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March 2011

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Could someone please explain to me why the most simple piece of electrical equipment on my sailboat is the most unreliable?

I've got an AIS, which is somehow able to let me know where every ship is within 50 miles, what course it's on, how fast it's going, and how much of a threat it might be to me. It always works. I have a depthsounder that hasn't failed in nine years, and one part of that, the sensor, is always underwater, and another part, the display, is always out in the elements. Then there's my VHF radio, which never fails, even though it's pretty complicated. Even my handheld version, which has been soaked in a lot of salt spray, works like a charm.

No, the electrical equipment on my boat that reliably fails are the frickin' flashlights. I've bought the least expensive ones and the most expensive ones. I've bought the little tiny ones, and the big Maglites that cops use for hitting suspects over the head. I've bought the super simple ones that supposedly will just shine a plain beam forward. And I've bought complicated models, where you can narrow the beam, turn it into flashing mode, and even have it flash in red. Wowie!

But it doesn't matter what I buy, because after a couple of weeks, the damn flashlight doesn't work anymore. Guaranteed!

And don't get me started on the super powerful spotlights. They are basically oversized flashlights, so they don't last for squat either. I think I've dropped more of those in the dumpster than there are people in China.

It's not as if a flashlight is complicated. It's basically a container for two or more batteries, a bulb, and a switch that either sends or stops sending electricity to the bulb. Big deal. The batteries, which I can buy by the dozens for almost nothing at Costco, are never the problem. Sure, they eventually run out of juice, but they are supposed to. And all the replacements work like a charm.

No, it's the flashlight bulbs, or the switch, or the I-don't-know-what. All I know is that the life-expectancy of a flashlight is measured in weeks, not months or years. The EPA ought to look into this because probably half of all landfill is flashlights that don't work any more.

Come to think of it, I once did have a reliable flashlight. It was especially made for scuba divers. It was a little more cumbersome than normal, and it cost about five times as much as a regular soon-to-be-broken flashlight, but it worked every time it was asked to. Which, no doubt, is the reason that it walked off my boat in the hands of a sticky-fingered guest.

Has anybody out there had better luck with flashlights? Please God, let the answer be 'yes'.

Dick 'Flash' Gordon
Mary Lou Peggy Sue, Hunter 33

Dick — Editor LaDonna Bubak feels your pain as her experience with onboard flashlights has been similar. Luckily, her husband is a bit of a flashlight addict so he often brings new models down to their boat to try out (no doubt because they so frequently fail). His latest purchase was a $20 West Marine three-watt LED light that has worked flawlessly for nearly a year now. Not only is it a fraction of the size of their big Maglite, but LaDonna reports that it puts out brilliant white light the old Mag can't touch, and features rubber O-rings to keep out moisture and a glow-in-the-dark grip.

But we're sure our readers have suggestions of their own. Send them to Richard.


I just watched the first video released by Oracle of the 45-ft catamarans that will used by all the teams to ramp up their multihull game for the 34th America's Cup. They look hot, hot, hot!

I can only imagine — and lust for — the performance and excitement of the 72-footers battling for the Cup itself! And battling for it on honking old San Francisco Bay in the honking month of August. What could be better? It's going to make watching the monohull America's Cup seem about as much fun as watching ladies' lawn bowling. Or curling. What's the deal with the guys with brooms in curling anyway?

As for the rumors that Bertarelli and some of the old school guys want to create a competing event using monohulls, I say let them kiss Ellison's behind. Say what you will about Ellison, but he's a proven winner. If Bertarelli and his bunch go ahead with their event, they'll be on the wrong side of history.

The multihull America's Cup on San Francisco Bay is not just going to be the bomb, it's going to be the nuclear bomb of sailing fun and excitement. And yeah, I bet at least one of the big boats will go over before it's all said and done. So count me in on the 34th America's Cup. And yes, I'm under 30, unlike all the old farts who keep bellowing to go back to leadmines.

Robert Jefferson
San Jose

Robert — We're with you. We think the big cat racing on the Bay is going to be spectacular. We can't remember where we saw it, but there's a clip going around of Tom Blackaller racing Formula 40 cats on the Bay. After it was all over, Blackaller, the man behind Northern California's first America's Cup entry and a legend of the St. Francis YC, said if the Cup was going to be held in fast multihulls, he'd even be interested in doing another one. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at age 49, far too young.

We're also particularly excited about the Peyron brothers' Energy Team and the ALEPH Team France entries. The leaders of these two French teams have done it all on the oceans of the world with multihulls, and they will be bringing their experience and a certain je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre to the event.


Has anybody considered how dangerous the upcoming America's Cup might be to the crews and other sailors? The new 72-ft cats with hard wings are going to be capable of speeds in excess of 30, and maybe even 40, knots. Can you imagine the damage to the bodies, not just the boats, if there were to be a T-boning at a combined speed of 50 knots?

These ultra-high performance cats are going to be about 46 feet wide, and it's certainly possible that one or more of them will flip. Can you imagine how badly a crewmember on a windward hull could get hurt if he were to free fall 46 feet onto the leeward hull?

Then there is the whole matter of the cats being built of carbon fiber. I'm no expert, but I've heard that when carbon fiber fails, it splinters into shards that can easily pierce the body. Once in the body, carbon fiber can't be detected by X-rays.

Lastly, these cats will no doubt be doing a lot of practicing on San Francisco Bay. Are they not going to be a danger to regular sailors, such as myself, on boats that have maximum hull speeds of seven knots or so?

As a sailor and a single gal not at all opposed to the idea of meeting buff young sailors raking in beaucoup America's Cup bucks, I love the idea that the Cup will be coming to San Francisco Bay. In fact, I'm planning to bring my boat down to the Bay to watch the action and be part of the social scene. I just hope that nobody — particularly me or my hoped-for new boyfriend — gets hurt or killed.

Carol Jensen
Cat's Cradle, Catalina 27
The Delta

Carol — It's true that carbon fiber can be nasty stuff, which is no doubt why the BMW Oracle crew wore body armor and helmets on USA 17 during AC33. If we're not mistaken, they had a medical team follow the big tri on all her test sails off San Diego. We expect to see developments in these kinds of safety precautions.

As for getting out of the way of a giant, overtaking racing catamaran, forget it. We once sailed across San Francisco Bay on Bruno Peyron's 86-ft Commodore Explorer, and came up behind a startled powerboat operator at about 25 knots. Scared the daylights out of him when he turned around and saw a monster bearing down on him. All you can do in such situations is hold your course.


Unfortunately, we haven't seen much press coverage of Jeanne Socrates' attempt to complete a solo circumnavigation. So it's been great to see Latitude's various updates. As you know, this British woman — and Singlehanded TransPac vet — chose to start and finish in Victoria, British Columbia.

As you noted in your January 7 'Lectronic, Jeanne's Najad 380 Nereida was knocked down off Cape Horn and sustained substantial damage. Jeanne limped Nereida into the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, and has subsequently been working hard to mend what she can and source parts so Nereida can continue — although obviously it won't be a nonstop circumnavigation. For more details visit her website at Jeanne updates the site with commentary and pictures frequently.

Jeanne's courageous voyage is inextricably joined to her determined wish to raise money for the Marie Curie Cancer Care Foundation. This is in memory of her husband, George, who lost his battle with cancer in '03 in the early years of their cruising life. There's a donation link on her website, and we're sure she would take any donation as encouragement.

Rose & Robert Brand
Tillicum, Seabird 37
Visiting in the UK from
Sidney, B.C.

Readers — We're proud to say that Jeanne, who is 68 years young, is a good friend of Latitude's, and one of the world's more accomplished amateur sailors — let alone women sailors. Some of you may also remember that a problem with her autopilot put her previous boat on the beach in Mexico less than 60 miles short of the completion of a singlehanded circumnavigation. Jeanne used to the insurance proceeds to have her new boat built, then left on her first nonstop circumnavigation attempt. Engine issues, among other things, forced her into Cape Town for months, which effectively forced her to abandon a circumnavigation. Instead of worrying about it, she sailed nonstop from New Zealand to Hawaii for the finish of last summer's Singlehanded TransPac. She left Victoria on October 25 on her second nonstop circumnavigation attempt.


