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June 2011

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I'm a female in my mid-20s, and I heard about the Ha-Ha from some regulars at my work. I told them about my passion for traveling, and they suggested looking into the event. I've checked out the official Ha-Ha website at, and am very interested in getting more details about the rally. I want to find a way to get on one of these sailboats! I was wondering if you had any suggestions or guidance for me, as cruising around with you guys seems as though it would be a great experience!

Planet Earth

K.A. — If you love adventure and you love traveling, we think you'd really enjoy doing the Ha-Ha. One good move would be to monitor the 'Mexico-Only Skippers Looking for Crew' list to get an idea of which skippers and boats are looking for crew. You could also post an 'I Want to Crew' listing at the same spot, but as a young woman, you'd want to exercise the normal precautions about not revealing too much of your identity too soon. In fact, we think the best idea for you would be to show up at the Mexico-Only Crew List Party and Baja Ha-Ha Reunion at the Encinal YC in Alameda on September 7. That would give you the opportunity to meet skippers looking for crew face-to-face, affording a much better idea of which potential situations might be the best for you. There will be plenty of women at that gathering who have done Ha-Ha's, and they'll be happy to give guidance and advice from a woman's perspective.

A number of women in their 20s who have done the Ha-Ha have told us they enjoyed a great sense of security, feeling as though they had 250 'big brothers' and 250 'big sisters' in the fleet.


We sailed into Sausalito's Pelican Harbor in March of '77 aboard Clover, our 60-ft double-ended English cutter, after completing a haulout at Stone Boatyard in Alameda. Onboard were my wife, 3-year-old son, 8-month-old daughter, and a crew of five hearty deckhands, all of whom had sailed with me since they were born. Pelican Harbor was a busy place. The famous 72-ft gaff tops'l schooner Lord Jim was getting a new teak deck laid, the old having been scrubbed away by previous owner Joel Byerly of Antigua, who had insisted on holystoning twice a day. Alicante, Dockmaster Ned's Dutch canal boat, was getting a topside paint job. And Claudia, a Baltic trader recently featured in Latitude, was getting major work done on her B&W diesel.

We soon made friends with another couple about eight slips away who also had young kids — they visited Clover, and we visited them. Their son and my son, John, went to playschool together, and so it was that we walked down the dock to their boat for dinner one cold, moonless, foggy night in late April. Our group included Clover's crew, John skipping along, and my daughter in her bassinet — and all of us in our winter gear of pea coats, watch caps and boots.

It was a great dinner, with wine, conversation, and guitar strumming. Before it got too late, we decided to leave, as it was kiddy bedtime. After saying the good-byes, my crew descended to the dock, and handed down my daughter in her bassinet. Then I jumped down to the dock. As I turned around, John jumped as well, trying to emulate his dad. My shout of "No!" met his ears as he disappeared with hardly a ripple into the inky-black water between the boat and the dock! It was so unexpected.

My mind raced. The tide was boiling out, swirling around the pilings, and my son was gone! One second: Do I shed my coat and shoes or just jump in? I must have been in the water within three seconds. I remember diving deep, the water shockingly cold, and letting the tide take me, the way it would have taken my son. John was a good swimmer if it came to that, but he was encumbered by clothes and boots. And there were other negative factors: the 55° water, his being surprised, scared, and swept by a three-knot tide, and it being night.

I flailed around underwater where I thought he might be, my arms and legs spread, unable to see anything in the dark and murky water. Panic set in. What if I couldn't find him? I knew I had just this one dive to find him alive. If I had to surface for air and dive again, it would be fatal, for he would have drifted too far away in an unknown direction due to shore eddies, perhaps to be snagged and drowned on the Bay floor. Such are the thoughts of a frantic parent.

I had been a good free-diver in the Caribbean a few years earlier, able to hold my breath for a minute and a half or more. So I kept swimming and flailing, 12 feet, eight feet, deeper, shallower, back and forth downstream, with both breath and grief rising in my gorge. I would die looking for my son. I wouldn't want to live in a world without him and experience the anguish my negligence would cause me for the rest of my life. I no longer felt the cold, and I knew that I would soon pass out. I didn't care.

Then my little finger felt something soft pass over it. Hair! I lunged and grabbed. More hair! Thank God we'd let John's hair grow long! Together we sped for the surface, where we both began puking up seawater, the best puke I've ever had. We ended up close to the last finger slip, where we grabbed a dockline before being swept across another channel. We were 120 feet from where John had gone into the water.

That was 34 years ago, but I have never forgotten the lesson. And I still shudder about the possible outcome of that black night. At sea, or even on a so-called safe dock, please have your kids wear PFDs until they get ashore, particularly at night. You don't ever want to feel the horror I felt.

William Pringle
Sea'Scape, San Juan 24
Mission Bay

William — What a gripping story. And what good advice.


In my opinion, the City of San Francisco should apply the same rule with regard to berthing at the San Francisco Marina as it does at the South Beach Yacht Harbor. In other words, slips should not go with boats, and people who buy boats in the marina should go on the waiting list. This would give access to more boats at a lower price.

Arnaldo Dallera
Aldalisa, Silverton 40


Thank you for printing the six letters in the last issue about private individuals profiting from buying and selling berths in publicly owned marinas. I've seen this go on firsthand for years.

From '93 to '96 I was the assistant marina manager at the San Francisco Marina. There was a long waiting list — 20 years for the most desirable berths — so a gray market developed for what were, and are, city-owned berths. The Recreation & Park Department does get a small piece of the berth transfer action by charging a berth transfer fee, which I believe is currently 15% of the sale price, and it has tried to reduce the practice of berth holders with crappy boats selling their boats at an inflated price to people wishing to bypass the waiting list. But it still goes on.

During my time at the San Francisco Marina, I contacted the owner of a '78 Morgan 36 sailboat, which was berthed in the marina and had been neglected for so long that moss was growing on the fiberglass deck, to ask if he wanted to do anything with the boat. We became partners in the boat, and I fixed her up, and eventually bought her from him. But the guy, an attorney and a member of the St. Francis YC, is nobody's fool, and he retained the rights to the slip.

When I eventually put the boat on the market, I received far more interest in the berth than the boat. One person offered me $10,000 cash for the berth, which was half of what I was asking for the boat. I'm not a saint, so if I'd had the right to the berth, I would have put the money in my pocket.

In '97 I was hired by the Port of San Francisco, and became the wharfinger (harbormaster) of Fisherman's Wharf. The Port has a strict policy regarding berth transfers at Fisherman's Wharf. When a vessel's ownership changes, its berth agreement with the Port is automatically cancelled. This includes changes in both partnerships and outright sales. The only exceptions made are transfers to immediate family members.

Only commercial vessels are allowed at Fisherman's Wharf, and the only waiting list we have is for the berths along Jefferson Street, where heavy foot traffic creates a lucrative business opportunity for charter sportfishing boats. When the charter boats are not fishing, operators are able to solicit passersby from the sidewalk for one-hour tours under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. The boats can carry up to 49 passengers, and they charge $15 per head for their regular tours, and more for special events such as Blue Angels or fireworks shows.

As you might imagine, the pressure on the Port from Jefferson Street sportboat operators for permission to sell their berths with their boats is intense. One of the Jefferson Street sportboats recently sold, but for at least three years the (former) owner tried every way imaginable to monetize his berth, including various partnerships and even a proposal to adopt a buyer so that he would be transferring his berth to an immediate family member! He eventually thought better of that idea, and the Port held firm to its berth transfer policy by assigning the vacated berth to a boatowner at the top of the waiting list. But it was a real struggle, as the seller of the sportboat was not happy about losing the extra $100,000+ he might have received from the sale if he'd been allowed to sell the berth with the boat. I have no sympathy.

