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June 2012

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I just read the April 24 ‘Lectronic, which featured Low Speed Chase survivor Bryan Chong’s exceptional — and beautifully written ­— account of the tragedy at the Farallones, with the many lessons for all of us to learn. I thank Bryan for his courage to share his story.

But the one phrase that stopped me in my tracks was, “I estimate we were inside of 10 boat-lengths — which on a Sydney 38 would be 128 yards — from the beginning of the break zone. Our distance looks safe and no one on the boat comments.”

That zone does not take into account fairly frequent big sets, ‘sneaker waves’, or whatever you want to call them, that are often double the height of average waves. Because these waves are bigger, they consequently break far outside the normal surf line.

Surfers know this better than sailors, because they’re always sitting in the lineup watching out for these bigger sets. For sailors who aren’t surfers, I suggest watching a surf line sometime for at least half an hour. Watch the big sets — typically a group of two or three — break way outside the normal surfline. Perhaps those of us in Hawaii are more conscious of this phenomenon, so we give such shores a very wide berth when sailing.

Tim Dick

Tim — As longtime surfers, we know all about getting ‘caught inside’ when the ‘wave of the day’ or even just a big set comes through. If sailors are really going to appreciate this everyday phenomenon, we suggest they watch a surf spot for an entire afternoon, preferably from out in the lineup. But even that would be just an introduction because, as any surfer can tell you, it is sometimes an hour or more between big sets.

We don’t consider ourselves to be experts, but it seems to us that waves on the open ocean tend to be of a more consistent size than those breaking in shallow water. The result is that sailors may be lulled into being less alert than surfers for ‘set waves’ when in shallow water.

For more on sailing and waves, see this month’s Max Ebb.


Anyone who has sailed around the Farallon Islands, or any island turning mark, knows that decisions have to be made about how close to come to shore. And how important — and difficult — it can be to judge the size of waves when viewing them from behind.

I’m disturbed that, perhaps because of the deaths, a lot of sailors aren’t really accepting what happened to Low Speed Chase. From all that I have read and heard, conditions at the time at the Farallones were rough, but not that severe, at least in deeper water. But as is always the case, waves break when they encounter shoal water, and bigger waves break in deeper water. Yet many sailors seem to want to talk about a “rogue wave” or “wave out of nowhere.” Having sailed for 80 years and still being an active ocean sailor, I find this talk inappropriate and dangerously misleading, as all indications are that the boat simply sailed over shoal water when a wave big enough to break came along.

Someone far wiser than I wrote that there is no action without a consequence. I don’t want to be harsh, but the decisions and actions of those on Low Speed Chase led to the tragic consequences. It will be a shame if waves of sympathy for those who were lost, as well as fear and ignorance, prevent sailors from understanding the real cause of the accident.

I very much hope that we do not hear talk about new regulations, additional PFDs, and/or harnesses. No regulations or amount of equipment can replace sound judgment, which is the ultimate safety device.

Warwick ‘Commodore’ Tompkins
Flashgirl, Wylie 38+
Mill Valley / South Pacific

Commodore — We agree that nothing can replace sound judgment, but the problem is that the soundness of judgment is most easily evaluated after the fact. Had Low Speed Chase sailed past the Farallones between big sets, we wonder if anyone would have questioned their course. Which is why we think it’s going to be so hard for the US Sailing investigation panel to come up with a specific solution to the ‘problem’.

We don’t know about anyone else, but we had a real ‘there but for the grace of God go we’ reaction to the tragedy. We’re not certain that we would have sailed as close to shore as the Low Speed Chase crew did, but looking back on more than 40 years of sailing, we know there have been several occasions where poor judgment on our part put us in situations where, had other things gone wrong, we could have found ourselves in serious trouble. In light of the Low Speed Chase tragedy, we’ve been ‘recalibrating’ our judgment.


Most sailors know what happened to Low Speed Chase at the Farallones and why. They got too close to the island for the size of the swells. If you get too close to the island, the same thing will happen to you.

