigger boat, noting ". . . it’s not so easy . . . for my wife and me to jump down to the dock with lines in our hands."

We’ve had our Catalina 34 Aquavite for the past 10 years — with a Catalina 22 for two years and a Catalina 25 for 12 years before that — and sailed all over the Bay, the Delta, and up and down the coast. We employ what we believe is the most useful and safe technique for docking — but one that still seems to be a mystery to most sailors. It’s called the midships spring line, and thanks to it, there's no reason ever to have to jump off a boat to dock her properly.

The maneuver is simple: Attach the springline to the midships cleat and run it fair outside the lifelines. As you approach the dock, loop the springline over the aft dock cleat, then bring it back to the winch. Snug the line up and keep the boat at low throttle forward. The boat will sidle right up to the dock, and no jumping is ever required to get off. A friend developed an 'enhanced' springline arrangement with a prefixed length of line and a hose holding a lower loop of line open to assure that it catches the cleat on the dock. With this, no line needs to be returned to the winch.

Like some other boats, our older Catalina 34 didn't come with a midships cleat, so we added one on each side at the forward end of the jib fairlead track. Many newer boats do come with the cleats.

I do a lot of singlehanded sailing, and have found this technique to be invaluable in docking in all conditions. I’m sure that once this trick is learned and mastered, it can be used in a wide variety of docking situations with all manner of wind and currents. Furthermore, it's not only safer, it sure is a knee and back saver. The only drawback is when docks don’t have cleats but, as is so prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, have those nutty rings or raised wooden bull rails. I think those two things are why grapnel hooks were invented.

Stu Jackson
Aquavite, Catalina 34


In the April issue, reader Mark Johnston said that, despite the fact he was getting older, he'd probably buy a larger boat — if he could figure out a way for him and his wife to get on and off easily. He should do like I do and use a spring line for docking.

When I became too old to safely jump from the boat to the dock, I developed the following technique: Tie one end of a spare sheet or halyard to the midship cleat. If you have a chock, push a bight — or open loop — through the chock. Form a big enough bight so that the crew can lean over the lifeline and sweep the dock with the bottom of the bight. Hold it open with a hand on each side, like a bullfighter holds his cape. When you have the proper sized loop, temporarily secure the fall — or tail — of the line.

As the helmsperson brings the boat alongside, the crew places the loop around the cleat, quickly takes in as much slack as possible, then secures the line to a cleat again. If the crew cannot do that quickly, lead the fall through a turning block, if necessary, and back to a cockpit winch where the helmsman can take in the slack. By the way, nobody should attempt to lasso the cleat. If necessary, make another pass.

But with the line secured to the midship cleat, motor forward slowly and steer slightly away from the dock. As the line tightens, the opposing forces will move your boat gently toward the dock. If you run out of room ahead of you, stop and take in more slack to shorten the loop. Once you have tested it to make sure everything is holding, you can safely leave the boat in gear and step off and secure your other lines.

I also have a one-step rope ladder that snaps into my swim ladder pad eyes and hangs halfway down my topsides, allowing me to step down on the dock.

If your boat does not have a midship cleat and chock, I think you could tie off to a stanchion and reeve your fall through a turning block and cleat off back in the cockpit. But do not overload the stanchion.

Ernie Copp
Orient Star, Cheoy Lee 50
Long Beach


You asked for photos of fish caught while cruising. The fresh fish special in the accompanying photo was caught using a meat line with a dockline snubber about a week before we reached Oahu. We caught three of them before we stopped fishing due to having too much fun.

Gary Scheier
Serenisea, Hunter 28
San Rafael


The 'They Moved as Fast as a Car on the Freeway' letter in the March issue was interesting, and made me try — albeit unsuccessfully — to remember my waves and tides class from decades ago. I managed to remember that the speed of a wave is dependent on its wavelength, and that longer waves travel faster than shorter waves. Tsunamis move really fast — up to 500 mph.

Since any formulas had long since departed my brain, I did a little Google research, which gave a very complex formula for the theoretical speed of a wave at As soon as I saw it, I knew why I didn't remember any of it!

Based on that formula, a single wave in deep water — waves in shallower water start to slow as they shoal — travelling at 50 mph, would have a wavelength of about 310 meters. My math says that would give about a 14-second period. That's a pretty long wave, but not too far off the charts. After all, you can see waves with 12-second periods from Aleutian storms as they make their way south.

Speaking of south, the weather in La Paz is great for the start of Sea of Cortez Sailing Week on April 1. It's a far cry from the weather this spring in San Carlos, up in the Sea of Cortez, where we splashed our boat. Just how cold was it? Cold enough that I was caught sleeping in my fleece pants, and that we used our heater a lot. Cold enough that it snowed in Nogales! To cap things off, as we were leaving our slip at Marina San Carlos to cross the Sea, it sleeted and hailed on us for 15 minutes! If I hadn't been so shocked, I would have taken a picture of the hail collected on the deck. I heard reports that there was so much sleet and snow in Nogales that all the roads were closed. We were very happy to finally make it down to the warm weather in La Paz.