My advice to other public marinas is to limit berth transfers to members of the immediate family, and to raise berth rates to a point where there is a reasonable vacancy rate and the waiting list moves. Regarding the berth holder in Santa Barbara who does not want to lose his 'investment', too bad. Private individuals have no right to profit from the sale of publicly owned marina berths.

Hedley Prince
Wharfinger, Fisherman's Wharf


I have a problem with the 'use it or lose it' policy Latitude supports, which requires that boatowners use a boat a minimum number of times a year to keep a slip in the more popular public marinas, and with your thinking that the current requirements aren't stringent enough.

I've been sailing out of Berkeley Marina for about 19 years with several different boats. During that period of time I've moved about the Berkeley Marina, and have been in 11 different slips, For the last 11 years, my boat has been a 15,000-lb Traveler 32 that draws six feet, and therefore isn't very trailerable. My sailing activities were constant and numerous — the Ha-Ha, the Doo Dah, double- and singlehanded races, and up and down the coast. That is until my recent position with FEMA.

Now I find myself hard-pressed to make the required ‘use it’ time, even though at Berkeley it's only once every 180 days. I pay $424.19 per month for a 40-ft slip, even though Grace is only 32 feet on deck. Although berth rates are constantly rising, along with everything else, I keep paying. I have looked into several alternatives, from moving to other places — a slip or on the hard — or even taking her home to Grass Valley. However, I would hate to move her out of the Bay Area, where I have friends and relatives.

While I could move the boat to the Delta or something, the cost savings wouldn't justify it. Plus, with the 34th America's Cup coming, I've been assured that if I leave, my chances of getting back into Berkeley will be slim to none until after the Cup. By the way, I still have the bottom done regularly, and just put on a new dodger, so my boat is far from being neglected. In short, she's a fine vessel, but at this time is without an active captain.

I am 67 years old, and have every intention of sailing for the rest of my life. The current position I have will last at least a few more years, with unknown and irregular off times. Then, with luck, I'll be back to sailing often.

When I was working on the tsunami damage in American Samoa, I was gone for five months, came home, then immediately left to help in New Jersey. If the present 'use it or lose it' restrictions had been in place at that time, I would have lost my slip.

So, finally, my point: Is it your intent that I'm to lose my slip due to the fact that, at this time in my life, I'm not in position to use my boat because I'm working to help others? If the amount of usage is increased, then sure enough I will be forced to move. For whom is this rule 'fair'? The person who has the opportunity to sail all the time, or those of us who cannot get to our boats often enough to meet a requirement of use?

Is it only the active sailors who should be allowed a slip? Will the regulations extend to the open areas of the Bay next? Whereas, if you haven’t sailed the Bay within a year, then you can’t be out there with regular active sailors? Will it follow after that if you don’t race on the Bay, you can't be out there?

To take a page out of Rotary International: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? And the last question, whom will this benefit?

Robert Walker
Grace, Traveler 32

Robert — You've presented a powerful case against a draconian 'use it or lose it' policy. Well done!

We'd like to take a crack at answering your last question first. The idea is to try to find a way to give as many people as possible water and ocean access, since many people are often denied access because there is no room at some of the more popular public marinas, marinas where some boats are virtually never used. Is that really in conflict with the Rotary goals?

We like to think that there could still be a more strict 'use it or lose it' policy, but one that where exceptions could be made for people such as yourself, who can easily demonstrate an obvious history of dedication to sailing, and obvious reasons that it has to be interrupted for a given period of time.


A little over a year ago, my wife and I lost the spare 35-lb plough anchor off the foredeck of our boat while anchored at Los Frailes on the east coast of southern Baja. We were raising the anchor just before midnight in order to head to La Paz, and while we did it, I noticed the empty shackle that normally holds the spare anchor chocked in the bow roller. I can only surmise that the shackle pin had worked out during the bash up from Cabo San Lucas, and the anchor dropped off the bow in the anchorage.

I got a GPS position on the location of the lost anchor, and planned on picking it up when I returned from La Paz. But then we heard a fellow cruiser — actually, the female half of a cruising couple we had met at Los Frailes — get on the net and ask if anyone had lost a 35-lb CQR. We said we'd lost a 'naked' one, meaning nothing had been attached to it.

"That's it!" she said. "Come over and get it."

When I got to their boat the next day, I saw my anchor and said, "Yes, that's it, thank you for retrieving it." Since they'd gotten it up from 39 feet of water, I told them that I'd like to give them something for their efforts. I mentioned something like $40 or $50.

The woman stood on the deck with a stunned look on her face. "This is a $650 anchor," she exclaimed, "and I want $400 for it." Actually, it was a knock-off CQR, not the real thing, and therefore not even worth that much retail.

I was shocked, to say the least. At age 70 and on Social Security, I don't have that kind of money, and this is my last time around. "If you need the anchor that badly," I responded, "you can keep it."

"We don't need it," retorted the woman, "but we will sell it at the swap meet next week."

I've been sailing for close to 40 years and have met countless cruisers during that time. But I was astounded by the attitude of these 'fellow cruisers'. Is this a sign of the times or was it a bottom feeder mentality?

In more positive news, I'm leaving for the Galapagos and French Polynesia in a few days.

Donald Klein
Passion, Dufour 39
Currently at La Playita, Panama

Donald — As we have no way of getting a possible 'other side of the story', we've left out the name of the other party.

In a case such as you describe, the two parties often end up in a fight — but not of the kind you describe. Usually the beneficiary, you in this case, would insist on giving the other party some token compensation — $40 to $50 would strike us as being typical. At that point, the other person would be shocked at the mere suggestion of compensation for having done something "any good sailor would have done for another." After a lot of phony squabbling, they'd retire to the bar where the beneficiary would buy a few beers or a bottle of wine and they'd become fast friends.

In our sailing career, we've saved three people from drowning and countless boats that were either disabled, aground or on the rocks, or fouled in lines or nets. Taking money for any of these acts would have ruined the good feeling we'd gotten from helping out a fellow cruiser.


Did you see that on May 4 Washington State passed a bill that will ban copper anti-fouling paint from use on recreational vessels of less than 65 feet? Maybe this will put more pressure on California to pass SB 623, which is similar legislation. On May 2, the California Senate's Environmental Quality Committee passed SB 623 by a vote of 5 to 1, and sent it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Jim Jensen

Jim — You'll find our report on the topic in this month's Sightings, but we think that getting rid of copper anti-fouling paint is an important environmental goal, and it seems to us that the legislation gives enough time for less toxic bottom paints to be improved and/or developed.

We just applied ePaint's EP2000, which uses zinc rather than copper, to the bottom of our syndicate's Olson 30, La Gamelle. Over the next several years, we plan to try out a variety of non-toxic bottom paint offerings. After all, paint companies have invested large amounts of money coming up with alternative solutions to copper-based paints.

Some mariners, we're sure, will still grouse, noting that the largest contributor of copper in the rivers, bays and oceans comes from copper in brake pads and non-point source runoff. As true as that may be, legislation is underway to reduce or eliminate those sources of copper in the waters, too.


My boat, a U.S. documented vessel with San Francisco as a hailing port (even though I live in Washington), has been in Mexico on a 10-year permit since the '04 Ha-Ha. Nonetheless, I got a letter from the California State Board of Equalization for taxes. I filed for an exemption, as my boat hasn't been in California for the last 12 months, and provided the documentation they requested — including marina and yard receipts. Even though the marina and yard were clearly in Mexico, they claimed the receipts didn't establish my boat's location.

