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April 2011

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I really want a cat. Not a catamaran, because I'm a monohull person. I mean a feline. And I want to know if it's feasible to take a cat cruising with my partner and me.

You see, my old life made me puke — literally. It seemed to consist of nothing but work, obligations, traffic and mindless crap on television. My life had no soul. Not an ounce of it. I was a cog in a gear of I don't know what. The funny thing is that for the longest time, I didn't even realize it.

But I've changed. I gave up most of the trappings of the high life for a basic monohull outfitted with basic cruising gear. In exchange for sometimes pretending to enjoy pretending to be cool and hip, I've gained a connection with nature. I'm not going to lie and tell you that it's always been an easy transition, but the positives have outweighed the negatives, and it's becoming more that way all the time.

The one thing that's been missing in my life is the aforementioned cat. I had one when I was young, but was too busy to have any animals once I joined the rat race. But now my partner says it would be cool to have a cat — assuming that other cruisers say it's not a big problem on their boats.

I've read about all kinds of cruisers who have cruised with all kinds of dogs — even huge ones. But I haven't read about anybody cruising with a cat. I would think that cats are more adaptable to boats than dogs, but I don't know. Can I get some feedback?

Terry Lampthan
San Jose

Terry — We've never had a cat on a boat, so we'll put your question to our readers. If we're not mistaken, the biggest problem with cats is that some have a tendency to want to jump ship in foreign countries.


My husband Chad is a sailor through and through — and I have proof. As it was our anniversary, we recently went to dinner alone. As we sipped our wine, I reached over, took his hand and, looking into his eyes, said, "Tell me something romantic."

"You look beautiful in foul weather gear," he responded without missing a beat.

Lorie McNamee
Enter Laughing, Little Harbor 44
Portsmouth, RI

Lorie — So you fell for a smooth talker, did you?


We've never taken piracy lightly, but after the incident in which four Americans were taken hostage on the Marina del Rey-based Davidson 58 Quest, and then killed by Somali pirates, we take it very seriously. For our family of three, piracy has changed the direction of, and our perspective on, cruising.

On February 19, we began the passage which was to take us west from Cochin, India, to Oman and the Red Sea. We knew Quest had just been taken by pirates, but held to our decision to go. Much forethought and planning had gone into the decision to undertake this passage. The intelligence we had stated that the pirates would attack with one skiff and six to seven pirates, usually from the port quarter. Based on this information, we purchased a shotgun, sharpened all our knives and machetes, registered our passage with the U.K. Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO), the Maritime Security Centre—Horn of Africa (MSCHOA), and the U.S. Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO), and developed the following 'Piracy Procedures', which were posted at the navigation station.

At first sign of a small boat far from shore, the person on watch was to call all hands on deck, the engine was to be turned on, and evasive action taken by changing direction and speed, and shining the spotlight on the small boat. In addition, the headsail was to be dropped, and my wife and teenage son were to gather our weapons, which consisted of a shotgun, machete, flare gun, spear gun, and other knives. Katie was to prepare the boat for lockdown, turn on the SSB, and set the VHF DSC distress setting to piracy, and lastly, put out an information call on VHF 8 and 16.

If shots were fired or an attack seemed imminent, my son Jamie and I would stay in the cockpit, while Katie went down below. Katie would issue a mayday on VHF 8 and 16, and SSB 2182, 16420, & 12290. She would also activate the DSC on the VHF and the emergency alarm on the SSB.

Meanwhile, I would fire a warning shot and be prepared to ram the pirate skiff. Katie would lock down the belowdecks, control the boat from the nav station, and continue calling for help on the radio.

In addition, we put Vaseline on the toe rails and lifelines from the beam to the stern, which we found to be very effective. My son and I each wore a large knife on our belts at all times, and Katie stood ready to quickly dress as a male.

On February 23, after fighting light headwinds for four days, and having realized that we had damaged our Max Prop in Cochin, we heard the news of the deaths of our friends Scott and Jean Adam on Quest. We had cruised with the couple in Tonga and New Zealand. In addition, we received more intelligence that indicated the pirates were now using two skiffs, and could have as many as 19 pirates making the attack. News reports were also stating that the pirates had started to torture their hostages.

At this point, we still had the most dense area of previous pirate attacks to pass through. So I sat my wife and son down and, without offering my opinion, asked them what they thought we should do. So it was as a family that we made the difficult decision to return to Cochin. Although there were reports of pirates in our path back to India, it was not as high a risk as the area into which we'd been headed. Two days later, the sailing vessel Ing was hijacked in the very position where we would have been had we continued on our original course.

When we turned back, we only had 800 miles to go to Oman. But with the murder of our friends, it seemed that the pirates had now raised the bar from just the taking of hostages to death. Further, we had damaged our prop in Cochin, so our motoring speed was reduced by more than 20%, and our fuel consumption increased by a similar amount. In addition, the winds were light and the seas almost flat, giving too much advantage to the pirates and their high-speed skiffs.

Some thoughts on the past two months: We sailed 1,500 miles in the Arabian Sea, and we ended up almost right where we started. It used to be that we were very concerned about the freighters and the weather when we were at sea. Now the watch was all about looking for pirates. In the past, ship crews usually didn't keep a good watch and we had to be worried about being run down. But now the freighters keep an excellent watch, and are worried when they see us — a small boat — because we might be pirates.

We previously didn't give fishing boats a second thought — except for how to stay out of their nets. Now our first thought is to wonder if they're a mothership for pirates. For example, when were about 180 miles off the Indian coast on our return to Cochin through the Lakshadweep Islands, near where two other pirate attacks had taken place, we noticed a ferry boat stopped at dusk. Thinking it odd, we listened to some chatter on the radio, then saw the ferry proceed south. We then spotted a large black fishing boat — mothership? — on a course that would intercept ours. We implemented our many security procedures. After about 30 minutes, we realized that the ship was not following us and therefore not a pirate. So we stood down. But Katie was scared to death!

Some of you may be wondering why we chose to come this route — as opposed to around South Africa — even though we knew about pirates. We made the decision to continue on our circumnavigation when we were in Southeast Asia, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Sri Lanka and India. Since that time, the pirate situation has escalated exponentially, and expanded in area from a 600-mile route that was heavily patrolled by the world’s military organizations, to one that includes the entire Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, and part of the Red Sea. It's a distance of over 2,000 miles.

Right now, we're feeling a lot of anger toward the pirates, and it's frustrating, because there isn’t much we can do about it. Not only have they taken the lives of friends and held others hostage, but piracy has really taken the fun out of cruising. People used to ask, “Don’t you get scared?" Even one of the captains on a freighter we talked to in the Gulf of Bengal asked us this question. Our answer has always been “No.” Needless to say, that has changed, as piracy has added a very real fear factor.

We chose to give up our goal of circumnavigating with Esprit because of the pirates. It's a tremendous letdown for us to have to ship her from the Maldives to Turkey instead of our taking her on her own bottom. As a result, we'll end up doing all but 1,500 miles of a circumnavigation on her bottom.

Chay, Katie & Jamie McWilliam
Esprit, Kelly-Peterson 46, Ha-Ha '03 vets


The hijacking of Scott and Jean Adam's Marina del Rey-based Davidson 58 Quest, and the subsequent murder of them and their Seattle-based crew, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, should be sufficient cause to finally precipitate some action against Somali piracy by the maritime powers — and principally the United States.

We met and socialized with the Adams at Vuda Point in Fiji two years ago while our boats were on the hard. They were decent people who were peaceably pursuing a common dream. We did not see them again after they departed Fiji.

We believe that the U.S. Navy should take the lead in searching out and destroying pirate vessels in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. There is no doubt we have the means to locate these vessels. Once located, destroying or capturing them at sea shouldn't present much difficulty. Second, U.S. forces should take the lead in attacking and eliminating the bases from which these pirates operate. Again, in most cases these bases are known, and in many cases the leaders of the various pirate groups are known.