Gordon and Vlasta Hanson
Far Country, Valiant 40
Sausalito / Currently anchored off Marina de La Paz

Gordon and Vlasta — We don't claim to have a complete grasp of waves at sea and in shallow water, but consider the following:

— It's true that tsunamis travel at up to 500 mph at sea, albeit with a wave height usually well under one foot. It's also true that when they come to shore, they don't move anywhere near 500 mph. In fact, it's not uncommon for people to be able to run or even walk inland as fast as the ingress of a tsunami.

— According to your math, a wave with a 14-second period would travel at 50 mph. Based on the data from the San Francisco and other buoys, dominant wave periods of 14 to even 16 seconds are as common as dirt. If that's the case, why don't sailors see waves moving at 50 mph out there all the time? And why, in our nearly half century of surfing and sailing, have we not seen a wave travel anywhere near that fast?

It seems to us there's some huge gap of understanding between your grasp of the theoretical speed of waves and what we've observed in the real world.

It was indeed a cool, cool winter in Mexico, all the way from down in Zihua up to San Carlos. After what happened this winter, it's going to be hard for this year's cruising class in Mexico to put much stock in the concept of global warming. Be that as it may, we're sorry that you ultimately missed the revived Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, as it was terrific fun. To see what you missed, check out the story and photos on page 144.


Is there a weather window for taking a catamaran from San Francisco down to the Los Angeles area?

I just read in the April Latitude that there are occurrences of fog and gusty winds outside the Gate. The other issues, such as current and tides, are year round, but I suppose are diminished a bit during the summer months. What I'm really asking is when is the best time, on average, to take a 32-ft catamaran out past the Gate and then south to Southern California?

Jim Barden
Ann Marie, Morgan 28 OI
Marina del Rey

Jim — Your primary concerns should be the seas and, to a slightly lesser extent, the strength of the wind. Oddly enough, generally speaking the best time to find light winds and flat seas is in the winter. Between fronts — which can be widely spaced — it's usually calm off the coast. In fact, during the winter it's likely that you'd have to motor all the way to Southern California. The downside of winter, of course, is that it's very cold and therefore not much fun out there.

Typically, spring and summer have the greatest preponderance of strong winds and big seas along the coast. But it's strictly a day-to-day thing, as there will be calm days in May and howling days in October. Weather forecasting has improved greatly in recent years, but there are still no guarantees — particularly along the Central California coast. So no matter when you head south, you need to be prepared for rough weather and know all the places where you can find shelter. With enough time and good planning, you shouldn't have trouble. The points — such as Sur, Arguello, and Conception — tend to have the strongest northwesterly winds and biggest seas, so if it's borderline elsewhere, you may want to take shelter until it calms down.

Once you round Pt. Conception, it's like entering a much more tranquil world. Santa Ana conditions are the biggest hazard, but even novices can forecast them easily. If the skies are clear and the decks of your boat are dry, expect a Santa Ana. The weather forecasts on VHF radio will generally be able to tell you how strong they'll blow.

The tide and currents at the Gate are primarily affected by the moon, so they can be as strong in the summer as in the winter. See the next letter for more details. If the seas were small, we'd leave on an ebb. If they were relatively small to medium, we'd leave toward the end of an ebb. If there were big seas, we'd keep a small cat in port until the swell subsided.

The coast of California is one of the major fog producing areas in the world. Fog can appear at any time of year, and it's often not possible to forecast it accurately. We've sailed down the coast of California several times on boats without radar, ran into fog, and had to mix it up with shipping. You don't ever want to find yourself being a sitting duck like that. Have a fun and safe trip.


Latitude's description of the currents on San Francisco Bay in 25 Things Every Sailor Should Know, needs a little maintenance. Maybe even a refit.

Surface currents in the Bay, which are the only ones that matter to boats, result from primarily three influences — the tides, freshwater inflows from the Delta, and wind events associated with storms. For mariners in Central Bay, the tides are the only thing that matter — except after inflows from rare and really large flood events in the Central Valley. Currents from wind become detectable only if a strong wind from one direction persists for several days, which almost never happens. Even so, they are small compared to tidal currents. So your point should focus only on the tides.

Tidal currents in the Bay go through a 14-day (spring-neap) cycle, being strongest during new and full moon (springs), and weakest during waxing and waning half moons (neaps). This 14-day cycle itself goes through an annual cycle, with strongest spring currents and weakest neap currents occurring around summer and winter solstices, and weakest springs and strongest neaps near the equinoxes. So the strongest tidal currents of each year occur during a full moon near June 21 and December 21, and the weakest currents occur a week before or afterward. For instance, last December the biggest tidal current in the Golden Gate area was on December 23, an ebb current around 5 knots. This summer, the biggest currents will occur on June 3, also around 5 knots. In both cases these contrast to maximum currents of only about two knots a week later.

A lot more could be said about current differences between channels and shallows, and about timing of maximum currents relative to tide heights in different parts of the Bay. I could help Max Ebb/Lee Helm to craft a description, if desired, or I would probably enjoy writing a guest article. I should say that I am retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, and for about a decade of my career I constructed hydrodynamic models of the Bay and analyzed tide and current data collected by us and NOAA.