I don't know why the burden of proof should be on me, but am I the first Latitude reader to be hustled by the State of California? I find the late fees to be exorbitant for a 30-year-old 32-ft boat, which certainly isn't a luxury.

Can the state file a lien with the Coast Guard? Will I not be able to renew my documentation or sell her until I pay the extortion? Any advice for beating the bastards at their own game?

Perry Mason
Washington / Mexico

Perry — You have us scratching our heads more than usual. The fact that your boat has a 10-Year Temporary Import Permit for Mexico has no bearing on taxes owed in California, nor does the fact that you might have first gotten that permit in '04.

If you got a letter from the State Board of Equalization, it means they want sales or use tax on your boat. If you didn't do a proper job of taking 'offshore delivery', you might be liable for that. For example, if you only have some receipts showing your boat was in Ensenada in November, and then again in May, the Board of Equalization might have good reason to deny your claim. The same is likely to be true if it's really the county wanting to collect personal property tax for your boat.

As for the state's putting a lien on your boat, we're not experts on the ramifications. We imagine the feds would allow you to renew the documentation, but a lien would prevent you from having clear title, and thus being able to sell your boat.

You can best 'beat the bastards' by sailing your boat to some poorly administered island in the South Pacific, adopting the paperwork from a derelict 32-footer, then changing your boat's identity. As they say, 'Living well is the best revenge.' On the other hand, it would probably be less expensive just to pay what the state or county wants.


Just as a ballpark figure, what would it cost to rig an Alberg 35 for singlehanded sailing?

Steve Morris
Portland, Oregon

Steve — As much as we'd like to give you a meaningful answer, it would have been helpful if you'd told us what gear the boat already has. Some absolutely necessary things would be an autopilot and/or a windvane, and a reasonably easy way to launch and retrieve the dinghy. If you're young, an electric windlass might not be mandatory, but it would be nice. It would also be nice to have a radar with a guard, and AIS, so you'll be alerted to ships coming your way. A roller furling headsail would be a welcome addition, too.

Of course, it also depends on where you plan to cruise. If you're just going to sail to Mexico and hop down to Panama and up the Western Caribbean, it would be possible to get along without most of the stuff mentioned above. The old KISS philosophy.

The Alberg 35s were/are solid boats, but remember that they were built as long ago as the mid-'60s, so the earlier ones may have missed out on nearly a half century of design and construction improvements. That's a long time. For example, the 35 displaces nearly 13,000 lbs, but has only 24 feet of waterline. That's why her PHRF rating of 201 suggests she's one of the slower 35-footers around. Then there is the matter of the Alberg 35's being only 10 feet wide. As you probably know, this means she has a very small interior compared to modern boats, and not that much cockpit space either.

Nobody asked us, but what we're trying to say is that, unless the boat is cherry and you can get her for a song, in this buyer's market you might want to look for something a little newer that's already been upgraded and outfitted for singlehanding.


I've been reading Latitude — I really like that I can download it anywhere — for many years, keeping the dream alive. After completing the Baja Ha-Ha last year aboard Robert and Bobbie Kuschel's Davidson 44 I'O, it hit me that it was time for me to 'walk the walk'.

Using Latitude's advice that there are inexpensive cruising sailboats about, I searched high and low for an appropriate one. I finally found a '63 Rawson 30 for sale in Marinette, which is in Wisconsin, and where they aren't familiar with Rawsons. When I called about coming to see her, the broker told me that someone else was already coming on Saturday, and that I would have to wait in line. I replied that I thought his job as an owner's agent was not to determine the order of people who saw the boat and when, but to communicate offers to the owner. I then sent my offer and check to the broker, having not seen the boat.

I asked a surveyor to check out the boat for me, but he was less than thrilled at the prospect of looking over a nearly 50-year-old fiberglass ketch. But I was on the phone with him when he got to the boat, and his attitude rapidly began to change. Before long, it was “Wow! This boat is really cool!” Later, “I can’t believe all the stuff on this boat!” Finally, ”My valuation is going to come in a lot higher than the sales price!”

The price was $9,000. It included nearly new sails, barely used rigging, a diesel with fewer than 1,200 hours, a new Raymarine radar, a new stereo, a Garmin GPS plotter, nearly new wind, speed and depth instruments, a nearly new autopilot, a windlass, dinghy and outboard, solar panels, backups and spares for everything, foulies — even All-Clad pots and pans. In short, an amazing deal.

When I finally got to see the boat myself, I continued to be amazed. The only downside was that it needed a bottom job, something I ordered after closing the deal.

I'm about to begin 'commuter cruising', and am selecting marinas that are within 30 miles of commercial airports. That way I can fly in from work on Friday nights, sail a leg for two or three days, then fly back to work on Sundays or Mondays. I also have a few nine-day weeks off around the major holidays for long legs and to plan for weather windows. I plan on cruising around the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and the Hudson River, and then turning right at New York by November. The only real deadline is the closing of the Erie Canal in October.

Doing last year's Ha-Ha really gave me the confidence and the kick in the ass to begin my sailing journey. None of us is getting any younger, so I decided it was better to just begin now with the money I had. I also didn’t want to spend a fortune on a boat and have no cruising kitty. So when I run out of coast and airports, it’s arrivederci! So thanks for the great advice, the great time, and great motivation!

Frank Lagorio
Escapade, Rawson 30
San Francisco (currently Wisconsin)

Frank — Thanks for the kind words. It gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling when people tell us what the Ha-Ha has done for them.


Your April 27 'Lectronic item about the dock use sign in Newport Beach reminded me that I lived on Newport Peninsula — 37th St. — and then Balboa Island — Apolena Ave., the ferry street — from '80 to '87. What good times! We did lots of dinghy sailing, and hung out with the KROQ DJs who had a 'pirate' home on the Peninsula.

My housemates and I had a pair of Lasers, which we left in the front yard and dollied down to the docks. Launching them from the beach, we'd use the 20-minute zone on the docks as places to drop in the daggerboard and rudder. According to my memory, the dock time-limit labeling system looks no different now — except with nicer color signs — than from 30 years ago. Wait, could it have been that long?!

We were also pretty — okay, make that very — foolish, because our idea of a good laugh was to roll-tack a Laser hard enough to dip the tip of the mast into the water in front of the Catalina ferry as it was "turning final" into its slip at The Pavilion, then heating it up and blasting away. (No, this doesn't work in less than 15 knots of wind.) Back then we thought it was a laugh to get a horn blast, but in retrospect, I'm amazed the captain didn't call the Harbor Police. Maybe we were just too quick.

Those were fun days, when there was only parkland between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. We also had a Hobie 16 that we used to sail off the beach at Emerald Cove. 'Pearling' her back onto the sand at the end of a sail was always a blast, but led to an annual winter ritual of reglassing the bottom of the hulls to build back up what we had 'sanded' off on the beach in the summer sun.

Thankfully, Newport Harbor hasn't really changed. It's still stuck in the early '50s, complete with frozen bananas and Bal Bars, bumper cars, and rock candy. I hope it will remain as a bulwark against 'Angry Birds' as the most fun a kid could have.

By the way, this weekend we're plopping a three-foot model yacht into Spreckels Lake, the model pond in Golden Gate Park. She was built by my grandfather in England in the '30s, restored by my 83-year-old dad, and will be tasting water for the first time in 70 years. When you look at her canoe body, Bermuda rig, and original fin keel, you realize models were decades ahead of full-size yachts.

