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February 2010

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I just read Wayne Meretsky's complete report on the loss of Moonduster at and still cannot understand his decisions. He was a couple hours away from the practical hurricane hole — Blue Lagoon — that he had just come from. It would have been downwind to return there, and because he had a GPS track to follow, he could have done it in the dark. Having sailed these waters on our Lagoon 380 Honeymoon in October, I just cannot see why Wayne and Neria stayed where they were, in an anchorage that was good only in easterly winds.

Additionally, why were they even in Fiji, when the rest of the fleet — of insured boats — was in New Zealand or where we sailed to, Australia? I see this as a skipper's desire not to go backward — and it cost him his boat.

Seth Hynes
Honeymoon, Lagoon 380
San Francisco

Seth — Having never been to that part of Fiji, and not having been there when a tropical cyclone was approaching Moonduster, we don't know the answers to your first questions. But as we and many others can attest, Meretsky is a very bright and experienced sailor, so he obviously made what he believed to be the best decisions given the circumstances.

As for why his boat was in a tropical cyclone zone during tropical cyclone season, you might as well ask the same question of everyone who has a boat in the South Pacific, including French Polynesia, at this time of year. There are many hundreds of them. Indeed, you might ask the same question of everyone who has a boat in Florida, the Gulf Coast of the United States, or even the East Coast of the United States all the way up to Newport, RI. All these owners run the risk of their boats' being damaged or destroyed.

Most people who leave their boats in tropical cyclone or hurricane zones don't have any problems — but there certainly is a risk. Meretsky was fully aware of the risk, but it was his misfortune to have rolled snake-eyes. There, but for the grace of god, have gone we, for we've kept boats in active hurricane zones for 14 out of the last 24 years.

One also has to realize there is still plenty of risk in escaping hurricane season by sailing to New Zealand or Australia. A number of boats — and lives — have been lost during these often challenging passages, and that's not even counting the Queen's Birthday Storm of '94, which decimated the fleet of cruisers heading to New Zealand to escape the dangers of hurricane season.

All life is risk. If ultimate safety were the only goal in life, most people wouldn't leave their rooms. Would you rather have flown to Australia than sailed there?


The loss of one's boat — such as Moonduster — is always sad, and those of us who weren't there will always wonder why somebody who lost his boat didn't make different decisions.

We're spending cyclone season in Fiji, like Moonduster was, but in our case, we're at the hidden paradise of Savusavu. We have spent other cyclone/hurricane seasons in areas prone to those storms. For instance, Grenada in '01 and the Sea of Cortez in '05. Thankfully Mick was the first cyclone we experienced while aboard. Here in Savusavu, Mick was a non-event. The most wind we saw was a gust of 32 knots, and we didn't have sustained winds over 25 knots.

I have never met the skipper of Moonduster, though I did see the boat when she was here in Savusavu. Since the loss of Moonduster, I’ve been waiting to hear the skipper's version of the incident and the reasons why he picked Likuliku as an anchorage in which to ride out a storm. We spent time there last August and, after having a forecast for light and variable winds, had 25 knots come up from the southwest. Being on a lee shore with three-foot waves rolling through made for a long night on anchor watch. I personally would not feel comfortable in Likuliku with 25 knots of wind from any direction.

Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, but I'd like to share some of my thoughts and observations as Mick approached. It was on December 12 that we got the news in Savusavu that a tropical depression had formed and was projected to move southeast toward the Fijian group. My immediate thought was that it would intensify as it moved closer to Fiji and the warmer waters of the lagoons. Had I been in the Yasawas, I would have started to move toward a more secure area right then.

The weather report on the morning of the 13th upgraded the depression to a numbered tropical storm, which meant winds of 34 to 63 knots. According to my log entry that morning, the storm was located 300 miles northwest of Nadi, with a predicted track to the southeast between the two main islands of the Fijian group. For some reason, the crew of Moonduster did not get this information. Not only did I get this from the Nadi site, but also from the local Fijian FM radio station and the 'Rag of the Air' SSB. It's true that the SSB net can be difficult to hear in some parts of Fiji because of the frequency but,by this time someone on a vessel in Tonga was reading the high seas weather bulletins from Honolulu about the threats to Fiji.

The weather information Moonduster's skipper received while at the Octopus Resort was misinterpreted. A Category 1 tropical cyclone is the same as a hurricane. That means winds of 63 knots or greater. By then, as he said, it would have been too late to move, but that still would have been my choice.

Spending cyclone seasons aboard your boat requires that you have a plan of action. The first step in the plan should be to move to a secure location as soon as a potential storm develops — if you wait, it can be too late. If you must ride out a blow, you can make preparations to improve your chances. Covered sails should be firmly secured. Roller furling headsails should be removed and stowed below. As much windage as possible needs to be removed.

When Moonduster’s second snubber broke, the skipper said it was the end. Under the conditions, I think it would have been impossible to secure another one. But prior to the blow, it would have been easy to have several snubbers connected to the rode so as one failed another would take up the strain. In addition, anti-fog ski goggles work much better than a dive mask and snorkel. I have a pair of goggles that were designed for operators of personal watercraft. Others who have stayed aboard will have more ideas on what can be done to prepare for such storms.

In closing, I'd like to mention what has become a pet peeve of mine. I don’t feel that mileage under the keel necessarily relates to cruising experience. As I stated in my bio for the ‘99 Ha-Ha, I had over 100,000 miles under the keel — even though I'd never left Newport Harbor! It was true, as I'd been a member of the Harbor Patrol. Cruiser experience would be better gauged by nights at anchor in whatever conditions occur.

Jerry McGraw
Po Oino Roa, Peterson 44
Newport Beach / Savusavu, Fiji
More than 1,600 nights at anchor — and still learning!

Jerry — We fully endorse your recommendation that boats seek the most secure shelter possible at the first hint of hurricanes/tropical cyclones. It may result in many false alarms, but in the long run, it's probably worth it.

For the record, the skipper of Moonduster had lots experience on the hook in Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Mexico again, all the way across the Pacific to New Zealand, and back up to Fiji. And almost all of it was done singlehanded, when even more care and planning is required. Alas, this may not have been the same anchoring experience as avoiding and/or preparing for a tropical cyclone.


I want to thank Wayne Meretsky, the owner/skipper of Moonduster, for being willing to share his blow-by-blow account of the loss of his 47-ft boat to Tropical Cyclone Mick in Fiji, and I also want to thank Latitude for providing such content so we can all learn from the experiences of others.

I do not consider myself experienced enough to second-guess any of the decisions made or actions taken by the skipper of Moonduster. However, I would like to highlight the fact that he had been warned of the hurricane by a Fijian boat man, one who is typically connected to the local environment on a different level and in a different way from those who forecast weather based on 'scientific' data.

I have heard other accounts of islanders — specifically aboriginal islanders off the northeast coast of Australia — who knew a hurricane was coming while the weather services predicted otherwise. I point this out not to argue that Moonduster could have been saved, but so that other cruisers may heed such warnings provided by indigenous islanders and give them more credit.

Jeff Steinmetz
Dana Point

Jeff — Thanks for the kind words, but the real credit goes to Wayne Meretsky, who had the courage to share his story, despite knowing his decisions would be second-guessed and/or criticized to the hilt.

Your suggestion to heed the weather advice of indigenous people is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it would be intriguing if somebody could compare, over time, the record of indigenous people in predicting major weather events versus the record of weather forecasters using modern tools and techniques. Second, if it came down to an indigenous person saying you need to be on the south end of an island to save your boat versus Commander's Weather saying you need to be on the north end of an island, whose advice would you choose? A product of western science, we'd go to the north end of the island. But what about the rest of you?