Thanks for Latitude 38 and ‘Lectronic Latitude — they are a joy to read.

Larry Smith
Pleamar, Aloha 32

Larry — Thanks for the kind words.

We're not sure our description of the currents was so much wrong as necessarily brief because of the other 24 things sailors need to know that had to be fitted into the article. But very enthusiastically, yes, we've love to get a guest article from you on currents on the Bay.


I have a couple of questions for Max Ebb and his sidekick, Lee Helm — or anybody else — about the tides and the relationship between slack current and high and low tides.

Take today, April 8, for instance. The first high at the Gate is at 0110, followed by a low at 0749, a high at 1455, and then finally a low at 1851. Slack currents are at 0252, 1002, 1636 and 2150. This means that the slacks are several hours after the high or low, with the slack following the low being later than the slack following the high. It would seem that at the high or low point of the tide, after which the high point starts to drop, or the low point starts to rise, is when the slack would occur. Why is it so much later?

Another question: In places further down the Bay, for instance at the Park St. Bridge in the Oakland Estuary, the highs and lows are 44 minutes later than at the Gate. Are the slacks also 44 minutes later than at the Gate?

My guess is that the water reaches its maximum height out at the Gate, but continues to flow into the Bay for some time, and this is why the slacks are so much later. If this is true, then would the slacks inside the Bay — at the Park St. Bridge, for example, be the same amount later than the slack at the Gate, or would they tend more to coincide with the highs and lows there?

There are obvious practical considerations for this, such as when to plan to leave the dock if one isn't near the Gate.

John Reimann
Y-Knot, Catalina 36


Recently, my wife and I sailed down from the Northwest to visit the San Francisco Bay Area. As part of our trip, we decided to visit Alameda and some of the local yacht clubs.

Upon entering the part of the channel past the docked ships, we encountered a number of sailboats tacking out the channel. Under sail ourselves, we stayed as close to the right shore as safely possible — without ending up on the rocks. On no fewer than five occasions we had to alter course to avoid hitting another boat, as they would tack over right in front of us. Little did they know that our boat, a 55-ft full keel steel cutter, does not have the same ability to maneuver as their smaller boats.

Even when we left the area under power, we found boats overtaking us on their way tacking out the channel — and then getting upset that we were in their way!

We do what we have to in order to keep our boat safe, and in congested waters we're very careful — but for all those who put themselves in harm's way, beware, for ours is a steel boat that would put a big dent in fiberglass.

Name and Boat Name Withheld By Owner's Request
55-ft Steel Cutter

N.W.B.R. — We're sorry that you felt endangered. The Estuary is something of a unique place, as it's almost always a gentle beat out and a run back, and almost always in flat water. As such, small boat sailors develop tremendous confidence in shaving other boats, and coming as close as possible to the two shores without actually touching bottom.

There are some places in California where the entrance channels are regulated. Marina del Rey, for example, where buoys mark three distinct lanes. Boats motor in in the south lane, motor out in the north lane, and can sail in either direction in the center lane. Boats are not allowed to sail in either motoring lane.

There are no such restrictions in the Oakland Estuary, so unless we're mistaken, the Rules of the Road apply. That means: 1) Boats — although not ships with limited maneuverability — under power have to give way to boats under sail. 2) Boats on port have to give way to boats on starboard. And 3) starboard boats to windward have to give way to starboard boats to leeward. In other words, just like in open waters.

Rules of the Road or not, if we were tacking a boat out of the Oakland Estuary and found ourselves on a collision course with a boat such as yours hugging the starboard shore, we'd tack away well in advance to not cause you any concern. Unless, of course, we'd had a recent blast of testosterone, in which case we'd hail you to hold your course, then sail as close to you as possible before tacking away.

On the other hand, if we were tacking out the Estuary and you were motoring out, we'd probably insist on our right-of-way, as we'd be going about the same speed, and it shouldn't be hard for you to avoid us.

Mind you, we don't sail in the Estuary that often anymore, so it would be interesting to hear what you Estuarians think about all this.


I know you visited the anchorage and dinghy landing at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on Banderas Bay, but as it's the first time I had visited since the Nayarit Riviera Marina opened, I'd like to offer my own thoughts.

First, I think the way the marina extended the wall all the way up the beach invites a broken leg or worse. Perhaps the breakwater needed to be extended all the way into the bluff, but they could have designed it for easier access over the rocks. I know that I feel concern when climbing down the rocks while carrying laundry, groceries, or making the much longer hike into town to patronize the local businesses.

I'm sure that the Marina Riviera Nayarit wants to protect their property, and if they want to allow the pangas to dock inside but deny dinghies access to town in a safe and easy manner, it's their prerogative. But they — and Latitude — shouldn't expect cruisers to accept it as "no big deal." Not all cruisers can afford the almost 20 cents per foot higher berth fees than in Paradise Village, all for the privilege of watching the marina drive pilings late into the evening, paying $8.50 for a bowl of soup, or $6.50 for a small drink. It doesn't encourage me to visit the new marina or its businesses, but what someone charges for their services is their business. But when a marina constructs a wall that will surely cause injury, I say shame on them. There has already been one cruiser's death this year over a trip and fall. Do we really need another one?