We don't believe that it's necessary to locate and eliminate all pirates or pirate bases to create an effective deterrent to piracy. It's just necessary to make piracy an option that even the most ignorant of the criminally-inclined wouldn't want to choose. You do this by making it obvious that piracy will only result in disaster and/or death for the pirates and their associates.

These actions should have been taken years ago, as a small cadre of violent ignoramuses has been allowed to take merchant vessels, private yachts, and hundreds of innocent people as hostages. Merchant marine operators apparently would rather pay higher insurance premiums than take action to defend their vessels. Private yachts have been rendered 'victims in waiting' by legal barriers preventing their captains and crews from arming themselves.

Our boat is presently at Langkawi, Malaysia. We will be returning to her very soon, and will spend much of the year enjoying Southeast Asia. In January of next year, when the northeast monsoon season kicks in again, we will probably make the passage across the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and up the Red Sea into the Med. If we had our choice, we would be armed. We've had a lifetime of experience in handling weapons and are very comfortable with them. I have no doubt that given weapons of choice, we could defend ourselves against any pirates we'd be likely to encounter. However, given the legal barriers to carrying almost any firearms on a boat, we yachties have to choose between breaking the laws of various countries or going unarmed.

But the fact is that few private vessels without arms can defend themselves against even the most incompetent pirates. So by default, military force must be used to prevent the seas from being controlled by pirates. Jean, Scott, Phyllis and Bob should be the last victims of Somali piracy.

P.S. We sailed non-stop from Humboldt Bay to the Marquesas three years ago, and therefore missed the Ha-Ha.

Bill & Janet Wickman
Airstream, Radford 46
Humboldt Bay

Bill and Janet — We think you've got some good ideas and some not-so-realistic ideas. A few years ago, a family on an armed cruising boat reported that they had driven off pirates in the Arabian Sea by killing one of them with a rifle as he attempted to board a nearby cruising boat. They also t-boned another pirate vessel, driving it away. But that was then and this is now, and the arms race on the Arabian Sea has escalated exponentially. Somali pirates no longer have just automatic weapons, but also things like rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). If you were visited by pirates, it's highly likely you'd be seriously outgunned.

Similarly, we're pretty dark on the concept of "attacking and eliminating" pirate bases in Somalia. The last thing this country needs is to get involved in another land altercation in a country where there is no established order. And since there are currently 684 hostages being held, that's just too many innocent people who can be used as human shields.

Nonetheless, since the U.S. military budget is greater than that of the next 14 countries combined, we think it's time to either stop being impotent, or return the military budget to taxpayers. And we think there is a solution. The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea should be declared a weapons-free zone, except for recognized navies. The U.S. should then take the lead in boarding every vessel they can find and searching for weapons. If any weapons are found, the vessel should immediately be sunk and the crews given mandatory five-year sentences in some desert hell-hole.


The emotions we've experienced since learning of the senseless murder of the fellow cruisers on Quest and their two crew have ranged from shock to fear to anger. Although we'd never had the pleasure of meeting any of the four, we've also felt a sense of loss.

In the end, however, the question seems to be whether it's better to meet your end while in the process of living your dream, or never dare venture outside your home. I guess that is a question that each of us has to answer for ourselves based on our philosophy of life.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the families and friends of these four adventurers, who I am sure will be sadly missed by many.

John & Leanne Hembrow
Red Sky, Moody 54
Mt. Warren Park, Queensland, Australia

John and Leanne – We don't think the choice is quite as stark as you make it out to be. No matter where you go, from San Diego to Sydney, there is some element of risk and danger. But the amount of that risk is substantially different depending on where you cruise. We don't think the Adams were doing anything particularly risky, as the percentage of yachts that have been hijacked there had been very low, particularly in recent years, and the number of yachties that have ended up getting killed had been much smaller still. Indeed, West Marine founder Randy Repass and the crew on his Wylie 66 Convergence had considered all of the risk factors just a few days before for that same route, and decided those risks were quite small. Of course, if there is a .1% chance of the crew of a boat being hijacked and killed, it means that it's going to happen to someone. Tragically, we think those on Quest just happened to be in that very small percentage, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.


As far as I'm concerned, it's really time to do something about the Somali pirates. Shipping companies should pay mercenaries to take out any and all pirates instead of just paying the ransoms.

Greg Clausen
Wisdom, Santana 30/30

Greg — Are your sure you want to have shipping companies hiring mercenaries to kill pirates? We think it's the job of governments rather than private armies — although our belief is waning.


As cruisers of just two years, we already know that the cruising lifestyle comprises two elements that many times are in conflict with each other. One is independence, the other is risk. As a group, we cruisers are independent enough to go where we want, which sometimes leads to risky situations. Every cruiser has some kind of risk management plan based on the information available at the time. We are constantly assessing the weather, water depths, sea conditions and many other factors that affect us.

One factor that sometimes is overlooked is how our risk affects others not onboard. In the case of Quest, the risk to themselves and others was substantial. Even though there have been few incidents like this before, where the hostages are killed, one could have surmised that bad guys could be in the area they were transiting and that any rescue effort could be very risky.

If there is anything to learn from this tragedy, it may be that, as independent as we are, we may have to rely on others in overwhelming situations, and this may put them in peril.

Our sincere condolences to the families of the crew aboard Quest.

John & Bridget Wilson
Sailsoon, Sabre 34 MK I


As were most readers of Latitude, I was horrified by the news of the killing of the Adams and of their crew by Somali pirates.

What bothers me the most is the almost blasé attitude of the United States government. Is it me, a retired U.S. Navy vet, or has someone changed the definition of 'pirate'? They are the scum of the earth, and the more we 'handle them with kid gloves', the more we deserve to have to accept the results.

I say bull crap! These pirates deserve nothing better than to be publicly removed from society — forever. They shouldn't get lawyers, deals, or even the right to be heard on their horrible lives. It has long been the 'law of the sea' to deal with pirates. What they are doing is not some ride at Disneyland or harmless game, it's using the lives of innocent people to try to extort money. Any country that allows them in is also guilty of harboring criminals.

I feel that it's time to go over to Somalia and reclaim all the hostages that are being held, as well as their personal property. We don't need to even declare war, as they already have.

My hats are off to the Special Forces, although they only killed two of the pirates. If it had been me, I would've cut their arms and legs off and used their bodies as shark chum.

Steve Denney
Break Time, Yorktown 39

Steve — Once again, we're afraid that going to Somalia and trying to reclaim the hostages wouldn't be quite as simple as you think, and that a lot of lives, innocent and otherwise, would be lost. We much prefer the idea that the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea be declared a 'weapons free zone', that discovered pirate vessels be used for target practice, and their crews receive mandatory long sentences — instead of taxpayer-funded lawyers and country club prisons. But we couldn't agree more that international impotence on this matter has made piracy an attractive career alternative for desperate Somalis.


Several months ago, Latitude wondered if anyone kept a proper log of the times they've been sailing. I bought my boat in September of '04, and have indeed kept a log of all outings. That's how I know there have been 230 of them. I record where I sail, the wind conditions, the distance travelled, the top speed, and any adventures I have. Ninety-nine percent of the time I sail by myself on the Bay, but once I did take my boat down to Half Moon Bay with a friend.

I'm retired, so my log book will provide me with good reading and fond memories when I'm no longer physically able to sail.

By the way, in January my 20-year-old Guest battery charger finally bit the dust. So I went to see Anders Johansson at Swedish Marine, one of your advertisers, who sold me a replacement. Chris, one of his employees, installed it. In the weeks that followed, there were a few issues with the charger. But each time I called Anders, he was more than happy to make every effort — including sending Chris out several more times, and once coming out himself — to make sure I was happy. I appreciate his desire to make sure his customer was completely satisfied.