Did you guys see that there's a new iPhone and iPad app called Lights and Shapes? It provides a complete reference for the International Regulation for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG), parts C and D. It's a fully indexed text of the COLREG (part C and D), so you can easily access each rule.

The app also includes 'electronic flash cards' of all possible light and shape combinations, and from all angles. But wait, as they say on television, there's more! It also includes signal sounds for rules 34, 35 and 36, with real sounds. And there are hundreds of tests so the owner can practice them all.

The App Man

T.A.M. — We weren't aware of the Lights and Shapes app, but we're not surprised. Like a lot of apps, it could be really helpful — if you remember that you have it. There are so many good apps, it's hard to keep up.

Of course, there are traditionalists who aren't very happy with the app way. For example, there is now an iPad app for — and we're not making this up — Roman Catholic confessionals. While the creators of the app had it blessed by some priests and a bishop, that old fogey the Pope apparently thinks it's the work of the Devil.


In January's Letters, John Gardner, who had lost his Catalina 27 Mai Tai at the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor, put out something of a request for another Catalina 27.

There is one for sale a few slips over from my freshwater home on Lake Millerton. I think the owner wants $4k for his immaculate boat, which has only been sailed in fresh water. I bought the guy's trailer for my boat, but if Gardener bought the boat and needed to trailer her to the ocean, we could probably help.

He can reach me by email.

Jean & Denise Mondeau
Carmela, Cal 2-27

Readers — An immaculate, freshwater-sailed Catalina 27 for $4k sounds like an interesting proposition to us. The Catalina 27s are considered to be one of the better sailing boats of their size, era and type, and there was even a guy in the U.S. Virgins who beefed his up a bit and sailed her around the world. Not that we're recommending it, mind you.


I'm a big believer in sharing mishaps involving sailing. Like the time we T-boned a Coast Guard vessel in Alameda, with all the Coasties on the rail laughing at us. Or the time we were smoking past a bunch of boats during a race through Suisun Bay, only to run aground. There are so many more stories, but I have a recent one I'd like to add.

My friend Andrea from New York wanted to do the Three Bridge Fiasco with me, and so I emailed the Singlehanded Sailing Society to see if they had set a date. We got a return email, and locked the date in. Having already done the event several times, I never bothered to look at the sailing instructions. Andrea flew out Thursday, and on Friday went up the mast to fix the Windex, and helped with other repairs and preparations.

We headed out of South Beach Harbor on Saturday morning, rigging all the gear while underway, and eagerly looking forward to the race. But after a while, I said, "Hmmmmmm, something doesn't seem right. The Three Bridge Fiasco attracts hundreds of boats, but I don't see any." I knew that Andrea had printed the instructions, so I asked him to give them a look.

Oops, it was Saturday, January 22, and the race was set for January 29. We laughed hysterically at our mistake, then sailed to Sam's and drank a beer.

Art Hartinger
Pied-a-Mer, Beneteau First 310
South Beach Harbor

Art — Being able to admit one's mistakes, errors and screw-ups is, according to the Amateur Psychiatrist Handbook, one of the strongest indicators of a well-adjusted personality. Congratulations. You don't make it clear, but we presume the error was made by the SSS's emailing you one date and your writing down another.


A friend of mine directed me to the November 8, 2010 'Lectronic Latitude, where it was reported that my Caliber 40 Kehaulani received assistance from the 134-ft steel, brigantine-rigged research and sail training vessel Robert C. Seamans during a passage to Hawaii.

The facts that were reported were close enough. It was actually a shroud that broke at the spreader base, not damaged sails.

For the record, Kehaulani and I completed a nine-year circumnavigation when we arrived back in Tahiti. Patricia, my high school sweetheart, and now my wife, joined me in Australia in '06, and sailed most of the way with me to Hawaii via the Indian Ocean, Cape Town, Rio, the Caribbean, and the '10 Pacific Puddle Jump.

Kehaulani is now in Honolulu. I plan to sail her to our new home in Bellingham next July.

John Harris
Kehaulani, Caliber 40
Bellingham, WA

John — Thanks for checking in, and congratulations on completing your circumnavigation. We'll have to add you to our list of West Coast Circumnavigators.


The recent article about Cita Litt's Rhodes 90 motorsailer Sea Diamond reminded me of an encounter that I had with the boat years ago, an encounter that left me puzzled for days.

It was during the mid-'60s, during which time I had a very pretty Angelman Sea Witch ketch. She had gold leaf and red enamel trail boards, nice varnish, and looked really good. Anyway, I was standing off Avalon Harbor, waiting for my turn to enter. as was Sea Diamond. As we drifted into speaking distance, we exchanged compliments on how pretty each other's boat was. The man on Sea Diamond then said he would like to trade with me, straight across, for my boat. I assumed he was not serious, but was puzzled as to why he would even suggest it.

Just a few days later, I read about his financial troubles, and how he was losing everything. The apparent source of the family wealth, Diamond Bar, was a huge ranch east of Los Angeles. It had lots of oil wells, but crude was only two or three cents a barrel back then, so he was apparently in deep trouble. There may have been a divorce, but I'm not sure about the nature of the problems.

Maybe I should have taken him up on the offer. But maintaining Sea Diamond probably would have broken me, too.

Ernie Copp
Orient Star, Cheoy Lee Offshore 50
Long Beach Marina

Ernie — It's unclear to us who might have owned Sea Diamond at the time, for she was owned by several members of the extended Bartholomew family, and then moved out of family hands for 47 years.

For those who didn't catch the news in 'Lectronic, Cita has apparently decided to cancel her TransPac and South Pacific plans in favor of shipping the mighty Sea Diamond to the Med. We think she is going to love that.


I don't think you at Latitude are being balanced with your Mexico crime coverage. Your February 4 'Lectronic makes it out that all is fine and dandy South of the Border, with statements like "but there had been three 'very minor [crimes]' near the cruise ship terminal this year," and "Furthermore, we didn't hear a single report of a cruiser, RVer, or ex-pat having any negative incidents."

Why not include in the report the photo of the Canadian injured in Mazatlan by stray gunfire that inspired the cruise lines to cancel trips? There's a link to it at Then folks can make up their own minds without the media hype in either direction.

I was on my boat in Mazatlan last month, and in my estimation it's a pretty safe city. I won't go back, but that's because I found it to be a decaying, graffiti-laden tourist town well past its prime with not that much to offer.

Paul Lever
Jeorgia, J/37
Edmonds, WA

Paul — We have to agree that our "Mexican crime coverage" hasn't been balanced, because if it had been, we'd have excoriated every numbskull who has never been to Mexico, but who loudly proclaims to all who will listen that everywhere in Mexico is super dangerous. That's like saying San Francisco is super dangerous. It's a statement that's true or false depending on what part of San Francisco — or Mexico — you're talking about. Our role in 'balancing' has been agreeing that, yes, there has been horrific narco violence in parts of Mexico, but to date it hasn't affected members of the cruising community or the majority of places cruisers frequent. Indeed, things have been "fine and dandy" with regard to cruiser personal safety in Mexico. As we've said before, if this changes, we'll be the first to let you know — and the first to seriously reconsider having our boat in Mexico.

With regard to Mazatlan in particular, if you read our piece again, you'll note we said that, unlike most other places on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, we hadn't been there recently. As such, we couldn't offer any firsthand insight, which is precisely why we asked for input from cruisers who have been there or are there now, and therefore have some idea of what the hell they are talking about. Do you need any more proof that we're not trying to whitewash the situation in Mazatlan?