After the fatal Low Speed Chase accident, the captain of the port decided to suspend all ocean racing. There was a fatal sailing accident in Southern California a short time later during the Ensenada Race. Ocean racing wasn’t suspended down there. Why the difference?

Jeff Pearson
Reno, NV

Jeff — We agree that ocean racing’s being canceled in Northern California, and not being canceled in Southern California, begs for an explanation.

You write, “If you get too close to the island, this [getting rolled by huge waves] will happen to you.” We’re not sure if you wrote precisely what you meant, but if you did, we disagree with you.

We think it’s quite possible that other boats sailed as close to the island as Low Speed Chase, if not during this year’s race then surely during other Farallones Races. Other boats didn’t get rolled because they didn’t happen to be in the more shallow water when an unusually large set of waves, or even the proverbial ‘wave of the day’, came through. Our belief is that Low Speed Chase wasn’t just in the wrong place for the size of the swell that day, but they were also there at the exact wrong time. We think a lot of sailors — and racers in particular — need to ask themselves if they haven’t done exactly what Low Speed Chase did, but just didn’t get ‘caught’.


Two incidents don’t necessarily make a trend, but what’s our Coast Guard coming to by recently denying a semi-blind but proven sailor the right to continue voyaging, and now mandating a suspension of ocean racing in Northern California? And why does the Coast Guard get to sanction races in the first place?

Are these abuses of power the result of a ‘nanny’ at the top of the Coasties dictating a nursery school teacher mentality down through the ranks? And could this perhaps be a prelude to assuming ever more control over adults’ lives afloat? The United States is feeling more and more like a police state rather than the ‘land of the free’.

Thanks to Latitude for reporting these atrocities. Without a vigorous Fourth Estate, which we’ve mostly lost already, our freedoms will surely be lost as well. It seems about time each of us asks ‘our’ elected representatives in Washington to educate the non-elected Coast Guard brass to protect our freedoms rather than curtail them.

Brooks Townes
Port Townsend, WA

Brooks — We assume that one of the two incidents you’re referring to is the case of Dennis Howard, who has alleged that the Coast Guard forcefully ‘rescued’ him against his will off the coast of Mexico, leaving his 20-ft Pacific Seacraft Flicka Avalo behind. You might wait until all the evidence comes out, as we’ve been told by a normally reliable source that Howard did radio that he was injured and needed to be rescued. We’ll no doubt get more facts as time goes on.

As for Capt. Cindy Stowe, Captain of the Port of San Francisco, refusing to issue permits for ocean races for a month or so until the safety guidelines can be reviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard and US Sailing, we hardly think it reaches the level of an “atrocity.” After all, ‘atrocity’ commonly is defined as ‘enormous wickedness’, and usually is reserved for cases of mass executions and such. We may not agree with Capt. Stowe’s decision, but we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she made it with the best of intentions based on her knowledge — or lack of it — rather than wickedness.

For as long as we can remember, organizers of races have had to get permits from the Coast Guard to hold organized events on the Bay and in the Gulf of the Farallones. Something like 1,300 of them are issued each year, including 24 for events outside the Gate. We’re believers in small government, but given the amount of vessel traffic on the Bay, we don’t believe requiring permits is any more atrocious than is putting stoplights at busy intersections — particularly since we can’t recall anyone’s complaining that the Coast Guard has capriciously denied them a permit.

By the way, things are different down in San Diego, where the Coast Guard doesn’t permit more than one beer can race per week. Can you imagine? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that no fewer than nine government agencies have some sort of police jurisdiction over San Diego Bay. And maybe that’s why the wind is afraid to blow very hard down there.


I think the Coast Guard’s suspension of ocean racing off San Francisco is wrong. And I think I would feel the same if I were asked while I was hanging onto the stanchion of the Moore 24 that was close to capsizing as a result of a breaking wave on Potato Patch Shoal during the deadly Doublehanded Farallones Race of ‘82. Obviously, the boat righted herself, and we luckily made it in the Gate to safety, and — I think — finished the race.