Bob Harrison
Fortune Hunter, Hunter 30
Marina Bay, Richmond


I think it's time to alert the sailing community — and the whole Bay Area — to the plans for development of Treasure Island. I had no idea what was going on until I heard on the radio that the developer may agree to take 200 feet off what was to be a 650-ft residential tower. Horrors!

Just as San Francisco allowed the monstrosity of a tower that is near the end of the Bay Bridge to enrich a developer, cater to wealthy buyers with dramatic unencumbered views, and give a giant "single digit salute" to the rest of the Bay Area, now they want to duplicate it on Treasure Island. That's my view, anyway.

The development plans and an artist's depiction are at

Instead of a beautiful open Bay between the Cityfront and Treasure Island, the current proposal will now wall in a significant part of the approach to the Bay Bridge between buildings on both sides, with a 450-ft — or worse — "single digit" to match the single digit on the other end of the bridge.

Note that the artist drew aerial views. That makes the buildings look smaller. Nothing about them will look small from the water, from the City waterfront or other approaches.

The Bay Area needs to know!!

Eliot Hudson
Gatecrasher, C&C 41
San Francisco

Eliot — While our feelings aren't particularly strong about this matter, we think a good argument can be made for turning Treasure Island into a mini Manhattan, with scores of tall towers. After all, such construction would bring much needed jobs, it would dramatically increase San Francisco's tax base, and dense urban living is said to be the least destructive to the environment. We may be wrong, but it also seems to us that the Bay Area has become way too dreary and ossified. Furthermore, we kind of like the idea of tall buildings creating a funky lee similar to the one to the east of Angel Island.

But as we said, our feelings aren't that strong about the issue.


I always love the Letters section of Latitude, and sometimes have even been tempted to respond. This time I couldn't resist.

First, the wonderful flashlight rant. It's true, flashlights aren't very reliable. I have long since changed to the headband variety sold in mountaineering stores, as they not only work, but they also send the beam in the direction you're looking. But here's a big flash for makers of 'marine' flashlights — boats move. So why would you design a round flashlight for a boat? Square would work. Rectangular would work. Triangular would work. The only common shape that doesn't work is round. Geddit?

Secondly, I wanted to comment on the situation in Mexico. I have been 'robbed' twice in Puerto Vallarta. I was skipper of a rather large motoryacht in Marina Vallarta, and the owners had gone off to maximize profits in some Third World country, so I invited my 15-year-old son to visit me from Canada. As is the case with many males who haven't yet attained maturity, he was immediately attracted to Jet Skis. When he returned the first day, I watched him slow down to an idle as he approached the occupied section of the channel. Nevertheless, he picked up a patrol boat tail that followed him to the mothership. He was given a ticket for speeding.

The motoryacht was large enough that we had an agent, so the next day the agent, my son and I went to the harbormaster. We explained that my son had slowed down before coming near any boats in the channel. The Harbormaster replied that it was necessary to slow down before entering the outside channel. We replied that there were no speed signs, and my son had observed good seamanship. We got no joy, so $500 was 'stolen'.

The next day, while coming off a wave, my son caught the handlebars of the Jet Ski under his chin. It was a small cut that required two stitches and five minutes at the clinic next to the entrance to the marina. The $300 fee may not seem like robbery to people who have not been held for ransom by the American Medical Association for the last couple of years.

Finally, on the subject of Latitude's Ocean 71 Big O, I was hired to deliver the Big O from Cabo to Vancouver, B.C. in February of . . . sometime in the late '90s. It was an El Niño year, and — as some ex-pat screaming down the dock at 5 a.m. tried to point out — every harbor from Mexico to Tatoosh Island was closed due to shitty weather. But the Ocean 71 was a great boat. She was very strong but, like most boats of that era, suffered from being pretty squirrely in a following sea. I remember we had squalls from astern up in the 50-knot range. The boat had been terribly neglected, so we were pretty wet with leaky hatches and whatever, but no real fear. Okay, one deckhand did try to swim ashore at San Francisco, but the anticipation is always worse than reality. The trick when going north to the Pacific Northwest is to do it in winter — but without a time schedule. That way you can just let the lows roll through, then pick up the southwesterlies that follow. Then duck in and wait and do it again.

Big O is now called the Ocean Light II, and is doing wonderful grizzly bear and 'spirit bear' adventure tours in Canada and Southeast Alaska. She's been completely refurbished and is in great condition.

Peter M. Heiberg
Scaramouche V, Palmer Johnson 49
Victoria, B.C.

Peter — You think you got 'robbed' in Puerto Vallarta? That was nothing. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the California prison guards union has rules that require California taxpayers to spend $35 million a year for guards to watch over a mere 31 prisoners who are so ill they are often unconscious or are attached to life-sustaining equipment such as ventilators in hospitals. Despite the prisoners' having their ankles manacled to beds, union rules require that each of the near-dead be guarded by three full-time guards. Because the work is so effortless, these gigs are said to be prized by guards with the most seniority — meaning the ones with the most experience. No wonder California is considered to be the most dynamic state in the Union, with an endless string of businesses beating down the door just to get a foothold in the Golden State.

As for Big O, nothing does our heart better than to know that she's been completely restored and is doing great. We owned her for something like 11 years, mostly in the Caribbean, where she's still remembered for revelry and — why not admit it? — some good-natured debauchery. Big O was pretty rough when we bought her, got used pretty hard, and we certainly didn't have the kind of money necessary to rebuild a yacht of that size. Nonetheless, she was the best boat we've ever been on in rough weather. One night in the days before things like marine weather forecasts, we and our young kids set sail on her from Greece to Turkey when the wind came up really strong. All we had to do was drop the main and go under staysail and mizzen, and Big O left everyone feeling secure. There was another time off Cuba when a huge squall line came through with 50 knots of wind. We suppose we were lazy, because we didn't even bother to reef or strike the main. But once again, Big O handled the breeze with aplomb. God, we loved that boat.


The March issue cover of Latitude is gorgeous! I'd love to know the name of the beautiful schooner. Is she, by any chance, Contessa del Mar?

I don't like to show my ignorance, but I guess I'm not salty enough to know what is meant by the expression "bone in her teeth," which you used to described the schooner on the cover as having.

Mo Newman
Planet Earth

Mo — Thanks for the kind words about the cover. The schooner is the 65-ft Juno, which was designed and built by Gannon & Benjamin of Martha's Vineyard for one of America's most affluent families. Except for more modern sealants and adhesives — and hockey pucks! — she was built plank-on-frame, just as wooden boats were built 100 years ago. You can read more about Nat Benjamin's love for wooden boats in the May issue of Latitude.

That Juno appears on the cover at all is something of a fluke. With the printer needing a cover the next day, we asked the staff what they had lined up for a cover. When the response was, "Nothing special," we dipped into our Caribbean photo archives and pulled out the shot of Juno from a few years back. Annie Bates-Winship then worked her graphic magic on the photo. We're glad you liked it.

Technically, the term 'bone in her teeth' describes when a boat is well underway and the water being driven by the bow is pushed to the sides of the boat without spraying over the bow. In more recent times, it just means a boat that's hauling ass.


I feel the pain of the reader who has had so much trouble with flashlights on boats — especially with regard to those silly multi-LED compact lights. It doesn't seem to matter what model or manufacturer, they just won't keep working.

On the other hand, I unreservedly recommend the Fenix LD01 three-level CREE LED flashlight available from Amazon. All of Fenix's stuff seems to be well-made, but this pricey — $40 — little beast consistently delivers a whopping 85 lumens from a single AAA battery in a keychain-sized flashlight. It's sure to please.