As for the Canadian gentleman who got shot, we were unaware of the incident at the time we wrote our 'Lectronic report, but did report on it on February 7. Nonetheless, aren't the first several paragraphs of the article, reprinted in the next paragraph, quite revealing?

"A 69-year-old man from B.C. says he still feels safe in Mexico despite being shot in the leg while walking from his hotel to a local plaza while on vacation Monday afternoon. Mike Di Lorenzo of Penticton, B.C. was hit by a stray bullet in Mazatlan, a city in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa. Mexican police say the gunmen were trying to hit a man riding a motorcycle, when two bystanders were injured. The man on the motorcycle was killed. Di Lorenzo, who is recovering in a local hospital, said despite the violence and the fact he was hit just four blocks from his hotel, 'I feel safe here.' When asked if he had a message for family and friends back home, Di Lorenzo told CTV News Channel: 'I'm in very good hands here. I've been having help. I didn't know that they had so many good people, so many friendly people, nice people.'

For balance, the headline in the Winnipeg CTV edition on that same day read: "Two people were shot and killed in the Centennial neighbourhood of Winnipeg early Saturday morning after they were kicked out of a house party."

In a later story by Di Lorenzo's local British Columbia news station, he's reported to have said that he has every intention of returning to Mazatlan, his favorite vacation destination, and is even thinking about buying a home there. He also says he viewed the event as being "rare and random, and hope[s] it doesn't deter other people from travelling there."


We are alumni of the '10 Ha-Ha and spent the last week of January at anchor off Stone Island outside of Mazatlan in company with Ha-Ha vets Kokomo and Roksan. Most days we bussed into town, walked around, and wondered why the streets were so empty. That is when we learned that, as you have reported, the cruise ships had pulled out of Mazatlan. This is too bad, since the town depends a lot on tourism. At no time did we feel uneasy or threatened, so we think the move by the cruise ship companies is an overreaction — as are most reports by the U.S. media. It may well be that the cruise ships were looking for an excuse to break contracts because people afraid of violence were not booking their cruises to Mazatlan.

As Latitude has reported for some time, we think that Mexico has gotten a bad rap. We have been from La Paz to Santa Rosalia, from Toplobampo to Los Moches up the Chepe railroad to Creel, and down through Mazatlan and San Blas, and found nothing but happy and helpful Mexicans. People should forget the newspaper stories and believe those of us on the scene.

Jim & Connie Merritt
Sound Effect, Dufour 385
Tacoma, WA

Jim and Connie — We don't think that people should "forget the newspaper stories," because it is factually accurate that there has been a horrific human toll in the narco wars in Mexico. However, we do think the news media need to do a better job of reporting by no longer painting all of Mexico with a broad and often inaccurate brush. Imagine if the news media portrayed all of the East Bay as a war zone — which, come to think of it, they often do. While such a claim might be accurate for many parts of Oakland, it's not true for the Oakland hills or safe-as-milk Alameda, which is located just a stone's throw across the Oakland Estuary.

By the way, in less than a week, two of the three cruise ship lines changed their mind and are now having their vessels call on Mazatlan again. The third, Disney, said they will revisit the situation in the fall. Officials said Mazatlan welcomed 500,000 cruise ship passengers in '10 "without any problems." We find it hard to believe there weren't any problems, but that's the claim.


I arrived in the Old Port section of Mazatlan at night after a crossing from La Paz. Thanks to the very helpful port captain's office, which hailed me on VHF as I was making my way up the channel, I was directed to the yacht anchorage and told about shore access for the next morning.

I found Mazatlan to be very welcoming to boatowners such as myself and my guests. We paid Club Nautico approximately $20 for a week of shore access for the dink, and were soon enjoying the sightseeing, restaurants, bars, and shopping of the city.

After a week, it was time to say goodbye to all of my guests, which left me alone in the Old Port on my 68-ft Herreshoff schooner. My daily habit was to take the dink to Club Nautico in the morning, shop for a few hours, and return to the boat by nightfall. This worked out fine.

Fine until the morning I awoke to find that my 10.5-ft West Marine dinghy with an 8-hp outboard that I had tied to my rail, was gone. The painter had been cut, so my precious dinghy was history. I'd gone to sleep at 8:30 p.m. the night before and hadn't heard a sound during the night.

I announced my loss on the morning cruisers' net, and contacted the port captain — who sent an officer to my boat to take a report.

Fortunately, I had a second red-headed stepchild of a dink onboard, and I used that for the rest of the stay in Mazatlan. From then on, the nightly security measure that I and the rest of my Old Port neighbors employed was to hook a halyard to our dinks and raise them out of the water at night so as not to tempt the locals. Other than my dinghy loss, Mazatlan was welcoming and I felt safe everywhere I wandered.

Rory James Kremer
Condesa del Mar, Herreshoff 68

Rory — We think it would have been more accurate if your second to last line had ended with, ". . . so as not to tempt the locals or other cruisers." We know it's hard to believe, but cruisers have been known to steal from other cruisers. Furthermore, a Mexican with a small inflatable and a small outboard screams "Incongruity!" as they are panga people through and through.

For cruisers who somehow haven't gotten the word, if you don't raise your dink out of the water or lock it securely to your boat at night, you are sorely tempting fate. And that's true the world over, not just in Mexico.


I've lived in Mazatlan for the last seven years, and I have to say that I feel safer here than I did when I lived in the L.A. area and the Bay Area. Mazatlan is a great city, and the people are very friendly.

I sail between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta every year for the Banderas Bay Regatta, and plan to continue to do so until I no longer sail. That's how much I enjoy it down here.

Like everyone, I've heard reports of the violence around Mexico, but haven't run into any problems personally. I think most cruisers will agree that for them, Mazatlan is a great place to visit or stay.

Chuck Naslund
Saber Vivir, Catalina 30


The Canadian who was hit in the leg by a stray bullet in Mazatlan says that it's his opinion that it could have happened anywhere — he was just "in the wrong spot" — and that he intends to go back. The day I think I'm in the wrong spot because I've walked two blocks to a market is the day I don't return to an area!

Michael Kew
Planet Earth

Michael — We understand exactly how you feel. That's why we no longer go to San Francisco, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Vallejo, Sonoma, Richmond, Berkeley, Alameda, San Leandro, San Mateo, Redwood City, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard, Marina del Rey, Avalon, San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, Oceanside or San Diego. And after the cold blooded murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen, we don't go to Beverly Hills either.


We left Mazatlan last week after a month-long break in our cruise down from Canada. We stayed at the Marina Mazatlan, where we were treated well and got a reasonable monthly berth rate. We wandered the streets of the town wherever and whenever we chose, including passing by the cruise ship terminal several times, and experienced nothing which caused us to consider the town unsafe. In fact, on two occasions, local people approached us and just wanted to say hello and welcome us. Other cruisers we know, who have been in Mazatlan longer, have shared similar opinions.

We are aware that a Canadian tourist was shot during our last week in Mazatlan, but there are conflicting versions as to what happened, so we have no idea if he was targeted or just unlucky. I suspect the latter. But to put this in perspective, during the same period a Canadian teenager was killed in a bar fight in the Caribbean, and a Canadian ex-pat woman was murdered in Costa Rica in a targeted attack.

By far the most dangerous thing we have done on our trip is make a car trip from Mazatlan to Durango on Highway 40. I would recommend this as a side trip to anyone, and would do it again given the chance. But driving the 'Devil's Spine' is not for the timid.

Over the years, we have traveled in Asia and Europe as well as North America, and I believe that I have good instincts for when I am in the wrong place and possibly at risk. Like the Wanderer, I have not felt in danger in Mexico — despite the serious narco violence that is obviously taking place. The sight of pick-up trucks full of balaclava-wearing soldiers brandishing automatic weapons is more sobering than reassuring.

Doug & Lyneita Swanson
Ka'sala, Coast 34
Comox, B.C.


Howdy from Marina Vallarta, which is a lot more run-down — especially the bathrooms — than most of the cruising guides had foretold. But as long as we buy drinks, we get to use the hotel pool.