It was sad to hear about the loss of Wayne Meretsky’s beloved S&S 47 Moonduster, and very interesting to read his account of the storm that wrecked her. I've enjoyed reading Meretsky's previous, well-written reports in Latitude, in part because I have been a longtime admirer of Moonduster — and came very close to buying her 20 years ago. All boats die at some point, and I’m sure everyone who toiled to create and maintain her is happy to know how well-cared for and well-traveled she was.

Peter Cullum
Nirvana, North American 40
York, Maine

Peter — As sad as the loss of Moonduster was, we think you're right; it was much more noble for her to be lost in action than to have died of neglect in some marina.


I believe that 14-year-old Laura Dekker of The Netherlands should be allowed to carry on with her dream of singlehanding around the world. The Dutch government should not have the authority to prevent her making such an attempt.

It's true that she may indeed be too young and inexperienced to complete her trip, but that should be up to her and her parents to decide. This world needs more young people who are willing to put it all on the line.

Maybe she won’t make it, and maybe she'll die trying, but that's what life is all about. I think she's a good role model.

J.R. Smith
Manhattan, Kansas

J.R. — If you think life "is all about" 14-year-olds risking their lives without having any concept of the hazards involved, you and we are on different pages. And could you please elaborate on how the world would benefit by ignorant teens risking their lives? In our view, the world needs kids to have loving parents, and food and shelter in a safe environment, and to be damn near forced to get at least something of an education. Then, when they've turned 18, as least they'd have a tiny bit of the maturity they need to make wise decisions about which risks to take and which to avoid.

As we write this, 16-year-old Jessica Watson of Australia has just rounded Cape Horn in the early stages of her attempt to sail solo non-stop around the world aboard her S&S 34 Ella's Pink Lady. We salute her for what she's accomplished, but still think of it as a foolish stunt that, even if successful, will bring discredit to sailing. Of course, now come the hard parts for Watson. The first part is whether she's able to endure the harsh conditions, both physically and psychologically. The second part is how she'll respond when things break down on her boat, as they surely will. Above all, we wish her good health.


Thanks for the escape. One of the reasons I go sailing is to escape the increasingly mad life ashore. There’s nothing better than the moment you kill the engine, the sails fill with wind and tug at the sheets, and the boat starts moving forward with the just the sound of wind and waves. I’m realizing it’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading Latitude 38.

For all the wonders of this digital world — which I enthusiastically and frequently use — I’m finding that I really enjoy my moments of being ‘unplugged’. Sort of like enjoying the end of a commute.

I remember when I got my driver's license at age 16, and how much I loved to get on the road to drive anywhere and everywhere. For the last decade or so, my online life has been like that of a 16-year-old thrilled at being behind the wheel — except I've been thrilled being at a keyboard.

But now I’m feeling more like a worn down commuter at the keyboard. The world of Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Googling, downloading, YouTubing, and so forth has become an enormous mass of info-tainment. A giant black hole for my vanishing time. At least when I started driving at age 16, I seemed to have all the time in the world.

But the whole planet seems to have gone ADD, as we rarely sit still, contemplate, think, or even sail or relax and read. There’s a reason the blue type on your screen is called a ‘hyperlink’. I’ve decided that it all leads to a hyperlife.

I’m not a Luddite, as I love the internet, love ‘Lectronic Latitude, and am thankful for my car. But what I really love is the time when my sailboat's engine is off and the sails are drawing. Or when I'm relaxed, reading and chuckling through the pages of Latitude. Thanks for the relief!

Bob Smith
WYSIWYG, Catalina 30
San Francisco Bay

Bob — Thanks for the kind words, and you're welcome. We'd hate to live without either the natural world or the digital world, so the challenge for us is finding a balance.


I am constantly impressed by your editorial patience with the bozos who write in complaining about one thing or another. For example, Dennis McMurty's accusation in the December issue that you were guilty of 'racial profiling' when you identified Oprah Winfrey as being African-American. I would have thrown in the towel by now, but you just handle all such letters with great aplomb. Amazing.

Rob Sisk
Boulder, Colorado

Rob — Thanks for the kind words. We enjoy responding to complaints, especially ones such as the one you refer to.


As a licensed 100-ton captain, I was peripherally involved with the tragic and fatal accident during the Christmas boat parade in San Diego on December 20. I have a few comments.

I was on a vessel moored to the dock at Bali High when Sea Tow and other emergency vessels arrived with two of the adult victims and a load of children. I assisted the children off the boat and immediately told a woman, perhaps one of the mothers, to count the kids, take them off the dock, and get them to shore. None of the children were wearing life jackets!

Perhaps wearing a PFD would not have saved the life of eight-year-old Anthony DeWeese, but a PFD is required for all children under 11 when on the water. Why weren't the children wearing them?

I'm also troubled by the fact that there were apparently 13 people on a 26-ft boat.

We highly value and respect the Coast Guard for the service they do for us mariners, but I can't help wondering at all the racing around they do at high speed, and whether it's really required. Especially in crowded waters. Over the years on San Francisco Bay, in Newport Harbor, on Monterey Bay and here in San Diego, I have seen what I have considered to be dangerous and unsafe high speed maneuvers on boats by both the Coast Guard and the local marine patrol or harbor police. From what I could tell, these actions were not only dangerous, but unnecessary. And at times they have caused damage to boats I have skippered.

I'm sure the operator and crew of the Coast Guard boat that slammed into the small powerboat, killing young DeWeese, are devastated by what happened. But they screwed up. This was more than just spinning around and doing donuts; a young boy was needlessly killed and others were seriously injured.

There should be a policy review by all law enforcement agencies with regard to when high speed maneuvers on boats should be used.

Capt. Richard Stock, USCG 100T Master
God's Blessing, Lancer 48
San Diego

Capt. Stock — We think that the PFD issue and number of people on the small boat are all but irrelevant in this case. But we share your concern about how many high speed maneuvers by law enforcement are motivated more by thrill-seeking than by necessity. It would indeed be horrible if the Coast Guard vessel had been operated in a reckless manner simply to go more quickly to the aid of another vessel suffering from something so banal as a grounding. Where was the judgment? A policy review is indeed necessary.

Our heartfelt condolences go to the family of Anthony DeWeese, who needlessly lost his life. We pray that they'll be able to find peace.


I recently read about the tragic Christmas Parade incident in San Diego when an eight-year-old was killed after a Coast Guard boat slammed into the boat he was on. I don't have all the facts, but was instantly reminded of the Clear Lake incident in which Sheriff's Chief Deputy Russell Perdock slammed into the sailboat Beats Workin' II, resulting in the death of Lynn Thornton.

Bill Demeter
Addie L, Yankee 30

Bill — We don't think the two incidents are that similar. In the Clear Lake case, Chief Deputy Perdock was off duty and operating his boat as a private citizen. He was also joy riding at an extremely high rate of speed with near zero visibility. In the case in San Diego, the Coast Guard vessel was being operated by a member of the Coast Guard, who was not only on duty, but apparently responding to a boat that had run aground. The operator's zeal to help the grounded boat may have been the motivation for what appears to have been operating the vessel at too high a speed for the conditions.

The two similarities in the cases are that they were both terrible tragedies in which lives were needlessly lost, and that too much speed and too little visibility were important factors.


Our ‘79 Cal 31 hull #14 is ready to join the 'Over 30 Fleet'. Someone else owned her for the first five years, and I've owned her for the last 25. She's a classic wind/diesel hybrid of that era, utilizing solar venting and lunar-powered tidal assist. At 12 gallons per year, Max Ebb would approve of the fuel-to-passenger ratio, and the Prius people would be amazed.

Dave Peterson
Katherine, Cal 31
Edmonds, Puget Sound

Dave — We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the 'Over 30 Club' is for people who have owned the same boat for over 30 years, not boats that are more than 30 years old. But keep the faith, as you're almost there.