Tim Dick
Sausalito / Honolulu

Tim — It's our belief that growing up around nature, particularly nature with some kind of water involved, is the best thing that can happen to a kid. It brings out the sense of adventure and curiosity, and encourages physical activity. Too bad the only contact many kids have with nature these days is seeing it on television.


We left the Galapagos on April 26, after a three-week visit, feeling somewhat disappointed and it took a couple of days to put our finger on why. We'd arrived in San Cristobal, went diving at Kicker Rock, visited Santa Cruz, took a four-day/three-night trip on a tour boat, moved to Isabela for about 10 days, did some hikes and day tours on Cristobal and Isabela, and then departed.

I've concluded that the Galapagos is one of the few places where visiting by private yacht is a disadvantage. Without an autografo, private yachts are limited to a 20-day visit to a single port, either Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. A four-port autografo cost us $560, including the agent's fee, allowing us to stay up to 60 days and visit Floreana and Isabela. With or without an autografo, you need to pay a $100/person park fee and a port fee based on your boat's gross tonnage ($300 for New Morning). A zarpe is also required to move between ports, so add in two trips to the Port Captain's office and $25 for each port as well. Just stopping in the Galapagos cost us $550 in government fees, plus a $100 fumigation fee in Panama.

None of the islands has a good anchorage due to a mix of poor protection from ocean swells and lots wakes from local commercial traffic. Depending on the current local weather conditions, two of the ports will be tolerable and two will not. In the case of San Cristobal, if you have a swim platform, you'll wage a relentless, but ultimately futile, battle with the sea lions who consider your boat to be their home. They are cute and unbelievably nimble in the water, but on your boat they will leave a trail of urine, feces and fur. Fortunately, they are not aggressive toward humans, just persistent.

Here is the catch to touring the Galapagos by private yacht. There are a limited number places you're allowed to visit with your autografo without arranging for a land tour and guide, or at least a taxi. And even then, these are on the islands with larger human populations. The really pristine islands, and the pristine areas of all the islands, are off limits to private yachts unless you hire a naturalist to live aboard and are reserved for tour boats and groups with guides. The system is heavily biased to the commercial tourist industry. The waterfront in Santa Cruz even bears a striking resemblance to Sausalito, with jewelry stores, art galleries and t-shirt/trinket shops.

So my recommendation is to not fight the system. Save the money you would spend on an autografo and agent. Enter at Santa Cruz where you'll have access to the best provisioning, drop the hook, let out a lot of scope, call a water taxi and let your boat roll while you move into a local hotel (we paid $35/night for a very nice room). Take a three-night or even seven-night tour boat and see the islands you'll never see from your own boat, and with a professional guide. Or if you're a diver, split your time between a tour boat and a dive boat.

You trade swimming with penguins in the semi-polluted harbor at Isabela for swimming with them in the pristine waters at Bartolome. You can see the mating rituals of the blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, swim past schools of rays, snorkel past marine iguanas and generally see wildlife that you won't see from your own boat. Sometimes visiting on your own boat is not the best option.

Russ Irwin
New Morning, Paine 54


The 'Lectronic report on bar pilot compensation, and their request for an increase in rates, was interesting. Do you know if the bar pilots have to pay significant costs out of their apparently quite large salaries? For example, do they have to pay for liability insurance, the costs of running the pilot boat fleet, and so forth? If so, their salaries of high $300s to low $400s would not sound quite so generous. I know that doctors have similar issues of gross pay versus net pay after paying for insurance and other costly expenses.

Tim Rochte
Planet Earth

Tim — The San Francisco Bar Pilots Association is like a private company, in that the pilots divvy up the proceeds after all the expenses, so there is no salary as such. Indeed, if all shipping were to cease, they'd go broke. On the other hand, according to the S.F. Gate report, the bar pilots made over $400k for awhile, then it dipped back down to the high $300s, but with a proposed increase in pilotage fees, the first since '02, their compensation would likely go over $400k again in the next few years.

Qualifications, it should be noted, are not enough to become a member of the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association, as you also have to pony up a $250,000 'buy in' fee. When you retire, you get it back.

We received a tremendous amount of feedback on the bar pilot report. The following letters are a sample. As you'll read, there isn't a lot of sympathy for members of a publicly mandated monopoly, who are already knocking down the high $300s, seeking an increase in compensation.


If I had a job, such as being a bar pilot, where I could land behind federal bars for 10 months, plus incur $500,000+ in legal fees, and the loss of the only job I was qualified for, I would ask for $400,000+ in wages, too. It's called a 'risk premium'.

Urs Rothacher
Planet Earth

Urs — We think you're confusing a 'risk premium' with negligence. After all, anyone who drives a vehicle as part of his job could get wacked out on drugs, run over three kids in a crosswalk, and end up with big legal fees and years in prison. Do you think that means they all ought to be paid $400,000 a year? We don't. We think it means that even pizza delivery drivers, who are much more likely to get robbed or killed on the job than are bar pilots, and who probably don't make much more than $12/hour, aren't permitted to be negligent either.

In the case of Cosco Busan bar pilot John Cota, the U.S. Department of Justice accused him of sailing in severe fog, failing to conduct a proper master-pilot exchange, not ensuring that he understood the ship’s radar and electronic chart before getting underway, not asking for extra watch personnel or position fixes, and failing to disclose medical conditions and his use of impairing prescription drugs to the U.S. Coast Guard. Do you still want to argue that this was a 'risk premium' issue and not negligence?

To the pilot's credit, he apologized. “Pilots view themselves as the first protectors of the environment,” he told the court. “That is why it is particularly painful to have played a role in an accident that has damaged it. Clearly, I should have done some things differently.”


Until very recently, I worked for 28 years as a commercial helicopter and airplane pilot. My work involved firefighting and Lifeflight, as well as some overseas civilian support of the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a domestic Lifeflight pilot with over 10,000 flight hours and nearly three decades of experience, my starting salary here in the Bay Area was $72,000/year. And that was with a "five-step headstart" to recognize seniority. Notably, this is the highest wage I have ever made in the U.S. as a Lifeflight pilot, whether helicopter or airplane. My overseas wage, flying utility support as a contractor augmenting the military, was a stunning (to me) $144,000 when in war zones, and $80,000 when on overseas assignments not in active conflict.

I don't mention this to complain, as I obviously seek service jobs. I love firefighting and Lifeflight, and I especially loved supporting our troops as a civilian augmentee. I am now working as the executive director of an ocean-based nonprofit — very low-pressure in comparison to my previous work — and make around the same wage.

I think being a bar pilot would be a very cool job — and I 'get' that they are directing very big boats — but I sure wish we helicopter pilots had their union! Amazing.

Terri Watson, Executive Director
Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association
The Presidio, San Francisco

Terri — The bar pilots do not have a union. They have something better: a state-sanctioned monopoly on a publicly mandated service.


The compensation bar pilots are said to be seeking seems on the high side, even for pilotage in the United States. I spent 37 years on and off at sea, most of that as master on vessels ranging from 1,000 DWT to 125,000 DWT, all with foreign flags, while holding a British Foreign Going Master's Certificate. My last position at sea ended in '93 as master of a small U.S.-owned bulk carrier carrying grain across the Gulf of Mexico at a salary of about $6,000/month for each month worked on a six-month contract. Even as master, I had to keep a watch because the third officer's position had been eliminated as a cost-saving measure. Ship owners are on a neverending quest to find cheaper crews, and over the years I saw my earnings drop each year, the crews get less qualified, and the ships get older and in worse condition.

It seems odd to me that, while crews are getting smaller all the time, pilots are moving up the scale. Years ago, it was usual that you lost pay going into a pilotage service because you enjoyed the privilege of going home each night. There would be many a master that would be willing to work for far less than half what the pilots are currently seeking.