I haven't heard of any violence toward cruisers down here, but the long-time yacht service outfit that identified itself as 'Julie Mazatlan' had their facility broken into. So much electronic equipment was stolen that they had to close up shop. In addition, a brand new TV/electronics store in town was held up by guys with machine guns who cleaned the place out. This happened just before Christmas. It made us a little nervous, but hasn't changed our plans. We will continue down to Barra and Zihua, then slowly work our way back north as the weather warms.

Jan Grygier
Neener3, Catalina 42

Jan — The condition of Marina Vallarta, which is the marina next to the airport and closest to downtown Puerto Vallarta, has been deplorable for some time now. As we understand it, it's been in a bankruptcy situation for many years, so nobody has been willing to put any money into maintenance or improvements. Its primary appeal has been its proximity to the hubbub of Puerto Vallarta proper. But after a recent 20% price increase, even the location wasn't enough, so some boatowners have opted to move to Paradise Village Marina or the Marina Riviera Nayarit. Both of those marinas are in excellent condition, right down to plentiful clean restrooms with great showers.


I spent over a month in a small townhouse at the bottom of Ice Box Hill near the historic district of Mazatlan in '08. During that time, I pretty much explored the whole city by foot and public bus. One time, a sweet old lady on the bus warned me that it wouldn't be wise for me to get off at her stop, which was way south of town toward the airport. There is also a tough neighborhood near the Pacifico plant, between the giant Central Mercado and the cruise ship docks. If you take that shortcut any time of day, there could be trouble. But if anyone has any city skills at all, it's obvious you should only go there if you want to buy drugs or get mugged.

In the Golden Zone near the marinas, some of the low-paid construction workers, often brought in from other areas, can be rough. But they seem to keep to themselves, so it wasn't an issue for me.

Old Town Mazatlan and the whole malécon waterfront are very family-oriented and well-patrolled by the authorities.

I hope to return to Mazatlan sooner rather than later, and I hope to stay longer.

Alan Johnson
Lake Tahoe


Generally speaking, I hate lawyers, but I'd like to see some of them sue the hell out of all the American consumers of illegal drugs, as they are the ones who are responsible for more than 35,000 narco deaths in Mexico. Are these people too stoned to connect the dots between their getting high and more than 100,000 young Mexican boys and girls now having to go through life without their fathers?

Furthermore, these drug consumers are responsible for the destruction of many tourist businesses, and therefore jobs badly needed by some of the nicest and most hard-working people on earth. You druggies and your 'it ain't my fault' stoner attitude make me want to puke. Don't kid yourself, that Mexican doobie you smoke is bright red with the blood of all those who died just so you can get 'fucked up'. You're disgusting and pathetic. If you got to smoke, grow your own damn stuff.

Jeff Danson


Vets of the '09 Ha-Ha, we spent about 10 days in Mazatlan's Old Harbor on the hook, then we moved to Marina Mazatlan, and most recently to Isla Mazatlan. We have not had any personal safety or theft problems, nor have we heard of any others — except for the problems with dinghy thefts in the Old Harbor. We've heard that half a dozen dinghies were stolen in the last month, but haven't talked to any of the victims. We didn't lose our dinghy, but were careful to raise it every night.

In the north or marina part of Mazatlan, cruisers are a little remote from the hustle and bustle of downtown. As a result, we have ridden the bus to and from town many times, and spent many hours walking around and living with the locals. We have sensed nothing in the way of danger. The taxi drivers, as you might expect, are concerned about how we feel. We usually have a nice conversation with them about how we feel about Mazatlan, and whether we would return. We always tell them that there is never a doubt that we would return.

We tell all our friends back home that we feel much closer to potential drug-fueled violence back home in Alameda, which is just across from the seedy and dangerous parts of Oakland, than we have ever felt here in Mexico.

Our advice to others? Come on down!

Muggs & Larry Zabel
Peregrine, Fuji 45
Guaymas, Mexico

Muggs and Larry — With all due respect, we don't believe six dinghies have been stolen in the Old Harbor, or there would have been a giant stink about it. We think the number is one or maybe two, multiplied by hearing about them from others. If we're wrong, we'd very much like to be corrected. We'd also like to hear if any dinghy that had been raised or locked at night has been stolen anywhere in Mexico.

We didn't have space to include all the reports we received from Mazatlan, but they were overwhelmingly positive.


We're not cruisers in Mexico — we leave our boat in Washington — but we live a few blocks from the marinas in Mazatlan about six months every winter. We have not witnessed any type of violence or felt uneasy during our winters here. We spend time in the Centro district shopping, attending the theater, dining out and enjoying the quality of life in Mexico. As many others have stated, we feel as safe down here as we would in any city in the United States. We do believe that the news media in the States have gotten out of hand, and they are hyping up stories to try to justify their existence. We'd like to read some nice stories about Mexico instead.

Tom & Diane Preston

Tom and Diane — To the credit of the S.F. Chronicle, about two months ago they had a feature about people who loved living in Mexico. Naturally, it didn't get as big a play as the negative stories, which seem to be the specialty of the L.A. Times and CNN.

Normally we don't believe in conspiracies, but we believe there has been a low-grade conspiracy on the part of the U.S. government and U.S. media to portray Mexico as poorly as possible in order to benefit United States tourism interests. The truth of the matter is that U.S. tropical tourism — as represented by Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and southern Florida — can't touch the 'bang for the buck' value of similar tourism in Mexico. Figure on the U.S. version being two to four times as expensive and with less pleasant service. After spending months in Mexico, we spent three days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and felt as though we were being robbed. In a similar way, we believe the government and the U.S. media hammered away at Toyota as part of an effort to resuscitate General/Government Motors, which on its own was simply non-competitive.


That was a good one about learning 'sailingo' in January 19's 'Lectronic. Being ex-Royal Navy and ex-Trinity House, I would like to correct an error regarding 'rope' in the article. You mention that once a rope is taken aboard a vessel, it's no longer a rope — it becomes, a warp, spring, halyard, sheet, etc. This is not exactly true, as there is one place on a ship where you will always find a rope, even on my 50-ft ketch: the bell rope.

David S Wheatley
Surabaya Girl, 50-ft ketch
Haslar Marina, Gosport, U.K.


On page 78 of the February issue you had a section on where people could learn to sail. We think you missed us.

I'm the Junior Sail Program Director at Sequoia YC in the South Bay (Redwood City). We teach kids to sail and hold spring and fall sessions — 10 classes in each session — using Lasers and El Toros. Our spring session started on February 26.

By the way, Latitude does a great job, and I enjoy reading the magazine every month.

Peter McCormick
Sequoia YC
Redwood City

Peter — Thanks for the kind words. But as we missed your program, there's obviously room for improvement on our part.


In the last Latitude a reader inquired about me, and you replied, in part, that you liked and wondered about my 'Billy Bones' nickname. I got it as a result of a match race from City Island, New York, to Bermuda in '63. Yes, I'm that old. There were four of us Williams on the racing crew of 12 aboard the Alden 72 schooner Chauve Souris. The skipper, the well-known Hans van Nes (Nina, Petrel), got tired of saying, "Bill, go do this or that," and having the wrong person answer. So he gave us all nicknames: Billy Budd, Billy Bob, Billy Blue and Billy Bones. I don't know about the rest, but mine stuck.

I do appreciate Latitude's policy of not just giving out contact information, although in this case it was quite unnecessary. I did my time at 'Club Fed' in the late '80s, and have been quite the model citizen ever since.

By the way, did Latitude's Ocean 71 Big O once belong to Graham Kerr, the famous 'Galloping Gourmet'? If so, back in '73 or '74, I did a Playboy magazine photoshoot charter with her in Antigua, a shoot that also included Jol Byerly skippering his 72-ft schooner Lord Jim, and me skippering my cutter Clover. I then did a great Antigua Sailing Week with Don Street aboard his well-known Iolaire. Street was my insurance broker, via Lloyds, sail broker via Cheong Lee, and mentor of sorts.