I had the misfortune of losing the rubber thrust bearing unit on my Cal 2-29’s Farymann diesel upon delivery in '05. While waiting for a replacement from Germany, I installed a drop-down bracket and a short-shaft Yamaha 9.9-hp outboard. This sufficed to move my 8,000-lb vessel through the water at approximately 5 knots — and avoided cavitation in all but the worst conditions. I chose a short-shaft outboard so that it could double as my dinghy motor.

Now for the bad side: My wife affectionately referred to the Yamaha as "the egg beater," and for good reason. Reverse thrust was minimal at best, and maneuvering in close quarters in a breeze was always touch-and-go. And I mean that literally. Raising and lowering the engine and bracket was always a pain in my back, which has already had three surgeries. And hanging off the back of the boat at odd angles to start the outboard and adjust the throttle was risky and disorienting.

Having a long shaft deeper in the water might have alleviated some of the problems, but don’t forget that most outboard props are pitched for higher — rather than lower — speed applications. Did I mention the drag created while sailing, even when both the bracket and engine were raised?

My advice to people hoping to get around fixing or replacing their diesel is to forget about it. Get the engine the boat was designed to have, thereby avoiding various hassles — and embarrassment at the dock.

Thanks to Latitude for a wonderful magazine, and to all the sailors who share their adventures for the rest of us to enjoy. I hope to have some adventures to share when the wife and I go to the 'dark side' and head 'south till the butter melts' in 2012.

Clinton Rogers
Minha Joia, Cal 2-29
Pt. Richmond

Clinton — Thanks for the kind words. We look forward to being out there with you in two years.


In recent Latitudes there has been some discussion about who was required to stay clear of whom when the Marquesas 56 Dolce Vita was motoring during the last leg of the Ha-Ha and a boat under sail crossed a very short distance in front of her. While the boat under power had to give way, isn't it also true that the 'stand-on' vessel, meaning the one with the right-of-way, was required to maintain a predictable course so that the 'give-way' vessel could alter course appropriately and with confidence?

I mention this only because, in crossings between two well-informed skippers, there might be an inclination for the stand-on vessel to attempt to politely assist in making the crossing easier for the give-way boat by altering course slightly. I would be against this. While I'm all for politeness on the water, in most cases it would be better for the stand-on vessel to just hold its course, right?

Stewart Gilbert
Sea Castle, Tayana 42 PH Trawler
Loch Lomond Marina

Stewart — Timing is everything. If the skipper of the stand-on vessel decides to be polite a half-mile in advance of a crossing situation, that's just fine. But if he/she waits until the two boats are 150 feet or so from a collision, he/she better not be polite, but rather follow the rules of the road by sailing a consistent course in order to provide the give-way vessel the best chance to avoid a collision.

Oddly enough, even boats in mid-ocean are sometimes slow to avoid potential collisions. We remember covering a Pacific Cup about 15 years ago when one skipper groused to us about having to make a crash jibe when on port halfway to Hawaii in order not to collide with a boat on starboard. "The shock load on the vang ended up bending our toerail," he complained. "That was you?" laughed Jonathan Livingston of the Wylie 38 Punk Dolphin, who had overheard the conversation. "You were on port," the Birdman cautioned, "so you never should have gotten close enough to me to require a crash jibe." He was right. Altering course to prevent collisions is sort of like reefing. As soon as the idea crosses your mind, you should probably act on it.


That was a great piece on the Royal Hong Kong YC in the January 4 'Lectronic. In it, you said you knew two members. Well, you actually know three, because I've been a member since '86 — and am still a current member, although with 'Absent' status. I lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, and truly enjoyed the people, the club and facilities.

But I want to point out that the club's main building was originally built as a munitions storage facility. You might have gotten hints of that from visiting the 'cave' restaurant on the ground floor. It was built to store gunpowder, not to provideambience for diners.

We miss being in Baja this year. We had a great time doing the Ha-Ha in '08 and met many terrific people!

Scott Brear
Samantha, Nauticat 38


Some weeks ago in 'Lectronic you had a piece on the Royal Hong Kong YC in which you mentioned its bowling facilities. As a former member of the Grosse Pointe YC in Michigan, I'd like you to know that my club had six lanes to the Royal Hong Kong's four lanes. So much for inter-club rivalry.

The Grosse Pointe's bowling center is important to the club, as it provides a great opportunity for the members to do something other than go crazy during winters in Michigan.

By the way, the club's roots reach back to 1914, when 25 men from Detroit formed a club to pursue their interest in ice boating and sailing on Lake St. Clair.

Paul Wehmeier
Victory, Islander 36
Palos Verdes


The Wanderer's 'Lectronic Latitude comments on the Royal Hong Kong YC brought to mind a day of racing there that I was fortunate to have experienced about 15 years ago. As you noted, the club's fleet is not all as 'royal' as the club’s name might suggest, so I managed to get a ride on a 23-ft one design by showing up on a Saturday and making my availability known. About 20 boats competed in blustery conditions, so when it was all over, we were pretty tired.

What is most memorable about that day is what happened when we got back to the club dock. As the boats were dry sailed, I assumed we would be spending some time in the haul-out queue before heading to the bar for a rehash of the day. But after we tied up to the dock, I was informed that the club staff would attend to hauling the boat and there was no need to wait around. I was also rebuffed when I attempted to pick up beer cans and other debris from inside the boat. I was informed that it was the 'boat coolie's' job, and he would be disappointed if we took away the empty cans. After all, the salvage value of those cans represented part of his bounty for clean-up services.

Ever since that day, I have always yearned for the time when I could have a 'boat coolie' of my own.

So while the Royal Hong Kong YC's boats aren't in a stature of the club's name, the members are accorded some royal treatment nonetheless.

Ed Fagan
Shebeen, J/30
Ipswich, Massachusetts

Ed — 'Coolie', which can be traced back to the Hindu word for 'day laborer', was first used in the early 1700s to describe dock laborers who unloaded Dutch merchant ships at Nagasaki, Japan. For a long time it was a descriptive word designating a low-status worker in the Far East. But over centuries of colonialism, it became a slur, and is now considered to be a racial epithet. So while we know what you mean, be careful what you wish for in public.

By the way, having just completed a month's tour of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, we can't believe the amount of manual labor still being done in that part of the world. And much of it is done by middle-aged or older women. In fact, in a catfight between Kim Kardashian and a scrawny 45-year-old woman who walks around Hanoi with an entire small restaurant balanced on her shoulder with the help of an eight-foot bamboo pole, we're betting Kim gets her big, pampered bottom whipped. In any event, she'd surely lose the battle for dignity.


I just picked up my January issue of Latitude and am enjoying the great reading — especially the editorial replies to letters you receive.

But I just learned about a move by the State Water Resources Control Board to try to get the Legislature and the governor to allow it to get into the pollution regulation business for all coastal marinas. That would include all marinas in San Francisco Bay and the Delta.

I believe this would be a huge expansion of its role, and the role of the state government in general. I also think it's completely misguided, particularly at a time when the state is already suffering unprecedented financial distress. I have written to my state senator, assemblymember, the governor and the executive director of the Water Board to express my opposition to this plan.

I hope that the boaters in the state will get to see some coverage of this very serious issue in Latitude in the coming months.

Alan Bradley
Vivacia, Caliber 40LRC

Alan — We applaud your civic-mindedness and initiative in contacting your lawmakers. We encourage readers to follow your lead. You can read more about this issue in Sightings.


In the January 8 'Lectronic, you asked for comment on two incidents/actions in the most recent Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. The first was whether the skipper and crew of the Roberts 53 Pelican should have abandoned their boat after she was dismasted and lost the use of her engine 300 miles west of the Cape Verdes, and whether they should have scuttled the boat. The second question was whether the skipper of Silver Bear should have, as he did, slowed down and followed the 25-ft non-ARC boat Star Fire, which had lost her rudder, for the last 1,700 miles to the West Indies. Or he should have insisted that the crew abandon their boat and come the rest of the way across aboard Silver Bear.