Jerry Metheany
Rosita, Hunter 46

Jerry — With all due respect, we think you're being a little bit ridiculous — and are giving the marina a great excuse for posting a 'no trespassing' sign and a guard at that portion of the breakwater that permits a shortcut into town.

First of all, it's silly to think that the marina wouldn't extend the breakwater all the way to the bluff, and absolutely preposterous to think that they somehow went out of their way to design a multimillion-dollar breakwater in a manner that would cause cruisers to be injured. Don't you think they had more important things to think about?

Second, if we're going to call a spade a spade, let's admit that any cruiser who gets hurt climbing up and down that very low section of breakwater has nobody to blame but themselves. Why? Because there's a paved walkway up the bluff not 100 feet away! Sure, it makes the walk into town a little longer, but it's not like cruisers are rushing to catch a bus to work. So if you're not a natural born mountain goat, if you're carrying groceries or laundry, if it's dark, or you feel at all uncomfortable, use the walkway for god's sake!

When we were in La Cruz last, which was less than a month ago, there was no problem with boats being anchored out for free for as long as their owners wanted, there was no problem with cruisers landing their dinghies on the beach for free, and there was no problem with them walking into town. Some elected to climb over the breakwater to get there, others decided to use the walkway. No matter which choice they made, it was up to them to live with the consequences of their decisions.

It's also important to remember the marina and situation are new at La Cruz, and therefore things are subject to change. Come next season, perhaps they'll decide to let dinghies again tie up at $3/day to stimulate business at the restaurant, bar, and tienda. Or perhaps some enterprising local — and we think this is a great idea — will offer dinghy service between boats and the shore from early in the morning to late at night, making it unnecessary for cruisers to even put their dinghies in the water. But until then, cruisers need not take any unusual risks getting from the anchorage to town, so in our opinion, it truly is 'no big deal'.


Latitude is an excellent magazine and therefore a great read any time — but it's especially appreciated on long flights. We took a copy with us to the small landlocked Himalayan country of Bhutan this past March. Our guide, Pintsho Wangdi, and our driver, Ugyen, were very pleased to get the most current issue. Like many Bhutanese, they are fluent in English, and would like to try sailing sometime.

In the photo they are wearing the national costume and are standing in front of an ancient bridge over the Paro River just below the Paro Dzong, a fortified monastery originally built in 1646. The country held its first ever election on March 24.

Jim and Laura Gregory
Lauralei, Hunter 37

Jim and Laura — Thanks for the kind words.

Not knowing much about Bhutan, we did a little checking in Wikipedia. According to that source, despite the fact that the "land of the thunder dragon" is one of the most isolated and remote countries in the world, the data suggests that its citizens, unlike those in places such as Hollywood and Marin County, are among the happiest in the world. Is it possible that money doesn't buy happiness?


Perhaps you have seen her before, or at least one like her. I came across this 'vessel' in an unlikely place, and thought you might find her interesting as an intriguing expression of design, resourcefulness, and tragedy. Guess where she lies? Not Papua New Guinea, American Samoa, or some other smallish, rundown port in the Pacific Rim. No, I came across her in a canal in the Albert Park neighborhood of San Rafael.

The outrigger Virgin was moored just down canal from the foot bridge to Wild Care, across from the tennis courts. The construction would be termed 'recycled' — epoxy covered canvas hull, PVC pipe framing with spray-on foam for flotation, driftwood mast, lumber oars, and lots and lots of tarps. I sense a bit of Donald Crowhurst here, with order and chaos sharing a berth.

I wish I could call her an 'art boat', but the good vessel Virgin — her name hand-painted on both bows — looks like a homeless person’s mobile quarters. I picture them pulling under San Rafael’s various bridges at night to keep out of the weather and away from prying eyes. The need to keep aware of tide swings and making necessary adjustments in position is evidenced by the line spool on the aft iako.

The seamanlike flourishes form a thin veneer on a life at its nadir. Virgin evokes in me pride and pity at somebody’s application of their survival/creative energies to boat design.

P.S. Keep up the good work at Latitude!

Steve Granville
San Rafael


Check out the accompanying photo of a bookshelf, complete with cleats, oarlocks, and a centerboard trunk. I found in the backyard of a Martinez antique store amidst ancient furniture, Coke and beer signs, musty books, and wonderfully bad paintings. It appears to be an El Toro, a classic Bay Area one design. She was a tad rough, with the plywood and fiberglass fraying, but the old hull was relatively intact. And she was sporting a new — probably semi-gloss — paint job. But if anyone is looking for a bookshelf, at $50 she is less expensive than the typical Ikea furniture-in-a-box. And if you rotate the 'shelves' 90 degrees, she might once again be a boat — although I don't think El Toros ever had seating.

As I look at her in her decline, I realize that some craftsperson spent many hours constructing this vessel. Hopefully, it did what El Toros have done — change lives and get folks out on the water. Now it's become a place from which to hang a 42-inch plasma, first editions, and trophies. Are you listening, Mr. Nash? As for the rest of you, does your furniture float?