As to great sailing nicknames, even Street called himself 'Squeaky' because of his voice. But my favorite is still 'Small Change', the nickname of a legendary sailor from Grenada.

William 'Billy Bones' Pringle
Sea'Scape, San Juan 24
Mission Bay

Billy Bones — What a great trip down memory lane! As you know, back in the early '70s the Ocean 71s were the largest production sailboats made, and were extremely popular for charters. And smuggling pot. We can't tell you how many captains came up to Big O and told us they'd gotten their start on her or a sistership. Anyway, Graham Kerr owned a sistership to Big O, one with an unusual stainless steel aft cabin. He called us a few times to talk Ocean 71s.

We don't know if you're aware, but Lord Jim was eventually purchased by Holger Kreuzhage and Tracy Brown of Sausalito, who sailed her around the world at least three times. During her most recent go around, she ran aground on a reef, and for the last several years has been held hostage by a Brazilian boatyard. As for Jol, just last week Joe Hutchens, who used to run another Ocean 71, told us that Jol is still alive and kickin' in Antigua.

As for Squeaky, in the mid '90s Don's Iolaire and our Big O were hauled out together at Centro Marine Oriente in Venezuela. Don was suffering from hepatitis and didn't look so good. But he looked better than the engineless Iolaire, which at the time was showing both her 85 years and relentless lack of maintenance. At that point Don, weak as he was, started going on about what a bad boat Big O was. True, ours had been ridden hard and put away wet for many years, which is why we could afford her in her the first place. But given the dreadful state of Iolaire, he seemed to be the last person who should have been opening his mouth. We handed him a 'greenie', at which point he ceased to be as irascible.

Ah, what great times! We hope you get to make it back there from time to time.


I'm not trying to blow smoke up your ass, but Latitude's cover photos over the last 18 months or so have seemed exceptional. In fact, the covers are among the things I look forward to most in a new Latitude.

This February's cover was no exception. That AC45 cat looks smokin'! I've got a couple of dumb questions though: How come the two guys on the bow are on the leeward hull? Shouldn't they be on the high side? Also, how do the bows work with the reverse sheer? It looks as if that design would cause the hull to 'submarine' as the boat picked up speed.

Bill Nork

Bill — We're glad you like the covers. Our favorites of the last year have been the May issue cover with the four cats on the hook in the blue and shallow waters of a cove at Caleta Partida; the August issue, with LaDonna Bubak's photo of Adrian Johnson's Olson 30 Idefix spinnaker reaching into cloud-ringed Hanalei Bay at the end of the Singlehanded TransPac; and, because we're a guy, the December issue with lovely Lindsay Leonard high on the seagull striker of Profligate, outlined by the spinnaker, on the last leg of the Ha-Ha.

As for your AC45 questions, Racing Editor Rob Grant has the following insight: "It's our understanding that the aerial session during which that photo was taken coincided with lighter air. In those conditions, the catamaran's beam already provides more righting moment than needed. Moving the crew weight to leeward can permit the weather hull to fly, which significantly reduces drag, and thus increases the boat's speed. At these kinds of boatspeeds, moving the weight forward also reduces drag by immersing the 'skinny' end of the hull. As the boatspeed increases, the crew weight will come aft to minimize 'wave-making' drag which becomes a bigger impediment as the boatspeed increases.

"As for the reverse sheer and dreadnought bows, you're absolutely right: 'submarining' is exactly what the design is attempting to accomplish. Multihull designers have found that this effect can be beneficial. Encouraging the bows to become immersed as they encounter waves makes the whole platform pitch less in a seaway, which means the boat spends more time going forward than up-and-down, which also creates the by-product of minimizing the disturbance to the air flowing across the sailplan.

"There is a point where this bow shape can be taken to extremes that are unworkable, but the AC 45, at least in its hull shape, is considerably more conservative than some other racing multis. Look closely at the photo, and you'll notice that the volume in the hulls is distributed fairly evenly from where the forward-most crewman on the leeward hull is hanging on, back to about the aft-most winch. In fact, when sitting at the dock, the area in front of that crewman is almost entirely out of the water. Look for the AC 72s to be waaaaaay more extreme, especially as they will most likely have curved or canted daggerboards that produce lift, thus reducing the requirement for buoyancy in the bows."


I keep my Catalina 25 slipped in Oceanside. I have the bottom cleaned monthly for $30. The last time I had her hauled for cleaning and painting was six years ago. I'm going to have it done again this year.

I don’t recall what type of bottom paint I have, but it's relatively hard and doesn't wipe clean with ease. I don't think it's an ablative.

Joe Wergers
Utopia, Catalina 25

Joe — You haven't hauled in six years? It makes us think that either you have the world's greatest bottom paint, or that all the water in Oceanside Harbor must be toxic.

We were kind of disappointed in the response to our 'Lectronic request for bottom paint reports. We think we'll revisit the question in the fall, after everyone has been using their boats all summer.


Like many, I'm waiting with great hopes for the final results from the bottom paint test on Editor LaDonna Bubak's boat. I'd like modern ecologically correct bottom paints to actually work. Meanwhile, I'd like to warn anybody tempted, as I was, by a great deal on submarine paint, or any other heavy-duty U.S. Navy bottom coating.

Many years ago, I got a swell deal — $75 for five gallons of submarine paint. I used it on the bottom of my Oldsmobile (a.k.a. Tayana 37). It worked great! Barnacles fell off pilings three slips away. My boat's bottom remained clean two years later. But I didn't use any extra precaution when I painted it on. I rolled and brushed and got it on me, and I breathed the fumes through a simple paper mask.

A few weeks later, I had arthritis so bad that I couldn't close my hands enough to grip and haul on a 5/8" halyard. My ankles got painfully creaky as well, and just walking up the dock was torture. I got invited to sail across the Atlantic on the Coast Guard's Eagle and leapt at the chance, but then had to force myself into the rigging, fighting pain in my hands and knees. The ship's medic gave me high-powered Motrin pills that took 20 years off my fast-deteriorating life and I was able to scamper around again, but if I forgot to take the stuff, I was one hurting puppy.

I visited enough doctors to make a herd and finally one figured out I had hemochromatosis, or iron overload. He had me bleeding a pint every three days for a year or two to purge the heavy metals, since new blood from one's bone marrow comes iron-free. It worked in that, years later, tests show I'm no longer full of oxides. I can pass a compass and not swing its needle. It appears it wasn't hemochromatosis but metals from that high-tin Navy paint that collected in my joints and organs. The timing of using that paint and symptom onset is too close for much doubt. Though the metal's purged, the damage is done. Walking remains a pain. I can haul on 5/8" lines again, but not 1/2". That's cut into my sailing a bunch!

So whatever you use, don't be silly as I was — cover up and use proper respirators! And hope the new paints the Birkenstock crowd likes won't contaminate painters and will really work . . . at last!

By the way, I know a number of old boat workers who can also hardly walk now. Some have had feet amputated. One had amputations and died too early anyway. It's not always certain that the toxins are to blame, but the coincidences are remarkable. Gravity pulls metals down in the body to collect in the lower extremities, docs tell me, so it's expected for feet and hands to be most affected.

Brooks Townes
Port Townsend, WA


Slower shipping? In the January 28 'Lectronic, you reported that the world's 4,650 largest ships now travel the oceans of the world at a combined average speed of 11.7 knots, down 7% from a year ago. The lower speeds are to reduce fuel costs, which have risen considerably in the last year.

But what about these new monster ships that have a cruising speed of 31 knots? I'm referring to the likes of the Emma Maersk, part of the fleet of the Danish shipping line. No wonder 'Made in China' is displacing goods made in North America big time — this monster, which is 1,302 feet long and 184 feet wide, can carry an astonishing 15,000 or so containers from China to the States in just five days. Despite being longer than most U.S. aircraft carriers, which have crews of 5,000, and being nearly 100 feet too wide to fit through the Panama Canal, she has a crew of only 13!