With regard to Pelican, I think it would be arrogant to second-guess the skipper's decision to abandon the boat, but I would have scuttled her so she wouldn't have become a hazard to navigation.

In the case of the skipper of Silver Bear, I would have made the same decision and escorted the smaller boat across. The vagaries of the ARC make it problematic that helping another sailor rescue his boat would make any difference in the outcome of the race. Skipper Ray Lawry of Silver Bear has his priorities in order.

Bob Nowak
Columbia Defender
El Cajon

Bob — We'd like to remind everyone that the questions we asked were meant to be broad, hypothetical questions. There are so many details about the skippers, crew and boats that we don't know, that we asked the questions as a mental exercise, not as a way of setting up anyone for criticism.

It's also interesting that about one third of the people who responded to our questions assumed that the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) is some sort of race. It's no more a race than the Ha-Ha is, and the Ha-Ha is no race at all. While there is a tiny racing division in the ARC, only a very small percentage of the 220 entries could give a hoot about who wins.

In addition, about a third of the respondents believe that racers in general are so crazed by the idea of victory that they'd never slow down or stop to help another boat in distress. We have no idea how this myth came to be, but it's just that, a myth. For one thing, racers do have their priorities in order, and on countless occasions have come to the aid of boats in distress, including boats that weren't racing. Secondly, they need not worry about its costing them the race, as race committees can credit them for the time spent coming to the assistance of another vessel.


The questions you posed are damn good real-life questions.

Scenario #1: A relatively safe transfer in the middle of the ocean beats an unknown future approaching a lee shore weeks later and hoping a tow can be planned. I vote for stepping off the boat when they did.

Scenario #2: A skipper has the right to stay in their boat until ordered off by an appropriate authority. I think it would have been all right for the owner of Star Fire to politely refuse aid, but if some of the crew had wanted off the boat, then they would have been welcomed aboard my boat.

Would I have stayed around and slowly escorted Star Fire as Silver Bear did? It would have depended on the skill of the Star Fire crew and their equipment. If they were very experienced and well-equipped — meaning food, SSB, EPIRB, sat phone and so forth. I probably would have been on my way as their speed was probably no slower than that of vessels a century ago. If they were novices and their boat was ill-equipped, I definitely would have been the Good Samaritan and seen them to port safely.

No, wait. The more I think about it, the more I think I would feel terrible if something happened to them and I could have helped. I'd have stuck with them either way.

Jay Sorensen
Mostly Harmless, Catalina 38
San Diego


Unless Pelican had been in imminent danger of foundering, I would have been inclined to try to jury rig some kind of sail, figure out an antenna for the radio, and press on. That said, the skipper was in the best position to make the call. My only real question about the incident regards his decision to abandon, rather than scuttle, her. There may have been reasons to leave her drifting, but to my mind they’d have to be good. From her photo, she looks like about 40 tons of hazard to navigation.

I heartily endorse the decision of Capt. Lawry on Silver Bear to escort Star Fire and her crew. Saving the crew is the first priority, just above saving the vessel. It sounds as if Star Fire was sound except for her rudder, so they'd make it to port, albeit slowly. Far more important, the two boats would make it to port together, still afloat and upright. And there would be one helluva victory celebration when they finally got there. I hope they kept the bars open late in St. Lucia on the night the boats arrived. I would imagine that escorting the smaller boat would have been more satisfying than winning the rally.

Bob Schilling
Tuckernuck, Cherubini 44
Long Beach

Bob — The members of the ARC fleet greeted the skipper and crew of Silver Bear as heroes, with a long and thunderous ovation when they pulled up to the dock.

But once again, there is no 'winning' the ARC. It's a cruising rally where the 'winners' are those who have the most fun going across.


I’ll guess that Lawry spent more prepping Silver Bear for the ARC than the two waywards on Star Fire spent on their entire boat. I'd have told the two to grab all their food, get on my boat — and do it now!

Bruce Conn
Trabuco Canyon

Bruce — While your opinion is definitely in the minority, if the boat in question was an unprepared and decrepit wreck, we might do the same thing.


Not being a Wall Street or software zillionaire, nor having inherited a ton of money, and being a waste-not-want-not sort, I think I’d have stayed aboard Pelican and tried to jury-rig something or tried to buy a tow. Anything but abandoning her to become a navigation and pollution hazard and having to replace her.

Had I been the skipper of Silver Bear, I'd have done the same thing that he did — especially if it appeared the smaller boat meant a lot to her skipper. Had I been aboard the smaller boat and a ‘rescuer’ insisted I either come aboard or go to hell, I’d bid the rescuer bon voyage and watch them sail away. Assuming my small boat was still pretty sound, of course. It's easy to say what we'd do, of course, from the comfort of our homes.

Brooks Townes
Weaverville, North Carolina

Brooks — The interesting thing about Pelican's position is that she was 300 miles west of the Cape Verdes. That means she was already in the trades, and that a tow back to the Cape Verdes would have been almost as physically impossible as it would have been prohibitively expensive. Drifting to the Eastern Caribbean, on the other hand, would have been inevitable. That's assuming, of course, that one could put up with what would have been the terrible motion of the disabled boat. For the record, people have intentionally drifted this same course across the Atlantic in the prototype of a Zodiac inflatable and in an inflatable kayak, and in the case of Steve Callahan, unintentionally drifted across for 76 days in his liferaft after his boat was sunk by a whale.

We received many more responses to these questions than we could publish. While there was considerable disagreement about the Pelican situation, and in particularly about scuttling her, readers almost unanimously said they, like the skipper of Silver Bear, would have escorted Star Fire across the Atlantic to port. It's enough to give one faith in humanity.


You guys have a wealth of experience sailing in Mexico, and I'm wondering if you know of anywhere to keep a boat down there inexpensively. Is there anywhere one can purchase a mooring? Are there any safe places to leave your boat anchored for extended periods of time?

Name Withheld by Request
Planet Earth

N.W.B.R. — The most popular places to leave boats on moorings or on their own hooks are La Paz, the Waiting Room just outside Puerto Escondido, San Carlos, and to a lesser extent, Barra de Navidad, Tenacatita Bay and Punta Mita. But there are major risks. In recent years almost all of the boats driven ashore or destroyed by tropical storms in Mexico were unattended. Furthermore, obviously unattended boats seem to emit a siren's call to anyone with tendencies toward sticky fingers.

For short periods of time — maybe two months — it's not uncommon for one cruiser to watch over another cruiser's boat. And from time to time, some cruisers have watched over several unattended boats for a monthly fee. Under the table, of course.

Back in the mid-'80s, we left our Ocean 71 Big O unattended on the hook at Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands, for several months of hurricane season. Although nothing bad ever happened, we look back on it as one of the most foolish and irresponsible things we've ever done. And that's saying a lot. There was no way that the tremendous risk to our boat and other boats was worth the comparatively paltry savings.


I know you’re still recovering from last year's Ha-Ha, but we're planning to do our first next year and have a question. Is there an airport in Mexico where someone could fly to join us at one of the two Ha-Ha stops?

Alan Bradley
Planet Earth

Alan — There is an airport at Turtle Bay, but you'd have to charter a plane from Ensenada. When we've had to fly people out with medical emergencies, the tab has come to about $4,000. So unless you know a private pilot who would be happy to do it for fun or fuel money, it's probably cost prohibitive.

There is no airport anywhere near Bahia Santa Maria. However, there is one at La Paz, and every year the rock 'n roll band comes from La Paz to BSM to play for the fleet. It's a long trip and involves crossing the inland waterway and driving many miles down the beach at low tide, but it can be done. Unfortunately, we have no idea how someone could arrange it.


While reading the January issue letters, I came across the following comment. "I don't rely on the Coast Guard anymore."

I've been sailing for just four years, and maybe I've got it all wrong, but having been down the coast in all conditions, I never once found myself relying on the Coast Guard. I’m glad to know, however, that if I’ve prepared myself and my boat properly, and still have an emergency that I can’t handle, I can call them and they will try to save my life.