It actually has three modes. It initially comes on at 28 lumens, which itself is surprisingly bright. Turn it off and on again quickly, and it shines at a lower nine lumens for longest battery life. Off and on again once more, and it shines at 85 lumens — a truly astounding output from such a little device. I amaze the gearheads every time I have a chance to demonstrate it.

By the way, 85 lumens almost approaches the level of an instrument of self-defense, as it can definitely ruin the night vision of an intruder or attacker. Sailing into Olympia at night, I use the Fenix to spot the buoys in the turning basin. My big old Mag-Lite won't light up the buoys' reflective numerals, but my little Fenix does just fine.

The flashing design is simplicity itself — a rotating lens housing screwed to a solid battery case with an o-ring seal. I've tied mine to a line with a magnet and, when trying to retrieve my cell phone at night, dipped it in six feet of Puget Sound seawater. I later realized I'd taken too much of a risk with a device I value far more than my cheapo cell phone! But the flashlight continued to work fine — though I did take the precaution of rinsing it, disassembling it, and letting it dry completely.

Paul Brogger
Mid-Life Cruises, San Juan 28
Olympia, WA


My favorite flashlight is an Underwater Kinetics Mini Q40, a AA-battery-powered dive light that is waterproof to 500 feet. I recently sailed to Tahiti and didn't go on deck at night without one in my pocket. It comes in incandescent and LED models.

Ken Harris


Latitude recently groused about the quality and reliability of flashlights. But I've got one I really like — the bright and indestructible Underwater Kinetics UK Mini Q40 Xenon Dive Light with Mask Strap

I use it almost every day on my sailboat, and I've never had a problem with it. I've dragged this light through desert and jungles, and it still looks almost new. Although I haven't put it to the test, it's said to be waterproof to depths of 500 feet, so it should easily handle any spray on a sailboat.

It seems that the older model I have has been discontinued, but I'm guessing that the new LED version will be as good if not better.

Adam Katz
As-Yet-Unnamed Ericson 29

Readers — Adam's recommended flashlight costs about $25 when purchased online. And wonder of wonders, it's "proudly made in the United States."


We're sad to hear that some folks have bad luck with such a simple device as a flashlight. We have one flashlight that has worked perfectly for years, and it's usually the one I grab first. It was originally a headlight from a bicycle that was stolen out of the Ala Wai Marine yard in '93. Since we live aboard and cruise a small boat, we try to make every piece of equipment do double duty whenever possible — so our bike lights are usually pressed into service as flashlights. We've had good luck with it.

We just replaced the old 6-volt dry cell-powered spotlight that came with the boat in '90 with a new LED model — but only because the new one is a lot brighter and more compact. True, we have had some flashlight failures, but usually we can clean the contacts and replace the batteries to get years of life out of them.

Chuck & Laura Rose
Lealea, Albin Vega 27
Honolulu / Currently in the South Bay

Chuck and Laura — Shine on! You and your ancient lights belong in the Flashlight Hall of Fame. In this ever more disposable world, we love the fact that you've gotten so much life out of those lights.


I read the complaints about flashlights in the March issue of Latitude. Tom, my son, gave me a rechargeable Streamlight flashlight that he used in the police department. I have had these flashlights on my schooner, Dauntless, for 26 years, keeping one in the cockpit during trips and having one mounted on the bulkhead next to my bunk.

The Streamlight is guaranteed for life. I had to replace the battery in one of them, and that cost me $10. The switches and bulbs are replaced for free when you take them in. They cost $100, but they are worry-free and shine a beam that can't be beat.

It's possible to wire the flashlight directly into your 12-volt system, but there's also a transformer that comes with it so you can recharge on 110 volts, too.

Buy the Streamlight where police equipment is sold.

P.S. Do you have any information on the beautiful schooner that appeared on the cover of the March issue of Latitude?

Paul Plotts
Dauntless, 71-ft Alden schooner
San Diego

Paul — As previously noted, the schooner on the cover is the 65-ft Juno that was built in the traditional manner by the Benjamin & Gannon yard of Vineyard Haven, MA.


Despite murder and mayhem south of the U.S. border, you continue to entice innocents into these areas. I presume that you saw the story about cruisers Jean Pierre Bouhard and Dan North, who allegedly were murdered by charter boat skipper Javier Martin.

Your advice is bound to catch up with you tragically sometime in the future. You would provide the best service to your readers by informing them of the risks and advising caution.

The Laughing Rose Pearl

T.L.R.P. — We don't know if you've missed a lot of issues or are just lacking in reading comprehension, but we've been informing readers of the risks and advising caution all along. And that goes for the United States, too, where statistics suggest that the risks of being a victim of "murder and mayhem" are much greater in places such as Oakland, Richmond, and Stockton than they are in Mexico, Central America, and Panama. By the way, are you suggesting that we can best serve our readers by advising them not to do events such as the Delta Ditch Run to Stockton?

Perhaps you've noticed that we haven't published any letters from cruisers who, fearing for their personal safety, have returned to the United States from Mexico and Central America. We haven't published any because we haven't received a single one. So if you're suggesting that we're somehow managing the news to present a Pollyannaish portrait of cruising south of the border, you're wrong. Indeed, most cruisers tell us they feel as safe south of the border than they do in the States, if not safer.

As for your broad statement about "murder and mayhem south of the border," that's a wild generalization that suggests monumental ignorance on your part. Do you really think that the personal safety risks are as great in peaceful Puerto Vallarta at they are in the 1,500-mile-distant shooting gallery that is Juarez? Or in the shooting gallery that is Oakland? Where you are in Mexico, as where you are in the United States, determines how great the risk is to your personal safety. And to date, the Pacific Coast of Mexico has been very safe for cruisers. But as we've repeatedly said, if that changes, we'll be the first to let you know. And now we're saying that Acapulco — and the once wonderful Acapulco YC — might better be left off the itinerary. No cruisers have been hurt there, but it's the one place on the Pacific Coast where there has been a bunch of violence. In addition, if you read Changes, you can note the experience of Bill and Grace Bodle at the yacht club there.

By the way, here are some fun facts about Mexico: The economy grew at 4.5% during '10, and predictions for this year vary from 3.6% to 4.8%. And despite the narco violence, Mexico had the greatest increase — 53% — of foreign direct investment of any country in Latin America. You may not believe in Mexico, but foreign businesses with big bucks apparently do.

As for the tragic murders in Panama, you obviously missed not only February 16's 'Lectronic Latitude on the subject, but also the Sightings piece in the March issue.


I read the letter from the ever-entertaining Mr. Kremer about his dink going missing in Mazatlan, and Latitude's response about how it would have made sense to enlarge the list of usual suspects to include “other cruisers.”

Back in January, a couple we had the pleasure of spending time with when they were passing through Monterey last year — and who are now in Mazatlan — had someone snag their dinghy. It was a foggy night, the painter was cut — making it sound familiar. We don’t know who did it and will never know why, but it's safe to assume they will never see that particular dink again.

Having said that, and having had the unique experience of sharing several months of dock time with Mr. Kremer in Monterey, I would like to remind him that while he was in Monterey, our dink was stolen from our boat here. Fortunately for us, we were victimized by a truly misguided person who then tied our dinghy to the back of his boat — at the end of our dock! So we had an exceptionally easy recovery.

To us, it was just a reminder that things go missing — no matter where you are, or sometimes even how careful you are. We love Mexico and travel there whenever possible. It never hurts to be reasonably cautious or vigilant, but that applies north of the border, too.

The Dakans
Yo, Cheoy Lee Offshore 27


The publisher and staff at Latitude do an outstanding job of keeping the cruising community informed. So I'm always a bit bummed when I can't get my hands on the current edition of Latitude.