The 31-knot cruising speed means ships like Emma can bring goods from China to California four days faster than typical container ships, which only travel at 18-20 knots. Thanks to 11 cargo cranes that can operate simultaneously, all 15,000 containers can be unloaded in just two hours. The result is that these ships are highly competitive — even when it comes to delivering perishable goods from the Far East to the United States.

Emma is one of seven such ships built to transport goods for Wal-Mart. The other two are slated for commissioning next year.

Speaking of bottom paint, the silicon paint applied to Emma's bottom reduces water resistance so that 317,000 gallons of diesel for her 14-cyclinder inline diesel engine are conserved. She cost about $145 million to build, which is way less than the price tag on Roman Abramovich's new 536-ft Eclipse.

David Yearsley

David — If only government could realize efficiencies like this in their operations. Let's see, 15,000 containers offloaded by 11 cranes in just two hours . . . according to our math that's a little over two containers every second. Smokin'!

Emma notwithstanding, as a whole, ships have been deliberately slowed down to control fuel costs. Just as all of us should do.


I have been a continuous reader of both the print and web versions of Latitude for at least the last 25 years, and I have never written to take issue with anything posted therein. Until now. The January 14 'Lectronic Latitude article on the recent visit to Cuba by the crew of TerraNova was an excellent vignette of a beautiful country — until the photo and caption about the dirty water in the bathtub of a Cuban hotel.

While it's undeniable that Cuba's infrastructure has been frozen — or rusted — in time since '59, to blame the Cuban workers for the water conditions is beyond the pale. Please remember that these folks live in a government-run, socialist state where they have to cobble up whatever is available to get the job done. In Cuban-speak, they have to "resolver" or make do.

The Cubans are hard, conscientious workers, who toil long hours to earn in a month what most people would leave for a tip at an average restaurant in San Francisco — and then they have to contend with the ration card.

If these are the conditions that are presented to foreign tourists, can you imagine what the average Cubans have in their own homes?

Please, a little more consideration next time.

Planet Earth

J — While it was not our intention, what we wrote certainly gave the impression that we think the Cuban workers are to blame. Our apologies. There is no doubt in our mind that what's to blame is old man Castro's refusal to admit that Communism is a failed economic model. You think he might have caught on after what's happened in China and Vietnam, which have a communist political system, but in many respects have hog wild capitalistic economic systems.

As for whether Cubans are hard and industrious workers, we're not sure. When we cruised Cuba, there simply weren't enough raw materials or real jobs for people to have much to do. Standing around waiting to die was their primary occupation, but through no fault of their own — except perhaps for the fact that they didn't start a counter-revolution.


A recent series of boat invasions and burglaries aboard yachts has the yachting community in Majuro in the Marshall Islands very concerned. It being seen as a place to avoid the cyclone season in the South Pacific, more and more yachts have been coming to the Marshall Islands to spend the winter. Cruisers have been told that it is a safe place to leave their boats while they make family or business trips to their home country.

But the last three to four months have seen at least a dozen break-ins or attempted break-ins. Tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gear has been stolen, boats trashed, dinghies slashed, and yachts cut adrift in the night.

I have been here in the Marshall Islands this time around for over two years. I work here and live aboard my boat. I have been a liveaboard sailor and cruiser for over 25 years, and have circumnavigated once. I am not a newbie. In the two years that I have been here, I have been boarded by pirates/thieves on three occasions. The first time occurred shortly after my arrival two years ago. I was boarded by two men at midnight while I was sleeping. I was assaulted and my face was cut in the ensuing scuffle. I only managed to make them flee when I called for the assistance of other yachtsmen. This was reported to the local police and to the newspaper. I was called in to ID one man at police headquarters a week later. After giving them a positive identification, I never heard from them again.

The second time was during the latest series of break-ins. While I was away from my boat for several months helping out the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society’s boat-building project on JVD in the British Virgins, my boat was boarded and trashed, and I was ripped off for thousands of dollars' worth of gear. It was reported to the police by fellow yachtsmen, and upon my return I followed up with another report of things stolen. At that time, I learned that other boats had been forcibly entered, and computers, fishing gear, dive gear and electronic equipment stolen.

I recently heard that the police had questioned five young men, one of whom admitted to being on my boat. I asked the police that he be charged with breaking and entering, criminal trespass and grand larceny. The police detective apologized to me, but said that since she was just one person with no car available, and no help from the other detectives, there was little she could do. The young man, she said, denied having taken anything while aboard my boat!

I might add that the young men involved have threatened bodily harm or death to anyone who turns them in!

The third time was even more recently, when my boat was boarded in broad daylight by one of four boys who pulled alongside in two kayaks. They were spotted by a neighbor and turned over to the police — who promptly told us that these were not the ones who were breaking into the yachts. The four were released to the custody of their parents.

Boats that have come north for the winter are leaving daily fearing for their safety and their property. As a result of this activity, the Marshall Islands have become one of the most dangerous places for yachtsmen to visit. It is unfortunate, because generally the Marshallese are very kind and welcoming. But these young men consider themselves to be gangsters, and above the law, which has proven unable to stop them.

Charles G. Handy
Deviant, 41-ft sailboat
Marshall Islands

Readers — We regret to say this, but Handy's report was verified by several sources in the Marshall Islands. A week after running it in 'Lectronic, we received the following two letters indicating that the situation in Majuro had improved.


I'm sure you've seen our local news reports that the police have taken the initiative on increasing security in the lagoon. I live right by the lagoon and can confirm that it has been quiet because of the increased policing. I also haven't heard anything else from the yachting community here lately. As far as the perps are concerned, I haven't heard anything new.

Dolores deBrum-Kattil
General Manager
Marshall Islands Visitors Authority


Following a number of boardings of yachts in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, the Mieco Beach Yacht Club has put a number of safety measures in place that will hopefully put a halt to any further problems of this nature. The club’s committee has obviously been extremely disturbed by this recent trend, which is a completely different picture from that experienced by hundreds of cruisers over the past decade.

The club’s safety measures are being backed up by regular night-time patrols of the lagoon area where yachts are moored by a small ‘rapid response’ vessel belonging to the National Police through its maritime division, Sea Patrol.

Adding to its support of the yachts, on February 11, the National Police Commissioner, George Lanwi, had a letter published in the Marshall Islands Journal which stated, in part: “Since the last incident of January, 2011, the police have been carrying out a vigorous, 24-hour patrol of Majuro lagoon. This all-pervading police presence in the lagoon can be attested to by all yacht owners presently staying in and enjoying the Marshall Islands. There has never been a single case of yacht burglary since the commencement of these patrols. Police patrol is now a permanent feature of the lagoon.”

The club’s committee believes that it is one small group of people who have committed the great majority of the recent break-ins or attempted break-ins, and there are many people in the community, as well as the police and the cruisers themselves, who are working toward their apprehension. This is a relatively small place and things tend not to stay secret for too long.

That said, Majuro may be a small atoll (a rectangle of about 28 miles by four miles), but it is still an urban center with all of the inherent pressures that come with a low employment rate and high levels of poverty. Just as they would in any other part of the world, cruisers intending to leave their yachts in Majuro should have items such as motion detectors on board.

My husband Cary and I have worked hard to promote the Marshall Islands around the world’s yachting community. As well as our being co-founders of the Mieco Beach YC, our yacht seal is a ‘Cruising Station’ for the Seven Seas Cruising Association. I have also served with the Marshall Islands Tourism Association and have created and sell a travel guide CD called On the Move in the Marshall Islands. We do all the above because we believe this a place that is truly remarkable for cruisers, who can sail to our many outer islands and enjoy great people, great diving and great fishing.

We don’t want a couple of bad apples to stop yachties from enjoying this unique country, which has so many wonderful features. On this topic, Police Commissioner Lanwi stated in his above-mentioned letter: “Marshallese remain the friendliest and most hospitable people in Micronesia . . . Please be assured that our warm hearts and welcome await you as you sail here.”