Frank Keavy
Florence, Oregon


Bar pilots have been getting high salaries for some time. Back in '70, a pilot who lived in Napa told me he was making $70,000 a year, which was a huge amount of money back then.

I wonder how the money flows from the bar pilots back to the members of the board that approves the rates. There has to be some pay-off for the pilots to get the outrageous salaries they reportedly do. I say open the pilot business up to competing pilot groups. The salary for a pilot will fall to about a third of what it is now.

Martin Thomas
Kokopelli, Sabre 34

Martin — As we've mentioned, the pilots don't get a salary, but rather get a fee based on the tonnage of shipping. Proposals for increases in the rate structure go before the board, but ultimately have to be approved by the state legislature.

We hope that this doesn't result in a bulls-eye being painted on the side of the Olson 30 La Gamelle, but as much as we respect — and are friends with — bar pilots, we think they are out of touch with respect to their compensation, which is a direct result of their having a monopoly. We believe in competition, and we think society would be better served if there were a competing pilot service. After all, it would likely result in 120 pilots making $200,000 a year rather than 60 pilots making $400,000 a year. That would also mean that another 60 people had high-paying jobs instead of being out of work and collecting unemployment.

We'd like the bar pilots to know that we're not singling them out. We think society would also be far better served if the highest paid public employees, safety and otherwise, were paid 30 to 50% less, and if there were 30 to 50% more of them. For example, would the citizens of Oakland not be better served if, instead of 32 run-of-the-mill firemen making over $200,000 a year, there were 64 of them making $100,000 a year? With all benefits, of course. Or, 32 of them making $100,000 a year, with the city having another $3.2 million to use for other purposes.


What are the pros and cons of having a vessel federally documented versus having state registration only? I'm thinking in terms of paperwork in foreign ports of entry.

Brian Cleverly
Magrathea, Fuji 32

Brian — While you can usually get away with state registration in foreign ports, foreign officials aren't as familiar with it, and you can have problems in some places. If your boat is five net tons — your Fuji 32 would qualify — and you are going foreign, we would absolutely go with documentation. The only downside is that documentation is initially more expensive. While you can download the necessary forms from the Coast Guard to do it yourself, it can get complicated. Most boatowners figure it's worth the $350 to $500 typically charged by people who do documentation for a living. There's also a one-time fee of $134, but no annual fee for renewal after that. If the boat is already documented, it only costs $84 to get new documentation, and it's easy enough that a magazine publisher can do it.


As a disaster relief worker who provided emergency medical relief during the first few days after the Asian tsunami of '04, I have some advice. If you're not going out to sea with your boat, don't be the guy who throws a party on your boat at the dock to 'watch the wave'. Where I worked in Sri Lanka, 10,000 people were killed by the tsunami wave in just a few square miles because they didn't go to higher ground. A tsunami is a devastating force that shouldn't be challenged. If you're not going to sea with your boat, getting to high ground can easily be a matter of life and death. I know from firsthand experience.

Rene Steinhauer
Witchdoctor II, Hudson Force 50

Rene — Hopefully the footage of the Japanese tsunami devastating everything in its path will give people religion. Most tsunami warnings might be considered false alarms, but all it takes is one to finish you — and your loved ones — off.


We left Alameda in October of ’09 with Ginger, our shanghaied feline crew. We spent '10 in Mexico and are now in El Salvador, and none of the officials ever cared that we have a cat. The only quasi-issue was when checking out of Mexico at Puerto Chiapas, where all boats are inspected by the navy and a drug-sniffing dog. The dog's handler had us lock Ginger in the head because he didn’t want his dog scratched.

I'm surprised that Terry found little about cats onboard, since I estimate that at least 10% of the cruisers we've met have cats. We only know of one couple who took their cat back to relatives, and that was because theirs was a wanderer, and they were afraid she was going to get lost or killed by local dogs.

Tied up to a dock, we try to keep the companionway closed at night for the same reason. Last fall in La Paz, we heard frantic calls on the net for several days about a lost cat. It broke our hearts.

Unlike a dog, cats don’t need to be taken ashore several times a day. Ginger has a small litter box in the v-berth along with her food and water. At first she was tracking small litter pieces around the boat, but we fixed that with a fuzzy rug in front of her box.

For trips off the boat for a night or two, we just leave extra food and water out. For longer trips, we use cat sitters. With many cruisers missing their cats back home, we've never had trouble finding sitters.

Finding food and litter hasn’t been a problem, as long as your cat isn’t too picky. Ours loves canned tuna, which is plentiful and cheap in Mexico. I would recommend giving a kitten as much variety of food as possible.

Underway, Ginger disappears into the v-berth and we don’t see her again until the hook is down. But we know that some cats like to wander about. Falling overboard would be a concern for us if our cat wandered.

Overall, we are glad we brought Ginger — though, like most cats, she spends most of her time sleeping.

Carolynn & Tom Boehmler
Sunny Side Up, Mayflower Mercury 48


Bubba de Boat Kat is my Maine coon mix cat who has sailed over 6,000 miles with me in the Gulf of Mexico. He is about to begin more sailing adventures on our new-to-us Formosa 41 ketch. Bubba is an awesome guard of both me and my boat, but he can't steer very well.

Karen 'Zeehag' Duran
Solitary Bird, Formosa 41
San Diego


I just completed my first Baja Bash, and would like to share some of the things I learned. We left Mazatlan on April 2, and arrived back in Santa Cruz 18 days later. If I could do it all over again, I would wait until late May or June. April is not the time of year to be off the coast of Baja.

We had an uneventful crossing to Cabo, fueled up, and headed north at about 3 p.m. As soon as we cleared the tip at Cabo, we ran straight into 34 knots, with 8- to 10-ft seas. We turned back and got the anchor down, thinking we would try again around midnight. It wasn't much better then, but we kept going and things started to moderate after we got past Cabo Falso.

We listened to Don Anderson on the Amigo Net giving gale warnings and unsettled weather forecasts for the next five days. Our plan was to try to get to Bahia Santa Maria and wait it out. After we reached Mag Bay in the middle of the night, our autopilot failed. At least the predicted gale hadn't materialized so, having three people on board, we decided to press on to Turtle Bay, hand-steering for the next 36 hours. The weather wasn't great, but we didn't see much over 25 knots and 5-ft seas. My boat weighs almost 50,000 lbs, so we could punch through most of it without slowing down too much.

We got into Turtle Bay the second night around midnight and were able to get a good night's sleep at last. We spent the next day and another night in Turtle Bay waiting for the gale that never came. We took off the following day and had about 18 knots from the southwest (!) all the way up the inside of Cedros. After clearing the north tip of Cedros we got right back into 25 knots from the northwest and sloppy seas.

But it was that night that it got really ugly. I think we were about 12 hours behind Lou Freeman on the Swan 51 Sea Bird, who had all the hail on deck. We also had a visit from the Mexican Navy, who had to board us while the waves were about five feet. One of their own people got sick and hurled over the side. There were squalls all around us with lightning and lots of rain. The wind in between the squalls was down to around 20 knots, so it was good they didn't last long.

We finally made it to Ensenada, where we spent the night at Marina Coral. We topped up with fuel there, since it was $3.50 a gallon instead of the $5.25 we were told it would be in San Diego. Another 10 hours got us into San Diego, where we cleared in at the Police Dock. The Customs officials were quick, and cleared us in with no problems.