Robert 'not the Valiant 40 guy' Perry
Martinez, CA


I have been sailing for almost three years, and have enjoyed reading Latitude for the same period of time. I recently came across your February Sightings item about the 'care and feeding of digital cameras'. Although I have yet to scrub out the innards of my Nikon D-80 with soap as you recommended, I do clean it with a slightly damp cloth. It seems to work, as you can tell from the accompanying photo of our boat sailing to the Corinthian YC last June just prior to the Delta Ditch Run.

Drew Meyers
No News, Newport 28


After redesigning a Sparkman & Stephens 52 racing boat in preparation for the '77 Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC) — which back then was like the World Series of offshore racing in the United States — the time came to test Olin Stephens' new ideas. It soon became clear that his changes were less successful than expected, and that the boat was a dog. I asked Olin, who was aboard for the initial trial, what he thought of the redesign. "Oops," was his one-word reply. I will never forget his answer, and treasure the chance to have met and sailed with one of the great designers of all time.

Freddie Baggerman
Planet Earth

Freddie — Olin truly has had a long and glorious life and career as a naval architect. We salute him.

When we bought our Ocean 71 Big O in '85, she was located in the Caribbean, but the deal was through Sparkman & Stephens in New York. Fax machines were so new at the time that signed faxes weren't legal, so we had to fly to New York to sign the papers at the S&S office. As a Californian used to successful yacht designers working out of their homes (Gary Mull), in chicken coops (Bill Lee), and similar such settings, it was quite the shock to visit the S&S office, which at the time was on the 14th floor or so of some skyscraper on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.


As you know, I’ve read Latitude since the very first issue. The magazine keeps getting better and better, so whatever you're doing, keep it up!

Jan Pehrson
Sausalito / St. Pete Beach

Jan — Thank you for the very kind words. We also like to think the magazine is getting better, and have to admit that improvements in technology are some of the major reasons.

When we started in '77, we typed every article on a manual typewriter, and retyped it on an IBM MTST system that required we change typewriter fonts every time there was an italic or bold face. Headlines required loading filmstrips onto big drums, only two at a time mind you, typing blindly, and then developing the film. Needless to say, it's now a much more efficient and less expensive process.

But photos were even worse. We'd have to take the shot, develop the film, make a print, screen a Velox, then lay it down on the pasteup boards. Even in a rush it could take several hours. Now we can take a photo, and even if the lighting is crappy, save it and have it in the layout in 10 minutes. Brilliant!

In addition, some of the younger readers may not realize just how dramatically international communications have changed. During the first 10 years of Latitude, the only way to get photos and stories from Mexico, the South Pacific, and Europe would be by mail. It was so exotic that we used to collect the stamps. The process was not only unreliable, it took forever — as in weeks, if not months. And unlike email, if you had a question about someone's report, it would take another couple of weeks or months to get a clarification.

Indeed, the two greatest improvements have been email and Google. We live on the former and bow down to the latter, which is our gateway to all knowledge in the world. What's more, they're both all but free and lightning fast.

While we never had to deliver Latitude by horsedrawn cart, all the other improvements in technology mean we've been able to spend a lot more time on the editorials and layouts — and stay in business.


That was a very interesting photo of the weld problems on David Vann's homebuilt 50-ft trimaran Tin Can that he hoped to sail around the world in four months. It was the first time I'd seen that perspective of the structure. No wonder it failed on the way from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.

About five years ago, I designed a 65-foot, then 79-foot, and finally 85-foot catamaran for Vann. He insisted on a couple of unusual things, such as masts that would fail in less than 30 knots of wind, and engines that couldn't push the boat into that much wind. Because of monetary considerations, I was unable to keep working for him and gave the drawings to another designer. The cat was finished.


Kurt Hughes
Kurt Hughes Sailing Designs
Seattle, WA

Readers — The catamaran that Hughes initially drew for Vann became the 90-ft long, 35-ft wide, 80,000-pound split rig catamaran Paradiso. She was built — in the port of Stockton, of all places — by Martinek Manufacturing of Fremont, which is owned by Mark Martinek, who describes himself as Vann's "partner in adventure." After Paradiso's launch in May of '04, she was delivered, by water, to the Virgin Islands, where she now charters with as many as 20 passengers at a time.


On page 140 of the April issue, the writer states: "Even though it may be technically legal to pee directly overboard . . ." This is incorrect, as it's illegal to pee anywhere in the San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento Delta, and less than three miles offshore. If you were caught doing this, the Coast Guard, sheriff, or police would cite you for dumping sewage — as well as indecent exposure. I've had numerous discussions with various authorities, all of whom state that no sewage of any kind can be released, either directly or indirectly, into these waters. The article did not specify the area, and your magazine did a disservice to your readers by misleading them.

Will Risseeuw
Redwood City

Will — It's illegal to pee overboard less than three miles offshore and in all inland waters. Therefore, it shouldn't be done. It is, however, legal to pee overboard more than three miles offshore. We apologize for not having been more specific. We did note that those who pee overboard risk being cited for indecent exposure, although we can't recall it ever happening.