But if anyone thinks the Coasties are there to save your property, they need to read up on the regulations. You don’t call the Coast Guard for a leaky stuffing box, you only call them when your life is in the balance, and when you know you’ve already done all that you can to save your own ass.

People who sail should respect the sea, know their boat, prepare for the worst and use their heads. If they do, they'll be very happy sailing. And in the event you do something like colliding with a whale, don’t immediately jump to the radio and scream for help. Rather assess the situation, take control, make a plan and take action. It should take only a matter of minutes. If you feel that you can't do this, don't sail on the ocean.

As for the Coast Guard, I think of them as heroes, each and every one of them.

John Gardner
Mai Tai, Catalina 27
Owl Harbor, Isleton

John — We think what the reader who wrote that he no longer relies on the Coast Guard may have meant that he no longer relies on them as he did pre-'82 when they were like a watergoing AAA road service and did countless missions to save property. He's right to think that way.

We're not sure if you were making reference to the skipper of J World when you said that, just because your boat gets hit by a whale, it doesn't mean you should immediately get on the radio and "scream for help." For the record, Eugenie Russell, skipper of J World did exactly what you recommended a skipper in that situation do.


Back in the '60s, a lot of boaters went out on San Francisco Bay knowing they might not have enough fuel, that their engine might not restart, or that their leaky boat might get worse in a seaway. Not to worry though, as the Coast Guard would bring them fuel, jump-start their engine, pump out their leaker, and/or tow them back to their marina for free. The Coast Guard was very busy on weekends, especially during the summer, running from one deadbeat boater to the next.

During those years I ran a shoestring towing and salvage operation out of Sausalito, and often picked up tows by monitoring the VHF. The Coast Guard could get so backed up with calls on a nice days that they might have to tell somebody who radioed them at 1 p.m. that they wouldn't be able to come to their aid until 5 p.m. — or later -— because they had so many calls ahead of them. I would then chime in on the radio and offer my services, and as often as not, I would get the tow.

Laws were already on the books saying that the Coast Guard should give private towers and salvors priority unless life or limb were at risk. But the Coast Guard didn't always follow this rule, so much of the boating public treated the Coast Guard like a free AAA service on the water.

It was one day in the late '70s when a guy who ran a towing service, and who had made a verbal contract over the VHF to tow a yacht, arrived on the scene to find the Coast Guard ready to throw a line to the boat in need of help. The tow operator demanded that the Coast Guard give him the tow, citing both the regulations on the books and the fact that he had traveled to the scene based on a contract with the yachtsman.

The Coast Guard towed the yacht anyway, leaving the guy with the towing service hopping mad. It turns out the guy was a freshly retired Coast Guard officer of considerable rank who knew what he was talking about. He went to Washington and was successful in lobbying to have teeth put into the regulations giving priority to private towing services. That's when the era of licensed commercial towing of pleasure boats began.

John Dervin


In September of this year, a friend and I were in a situation where, on the delivery of a sailboat from San Diego to San Francisco, we lost power. Then a chainplate broke, leaving us unable to sail. As a result, we were stranded in moderately heavy weather several miles off the coast of Monterey.

We called the Coast Guard, but since we weren't in a life-threatening situation — at least at that moment — they opted to call a tow service for us. Several hours later we were under tow by a local firm. Being towed in heavy seas at night was not a fun adventure, to say the least, but it beat the alternative of helplessly drifting around out there.

Approximately 12 hours after first contacting the Coast Guard, we were secured at a slip in Monterey. Should the Coast Guard have responded with their own vessel? I don't think so. Furthermore, I feel they did the correct thing by making an announcement over the VHF that a vessel was in distress and needed a tow.

My biggest criticism of the Coast Guard was the length of time and number of VHF discussions needed before they made their decision not to respond themselves.

I believe the Coast Guard is for rescuing people, not boats. Without getting into a philosophical discussion of 'big brother' and whether he should protect us from ourselves, it seems to me that the American public has grown to expect someone will always be there to help when we screw up. And not only help us as individuals, but help with our material possessions as well. I think that is a mistake.

John Joiner
Content, Pacific Seacraft 37

Readers — About eight or nine years ago, we had an interesting non-incident with Coast Guard Monterey and Profligate. For reasons we never fully understood, our delivery crew decided to head north from Santa Barbara for San Francisco despite the fact that there were gale warnings flying from Oregon to Pt. Conception. The boat and crew got hit right around Pt. Sur. Despite winds of 45 knots with gusts to over 50 knots, and buoy readings of 23-ft seas, the crew decided to soldier into it, despite already having lost one engine. But since it was 9 p.m., to be on the safe side they called Coast Guard Monterey — not for assistance, but just to let them know they were out there in case something suddenly went bad.

The Coast Guard called us at our office, where we were working late. They wanted to advise us that they were going out to "rescue" our cat. When we asked what they meant by "rescue," they said they were going to tow her in to Monterey. Despite the gravity of the situation, the thought of anyone trying to tow a 63-ft cat into 45-knot winds and 23-ft seas made us laugh. So we asked them if they could wait a second while we called our crew.

Fortunately, we could reach our captain by cell phone. He told us they were fine and didn't need any help from the Coast Guard. They just wanted the Coasties to know they were out there. So either there had been some miscommunication, or Coast Guard Monterey was going to attempt to save our catamaran — despite the fact that no lives were in danger. When we called the Coast Guard back to tell them their help wasn't needed, they specifically asked if we were taking responsibility for calling off the rescue. We told them that we were.

Having taken care of that business, we called our crew back and told them to turn the hell around and run with the wind and seas. As soon as they did, Profligate 'sailed' downwind in relative comfort at five to 12 knots, powered only by the force of the wind on her structure. The crew stopped being seasick, and lived more or less happily ever after.


In the December 23 'Lectronic, you asked readers for examples of quick fixes employed for problems experienced while cruising. About eight years ago I anchored for a week's cruise in Tomales Bay, where for all practical purposes there are no dock or marina facilities with water deep enough for a keelboat. As a result, all errands had to be run by dink.

At the time, my dink was powered by a '69 Evinrude 6-hp outboard. At nearly 40 years of age, it almost qualified as an antique. And it had been a hard 40 years. While getting out of the dinghy ashore one time during the cruise in Tomales Bay, a crewmember accidentally stepped on the outboard’s tiller handle. The handle, along with the twist grip throttle, snapped off! That left me with no way to steer or adjust the throttle.

Luckily, I had the most frequently used fix-it materials — duct tape, a metal coat hanger and a broom stick. All right, it was actually the wooden handle of a deck brush. I was able to shorten the 'broom stick' to the appropriate length using a hacksaw, and duct taped it to the stub of the broken steering handle. After straightening out a coat hanger and shortening it, I bent a loop in one end that allowed me — using some more duct tape and zip ties — to capture the remains of the throttle lever on the outboard’s carburetor. I then ran the other end of the coat hanger along the 'broom stick' and secured it to the 'broom stick' with more zip ties. That allowed the coat hanger to slide in and out, and to work the throttle. Presto, we were back in business! Too bad we didn't take any photos.

By the way, while metal coat hangers do tend to leave rust stains on clothes on boats, they are great for many other things. For example, twisting a hook into one end and duct taping the other to a halyard — with a downhaul line, of course — to retrieve another halyard that goes up the mast. Or to clear clogs in sink drain hoses, or retrieve tools lost in the bilge.

Peter Hine
Enigma II, Catalina 27


While I was sailing my Farrier trimaran in the Bahamas, my tiller parted company with my rudder. I found that my dinghy oars and duct tape came in handy in temporarily remedying the situation.

Bill Quigley
Tatiana, Farrier 32
San Francisco


My brother and I did our Ha-Ha in '90. We called it Baja Ah-Ha, or Adventures in Insanity (Insanity being the name of our boat).