We keep our boat in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, and have never experienced any problems with the government or the drug cartels. We firmly believe that the violence in Mexico — and it certainly is a huge problem — has very little effect on cruisers. We love Mexico, the people, and the culture.

We live in Rio Rico, Arizona, about 10 miles above the Nogales border, and not too far from the U.S. Army base at Fort Huachuca. We've lived here two years, and have never seen an illegal immigrant on our property. We were told that it was a huge problem in our immediate area, but it's simply not true. The area is quiet and relatively crime-free. For example, last month the nearby U.S. city of Nogales had its first homicide in three years.

My wife and I wanted to invite combat veterans down to our boat — at our expense — to fish and dive in the Sea of Cortez. I contacted the Fort to try to arrange it, but was advised that Mexico was far too dangerous for our soldiers! And therefore the Army couldn't sanction our plan.

We were really pissed at the Army over their decision. Our brave young men and women can fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are targeted for death, but a boating trip in the Sea of Cortez is too dangerous? Clearly the brass at the Fort are not informed — or have spent too much time listening to the local news media. There are hundreds and hundreds of gringos happily living in San Carlos who regularly commute between Mexico and the United States. Many of them are in their 80s and 90s. We simply have not had a problem in our area.

On a different subject, several years ago my wife and I cruised to Central America on our trawler, and spent about a year in Costa Rica and Panama. We had a great time and didn't experience any serious problems. We're ready to return to the area this November, but I do have one question for your staff or readers: How expensive is diesel fuel in Central America and the Caribbean? We know about the cost in Mexico, but not about other areas. Any help would be appreciated.

Tom & Judy Blandford
M/V Imagine Me and You
San Carlos (Sonora), Mexico

Tom and Judy — Thanks for the kind words. And be advised that all issues of Latitude are available for free online at And man, do the photos ever pop when they are electronic as opposed to on newsprint!

That the U.S. military won't let you host combat veterans on a fishing and diving expedition in the Sea of Cortez because the military thinks it's too dangerous is yet more evidence to us that U.S. policy is set by some of the most ignorant people in the world. If they want to protect U.S. soldiers from random violence, simple logic would dictate that places like St. Louis, Detroit and Oakland — which are many times more dangerous than the Sea of Cortez — be made off-limits to combat soldiers. Is it just us, or does the United States seem to have deteriorated into an idiocracy?

By the way, we want to salute you for your extremely generous offer of hosting the combat veterans. We're not big on any of our current wars, but we certainly don't blame them on the individual soldiers.

As for the cost of fuel, it will be interesting to get reports from readers. In St. Barth, we can tell you it's about $7.50 U.S./gallon, which is about twice what it costs in Mexico.


The accompanying intrinsically humorous photo was taken last December by Bonny Jones, my granddaughter. I thought it might make Latitude readers smile.

Although I'm a powerboater, having owned Fantasea, a 1926 Matthews 38, for the last 51 years, I've read every issue of Latitude from cover to cover since you started.

Bev Partridge
Fantasea, Matthews 38

Bev — Nice photo. And even nicer is the fact that you're only the second member of our 'Over 50 Club'. Congratulations.


We are contemplating joining the '11 Ha-Ha, and have studied the website. We are wondering where the fleet clears Mexican Customs and Immigration.

Miklos Endrody
Navigator, Krogen 48
Bellevue, WA

Miklos — Vessels travelling to Mexico clear in at their first port of entry. In order, heading south, the ports of entry are Ensenada, Cedros Island, Mag Bay, and Cabo. Since the fleet doesn't stop at Ensenada, Cedros, or Mag Bay, members don't have to clear in until they get to Cabo. The process is easy.

By the way, the Ha-Ha committee comes out of their annual hibernation on May 1, at which time we'll provide all the details on this fall's event.


In the February issue, you mentioned St. Brendan's Isle Mail Forwarding Service of Florida, and asked for the names of other companies offering similar services.

We are planning to sell our cars and the house, then head out the Gate this summer and turn left. With that in mind, we also wanted to become 'residents' of a state that doesn't charge income tax. Our choice was Nevada.

We found a company, Mail Link Plus, that is all set up to receive mail and forward it anywhere in the world. They, too, have email notification of mail received, scanning of mail when desired, and regular or periodic shipments of your mail. Once established, you can easily handle all aspects of managing your mail and your account via email.

We enjoyed a nice overnight trip to Las Vegas, got signed up the day we arrived, and got Nevada driver's licenses at the DMV the next day. You can find all their information at

We agree with the editor's opinions regarding taxation and the use of taxpayer money in California, and certainly do not want to continue to pay for 'services' we won't be receiving once we leave.

Alan Bradley
Vivacia, Caliber 40LRC
Las Vegas, NV

Alan — Thanks for the information. We didn't realize that you could get a street address — and therefore a driver's license — with just a mail service in Nevada. But you did it, so obviously it can be done.

For the record, our beef is not with taxes per se, but with the overwhelming government waste, graft, incompetence, inefficiency, and complete and total lack of accountability. If the government worked half as hard and spent money half as carefully as well-run small businesses, we'd be happy to pay more taxes. Of course, we wouldn't have to, because the government would be awash in money. We detest being made to play on a 'team' we have no faith in.


Reader David Wheatley has three other ropes on his boat that he may not know about: the bolt rope on his mainsail and mizzen, and the luff rope on his jib.

Steve Taft
Mill Valley


Here are three more "ropes" found on a boat:

1) The boltrope on a sail that is fed into the groove that holds a sail to the mast and boom. It helps spread the load on the sail cloth.

2) The pull rope on the outboard motor used to start it.

3) My wife's rope — as in, "If you don't reef, I'll be at the end of my rope!"

Herb Clark
Hotel Charlie, Catalina 25
Chico YC


I know your La Gamelle Olson Syndicate probably doesn't want to hear about other boats, but have you thought about the old 30 Square Meter Rumbleseat, once owned by Bruce Schwab? She is ocean-ready in Road Town in the British Virgins. In Rumbleseat, you would have a real classic wooden boat that was part of the team which won the 30 Square Meter Cup in the U.S. in the late '20s. Owning her would allow you to participate in the classic boat races in the Caribbean. She would be much better than 'classic plastic'. Furthermore, I believe she is longer — 39 feet — than the Olson, and only a few hundred pounds heavier.

Richard Leute
Acey Deucy, J/44

Richard — "She would be much better" in what sense? While Rumbleseat, which then-future twice-singlehanded non-stop around-the-world racer Bruce Schwab, formerly of Alameda, used to great effect in the '96 Singlehanded TransPac, is a fine little yacht, she's just not for the members of our syndicate. We're all 'plastic' people, you see, who prefer actual sailing to working on boats. And while we have the highest esteem for wood boats and those who have the time and means to properly maintain them, it's just not us.

Furthermore, the syndicate's choice of boat for Zen sailing is strongly influenced by every member's admiration for the late George Olson — and indirectly the entire ultralight sailing community of Santa Cruz. The '70s and '80s in Santa Cruz were a special time and place in the history of boat design and boatbuilding, which we often think haven't been properly appreciated.


I'm trying to get serious about cruising, but can't just cut off the income and head out. I was hoping to cruise a bit, fly back and work a bit, and so forth. But nobody told me that an American can no longer afford the Third World.

I currently keep my boat at a beautiful marina on the San Francisco Peninsula and can afford it quite comfortably. Surely, I thought, I can afford a slip somewhere in the Sea of Cortez or on the Mexican mainland. But no! Maybe Honduras or Costa Rica. No again. Dry storage? Not even that.

I don't seem to be able to make it work. Am I missing something, or has the government successfully hidden the fact that the dollar doesn't buy squat south of the border?

John Wiesendanger
Pillar of Autumn, Hunter 40
Redwood City

John — As we've written for years, the cost of cruising is very low in Mexico — provided you follow two basic rules: 1) You avoid marinas, and 2) You avoid tourist restaurants and bars.