For what it's worth, urine from healthy kidneys is sterile and, while unpleasant, isn't anywhere near the public health issue that human feces is. Urine, however, is not sewage, because by definition sewage must include at least some waste solids.

When inshore or in a marina with Profligate, we almost always pee in a large plastic container, then pour it overboard when later offshore. It's easier than using a manual head, and who wants to spend half their life filling and emptying holding tanks? This only makes sense, of course, if you frequently go more than three miles offshore.

But what we're really interested in, Will, is your position on surfers being required to wear diapers. After all, if sailors shouldn't be allowed to pee within three miles of shore, neither should surfers. But the first thing a surfer does upon getting into cold water is pee in his/her wetsuit to lessen the shock of cold water.


As a keen racer, I've been keeping pretty close tabs on all the America's Cup business. Too be honest, I just want them to get on with it and race. The faster the boats, the better — as well as anything that will make the Cup more spectator friendly. I've never been a fan of Larry Ellison, but compared to Ernesto Bertarelli, he's coming across as a proper fair-play gentleman! While no fan of the courts, at this point I'd love to see the New York judge take stewardship of the event away from the Alinghi syndicate.

Jack Barnett
Planet Earth


Sounds a lot like the '88 Michael Fay Kiwi challenge in San Diego. The current state of the America's Cup may be the best single indication of the disconnect between the top 10% of competitive sailors and the rest of us.

Brad Trottier
Star Light, Willard 8 ton
San Diego


I think it will be good that the America's Cup will be sailed for in giant multihulls. The general public no doubt thinks it's just rich guys playing around, but those of us who have followed the drama know that Ellison had to do what he did because Bertarelli was trying to hijack the whole event. It all went before a judge, a decision was made, now they should sail for it. Gigantic multihulls racing against each other — it will be a gas! One of the latest things Alinghi has said is that they can't build a defender in time and therefore must default. If that's the case, the America's Cup would come to San Francisco!

Dave Fiorito


I say bring back the J Class boats.

Bob Easterbrook
San Diego

Bob — The J Class boats are coming back! They just aren't coming back in the America's Cup.

Only 10 J Class yachts were ever built, all of them before World War II. By the late '90s, the only survivors were Endeavour, Velsheda, and Shamrock V — and only because they'd all but been entirely rebuilt. Now there is talk that as many as 10 J Class yachts could be hitting the starting line at once in just a few years. The renewed interest in the J Class is strong from individuals who, in an earlier era, might have mounted America's Cup campaigns.

In less than a year, two new aluminum J Class yachts will be launched in the Netherlands. One is Endeavour II, a version of the 138-footer that Charles Nicholson designed for Tommy Sopwith in 1936. She's been commissioned by Silicon Valley serial entreprenuer Dr. Jim Clark, who previously had the same Huisman yard build his 156-ft Frers sloop Hyperion and his 295-ft clipper ship Athena. The second is Lionheart, which at 144-ft will be the longest J Class yacht ever. She's based on the Model F version of Ranger that Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens drew for Harold Vanderbilt, but which was never built.

But if you think racing in J Class yachts would solve all of the America's Cup problems, you'd be wrong. For one thing, it wouldn't be what we consider match racing, as the J Class yachts will vary in length from the 119 feet of Shamrock V to the 144 feet of Lionheart when she hits water. And there are rules and restrictions upon rules and restrictions over what materials can be used, what variations are allowed from original lines, what the sail plans can be like, and so forth.


Deja vu all over again? There seem to be some parallels with the '88 fiasco in San Diego when Michael Fay and the Kiwis challenged with the giant monohull, and Dennis Conner responded with the little catamaran. And now the bitterness and litigation between Alinghi and BMW Oracle has escalated to the point where we've reached the 'multihull stage'. I suggest some new rules: 1) The boats must be 60-ft monohulls. 2) Eighty percent of the crew, including the owner and skipper, must be nationals. And, 3) The teams must switch boats after each race. Gee guys, can't we all get along? After all, it's supposed to be fun.

Bruce Adornato, M.D.
Amelia, Krogen 42
South Beach

Bruce — Given the ultra high stakes — the America's Cup has long been more about business than fun — we wonder what condition one team would leave their boat in after a race knowing that another team would be sailing her in the next race?


Competing for the America's Cup in 90-ft multihulls is the best thing that could have happened! We're going to see a lot of innovation and learning. We may even conclude that multihulls aren't the right kind of boats for match racing, but it won't be for lack of investment or effort! Based on the comments of James Spithill, Ed Baird, and others, they may have a difficult time going back to the 'lead mine' monohulls.

Russ Irwin
New Morning, Swan 44

Russ — The learning has already started, what with helmsman Ed Baird of Alinghi almost immediately flipping their 60-ft trimaran trial horse Foncia. We're all about to learn why multihulls aren't the best weapons for match racing, but we're sure that the big multihulls are nonetheless going to thrill the daylights out of top sailors. So who knows, maybe the real beneficiary of the current mess will be Paul Cayard and Russell Coutt's proposed World Sailing League, which is to have 70-ft one-design catamarans competing at major venues around the world. That project is currently on hold, no doubt pending the settling of the America's Cup dust.