After the Ha-Ha, we spent some time in Tenacatita Bay. In fact, for the three weeks we were there, ours was the only boat. We continued on to Puerto Vallarta where, for the first time in five weeks, we tried to plug into shorepower. Unfortunately, our plug didn’t fit the dock receptacle. We were standing around pondering our fate when another cruiser came by and asked what the problem was. When we explained, he said, "No problem, I have an international adapter that will work. Give me your cord and I’ll be right back." We were stoked. The accompanying photo says it all about his solution. All we had to do was plug the two bare wires into the receptacle, and we had power.

There was only one problem. The arrangement wasn't grounded, so when it was wet, the whole dock gave us a tingly feeling.

P.S. I go up to the Cabrillo Monument every year to watch the start of the Ha-Ha. I always wish that I could join the fun.

Barney Van Fleet
Seaquestered, Hunter Legend 35.5
San Diego

Barney — We're glad your solution worked for you, but we're always hesitant when it comes to getting too creative with wiring around water. Maybe it had something to do with a sailor's being electrocuted when swimming at the docks in Las Hadas a couple of years after that marina opened. And could there not be reverse polarity issues that could cause significant damage to one's boat electronics?


In the 16 years of our partially completed westabout circumnavigation, we've visited about 30 countries. In doing so, the only thing we’ve found consistent about shore power plugs is that there is no consistency at all. On a couple of occasions, we’ve had to plug bare wires into shorepower outlets as a matter of desperation.

When we plan to spend more than a day or two in a marina, we break down and buy whatever plug fits the local outlet. Having completed three-quarters of our circumnavigation, we've accumulated quite a collection of 20-odd plugs of various shapes, sizes, colors, pin patterns and amp ratings. And along the way, I installed a stepdown transformer on Moonshadow so that we could convert 240 volts to our 110 volt house system.

In some parts of the world blessed with 'nautical stairways' of marinas, we've nonetheless still found there was no consistency in the shore power outlets. In this case, Murphy’s Law states, "The plug that you used in the last marina will not work in the next marina." Furthermore, you will have to get out the screwdriver and change the plug before you can plug into shorepower, delaying sundowners for at least a half an hour.

It was more from being lazy than being a genius that I made up three pigtails with various plugs to attach to a standard U.S.-type male shorepower plug end. The couple of hours of work during a calm passage has saved us many times when we arrive tired — and thirsty — at a new marina. The attached photo shows three of the most common plugs used in Mediterranean marinas.

George Backhus & Merima Jaferi
Moonshadow, Deerfoot 62
Lying Monsastir, Tunisia / Auckland, NZ / Sausalito


While I was motorsailing my Hunter 54 Topaz from La Paz back to San Diego, the water pump-alternator belt broke. With no spare belt aboard, and my being hundreds of miles from anywhere, it was going to be a long Bash under sail alone. My solar panels could charge my batteries, but without a water pump to keep the engine cool, there was no way I could motor into the swells.

My solution was to practice my splicing skills on three-strand nylon line to make a 'belt' that would at least turn the water pump. After several tries to get a tight belt with no means to adjust the tension, I achieved success! In fact, one such spliced 'belt' lasted almost all the way from Bahia Santa Maria to San Diego — and was still going strong.

I now have several sized spare belts, including a 'universal', aboard. Nonetheless, I kept the three-strand belt as a memento.

Thomas W. Todd
Topaz, Hunter 54
San Diego

Thomas — Brilliant! But of all people, we can't believe that someone like you would start a Bash without the most basic of spares. We'd have thought you'd be more likely to show up for work without your pants.

Of all the 'creative fix' responses we've gotten, we were disappointed that nobody wrote in explaining how they compression-started their diesel after the starter battery died. Maybe next month.


I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but take a look at the photo in December 23's 'Lectronic Latitude of the kids enjoying their first sailboat ride at last year's SailFest in Zihua. I’d feel a lot happier for them if they were wearing PFDs. I don't know or care if it's the law in Mexico, it's the right thing to do. I've got a funny feeling that I'm not the only person to bring this up.

Steve Brenner
Necessity, Ericson 25
Santa Cruz

Steve — Actually, you were the only one to bring it up.

For the record, California law requires only children 11 and younger to wear PFDs if riding on boats 26 feet or smaller (unless they're harnessed in or in an enclosed cabin). We searched the internet, scoured several Mexico cruising guides, and even emailed some contacts down south, but could not find a single mention of such a law in Mexico. If there is one, it's a well-kept secret.

Of course, the fact that the law doesn't require kids to wear PFDs doesn't mean they shouldn't. We can't imagine anything more tragic than losing a child when it could have been easily prevented.


It's a little late, but we wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed the Ha-Ha again, and how much we appreciate the many hours of hard work put in by the Poobah, Andy, Doña and all the staff. I wouldn’t think it's much of a vacation for any of you, but all of you continue to work so hard for the continued success of a great rally for us sailors, both beginners and veterans.

Mary Ferro & Steve Coleman
Bluzz, Swan 42
Vets of the '07 and '09 Ha-Ha's

Mary and Steve — Thanks for the kind words. It was great having you along once again. Putting on the Ha-Ha is indeed a lot of work, but it's really satisfying work. We hope that you can join us again sometime.


We just wanted to say how much we enjoyed the Ha-Ha. The rally was an important goal of ours, and we're so proud for having accomplished it. Having such a great experience so early in our cruising life has made for great memories that we will treasure and will enjoy telling often.

As we look back on the time we spent preparing for the event, it seems like a blur, and not much thought — probably a good thing — was given to departure day. So when the Grand Poobah said it was time to go, we didn't think, we just went! Had it not been for that deadline, I'm sure many of the boats in the Ha-Ha would still be tied up to the docks in California, talking about how they still needed to repair the watermaker or apply another coat of varnish.

As many have said before, making what will be lifelong friends was the most precious part of the Ha-Ha. Based on meeting the Poobah, Doña de Mallorca and the crew of Profligate, it was clear that you all put your hearts into making it a special event. Although the Poobah does a good job of stressing the need for boats to be self-reliant, we enjoyed many of the responses the Poobah gave on the morning nets to people who weren't as self-reliant as they could have been. The Poobah must have been shaking his head at times.

And let's not forget the jam sessions, which were great fun.

Not being from the Bay Area, I'd only read Latitude from time to time. But having met the Poobah and Mr. Puddle Jump Turpin, we find it now even more enjoyable to read.

After the Ha-Ha we had a great time stopping at all the anchorages on the way from Cabo up to La Paz. We had a wonderful crossing to Mazatlan, and will stay here for a week before heading down the coast to Puerto Vallarta. Having friends and family visit — we never thought they'd take us up on our offer — has been keeping us in touch and connected to our roots.

We hope our paths will cross in other wonderful ports around the world.

Vicki & Larry Byers, Andrew Bartels
Rocinante, Passport 40

Vicki, Larry and Andrew — Thanks for the very, very kind words. Every time somebody got on the net and asked us what might have seemed to many to be a question with an obvious answer, we just recalled the days when we first sailed to Mexico. We'd have asked the same stuff. So the questions never bother us.

For the record, Latitude doesn't solicit letters praising the Ha-Ha. If anybody who has done a Ha-Ha would like to write a negative letter, we would publish it. We even publish letters critical of the Ha-Ha by people who haven't done one — and therefore don't know what they're talking about — provided they aren't riddled with factual errors and libel.


I want to go on record as being against the U.S.-based environmental organization Sea Watch's soliciting cruisers to report any illegal fishing practices they might see while in Mexican waters. Asking cruisers to be snitches increases the chance of cruisers — who may not even understand the issues — being attacked by those who are fishing illegally.

I believe that enforcement ought to be left to Mexican authorities who are trained, equipped, and paid to enforce Mexican fishing laws. No good can come from recruiting foreign cruisers to spy on Mexican fishermen and report on possible violations.