Komol tata (thank you very much)!

P.S.: Since the Police Commissioner wrote his letter, there have been no further incidents with yachts in Majuro.

Karen Earnshaw
Commodore, Mieco Beach YC
Majuro, Marshall Islands


If the crimes against cruisers in Majuro, Marshall Islands — as reported in the February 7 'Lectronic — increase any further, it will be as bad as here in the Monterey Municipal Marina. At least six boats were broken into last week. The 'pirates', probably bored teenagers, were apparently only interested in common stuff, as no expensive marine items were taken. In the case of my Cal 36 Eupsychia, her hatch was pried open and the stores rummaged through. I don't think I lost anything significant.

Unlike in Majuro, the Monterey Police were of some help in locating a few of the items stolen from other boats. That said, it seems a bit of an overreaction for cruisers to leave the Marshalls because of a few petty thefts. However, it seems as if the police should be a little more sensitive to the problem. I'm headed to the Marshalls sometime this year from Palau on X, my Santa Cruz 50, so I want to thank everyone for the heads up.

Update: It's now a few days later and I have an update. The 'piracy' in Monterey is up to nine boats, as more owners have wandered down to their boats to discover forced entries. From what I understand, it's all been petty stuff.

By the way, I loved the Wanderer's great February 9 'Lectronic about hunting down Poco a Poco and hoping that Olson 30 could become Esprit de La Gamelle. It's too bad she wasn't as good in real life as in the racing photo, for driving her downwind in the trades in the lee of St. Barth would be a blast!

David Addleman
X, Santa Cruz 50


I'm so proud of the Wanderer, having read about his Puerto Rican 'Olson Quest' in 'Lectronic Latitude. He had a big dream, got his heart engaged, came up with a plan, and reached for the sky. What a great example to those who dream but haven't yet 'done'. I was grinning during the whole, sad, wonderful story. Hold your head high, by God; you are alive and livin' it!

Bill Kelly
Surface Time, Four Winns
Rio Vista

Bill — To say we had a "big dream" and "reached for the sky" might be overstating it a bit, but the Quest was fun — and frustrating — and really did get the juices flowing. And god knows, the more we all age, the more critical it is that we be passionate and get the juices flowing.

By the way, our inspiration for the Quest came from a line in January's Changes from Kurt and Katie Braun, who have been out cruising for nine years now aboard their Deerfoot 74 Interlude. When they noted that their motto was to "Go boldly until we can go no more," we saw something that we could believe in.


I loved the Wanderer's New Year 'Lectronic report from Mexico's Gold Coast, and particularly his decision not to go to town with everyone else to celebrate the arrival of the new year. "We got to ring in the new year by communing with our beloved catamaran," he wrote. That's pure poetry, man.

The bad weather on the Bay on New Year's Day broke my string of New Year's Day sails, so your line in 'Lectronic is just what a landlocked sailor like me needed to hear.

Greg Carter
Origami, F-27


I got a kick out of the following listing in the online Classy Classifieds: ". . . 2 two-speed electric wenches, roller furling, nice interior. Boat is really BUILT."

Are these "electric wenches" some sort of San Francisco sailing subculture thing that I wouldn't understand? It seems this could be painful, especially when it's time to lube them.

Pat Byrnes
Albuquerque, NM

Pat — It was a particularly good typo, wasn't it? Thankfully our crack proofreader caught it before it went to print.


My wife and I bought a new Catalina 42 from the dealer in Marina Del Rey in November of '06 and took offshore delivery. We kept the boat in Mexico for more than a year, and had followed all the rules, so we were therefore granted an exemption from sales tax by California's State Board of Equalization.

We had planned to go cruising, but due to an illness, had to change our plans. When we returned to Marina del Rey for the tax year '09, the L.A. County Assessor assessed the boat we had paid $267,000 for two years before at $255,000. The assessment seemed way too high to us, as new boats are generally thought to depreciate 15 to 20% as soon as you take possession.

We figured a correct assessment was about $50,000 lower, so I called the Assessor’s Office and spoke to the assessor assigned to our boat. Noting that the boat market was "in the toilet," she agreed with my evaluation over the phone. She said that if I agreed not to appeal, she would lower the assessment by $50,000 — and thus our tax bill by more than $500.

But get this: she said I first had to pay the higher tax bill to avoid any penalties, and then wait for the new tax bill to be approved by her supervisor. Only then would I get a refund for overpayment. So we paid.

Months went by, and after numerous phone calls from me to her, she said she would check the pile of requests on her supervisor’s desk. And guess what? She told me her supervisor had turned down her suggested reduction, and the $255,000 assessment would stand! If I wanted to file an appeal, I could.

By the way, I later learned that the woman was appealing her own personal property tax assessment. That 'one of their own' doesn't trust the system she works for gave me pause.

Since I was filing an appeal, I asked the assessor for all correspondence between her and her supervisor. Even though earlier in the day she claimed to have seen her supervisor's 'turn down' memo, she told me there was no correspondence between them. And if there had been, they wouldn't have kept it.

Frankly, I didn't believe her. And I would later learn that she hadn't been truthful with me. At my eventual appeal hearing, I 'accidentally' picked up the file they had on my boat and took it home with me. Looking into the file, I learned that the assessor had been telling me one thing and her supervisor another! I’m sure the assessor will have a story different than my version, but the proof in the pudding is that my assessment eventually got lowered substantially and that I have the documents that she told me didn't exist!

In order to contest my appeal, I needed to get the county's worksheets for my assessment. They insisted I had to request them in writing. Once I got the worksheets, it was obvious that not a lot of effort had gone into the work, and some of the valuations seemed questionable. More on that later.

After waiting more months, I made several calls to the appeals board to find out why my appeal wasn't being heard. They said they'd been slammed by appeals because of the recession, and it would be several more months.

After my hearing date was finally set, I got a letter from the assessor’s office that would intimidate most people. They asked for nine items of information from me, including a request for a “Marine Independent Survey.” I still don’t know what that is for assessment purposes, who does them, or why I should pay to have one done. So I refused. They also claimed they would have to inspect my boat. I asked them to do it twice, but they never did. In my opinion, they never intended to, and were just trying to bluff me.

Some of the items they asked for — such as a copy of the bill of sale — were things I had sent to them when I first registered our boat with their office. When they asked for them again, I refused. Why should I waste my time giving them documents I had given them in the past? But get this. I later learned they had all of the information they were requesting from me in their files. How did I learn this? Remember how I 'accidentally' picked up the file they had on me? All the stuff was already in there!

I don't like being lied to. And all things considered, I viewed their written requests as nothing but harassment. I sent a letter to them asking for all correspondence on my case. I got nothing from them.

A few weeks before my hearing date, and out of the blue, I got an email from the new assessor assigned to investigate my claim. She informed me that her supervisor had approved an approximate 10% reduction in my assessment from $255,000 to $231,000. If I agreed, I would get a refund of about $300. They wanted to know if I would agree to that and not go to my hearing.

I was curious why they had made a reduction, so I asked for and received the worksheets for the new lower assessment. By law they were required to send me the stuff. I was surprised to find that the new lower assessment was based upon the exact same information as the original assessment! Upon closer examination, I discovered that the assessor had made several stupid and inexcusable mistakes in my original assessment. For example, instead of subtracting the depreciation/condition on my boat, she added it, creating a $60,000 error! There were other problems, too. Instead of using the price of “comparable sales,” as required, she used the asking prices for similar boats. As if the asking price is ever the selling price. She also made — and later admitted making — an erroneous 5% addition for 'geographic location' — even though the BUC book, which suggested the adjustment, said it applied only to powerboats, not to sailboats. By the way, the assessor relied heavily on the BUC price guide, despite the fact that BUC says their information may be inaccurate and that they won't stand behind their values in court.