BMW Oracle Racing has made a mockery of sailing in general. The America's Cup has become a cruel joke that puts all sailors in a very bad light. I've been a sailor for over 50 years, and I plan to boycott the products of any sponsor who is foolish enough to get involved with this travesty.

John Raymond
White Rabbit, J/40
Port Townsend, WA

John — Larry Ellison, the man behind Oracle and the BMW Oracle efforts, has had no shortage of critics over the years, but in this particular battle, many former critics view him as the guy wearing the white hat.


We think multihulls competing for the America's Cup won't hurt anything — except that it will delay the next real America's Cup. The whole thing is stupid.

Max and Shirley Lynn
Tranquility, Beneteau 36.7
Santa Barbara


The original purpose of the America's Cup and its tradition have died. They were killed by the modern penchant for technology and labor-saving devices that, as much as possible, mitigate the need for experience, intuition, skills, guts, and luck found in the early days of yacht racing. Where are the calloused hands, the weathered faces, the salty trial-by-fire possessed by the hidebound participants of old? Until modern times, the America's Cup competitions were a showcase of hard-earned, hard-knock experience manifested in a true test of man, canvas, line and tar versus the wind, sea, and each other. Even though modern America's Cup racing does rank a little higher than watching grass grow, I'm not interested in all their millions. They can spend it on whatever racing event they like, but they should find another name for it and give the true and original America's Cup a decent burial.

Ray Thompson
Planet Earth


Selecting multihulls for the America's Cup is good, as it will give the America's Cup the update that it desperately needs.

Richard Keller
Triple Play, Corsair F-31

Richard — The multihull aspect will be a brief 'update', as just about everyone agrees that all stakeholders want to go back to monohulls for future America's Cups. But at least maybe they'll be much more exciting monohulls than we've seen in the past.


My feeling on multihulls in the America's Cup can be summed up in two words. Who cares? The upcoming battle will not conform to the Deed of Gift stipulation that the America's Cup be "friendly competition." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth these days, and the personal animosity between Bertarelli and Coutts will see to that. I say hand the Cup over to the New York YC for permanent display — with a plaque saying that the competition died in '07. I will then sponsor the Rectum Cup for those who qualify as assholes.

John Harwood-Bee
Ware, United Kingdom


In my opinion, the America's Cup should always be competed for in monohulls.

George Koch
J/122 Sailor
Planet Earth

George — By any chance are you related to Bill Koch, winner of the 1992 Cup with the monohull America³? And if so, would this influence your opinion?


We're looking for a little help. Lorraine and I want to take Borau, who is an adorable but non-English-speaking 12-year-old illiterate Kiribati jungle boy, with us when we leave Fanning Island. We have no idea what we may need aboard as we continue our travels to show that we did not kidnap him when we arrive in places such as the Cooks, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand. We have no phones or internet here with which to do research, but according to the minimal research we've been able to do, he wouldn't need a visa in Fiji or New Zealand.

Does anyone have any experience doing anything like this? Would it be sufficient just to add him to the crew? It seems like we should have some paperwork from his family or the government giving us guardianship. Unfortunately, the authorities here do not have any experience either, and are planning on just giving him a Kiribati passport and sending him off.

Robby and Lorraine Coleman
Southern Cross, Angleman Gaff Ketch
Fanning Island


There was a report in 'Lectronic that economic sanctions have been imposed on Fiji, which is why the government is broke, and why the 'fundraising' limitation on yacht stays got started. This is far from true. The limitation on yacht stays was imposed due to the paranoia of Mahendra Chaundry, the Minister of Finance, who dislikes the tourism sector and wants to weaken it. His goal is to strengthen his political stronghold with the powerful sugar cane interests.

There have been no economic sanctions imposed on Fiji. In fact, the only sanction imposed — even after the New Zealand ambassador was expelled for getting a better seat at a rugby game than Commodore Bainimarama, Fiji's dictator / interim Prime Minister — is that members of the Fiji military government, the military and their immediate families, have been denied entry to New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.

A number of nations continue to issue travel warnings for their citizens thinking about visiting Fiji. As a resident here, I suggest that the gist of these warnings be heeded: Avoid any large gatherings — arrests have been made of unauthorized gatherings of more than three people, especially in the Suva area. Avoid talking about local politics in public. The Fiji Intelligence Service, which is the secret police, has been revived, so just because someone isn't wearing a uniform doesn't mean they are not part of the government. So far, three people have been murdered by the military/police, which are now one and the same, and countless hundreds have been beaten.

Fiji is still beautiful, however, and a great place to cruise — especially in the north, including Vanua Levu, Taviuni, and so forth. It's similar to Cuba, in that while it's a great place to cruise, it's also important to keep your mouth shut in public. There is a new regulation that allows for the immediate expulsion of any foreigner, without access to the courts, for 'incitement' or speaking out against the administration.