Steve Knight
Wandering Star, Islander 37
San Francisco

Steve — We don't recommend that cruisers 'spy' on Mexican fishermen, but we do recommend that they report significant violations. The Mexican government doesn't have the resources necessary to monitor all fishing within its waters, and therefore has — at least indirectly — asked for assistance. For the full story on this topic, see this month's Sightings.

By the way, is there a word whose pejorative connotation has cost more lives than 'snitching'? In too many communities around the United States — and the Bay Area — it's considered less heinous to kill someone than it is to report a murder to the police because the latter would be 'snitching'. It's therefore half-tragic and half-comedic to listen to the residents of those devastated communities wonder why so many members of their neighborhoods end up dead. What part of the relationship between cause and effect don't they understand?


I just finished reading the article about the sinking of J World after hitting a whale during November's Baja Ha-Ha, and would like to make a few comments. First, thank goodness everybody survived and no serious injuries were incurred.

Second, who came up with the stupid 'rule' that one should only 'step up into a liferaft'? A liferaft has a freeboard of what, a foot or maybe 18 inches? When a boat is holed and starts sinking, either the hole can be plugged or it can’t. In the case of J World, only a watertight compartment would have prevented her from sinking. And when there is a hole, the water pressure increases as the boat gets lower in the water, making it sink even faster.

Deploying the liferaft early allows time for the ditch bag, supplies and people to get into the raft without panic. Also, a sailboat is full of hazards — halyards, sheets, lifelines, stays and shrouds. Getting into the liferaft before the decks are awash allows time to get away from these hazards. So I'm still amazed when I hear 'professionals' talk about "stepping up into the liferaft!"

I was also interested to read that the crew was concerned whether or not their EPIRB signal had been heard, since they couldn't contact anybody via VHF or SSB. I'm not sure if J World had DSC capability or if that was tried. I believe that an Iridium satellite phone is critical for safety when going offshore. Had the J World crew had such a phone, they could have called the Coast Guard to confirm that their emergency was real and to find out what the Coast Guard's response time would be.

A second call could have been made to a shore contact. During our crossings, we always have one person on land who is the point person for contacting the rest of the crew's family, friends, and so forth. And when the crew in a liferaft has a satphone, they can make regular calls to the Coast Guard to let them know how they are doing and to get updates on when help might arrive. Battery management is important.

I hope my comments will help people think about and practice ditching, and to have multiple methods of communication with shore.

Dave Mulmat
Flying Shadow, Beneteau First 47.7
San Diego

Dave — It's our understanding that the 'only step up into a liferaft' recommendation is a result of liferafts being launched prematurely, either in cases where the boat ultimately didn't sink and those who got into the liferaft died — as happened in the tragic Fastnet Storm of '79 — or in cases where a prematurely inflated liferaft simply blew away. As Capt. Russell told us after the J World experience, the circumstances in a particular emergency situation often dictate that the normal 'rules' not be followed.

J World almost immediately lost the use of their SSB from the electronics getting wet. Her VHF calls for help probably weren't heard because she was somewhat out of sync with the rest of the fleet, having previously put into Ensenada overnight because of battery charging issues.

Noting how psychologically beneficial it would have been for the J World crew in the liferaft to know if their EPIRB signal had been heard and when help was coming, in the same issue of Latitude we reviewed the pros and cons of each of the methods that can be used to call for help. The downside of the Iridium is that it's not a waterproof phone, so in the case of J World, it may have been two hours or more before they'd gotten enough water out of the raft to risk exposing the phone to the elements. That said, we always carry an Iridium on Profligate, and highly recommend that others do, too. They can be rented by the week or month for events such as the Ha-Ha.

Having never used a Spot Messenger, another widely used way to alert friends and authorities onshore of the need for help, and also to pass along other messages, we asked readers who have used them to comment on their usefulness. Several of those letters follow.


In the December issue you asked for real world experiences with the Spot satellite GPS messenger, particularly as the device may have been helpful in situations such as the sinking of J World during the Ha-Ha.

I bought one of the units on sale at West Marine a year ago, after a two-week cruise to Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands. A friend of mine had wanted me to stay in touch, as she was concerned about my sailing alone so far from my home base of San Pedro. I thought I had explained that I would probably be out of cell phone range once I left Catalina, but probably didn’t make it clear about how long it would be before I could check in, or just how isolated these islands are.

After being roundly chastised by my friend for "at least not using a pay phone," I promised to come up with a way to communicate better, and that was the Spot. The Spot couldn’t be easier to use. You just turn it on and push a button, though it does take a few minutes to get a fix before you can press one of the three buttons.

I can’t say I use the Spot frequently. However, if I have mentioned to my worrying friend that I'm going sailing, I make sure to push the 'OK' button when I arrive at my destination, and also when I return home.

I haven’t had a need to use the 911 or Help buttons, but I have set up the call parameters for these. In addition to my friend, I also email/text my brother, who is a competent sailor and knows my boat. My brother likes that the GPS position for my boat comes with the message and pastes it into Google Earth for a graphic of where I am. In general the web interface for Spot is pretty good and getting better.

With 406 EPIRB units now for under $500, I am seriously considering buying one of those as well. But the Spot does at least two things the EPIRB doesn’t do. It lets me send 'I'm OK' messages to people and, for an annual premium, it lets me record a track of my passage using a multi-button sequence on the Spot. I don’t need this for myself, as I regularly download the GPS track from my Garmin 276C, but when I retire this year and start doing extensive cruising in the Channel Islands and, hopefully, join the Ha-Ha, it will be nice to let folks at home see where I am.

Jeffrey A. LaBarre
Imagination, Cal 31
San Pedro


I've had my Spot personal tracker for almost two years now, and have liked it so much that I've convinced several other people to buy one. I am not a dealer nor do I work for Spot, but I am a true believer in the unit. Let me expound on some of the main functions and how I use them.

Each Spot unit can be programed with up to three different profiles, and I utilize all three. Each profile allows me to enter different information including an 'OK' message, a 'Help' message, and then emergency information for the '911' message. You can also enter up to 10 different email addresses for both the 'OK' and 'Help' messages, so when that particular button is pushed on the unit, your pre-installed message is sent to the email list. In addition to the message, your latitude and longitude are included, and a link to Google Maps graphically pinpoints your position.

There is nothing that says your 'Help' message actually has to be a call for help. So this is how I use my unit when I am on the water:

I have an email list of people with whom I file my float plan. My float plan information has previously been sent to these individuals as a Word document along with attached photos of my boat. The float plan has all the descriptive information about the boat, as well as all the emergency equipment on board. It includes marina information and phone numbers, as well as vehicle information. Since this information is static, when I activate a float plan, the only additional information I usually have to include is information about who is on board with me.

When I leave the dock, I send an 'OK' report with the Spot, which says I'm on the water and that I will send a report every 30 minutes. If no report is received for one hour, my friends try to reach me by cell phone or ham radio. If they can't, they are to contact the Coast Guard to start a search. So every 30 minutes, I just reach over and push the 'OK' button. If something does happen, people will have a very good idea where to start their search. When I return to the dock, I send a 'Help' message, which isn't a call for help at all, but is just another message that says I safely made it back to the dock and my float plan can be closed out. People can also look at the link to the map and see that I am where I said I was.

I did not purchase the tracking function that is available with Spot. Why? Assume you activate the tracking function, which sends an 'OK' report every 10 minutes, and then something happens — such as an unintentional jibe and the boom hitting you in the head, or your deciding to let it all hang out over the transom, followed by your falling off the boat without a safety harness. In that case, the boat merrily goes on her way with you not really being OK. By the time a search starts, your boat is miles away from where you really are, since the tracking function lasts for 24 hours.