We suppose it's not surprising that many sailors assume that marinas in the Third World will be as inexpensive as everything else, but they aren't. The reason is that marinas in Third World countries all had to be purpose-built for foreign visitors, often as part of higher-end resorts, and within the last 20 years.

Avoiding marinas is easy to do in Mexico, and many cruisers spend little, if any, time in a berth over the course of an entire season — if not over the course of several years. Others, however, with the rest of the cost of cruising in Mexico being so low, can afford the higher berth fees. The bottom line is that 'commuter cruising', such as you were contemplating, is extremely popular in Mexico. It's less popular in Central America and Panama because of the longer flights and more expensive air fares.


On page 60 of the February issue, the editor responds to support for sailors in the Ha-Ha and references two differences between the Ha-Ha and the FUBAR Odyssey powerboat rally.

First, he notes that a "lifelong delivery skipper" who has done both the Ha-Ha and the FUBAR rally states that the "FUBAR apparently has 'rescue' boats in case a member of their 'sail-less' fleet loses power or needs a tow." As a participant in both the '07 and '09 FUBAR rallies, and one who helped organize the event, I can tell you that we had medical, mechanical, and other various support personnel on the escort vessels. The purpose of the rally was to introduce less-experienced boaters to cruising on their powerboat with the help of very experienced boaters on escort vessels. The escort vessels had various tasks, such as an advance team to arrive at a destination to set up the events, parties, and welcome the fleet as they arrived. And a rear team that stayed with the slower members of the fleet for support in case of problems.

None of the boats needed towing or asked for it. But we did help with generators, stabilizers, watermakers and other related mechanical problems. We found that the safety inspections and pre-rally seminars paid off big with participants carrying sufficient spare parts and a basic knowledge of how to fix items that fail.

The second issue raised by the delivery skipper was that there was “not much socializing” in the FUBAR compared to the Ha-Ha. We had plenty of social events, and they were all well-attended — but we agree that we did not want to have the party reputation of the Ha-Ha. Please take a look at the picture on the website for FUBAR Odyssey ’11 at and decide for yourself if it looks like the FUBAR group in Turtle Bay were having fun at our dinghy poker run. While we did have fun, our main purpose was to help the participants safely travel 900 miles in a group.

The editor's best statement is that the most important thing in both events is that people get out and enjoy their boats.

P.S. We're lifelong sailboat owners and readers of Latitude. In fact, Roy has done more than 100,000 miles of racing on sailboats.

Donna & Roy Wilson
Aboard Escort vessel Cadenza in ’07
Aboard Escort vessel Kachina in ‘09

Donna and Roy — We thought we were pointing out differences between the two events, but if it came across as though we were slamming the FUBAR, please accept our apologies. For the record, the Long Beach YC will be hosting a kick-off reception for this fall's FUBAR on April 21, although the dates for the actual event still haven't been set. The FUBAR, which is held every two years and hosted by a different yacht club, is limited to 50 boats, and usually sells out. The entry fee is $765. We wish all the participants a wonderful time in this fall's FUBAR.


The March 9 'Lectronic piece on the sudden sinking of the CNB 77 Four Devils reminded me of a nice email I got a month ago. Last year I wrote a book review on Amazon about In a Class by Herself, John Rousmaniere's book about the 73-ft yawl Bolero that had been built in '49. In the review, I mentioned that a newer and larger Bolero — I think 106 feet — was listed for sale. I wondered if she was a larger replica, as the photos of her looked very similar to the smaller version. Then last month I got a nice email from the skipper of the larger Bolero.

"You mention a 106-foot replica for sale in Monaco," he wrote. "I'm actually the captain of that Bolero, which is equally beautiful but not quite as famous! Anyway, I thought I'd just drop a line to say hello and tell you a little about 'our' Bolero. She's 105 feet overall, designed by German Frers, and built of aluminum in Cape Town, South Africa — my home town — in '92. She was not designed as a replica of the S&S Bolero, but she does certainly bear a resemblance. While by no means a classic yacht, her design features a heavy influence from the boats of the '50s and '60s. What I really enjoy about her is that, even when tied up stern-to in fashionable harbors around the world alongside the latest and greatest superyachts, she still stops people in their tracks and draws many compliments. We actually just finished polishing up her topsides today, and an hour ago dropped the hook in a lovely little bay on Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. I feel very proud entering a busy anchorage or harbor at the helm of such a lovely yacht!

"The newer Bolero recently changed hands after 14 years with her previous owner. We have just spent several months in Spain refitting her, and are now cruising the Caribbean before heading down to South America and around the Cape of Good Hope."

Mike Kennedy
Conquest, Cal 40
Los Angeles

Mike — We're not sure why the sinking of Four Devils would remind you of the two Boleros, and we don't really see much similarity between a full-keel, split-rig wood boat and an aluminum sloop with a fin keel, but any excuse for bringing up a classic yacht from the middle of the last century is fine with us.


Why is there no Latitude 38 forum? I think it would be a great platform for questions and answers on your editorial material. I, for example, have a question on some of the rigging shown in your photos of the Pirate Course.

Planet Earth

Barry — Having monitored various sailing — and other — forums, it's our opinion that the most frequent and vocal contributors are those who know the least, and who often spout fountains of factually incorrect information. We realize that by not having a forum we may be missing some good information, but at least we're not contributing to the spread of ignorance and misinformation.


Since the schools in Hawaii aren't the best, my wife has decided that, for the sake of the kids' schooling, she wants to move back to California. As much as I love the Bay Area, after seven years of living on one of the smaller Hawaiian islands, I need to be somewhere warmer. So I told my wife that I'd be willing to move if we can live in a beach town — preferably with a harbor or marina — somewhere south of Point Conception.

Since you seem to know Southern California as well as Northern California, where, if you had to live between Conception and the Mexican border, would you live and why? If possible, leave my name out of this.


Anonymous — What an interesting question! Perhaps it's because we went to the university there, but we'd probably choose Santa Barbara because it's a very beautiful area, it's less crowded than most of coastal Southern California, and because there is both ocean and mountain nature close at hand.

There are, however, a couple of downsides. Check out the accompanying poster about getting a slip in the only harbor. It seems a lot of sailors like to keep their boats there, too. Santa Barbara is also among the coldest and foggiest harbors in Southern California — but that's not saying much. After you've spent time in the tropics, all of coastal California feels like Iceland, and the chilly marine layer is no substitute for the happy tradewind cotton balls.

As for the rest of Southern California, we're familiar with every harbor town, but we really don't know enough about the schools and surrounding areas to make knowledgeable observations. Maybe folks who live in those areas would like to speak up.


Looking around at the boats on the docks at Paradise Village, Mexico, I saw that many of them have a Lifesling. We have one on our boat also, but it's never gotten wet. Have you heard of someone who has actually used theirs?

Don & Terri Parker
Double Play, Gemini 105

Don and Terri — We're sure we have, but we couldn't give you any details on how the device worked out. Maybe some readers will share their experiences.


Reading about the sad loss of Paul Smulders and Julie Newton's 43-ft Laurent Giles-designed woody Mia, as reported in the February Latitude, brought back memories of a similar experience that we had along the same stretch of Baja coastline.

My wife Maggie and I were doing the Baja Bash after the '08 Ha-Ha on the Catalina 30 Two Wishes. We'd had a great time post-Ha-Ha in La Paz with the owner before she had to return home, at which point we were to deliver the boat back to California. I had done the Bash several times before, but never on such a small and light boat. Nonetheless, with all the usual caveats, I didn't think there would be anything we couldn't handle.