So would I accept a $300 reduction and cancel my assessment hearing? Fat chance!

When the time for the hearing came, my request to have it before a hearing officer was granted. It was an informal hearing, so I didn't need to bring a lawyer. I found the hearing to be conducted fairly, as the officer didn't take sides, and was competent. Further, he didn't lie to me and wasn't arrogant.

During the hearing, the assessor’s supervisor apologized to me for their mistakes, and we did shake hands. After hearing both sides, the hearing officer, who seemed like a good guy, agreed with me and lowered our assessment to $215,000. I would have liked more, but it was good enough for me. I had put in a lot of time checking out my assessment, and did so in the hopes that all boaters would learn from my experience to not trust the assessor's valuation of their boat.

What irks me is that the assessor, as far as I'm concerned, tried to cover her mistakes, never admitted them, and never apologized for it until the hearing. Too bad for them, as I told them all along in writing that I was a retired investigative reporter and activist, and win or lose, I planned to get this story out to the boating public.

I also told them that I had won a major press association award for a news series on property tax assessments in my home state of Maryland. Indeed, my series resulted in an overhaul of the Maryland assessment system and the assessor's losing his job. The public was furious when I exposed the flaws in the system that resulted in the public's being cheated.

The assessment supervisor actually seemed like a good guy, and I don’t think his staff had fully informed him of the problems in my case. He did say that the assessment process was “an art, not a science,” but I think that's a lame excuse for what happened. Two assessors in the same office using the exact same information should not be more than $24,000 off in their determination of a boat’s fair market value.

I was also shocked to find that, despite my not paying sales or use tax on the purchase of my boat due to a valid offshore delivery, the assessor added a phantom sales tax to the purchase price of my boat, and then assessed me on the new total. Thus they taxed my boat on a tax that didn't exist.

My advice to Latitude readers is to not blindly accept tax assessments. Your assessment may be correct, but it may be wrong. If you don't check, you'll never know. My advice is to pay whatever bill is due, but under protest, then ask for the last three years' calculation sheets on your boat’s assessment. And if you just bought your boat, ask for the calculation sheet showing how they determined your current tax bill. In the case of L.A. County, filing an appeal online is as simple as going to It costs you nothing, and you can withdraw your appeal at any time until your hearing comes up about a year later.

By the way, we later moved our boat to San Diego, where she was assessed at . . . $215,000.

P.S. I'm an avid reader of Latitude and learn a lot from it. You're the best!

Capt. Sandy Golden
U.S. Coast Guard Licensed 100 Ton Master
Sweet Angel, Catalina 42
San Diego

Capt. Sandy — Thanks for the kind words. But thank you even more for your investigation and case history.

You can imagine how shocked we were to learn that well-paid, coddled, big-pensioned government employees not only make bonehead mistakes on tax assessments, but seem to deliberately lie to and cheat the very citizens they are supposed to serve. The one obvious lesson of your tale, which is also one we've heard from citizens fighting traffic and other tickets, is that the strategy of the government bureaucracy is to make fighting them way more costly than simply paying the fine or tax, thereby discouraging objections. Nothing like paying tax dollars to institutions that are out to abuse you, right?


Does the Grand Poobah/Wanderer have a thing for water? I ask this because he's apparently the guy behind the From Here To Eternity Kissing contest at the end of the Baja Ha-Ha, and also the 'Dropper' during the Great Water Balloon Drop from the Sky Bar at Marina Riviera Nayarit during the Banderas Bay Blast.

I'd also like to know if there is a particular technique for winning either or both contests, as I plan to take part in both of them next year.

Terry Waintross
Walnut Creek

Terry — Yes, the Poobah/Wanderer believes that most things in life go best either in, on, around or with water. In the case of sailing, board surfing, bodysurfing, paddling, and From Here To Eternity-style kissing, preferably warm, clear, saltwater.

The keys to winning the FHTEKC are kissing during the maximum impact of the largest wave possible, the maximum intertwining of limbs, and red-hot passion. In other words, click on your exhibition switch and entertain your audience. You'll probably be glad you took a little step outside what's probably your normal comfort and maturity zones.

As for the balloon drop, you want to prepare yourself with your knees bent and shoulder-width apart, elbows bent, and hands, wrists and arms supple. As the balloon makes contact with your hands, you quickly but gently lower them as though you were catching a baby being dropped from a burning building. But in the case of a properly filled and dropped balloon, it shouldn't make any difference. You should still get drenched, which is, after all, the whole point.


The '10 Ha-Ha, our second, cinched it for us: We love Mexico, so we left our O’Day 34, Flibbertigibbet, in La Paz and are currently commuter cruising. The problem is that she has gotten smaller during the 13 years we have owned and sailed her in the Bay, Delta, and up and down the coast.

The second part of our problem is that for 10+ years we have owned a Catalina 42 in the BVIs that we seldom use as it takes a full day to get there. It's only a (cheaper) three-hour flight to get to Mexico, the Mexican people are friendlier, and we know many more cruisers (thanks to the Ha-Ha).

Although there are advantages to the Caribbean, air travel has become difficult, and let’s face it, remove the bars, mooring balls, smoking, rude Europeans, and New Yorkers fromWhite Bay on Jost Van Dyke, and you have a typical beach in the Sea of Cortez. We have decided that having the longer, wider, faster and roomier Catalina closer to home makes more sense.

So we have four options: sell the Catalina there, where we'd compete with the flooded market of charter boats and she would fetch tens of thousands less than a replacement here; have her shipped to the West Coast, also tens of thousands; sail her to Florida or Texas and have her trucked here; or bring her home on her own bottom, which is also pricey, but would save us $8-10,000 in California use tax since we already own her.

After reading Jimmy Cornell’s book on cruising routes, we've decided that a straight-run type of delivery sounds more like work than cruising, so we are looking to you, Grand Poobah. Knowing that you and yours have done similar runs many times, can you suggest a route and time of the year that an almost-retired couple could 'commuter deliver' — 1-3 weeks on the boat, leave her for 1-3 weeks, and so on — and have her in California in one year or less?

Most of our friends and acquaintances are sailors, also fully or semi-retired, and many have offered to do a leg or two from St. Somewhere to St. Elsewhere, but none are interested in a grueling delivery. Of course, we would need to leave her in safe harbors with airports. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Jim & Betty Adams
Flibbertigibbet, O'Day 34
Discovery Bay / La Paz
Silver Fox, Catalina 42
On the hard in Virgin Gorda

Jim and Betty — It's actually much easier to get your boat back to Mexico and California than you seem to think. Your first leg, from the BVIs to Panama's San Blas Islands and the Panamanian mainland, would be the longest, at about 1,200 miles. But it's all downwind and warm, and you'd have both the fantastic San Blas Islands and the Canal as the carrot at the end. You want to do this before hurricane season, June to November, and before the Christmas winds start hooting in late December. Even so, it's probably a good idea to have at least one reef in the main all the way across the Caribbean Sea. Once you arrive in Panama, you can leave your boat at Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side, or at one of several other spots on the Pacific side.

The remaining three legs would all be 750-milers: Panama to Puesta del Sol Marina in Nicaragua, with pleasure stops in Costa Rica. You can leave your boat in total safety at Puesta del Sol and fly home from Managua. Then it's 750 miles from Puesta del Sol to Acapulco, including crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Like the previous leg, this will no doubt involve a lot of motoring. We'd actually probably push it another 135 miles to Zihua, which hasn't had any drug violence. You can leave your boat at Marina Ixtapa. From Zihua, it's 750 miles to Cabo, where you can leave the boat and fly home, and then after the 750-mile Baja Bash you're back in California.

Timing is critical on these last four legs, too. It's best to do them in winter, starting in November or December, and just make sure you get back to California by July — assuming you don't want to leave the boat in Mexico over a hurricane season at a spot such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan or La Paz. You don't want to do any of these four legs in the summer because of rain, hurricanes, lightning and humidity.



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