As I mentioned, there are three different profiles you can put in each unit. I have one for when I am on the boat, one for when I am out running around or traveling by ground, and one for when I am volunteering with the American Red Cross for disaster relief all around the United States. Each email list is slightly different depending on whom I want to inform about my whereabouts.

There is also a Spot share page, the link to which you can give as many people as you like, and they can go to the linked page for a map of where you are now, as well as where you have sent reports from for the previous week. On my 911 profile, I have included all emergency information, including medical conditions, allergies and prescription drugs being used. You want to give the responders as much information as you can before they reach you in an emergency so they can react appropriately.

I use Spot, even though I have a cell phone, because it works where cell phones don't. And I live in one of those areas. My Spot always gets through. Spot also allows you to at least let people know you are all right when there may be no other form of communication such as SSB or telephones. And if you can’t make your schedule for one reason or the other, a simple push of the button lets people know you are fine even if you can't talk directly with them.

Unlike an EPIRB, you can send Spot reports as often as you wish to let people know your status without activating a worldwide search and rescue response. In the case of a true emergency, you can bet that I will activate my EPIRB as well as my Spot. If I really need help, I'll use everything at my disposal to get it.

There are some cons about Spot. It seems to take a long time to update the profile information. Any change to the profiles or the contact information requires internet access, so you normally cannot make changes on the fly. Spot coverage is extensive, but it's not worldwide. For example, Hawaii is on the fringe of coverage, and only about 20% of my messages got through. In the South Pacific, there isn't much coverage except in New Zealand.

My Spot goes with me wherever I go. It is always on and stuck on the dashboard of my vehicle or in the cockpit of the boat. If I come across an emergency, just a push of the button will initiate a response from first responders. For a hundred bucks a year, it's a hell of a deal.

Ken Reynoldson


We've had a Spot for about a year now, and use it for checking in and tracking when we are sailing or flying. Although we've thankfully never had to use the Help or 911 features, we still absolutely love the unit — and would highly recommend it to anyone who travels, whether by boat, plane or foot.

Our family and friends have fun tracking us and seeing where in the world we are. And our aging parents take a large amount of comfort from the manual check-in feature. Not only does it let them know where we are, they know that we had to manually push the button, telling them that the unit is actually with us and not floating off by itself.

We've found Spot easy to use and their customer support is great.

Donna & Scott Harris
ex-Seasons, Island Packet 45
Fort Worth, Texas


I've been using the Spot for a couple of years in both boats and airplanes. In my opinion, the track function is the most important. Unlike an EPIRB for marine use, where you only activate the unit when you're in trouble, the Spot's track function shows your track via GPS fixes every 10 minutes. In addition, you can send the 'I'm OK' message to anyone on your list of contacts via email or SMS text.

The track function can be set up on your own track page through Spot, where the fixes will be stored for 30 days. You can email a link to the page to interested parties or post it to a website as a direct link URL. The Spot page uses Google Maps, and has a feature to download the track via a KMI file for Google Earth or a couple of other formats which I’m sure could be plotted onto electronic nautical charts.

With that background, I find the advantage of the Spot is that when I start my plane for taxi, I send a message via Spot that says I'm OK, which tells a list of people I'm flying or sailing somewhere. From there I start the tracking function. If something were to happen and I was not able to 911 with my Spot or fire up my EPIRB — I carry both — then at the very least my track could be plotted with the oldest possible fix being 10 minutes old. That's good stuff if you want somebody to come and find you.

I fly with a group of backcountry pilots, and we all share each other's Spot pages and emails. If something were to happen, we could launch a search far sooner than it would take for Search and Rescue to go through their procedures of verifying data by calling airports and so forth. You can apply the same logic to a boat offshore. The Coast Guard is fast, but having a good track and data, especially if an EPIRB could not be activated, could be a lifesaver.

Mark Banks
Semiramis, Columbia 8.7m
Stockton Sailing Club


I have a Spot and use it on ocean races. It updates a website so friends can track my progress, and my wife gets a good idea of when I'll be home. There is little difficulty keeping the unit going. But if it's in the tracking mode and you send an 'OK' message, it will stop tracking. You have to remember to re-enable it.

I like the Spot concept more than the EPIRB concept, but understand that EPIRBs are a more reliable and simple solution. Spot says the batteries only last 14 days, but I haven't changed mine since the '09 Coastal Cup.

Bob Gardiner
Spellbound, Olson 40


Elizabeth and I have been using Spot for over a year now, and we've really been impressed with the service. We put a link to it on our blog, and it has been the best and most accurate way for people to keep track of our whereabouts. We used a similar service for the Caribbean 1500, but the Spot has a better interface with Google Maps, and the end result is much more entertaining for our parents, friends and blog readers to view. They can get a good feel for where we are and how long the beach we are anchored off ofreally is! And the added safety feature of the 911 call has been comforting, although we — thank goodness — have never had to use it.

Every product has its downsides, and the Spot device lost all transmission halfway into our Pacific crossing, causing quite a few worried blog readers to think that we might have become an insurance statistic. Spot finally regained its ability to transmit our position again in Suwarrow off the Cook Islands. Aside from the lack of coverage in much of the Pacific, we love the device.

Seth & Elizabeth Hynes
Honeymoon, Lagoon 380
San Francisco

Readers — Spot does not offer coverage to a huge area in the Pacific. Check their website for coverage.


I did a Lauderdale-to-British Virgins delivery of an F/P 60 catamaran that was equipped with the Spot, and found it to be brilliant. When we take our Leopard 47 up to the Chesapeake for the summer and back to the British Virgins in the fall, we'll certainly have one along.

No, the Spot is not an EPIRB or a replacement for one. And yes, we will always have an EPIRB aboard, if nothing else, for its waterproof and floating characteristics. What the Spot does best is let everyone know you are fine, meaning you don't have to make a lot of reassuring phone calls. It would also provide valuable instant corroboration to an emergency EPIRB signal.

We had some awful weather on the delivery that required our diverting to Nassau. Thanks to Spot, Google showed that we had pulled into a fuel dock and then moved in to a slip in a marina. So friends knew something was up, but not to worry. They could see we had spent the night, and then carried on.

We later had to abort our passage across the northern coast of Puerto Rico and make a 90-degree turn south to get into the lee of Puerto Rico. Again, everyone saw us move slowly, then divert dramatically and pick up speed and carry on. So no worries. This is particularly valuable when you have non-boat relatives, particularly older ones who are prone to worrying.

I singlehanded for many years and miles before getting together with Marsha, and I think the Spot would be a particularly valuable piece of gear for solo sailors.

I'm not certain, but I think the Spot would be helpful in emergency situations, if only by updating a GPS position through its satellite connection. If memory serves, this goes to 911, not the Coast Guard directly, which might cause a very short delay in some cases, but be more worthwhile in others.

The odd thing is that I think the Spot signal goes through Globalstar, which I hate, and have found to be hugely unreliable. They do say it will get better, and it was certainly good enough for the Spot tracker when we used it.

Tim Schaaf
Jetstream, Leopard 47
Tortola, British Virgins

Tim — The Spot does not use the Globalstar system, which we've found to be as frustrating and unreliable as you did.


I used the Spot during a delivery from St. Martin to Rhode Island. In my opinion, the pros are that it's small, compact, waterproof, uses two AA batteries, and worked as advertised. It's great for the personal grab bag. It's a great backup way to call for help if your 406 EPIRB gets lost/damaged/sinks with the vessel and/or its battery dies.

On the negative side, the battery life is limited, although one set lasted the whole delivery, including a continuous 24-hour tracking mode. The website for setting up messages and who gets emails and such wasn't intuitive to me, and became a pain to deal with. But billing was my main complaint, as when you sign up, they apparently renew automatically. So I was surprised with a renewal charge of $157.93.

In my mind, Spot does not replace VHF/SSB/ham/406 EPIRBs for primary means of communication or ways to call for help.

Ray Catlette
Reno, Nevada



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