We had the best weather from Cabo to Turtle Bay. After fueling up, we motored to the north tip of Cedros to see how things looked. The forecast called for the usual five to 10 knots in the morning, and 15 knots in the afternoon. It seemed as if it would be lumpy, but manageable, so we took off.

Two Wishes plugged along just off the wind at a five-knot average and, by 6 p.m., we were off the coast just southeast of Baja's Punta Blanca. Our cruising guide noted a small cove anchorage, but cautioned “unreliable holding — set anchor watch.” We nonetheless decided to anchor for the evening, then set off at midnight for San Quintin.

The wind moderated and we slept until midnight. While getting dressed to take off, Maggie commented that the wind seemed to be increasing. By the time I got on deck, it was already gusting to over 20 knots from the northwest. We decided to hang for a while to see if conditions improved. They did not. In fact, they rapidly got worse, with 35- and then 45-knot gusts. I watched the GPS track as we slowly dragged anchor.

Fortunately, we were dragging diagonally away from the shore rather than onto the beach, so I started the engine and powered against the wind to try to help the anchor reset. After six hours of motoring, we had dragged 1,000 yards, and were getting farther out of the lee of land. Conditions did not improve and, with daylight, I could see that we were drifting toward a rocky headland that formed the west side of the cove. The windblown waves were as big as five feet and very steep. It was clear that our position was untenable for very much longer.

I had just decided to cut the anchor rode when it parted by itself and set us free. I could only just motor against the wind, managing around two knots at full RPM, so we headed for the lee of the cliffs just east of our original position. The wind held all day until 6 p.m., and we motored in the lee for 10 hours, not wanting to find out how bad things were farther out to sea.

The upshot of all that motoring was that we didn't have enough diesel in reserve to make it to Ensenada, so we had to go back to Turtle Bay to refuel! I wanted to cry, and Maggie wanted to get on a bus to San Diego. But we were safe, and could have easily lost the boat as had been the case with Paul and Julie.

So, to answer the many questions that I got about the wisdom of taking a Catalina 30 on the Ha-Ha, I can say from experience that they are tough little boats — assuming you know their limitations and can get enough fuel, water and batteries aboard. But — and it's a big but — if the going gets rough, it's not going to be pretty. For instance, Two Wishes leaked all the way up the Baja coast — even with the hatches and ports taped shut. Furthermore, the wheel autopilot couldn't handle the strong winds and heavy seas. On the other hand, we logged 1,800 miles in seven weeks, and the only thing that broke was the vang shackle and the only loss was the anchor. And yes, we carried a spare.

We had the pleasure of meeting Paul and Julie in San Diego just weeks after the loss of their Mia. She had been their home as well as their boat, so they were still pretty much in shock. We wish them good luck in putting their lives back together soon.

Graham Johnson & Maggie Castle
Carpe Diem, DownEaster 38
San Diego

Readers — Paul and Julie bought a small van and are now 'cruising' Baja while searching for their next boat. Julie reports that she finally got to drink a margarita under a palm tree.


You may remember that in the last issue I recommended a friend's Catalina 27 that was for sale here in the Central Valley. It was a freshwater boat in great condition, and he was only asking $4,500 because the economy has been hurt so badly here. Well, it sold.

Now 'The Brazilian' is prepping the boat for a coastal cruise to Mexico. He's a lucky guy, because he works for a cruise company, and his Catalina 27 will be his home away from home — or home away from cruise ship. He works for five months on the ship, then gets two months off.

Anyway, there are a few other great freshwater-sailed pocket cruisers here in the valley for sale because our economy has taken such a hit.

By the way, the photo is of Carmela, my rebuilt Cal 2-27, which I'm hoping to take in the Singlehanded TransPac in '12.

Jean & Denise Mondeau
Carmela, Cal 2-27

Jean and Denise — It sounds like 'The Brazilian' got a good deal.

By the way, if everybody who is planning to do the '12 Singlehanded TransPac actually does it, it's going to be a record fleet.


We left California as part of the '02 Ha-Ha fleet, and didn't return to California until April of last year. Our boat is documented, but we had registered our dinghy in California. We kept this registration paid until '07, but then let it lapse, thinking it would be no problem getting re-registered upon our return. Big mistake.

Going to the DMV to get the dinghy registered — this is something that AAA can't do for you — is not fun. Even worse, the $39 we had to pay was more than if we'd kept the registration current for all those years. Then the registration was refused because the DMV wanted to know what state it had been registered in while we were gone from California. We tried to explain that we'd been in Mexico, every country in Central America, Ecuador, and Colombia, and had been through Panama several times, but never in a different state. This explanation was rejected. When we returned to the DMV, we were told that we really had to get a copy of the registration from the other — non-existent — state. We ultimately had to pay a penalty of $21 to get it cleared up.

The point is not the cost, but the hassle factor. The smart move is, if you plan to return to California, keep the registration current.

Merrill Newman
Jenny Wren, Valiant 42
Santa Cruz / Ventura

Merrill — That's pretty good advice, as the DMV folks seem incapable of handing anything beyond the routine. It reminds us of the time we flew to Vegas and bought a KLR 650 motorcycle that we rode throughout the west one week at a time. Nevada gave us two weeks to register the bike in our home state of California, so when we left the bike for the first time in Albuquerque, we dutifully went to the DMV as soon as we got back to California. "We owe you a bunch of sales tax on a new motorcycle," we told the clerk with a smile, figuring the bankrupt state would be happy to accept it from someone who was more than happy to pay it. Her smile turned to a frown when we told her the bike wasn't out front, but rather in New Mexico. Thanks to DMV rules, we ended up riding 10,000 miles through the West without a license plate or current registration, an adventure made all the more exciting by having to hide from every cop and highway patrolman. Between California and the tropics, we now have four small motorcycles scattered about, but we've yet to get a Motorcycle Operator's License. We've tried to sign up for literally dozens of state-approved classes that, upon graduation, give you the license, but all of them are always booked up for months in advance. As for passing the riding test at the DMV — which, by the way, in as inapplicable and idiotic as the Coast Guard's hands-on testing, or lack of it, for the Six-Pak license needed to carry paying passengers on boats — it's beyond our skills with high-center of gravity KLR. As a result, we're an inadvertent rebel rider.


We're currently in Roatan, Honduras. We're heading to the East Coast for the summer and then the Caribbean next winter. We've read all about your New Year's adventures in St. Barth, so it sure seems like a good thing to target for our calendar.

Can you give us any tips with regard to anchoring and berthing there? I assume the spots on the dock/quay will be filled with monster yachts, and we typically prefer a mooring or anchor anyway. Do I need to reserve anything early?

Jim Gregory
Morpheus, Schumacher 50
Pt. Richmond

Jim — We did St. Barth at New Year's for something like 15 out of 20 years, and had some of the greatest times ever. But we haven't done it for the last two years, and don't plan on doing it again in the near future. There are two reasons. First, the fun-loving, riff-raffy sailors who used to give the place so much character at that time of year have been almost completely replaced by Russian, New York and other billionaires, as well as Gadhafi offspring who pay hip-hoppers $1 million to sing for an hour at private parties. In the early '00s, it started to become all about the money during the holidays, and you know how dreary that gets. So what was once a fun buzz on the island at New Year's was replaced by a 'who can spend the most' buzz. And to give you an idea, a double magnum of Cristal champagne at Nikki Beach goes for $20,000. No, that's not a misprint, and yes, billionaires — and even millionaires — are happy to pay that much to show everybody they can.

The second reason we no longer visit at that time of year is the Christmas Trades — it blows like stink with big seas through most of January, if not February. It's not uncommon to have weeks and weeks of winds consistently in excess of 20 knots. In fact, for two of the last three years, there was such a big north swell that all the mini-megayachts that had paid a fortune to be in the Inner Harbor were forced to leave by the port captain. There's nothing like the sound of a two-inch dockline snapping to light a fire under a mini-megayacht captain's butt.