Completely ignoring the enire body of economic works since Marx is what is distroying the economy. If anyone wants to wade through them, they can download the monthly economic reports published by the Reserve Bank of Fiji at, which allows you to see how business has retrenched and, given the political situation, is refusing to invest.

Emails are being monitored, but I don't think the government can hack Yahoo.

Name Witheld by Request

Readers — Fiji continues to be a political mess, and the problem, like always, has been the divide between the ethnic Fijians, who own 80% of the land, and the ethnic Indians, who have been there for many years and make the economy go.

We like the letter writer's analogy to Cuba, for while there is obviously internal trouble, if visitors keep their noses clean, they shouldn't have any problems. Indeed, Pacific Blue Airlines, an affiliate of Virgin Blue, which is part of the Virgin family of companies, has now significantly increased its number of flights from Australia to Fiji to meet the demand of tourists.

As for yachties keeping their noses clean, a member of the Fijian marine industry reports that there is a new police group of 25 that has been assembled to monitor and enforce laws pertaining to yachts. Among other measures, police stations are now going to have VHF and HF radios for monitoring yachts. It's no secret that every year a number of yachts have been illegally stopping in the Lau Group, not having gotten prior authorization. The current military government has placed the Lau Group off-limits — the 'legal' Prime Minister is from Lau — and they fully intend to enforce the law. "If the word gets out that it's a really, really poor idea to try to visit the Lau Group," this source reports, "then only the most dim-witted scofflaws will have their yachts seized and be jailed."


I loved your editorial reply to Bob Minkiewicz regarding his desire to crew on Ticonderoga. I think you hit it on the head, as it doesn't matter how smart, how experienced, or how athletic a person is, if you can't get along immediately — and thereafter — with others in the confines of a boat, then you are going to find yourself on the beach.

As for your description of Brad Avery waiting for years to become part of the Ticonderoga crew, you neglected to mention one very important thing about him. He's not only an incredibly experienced sailor, but is also the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet. I've known Brad my entire life, as he crewed on my dad Tony Duchi's 47-ft PCC Ransom in the late '60's when he was a teenager, terrorizing the Bay and garnering every trophy imaginable, and in the '70s and early '80s on our Tartan 48 Ranger, continuing the winning ways.

In fact, the only person that Brad seemed not to be able to sail with was his father, Charles P. (Chuck) Avery. He was one of Newport Beach's legends and raconteurs, and the owner of the classic 1906 8-meter Synnove III. I think the father/son sailing issues likely had something to do with too many characters with too much knowledge and experience on one boat at one time. Chuck, bless his heart, passed away a few years back at 87 years of age, but ask anyone who ever knew him, he was as universally liked as his son. He lived on "the old bird," as he called her, with his dog Scupper, in front of his brokerage on Lido Way, right up until the end.

But enough of my digressing. The fact is that, even though Brad was an excellent and experienced sailor and super easy to get along with, even he still had a hard time getting on old Ti as a crewmember. Minkiewicz should lighten up a little, as he'll find it pays dividends when it comes to getting rides. Nowadays Brad doesn't have that problem, as he's the head of the School of Sailing and Seamanship at Orange Coast College, and therefore can skipper the 94-ft Pyewacket or any of the other many boats in their fleet. Plus, if he does decide he wants to crew on a boat, you can bet the list of people begging him to crew for them is as long as your arm, single spaced and with a size 8 font, and every one of them will have a boat that's a contender with one of the hottest boats in town. And it's not just because of his sailing skills and knowledge, but because he's a great guy to sail with — and to hang out with after you've (inevitably) won your race thanks to his contributions to making the boat go fast.

John Duchi
12-ft Kite

John — Because of Brad's position as the head of the School of Sailing and Seamanship at Orange Coast College, and because he recently served as the Commodore of the TransPacific YC, we've become pretty good friends with him over the years. We're sure he'll be embarrassed as hell reading what you've written, but we couldn't agree more.

We also have some insight on the father/son sailing issues. As you surely know, Brad likes things just so, but apparently his father enjoyed a much more casual approach to things and life. Brad tells the story of how he once complained to his older brother Rob about having to always row out to Synnove III and back with his dad in a dinghy that leaked terribly. "That's nothing!" Rob is said to have responded. "You're a lot younger, but when dad used to take me sailing, we'd get down to the shore, then have to strip naked, put our clothes into a big spaghetti bowl, and then have to swim out to the boat on a mooring, pushing the bowl in front of us — all because dad was too cheap to buy a dinghy! Going out was bad enough, but after a long weekend of sailing and maybe getting sunburned, we'd get back to the mooring, then have to take our clothes off again, and put them in the spaghetti bowl before reentering the icy water to swim back to shore." Wooden boats, iron men, and all that.

Brad also has a few mixed memories of not-quite weekend trips to Catalina. Thanks to Synnove III not having an engine, he and his dad would sometimes bob for a day or so within a mile or two of Avalon or Two Harbors, but never quite get there. It had to be frustrating for a kid. For the recond, Synnove III was sold to famed naval architect Doug Peterson, under whose ownership she sank at her Newport mooring. She was then shipped to Europe for a meticulous restoration.


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