Then it was off for Santa Barbara and another night of wind and waves. By this time, the forecast gale had made it to Pt. Conception, so we waited in Santa Barbara for three days. Not a bad place to be stuck. When NOAA predicted the wind was going to drop, we left for Conception. I guess nobody told the wind it was supposed to moderate, because we had to wait another two days at Cojo before we could get around. After another 27-hour run, we tied up in Santa Cruz.

I learned three things: 1) 1,000 miles upwind is a long way to hand-steer. 2) Use as many sources for weather forecasts as you can, because predictions are nothing but predictions. 3) Never do the Bash in April.

Mike Morehouse
Lady Hawke, Mariner 50
Santa Cruz

Mike — There are no guarantees when it comes to Bash weather, as some people have had easy Bashes in February and April, usually considered two of the worst months, and hard trips in June, usually considered to be one of the easier months. It all depends on if you can get that six-day window, or a three-good, two-bad, three-good opening for getting to San Diego.

Doña de Mallorca doesn't consider herself to be an expert, but she's been the skipper of Profligate for 10 Bashes. "Based on my experience and that of others I've talked to, the best months to come north are November and June," she says. "And the later you go in the spring, the better your chances are of avoiding really bad weather. My worst Bashes have been in early April, right after the end of the Banderas Bay Regatta. I don't plan to do that again anytime soon. As for the single worst spot along the Bash, we've had some really bad weather making the jump from Isla Cedros over to the mainland."

As you read this, de Mallorca will be Bashing north with Profligate once again, with the Wanderer as crew. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the autopilot works because, unlike you, we're not going to do 1,000 miles upwind without one.


I've heard rumors that yachts transiting the Panama Canal will pick up help, in the form of line-handlers, for a transit. Our understanding is that four are required, one at each corner of the boat.

My wife and I would love to experience a Canal transit on a boat, although not on a cruise liner. We thought that by offering our services for free, we might be able to get on a boat. Do you have any experience or information that might help us plan such an adventure?

Jeff & Lisa Thayer
Jim, International 470

Jeff and Lisa — Four line-handlers are required for a Canal transit, and yes, most cruisers would rather take other sailors for free than have to pay for line-handlers. Sometimes the Canal Commission has yachts do two-day transits, with an overnight in Lake Gatun, so be aware there might be a shack-up involved. But it's a great experience.

The best places to get information on a Canal transit hook-up are the Balboa YC on the Pacific side, and the Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side. But there is also a cruiser net where boatowners put out the call for line-handlers.

Panama is a long way away from Montara, so it's a good thing that the country of just 3 million has many more attractions than just the Canal. Among them are the San Blas Islands — take a puddle jumper to Porvenir from Panama City, and you get to fly across the jungle-covered country and the blue waters of the Caribbean to an all-time favorite cruising ground. Portobelo, the massive Spanish fort complex from which silver and other treasure was consolidated for shipment from the Americas to Spain. It was famously sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan, and the remains of Sir Francis Drake lie there in an iron coffin. The Bocas del Toro is a popular destination and hang-out for cruisers, surfers and backpackers. Old Panama, which is the remains of the oldest European city on the Pacific, is not to be missed. Neither is the incredible 90-by 30-mile Darien Jungle. The untamed natural region is the only interruption in the Pan American Highway that would otherwise connect Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, with Ushuaia, Argentina. And because Panama is the narrow land bridge between North and South America, it has tremendous wildlife — particularly bird life — much of which can't be found elsewhere.


"Hi, I’m Jim. I’m willing to handle lines for you for free for the Canal transit. I just want to gain some experience before I take my own boat through next week.”

Granted, if you're the owner of the boat, you won’t have to pay Jim the standard $50/day that you would have to pay Pedro, an experienced Panama Canal line-handler. But Jim won’t know any of the zillion little tricks and safety measures that Pedro provides. Pedro knows that you have to unkink and flake your three-strand on deck before your pilot arrives, and Pedro gets it done. Pedro knows which of those two ACP line-handlers up on the wall will try to knock out your port lights with a monkey fist. Pedro warns you in advance about that funny spot inside Gatun Locks where one of your four lines will need to be hauled pronto due to extreme upwelling turbulence from that one large manhole.

You’ll find four times more inexperienced 'Jims' seeking to learn aboard your boat, than you will Pedros who will teach you the ropes. So I suggest you hire at least one 'Pedro', and the rest can be 'Jims'.

Capt. Patricia Rains, Author
Cruising Ports: the Central American Route
San Diego


In response to your April 22 'Lectronic advice about getting a gig as a line-handler for a Panama Canal transit, just last night I returned from Panama after sailing from St. Lucia to Panama aboard Harley Earl's Deerfoot 63 Kailani, then transiting the canal on a Lagoon 44 catamaran.

Two hours after arriving at Shelter Bay on the Caribbean side of the Canal, I secured volunteer positions as line-handlers for myself and a friend. Nothing could have been easier than getting such positions, as all the boats about to transit the Canal can easily be identified by the six to eight black tires, wrapped in plastic, hanging down their topsides. So I just walked the docks and asked if volunteer line-handlers were needed. While most boats responded that they were fully crewed, the captain of the catamaran overheard my inquiry, then canceled the two paid line-handlers he had booked, accepting my friend and me instead to augment the rest of his crew.

Just after sunset, we motored to 'the Flats' where we were met by Jose, a very likable and knowledgeable advisor who patiently answered the many questions we had. He guided us to the Gatun Locks, where we tied alongside a sightseeing boat. We had no lines to handle on our port side, while on starboard we had another sailboat tied to us. If we had been next to the wall in the three chambers that form the Gatun Locks, the inrushing water would have required vigilance and strength to pull the slack out of the 125-ft lines as the boat rose up in the chambers. All went smoothly, and within an hour we had reached Gatun Lake, which is where you end up after exiting the last chamber of the locks in a southbound direction.

We motored a mile or so in the dark to an anchorage close to the new locks that are under construction. Two mooring buoys were already occupied with rafted-up boats, so we anchored in 50 feet of water. We were anchored just 150 feet from shore, and truck traffic to and from the construction site was almost constant. The huge dump trucks kept running like ants until 4 a.m., and they only stopped because it was a Sunday.

We were instructed to be ready for our next advisor to come aboard at 6 a.m. By 7 a.m. we were under way with Amado, navigating the well-buoyed Banana Cut, which goes away from the main ship channel through pristine jungle and past many small islands, shaving maybe 20 minutes off the transit time. Since the Canal Authority has prohibited any settlement within five miles of either side of the Canal for the past 100 years, nature is undisturbed and the original environment is unchanged. It's here that we finally heard the howler monkeys.

We were the boat within the raft facing the wall on our port side when we went through the Miraflores Locks. However, 'down-locking' is infinitely easier than 'up-locking'. The water rushing out of the chamber does not produce any disturbances for the boats and rafts, and all a line-handler has to do is keep a moderate amount of tension on the line to ensure that the boat/raft position within the lock is maintained.

By the way, transit advisors are not pilots, and handle boats under 65 feet. Usually it's a side job to augment their income from other occupations. Both Jose and Amado spoke English fluently, were friendly and professional, had great senses of humor, and consumed next to nothing of the food and beverages we had prepared. Our transit advisor told us that the minimum cruising speed required for a boat is five knots, not the eight knots others have spoken of in the past. He explained, however, that if you overstate your boat’s cruising speed and thus mess up the Authority’s locking schedule, you may be fined. So it seems best to stick with the truth.

Hellmuth O. Starnitzky
Ocean Echo, Hallberg-Rassy 45


I first started looking at Latitude's ebooks years ago when you first put them online, and decided that it was worth trying to connect, even when I had a slow internet connection in Thailand. I read Changes every month, and occasionally the Letters. I've been reading all of the 'Lectronics for the last several years, and enjoy them all.