Don't get us wrong, you can still have a great time in St. Barth at New Year's, but there is a way better time to visit. We highly recommend the period between mid-February and the end of May. The weather is not only much more conducive to pleasure cruising, but the characters start to show up and some of the locals begin to resurface.

The big events in this time period include the arrival of people like the Fabulous Johnson Band. This is a group of folks from Baltimore and various parts of the South who have been visiting the island for years, and although they've grown up to be surgeons and all sorts of other successful professionals, they still like to rock 'n roll in Le Select as if they were still in their 20s. They're fun as hell rather than super professional, which makes it like old St. Barth at its finest. Bands like theirs have an infectious spirit and attract the kind of people you want to know.

Carnival is usually in February, and you don't want to miss that — or the burning of Vaval on the Wednesday night after Fat Tuesday. No, it's not Rio or Trinidad — it's better. Thousands of costumed people from five to 75 come together to masquerade, drink, dance, smoke and party. You never see a gendarme, yet you never see a hint of trouble either. It's how things ought to be everywhere.

And since you're a veteran of races to Hawaii and Mexico, there is no way you want to miss St. Barth at the end of March and beginning of April, because that's when they have the Bucket, which is only for boats over 100 feet, followed by the Voiles, which is the French version of Antigua Sailing Week. Yeah, you can crew in both events, but you'd probably want to race Morpheus in the Voiles. When that's over, everybody sails 90 miles upwind to Antigua for the Antigua Classic Regatta, followed by Antigua Sailing Week.

The Port Captain's Office in St. Barth has the most friendly and professional staff you're going to find anywhere. You can check in on their computers or online. When we check in and say we're going to stay for two months, they say, "Fine, stop by to pay just before you leave." How casual and cool is that? There is no way you'll get a berth in the harbor at New Year's — not that you'd want one. We've brought 'ti Profligate to St. Barth for a total of something like 10 months over the last five years, and we've never dreamed of Med-tying her in the harbor. Why would we want to? We can anchor in the bluest water possible just outside, where if you stay for awhile, you'll become part of a great, wildly diverse and ever-changing community.

We pay $310/month to anchor in the outer Gustavia Harbor with the likes of the biggest megayachts in the world. Roman Abramovich pays over $50,000 a year to do the same thing with his two big yachts, but we don't think he has any more fun. If you want to be super thrifty, you can anchor just outside the port boundaries — up at Shell Beach or around the corner at Columbie — for free. But we don't think it's worth the hassle.

Two other insights. St. Barth is often hailed as being a gastronomic paradise. Baloney. Mexico has much better 'bang for the buck' restaurant food, and at a quarter or less of the price. The good news is that Marche U took over from Match as the big market on St. Barth, and you can now cook great meals on your boat for very reasonable prices. Lastly, boat labor is very expensive in this part of the world. Last year, Greg Dorland of the Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade was quoted $700 to have a diver clean the bottom of his boat. So he did it himself.

St. Barth mid-February through May? There's no better place in the world for a sailor. November through the end of January? Mexico is much better.


Yesterday morning, Jaime and I were listening to the morning net when we learned that, because of the tsunami caused by the earthquake in Japan, the port captains had closed all of the ports on Banderas Bay — meaning Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz. Violators were subject to fines of $4,000 to $5,000. We later learned that the second of three days of racing for the Banderas Bay Regatta had been cancelled, and that all drinks at the Vallarta YC would be half-price.

After discussing the situation regarding Profligate with the publisher of Latitude, who was in the Caribbean, we agreed that if there was damage to a lot of boats in California, we would take the cat out into the deep waters of the Banderas Bay — even if the port was closed. The publisher would pay the fine, if necessary. But if it didn't seem as if the damage was going to be too great, we wouldn't risk the wrath of the port captain and instead leave the cat in her berth.

I had secured Profligate in Paradise Village Marina with the help of Harbormaster Dick Markie. In the interest of full disclosure, I let him know that the decision to stay and ride out the event at the dock might change, depending on what had happened at other West Coast ports. In fact, the decision was put off until the last minute, perhaps too long. But when I heard there might be a six-foot surge, and when I told the owner of Profligate that two dozen other boats had already defied the port captain's orders, we agreed that the cat should be taken into deep water just to be safe.

I believe the first boat to have defied officialdom was William Gates' Cal 3-34 Amaranth. She was hailed by the port captain around 10:30 a.m. Gates acknowledged that they were departing despite the captain's "closed port" declaration. When the port captain asked the vessel's name, a third party interrupted on the VHF and said, "Don't give your boat's name."

Someone else then chimed in with the rhetorical question of whether or not the port captain was aware that the safest spot to be in a tsunami was in the deepest waters of Banderas Bay. Shortly thereafter, another vessel followed the first, and soon the exodus had begun in earnest. By the time Profligate arrived outside the marina, there were over 100 boats, most of them sail, visible a few miles offshore. In classic Mexican fashion, the port captain then clarified that the port was "only closed to commercial vessels," and that private yachts were free to leave if they wished.

We felt the first turbulence at around 1:20 p.m., when I heard someone say the water level in the Marina Riviera Nayarit had dropped 18 inches. Surges continued all afternoon. But after transiting about six miles offshore, we cut Profligate's engines and let her drift. In retrospect, we should have declared the alternative Banderas Bay Regatta underway and become the new committee boat. But we were a little late for that. Most everyone was already enjoying a beautiful 80° afternoon on the water with a steady 10-knot breeze. Classic Puerto Vallarta sailing.

Those of us at sea began to get reports from those who had stayed in the marinas. The folks at the Marina Riviera Nayarit had marked the pilings, and at one point I heard the water was up 38 inches — then, minutes later, down 49 inches. Dock 11 in the marina broke off, and there were whirlpools at the entrance. Kevin Reath of Chicken Joe reported a difference in water level of four feet in just minutes at Marina Vallarta, and Harbormaster Markie estimated the current in the channel to be running at up to 16 knots. By this time all the marinas were closed, and would remain so for the rest of the afternoon.

As for those of us out on the bay, we barely felt anything. Our program was to motor a few miles out, cut the power, then drift toward shore — then do it again. We had little food — and no beer. I was going to get beer before we left, but the line in the store at Paradise was sooo slow, and I was too hopped up to wait. It was the same when I tried to top off my Telcel phone, but David Lezak, Cupatillo's new owner — she was actually named Tomatillo when I owned her and is now named Cupcake — loaded me up. But that's what he does, selling Telcel in the United States via computer. But the important thing is that we didn't feel anything out on the bay.

As it became evident that the marina situation would not stabilize before sundown, we took Profligate over to the anchorage at La Cruz. Everybody out in the bay on their boats turned up there since they couldn't get back into their slips. Earlier, Tom Searles, one of my crew for the regatta, had swum over from Cupcake to join us and help us bring Profligate back to her berth. So he was there to help us anchor instead. We found a huge spot pretty close in, dropped the hook in 30 feet of water, and played out about 100 feet of chain, then backed down at 1,500 RPM with both screws. With the bow lifting, I knew we were solid. The wind and sea were calm.

An Aussie named Stewart gave us a lift into the marina just after dark, and things were as calm as they had been all day. But we still couldn't enter the marina channel, so we beached the dinghy and came through a dead condo project next door.

We took a bus to Philo's, where we grabbed a pizza, and took a cab to our temporary digs at Villa Magna.

Jim Casey
ex-Tomatillo, Jeanneau 43DS
Lake Tahoe / Punta Mita

Readers — That's the story of what happened to Profligate during the tsunami. We received many more interesting and educational reports, which you can find in Sightings as well as starting on page 104. You can also see videos of the tsunami action in Sausalito on our Facebook page.




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