You've recently suggested that readers visit your online edition of Latitude to see better renditions of Changes photos than those in print. I was tempted. Then you suggested visiting the online version of the May issue just to see the spread of the yachts sailing off St. Barth. I did and was absolutely astounded. The magazine no longer takes that long to download, and I was awed. The magazine is just beautiful, and the photos are incredible! My congratulations to you and your staff for an incredible product.

I've especially enjoyed reading about your wonderful winter adventures in Mexico and the Caribbean. Based on my on-the-water experience, you can understand that I'd be interested. I did the '97 Ha-Ha with my Gulf 32 pilothouse sloop Knot Yet, then sailed her from Mexico to Thailand between '98 and '01. I sold her and bought Knot Yet II, a Nordhavn 46, for cruising between Thailand and Malta from '02 to '07.

John Keen
ex-Knot Yet, ex-Knot Yet II

John — Thank you. We take considerable pride in our photos, and love the way they appear in electronic versions.


Thank you for Andy Turpin's April 27 'Lectronic remembering the once great and funky Pedro Miguel Boat Club inside the Panama Canal. I stayed at this boat club for three months in '01, and had a wonderful time.

With the withdrawal of the U.S. presence and the closure of over 26 military establishments in Panama, the active membership in the club plummeted to 35. And the new tractor tugs, used to move large ships into the nearby lock and hold them against a long dock, created a two-foot swell into the club's marina. It was just a matter of time before the silt from the prop wash began to fill in the whole area. Indeed, in order to leave my slip, I had to wait until the water rose a foot in the Miraflores Lake because of daily traffic. But I still had to winch my way through six inches of mud and tie up at a transit dock until the next morning!

The Canal Authority refused to even discuss dredging the marina, so it was only a matter of time before the place had to be closed.

John Anderton
Vancouver, Washington

John — The Pedro Miguel was indeed one of the coolest clubs in yacht club history, with great facilities for yachties to do their own work on their boats prior to heading to either the Pacific or the Caribbean.

What many folks don't realize is that the club was located between two locks on Miraflores Lake, which is only 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide. If you had a cruising boat, it was merely a place to keep and work on your boat, because if you wanted to get to open water, you'd have to do a partial Canal transit. The only people who sailed on Miraflores Lake were U.S. military, who took sailing lessons in dinghies. We were told that when the boats were sailing, there was always a mothership crewed by a guy with a rifle. It wasn't terrorists they worried about back then, but the crocs.

The Pedro Miguel, gone but not forgotten. Come to think of it, the same goes for Panama's two other famous yacht facilities, the Panama Canal YC, with slot machines, in Colon, and the pre-fire Balboa YC, where the young Panamanian honeys used to seek out young U.S. servicemen as their ticket to prosperity and ultimately life in the States. The gals were notorious for often dressing more outrageously than hookers.


I wholeheartedly concur with Latitude's reasons for choosing not to initiate an online forum. The Letters section and the rest of the magazine do just fine.

Ray Catlette, O.R,M.
Reno, Nevada

Ray — We're glad you like things the way they are. We couldn't sleep at night if we had an online forum that included some of the massive misinformation we've seen appear in posts on other sites. Not that some of the forums don't have some good information, too, but somebody needs to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.


I was very surprised to read of Thom Perry's unfortunate experience on the CNB 76 Four Devils, which sank beneath him and his crew in the Caribbean on March 2.

I sailed with Thom for many years aboard my schooner Aello, and he was not only fun to sail with, he was extremely competent. I've lost contact with him over the years and would love to drop him a note. Can you send his email so I can say hi?

Tim Britton

Tim — Latitude's policy is to print your email address, giving Thom the option to contact you if he wants to. Thanks for understanding.


Latitude's photographs of Baja never cease to amaze me — and spark my wanderlust. I launched Hejoha in '07 after a four-year rebuild. The plan was to head south, but as John Lennon noted, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." As a result, we're still sailing out of San Diego Bay several times a month year 'round, and we haven't abandoned our plans to see Mexico. Anyway, thanks for all those photos of Mexico showing us what's not that far away.

Joe Moore
Hejoha, Calkins 40

Joe — Thanks for the compliment. It's a beautiful area, and it really isn't very far away.

The other cool thing is that the Sea of Cortez, has changed very little in the last 30 years. We were down in Puerto Escondido back in about '78 — Capt. Patricia Rains of Pt. Loma Publishing was there and will remember it, too — when the Fonatur folks gave us a presentation of all the development that was supposedly going to take place in Puerto Escondido, Loreto and the rest of Baja. There has been some development, of course, but 99% of the Baja coast is as virgin as it's ever been. We like that.


I'm looking for a quickreading device to calculate overhead clearances. I was a crewmember aboard a large catamaran with a mast height of 71 feet that went up the Petaluma River recently. With bridge clearances of 70 feet, it was a heart-rate raising experience. Prior to the trip we measured the exact mast height above the water, then calculated low tide at the first bridge, checked predicted winds, etc. We figured we had a 5-ft margin, but it was still unnerving to slowly motor under the bridges and cable. There must be some type of Doppler device to get a quick reading from the deck so you can have confidence in the chart's readings. Does anyone know of a device like this?

Ron Taillon
Charleete II, Leopard 45

Readers — When we received this letter from Ron, our curiosity was piqued about the rest of the story. He put us in touch with skipper Laurie Chaikin, who provided the following explanation:

"After careful study of tides and discussions with other boats and the harbormaster, we decided to attempt the trip. My first mate, Ron, and I measured from the tip of the mast (including the light and windmeter) to water level: 71 feet. We filled the water tanks — 256 gallons gave us three extra inches — invited a few heavy guests, and motorsailed to the mouth of the river, arriving at low tide.

"Once we neared the bridge, we 'put on the brakes' and literally inched forward. The crew posted astern watched with binoculars to make sure we didn't hit. Everyone had already been informed that we'd abort and head elsewhere if it didn't seem safe, but we made it under with five feet to spare. Afterward, I required some medicinal alcohol!

"Overall, it was a worthwhile, successful adventure full of learning — boating skills, problem solving, maneuvering — as well as going to new places close to home. Would I do it again? Yes, but not until my heart rate slows back down, which could take a few months!"

We asked 'Lectronic readers to send in their suggestions for the best way to accurately gauge bridge clearance and we were flooded with responses. Following are just a handful that cover the spectrum of options.


In answer to Ron Taillon's question in the May 2 'Lectronic Latitude wondering if a device exists that would give a sailor with a tall mast approaching a bridge "a quick reading from the deck so you can have confidence in the chart's readings." There is a very effective low-tech solution called a bosun's chair. Those who have moved boats up and down the Intracoastal Waterway back east have done it for years. You haul someone, preferably lightweight, to the masthead and they have a look. Works great, doesn't break down, doesn't cost much. This is something we do not need an electronic gadget to accomplish.

Beau Vrolyk
S'agapo, Spirit 46
Santa Cruz / San Francisco


Here on the Right Coast we have the ICW and all its bridges. I've seen two ideas — one high-tech, one low-tech — work well. First the high-tech: Mount a camera on your masthead (if you have a Raymarine CP, this is simple to display at the helm).

As for the low-tech, find a piece of driftwood — a fork or L-shaped 6-ft piece is best — go aloft and lash it to the masthead in such a way as to extend forward and up like a bug’s feeler. It'll hit before the mast does. One sailor I know cruised the entire 1,600 mile ICW like this, breaking three feelers en route, but without a scratch to the vessel.

I recently had to take a cat under a too-low bridge. We waited for low tide and the bridgetender came out of his booth and called it for us.

Mike Stevens
Annapolis, Maryland


To measure the height of the bottom of the bridge above the water, measure the angle with your sextant from a known distance from your intended position under the bridge, correct for your eye height above the water and solve the right triangle with the known length of the base and the sextant angle. Common knowledge before GPS.

G. McBride
Planet Earth


If you’re sailing one-design, the test for the bridge height is the guy who goes before you!

Doug Schenk
Free Bowl of Soup, J/24
Portland, Oregon


The obvious answer is to buy a laser range finder. You can range the top of your mast, then the bridge, and verify that the bridge is farther away than the top of your mast.

These aren't cheap, but Nikon makes one that's accurate to a half yard, and sells it for about $175.95 on Amazon. They are available at many hardware stores as well. They're mostly used, by civilians at least, for measuring the distance to the pin on a golf green.

These things work by sending a short pulse of eye-safe laser light out of the device, then collecting the return pulse. Timing how long it takes for the pulse to go out and reflect off something, and knowing the speed at which light travels, tells you how far away it is.

For instance, light travels about one foot every nanosecond (billionth of a second). If you launch a pulse at a bridge that's 100 feet above you, the pulse will take 200 nanoseconds to return to you, since it went there (100 feet) and back (another 100 feet). While this may sound complicated, thanks to the telecom industry you can buy lasers that turn on and off 10 billion times per second, and receivers that detect this light — all for a hundred bucks. And while timing nanoseconds may also sound complicated, the computer you're reading this email on, perhaps with it's quad-core 4 GHz processor, can perform something like 3200 computations in the time it takes light to go the 200 feet to the bridge and back, so timing such intervals is indeed trivial. The most expensive thing in the rangefinder is not the electronics, but rather the optics, which are similar to those found in standard binoculars.

The word "Doppler" in Ron's question is totally misleading. Doppler refers to a frequency shift in a wave — anything from sound to radar to light — due to relative motion between the source of the wave and the observer. As such, it would have no value in determining a bridge height. You could use the Doppler effect to measure how rapidly your boat is approaching the bridge, but if you want to know how far away it is you'll need something like the laser rangefinder, or its radio equivalent, a radar.

I don't know why I'm writing all this, except perhaps my other choice is to watch The Apprentice.

PS: I rarely confess to being a PhD physicist, but if that lends credence to my reply then so be it.

Jim Vickers
Joyride, J/109
San Francisco


I don't think that a radar range finder is the "obvious answer" at all. If the bridge has a structural beam that extends below the main deck then that beam could easily be missed by the radar range finder. The range finder will get a strong reflected signal from the deck and will probably report that distance to you. The signal that the range finder gets back from that one low beam that's going to whack you could be so weak (in comparison) that the range finder would miss it . . . but your mast wouldn't. Ouch!

Doug Hendricks
Life, Hunter Passage 42CC
The Bahamas


A laser rangefinder works, and cheaper ones can often be found for under $100. Just dinghy under and check by measuring up to the bottom of the bridge. We carry one aboard and use it to range to shore, allowing us to track our distance when stern tied. It works in the dark, too.

Rob Murray
Avant, Beneteau First 435
Vancouver, BC


I enjoyed the Wanderer's Changes piece about riding in a dinghy standing up in order not to get one's butt wet. In fact, been there and love that! I'm talking about our family of four standing up in an 8-ft roll-up inflatable scooting across the harbor — to the disapproving looks of the wet-butted and the risk averse. As Latitude points out, the secret to survival is bent knees — and eternal vigilance. I found I didn't need a tiller extension to steer. If I wanted to alter course, we'd just heel the boat over in that direction.

B.L. Sachs
Dripping Springs, Texas


It's a minor point, but we're curious. In your reports from the Caribbean, you call your favorite island 'St. Barth', while Sail magazine and others refer to it as 'St. Barts'. As this island is on our short list of places to visit, I wonder what the locals call it.

Don Ryerson
San 'Don't call it Frisco' Francisco

Don — 'St. Barth' is the French nickname for St. Barthelemy, and since the island is French, everything is properly St. Barth. Such as the Voiles de St. Barth, Air St. Barth, St. Barth Commuter, 'ti St. Barth and so forth. Nonetheless, many Americans refer to it using the English nickname of St. Barts. The locals are used to it and don't mind because Americans are known for being the best — if not the only — tippers.

The problem with pronouncing things the English way is when you get to names like St. Jean, the second largest community. If you rhyme 'Jean' with 'bean' or 'teen', it screams 'cruise ship person', because the French pronunciation is the same as our 'John'. But it's an easy mistake for English speakers to make, and the gendarmes won't arrest you for it.


St. Barth is on the Bucket List for my wife and me, and I'm wondering how Latitude's publisher connects to the internet when anchored off Gustavia. And how does he recharge the batteries on his laptop? My wife and I have the dough to rent a car on the island, but I need four hours a day on the internet — anything less would be a deal killer.

The editor also made a great case for anchoring out, as the spiritual energy largely speaks for itself. My favorite places to anchor out have been: Nias Island, Sumatra; Sausalito, but only in the late summer; Waikiki; Key West; and La Paz, where I married my wife under a ridiculous set of circumstances. Nonetheless, we've made it 18 years and counting.

On an entirely different matter, it has always surprised me how few people commute to work from Sausalito to San Francisco by boat. I bought a Boston Whaler Montauk for $7,000, and added a small kicker outboard in case the main one crapped out. I paid $150/month for slips at both Clipper in Sausalito and Pier 39 in San Francisco. It was a rough trip most days, even in the early morning, so I usually couldn't go too fast. But sometimes it was flat calm on the way to the City, so if the weather was nice, I would turn right and head out the Golden Gate and up to Stinson at 45 mph. I'd have lunch, throw out some crab pots, and just be happy for no particular reason.

Anonymous Please
Schoonmaker Point Marina, Sausalito

Anonymous — We're really pleased with how many readers have indicated that, based on our reports, they are very interested in visiting St. Barth by charterboat, particularly during the Bucket or the Voiles. For the record, we have no economic incentive in pushing the island, we just can't think of a tropical sailing experience that we'd be more confident recommending. We'll be running a little Latitude guide to visiting the island by charterboat in the next few months.

Now, to answer your specific questions, we do all our internet stuff at Center Alize, 50 yards from two of the dinghy docks. Francis has it open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. six days a week. We usually don't even bring our computer back to our cat. The port does provide free internet by the port office, the ferry dock, and the cupola near Baz Bar, but it's usually really slow because so many ships' crews are using it. You can get night internet access at Le Repaire or Oubli for the price of a beer.

If we need to charge anything on the boat, we use an inexpensive inverter we plug into a cigarette lighter. We mostly use it to charge our Kindle, which we use to read all the newspapers before we roll out of the bunk in the morning, and to read Michael Connelly's downtown L.A. detective novels. That guy can really write! Amazon nails us for about $6/week to get what would otherwise be a free connection in the States. De Mallorca has a Verizon international plan for her Blackberry that gets her email and internet even when on the hook. It costs $69 a month, and has worked in every country she's been to. Why can't we get that for our iPhone and iPad?

You only need a car on St. Barth for two hours to get a look at the more remote places, such as Washing Machine or Maison Nureyev. The rest of the time you don't want or need the hassle of having a car. One of the really great things about the island is that everywhere you want to go is easily accessible by boat or foot, or you can get a ride hitchhiking in about 30 seconds.



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