Although I was doing that race for fun, I learned valuable lessons that I have applied to other tough situations in life.

Name Withheld by Request
Planet Earth


Since the Captain of the Port has called on US Sailing, which governs yacht racing in the United States, to help investigate the safety of races outside the Golden Gate, I hope and believe they will put well-qualified individuals on the case. They did that with the investigation of the loss of crew lives from the sailboat Wingnut in the ‘11 Mackinac Race.

I am very much used to this same culture in aviation — when a significant accident happens that rattles everyone to their toes, we do a safety stand down. Not just in the military, but in a company or a community. It’s a chance to stop and reflect on personal lessons learned or, in this case, maybe take the day of what was going to be a race to work with your race crew on safety procedures and equipment, and to practice man overboard drills.

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

Terri — We have no problem with the members of US Sailing who were selected to investigate the Low Speed Chase tragedy, but we don’t think there are going to be any surprises with their conclusions as to why the accident happened. What we’ll be interested in hearing is what recommendations these top-notch and experienced Gulf of the Farallones racers might have on how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

A stand down? There were 263 fatal general aviation accidents last year, resulting in 454 fatalities. The leading cause of general aviation deaths was flying into terrain, which seems to us to be the aviation equivalent of sailing into too shallow water. With all due respect, we can’t recall there ever being a stand down because a pilot flew a plane — private or commercial — into the side of a mountain.

We’ll have more letters on various aspects of the Low Speed Chase tragedy in the July issue.


I went to a yacht club, which happened to be having an open house, to watch Day 5 of the America’s Cup World Series in Naples. The club had a thousand cable channels, five of which were from the provider that is covering the America’s Cup. Yet the club didn’t have the AC competition on. When I asked one of the members about it, he said, “We are kind of into baseball right now”.

“I’m in a yacht club, aren’t I?” I asked, looking around. So I asked the commodore about it.

“We are into the America’s Cup,” he told me. “In fact, the committee is coming next month to tell us what to expect when the races come to San Francisco.”

“That’s great,” I answered, “but don’t you think you could at least support the Cup in other venues?”

I’m jazzed that the America’s Cup is coming to San Francisco, and even though I sail a 40-year-old monohull, I’m excited about the multihull aspect, too. I think the venue, combined with the technology, will be nothing short of spectacular. However I’m concerned about the lack of interest.

Bill Demeter
San Francisco

Bill — We think it’s a proximity issue. When the America’s Cup action comes to the Bay, local interest will explode. Until then, you can’t exactly hold a gun to someone’s head and make them watch something they don’t want to watch. Even at a yacht club.


I’m totally all right with commercial sponsorship in the America’s Cup, and I’m not a prude, but they are allowing Red Bull to become a sponsor of one of the youth programs? There must be other prospects for an otherwise noble program for youth sailing. Just my two cents.

Tom Woodruff
Palawan III, S&S/Derecktor
Falmouth, ME

Tom — Red Bull, created in ‘87 by Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz in partnership with Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya, sells nearly five billion cans a year, and is therefore the most popular energy drink in the world. Red Bull sponsors numerous activities ranging from extreme sports such as mountain biking, BMX, motocross, windsurfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, cliff-diving, surfing, skating, freestyle motocross, Formula 1 racing, and breakdancing, to art shows, music, and video games, all in order to reach their target audience of mature women. Just kidding, their target audience is young males.

We’ve never drunk a Red Bull, but frankly, we’re puzzled by the nature of your objection. We could understand if you objected to Hooters, Jägermeister, Marlboro or some pot dispensary in Oaksterdam being sponsors of an America’s Cup youth program, but as Red Bull is legally available to consumers of all ages, what’s the problem?


Best of luck to Kirk Patterson on his proposed solo trip around Japan, as described in the May issue of Latitude. But in 35 years of sailing to Japan as master on ships from 1,000 DWT to 87,000 DWT, some of my worst moments at sea have been on the seas around Japan. Visibility is often poor, traffic is heavy, fishing boats do their own thing, and ‘coasters’ have their own set of rules. On a 20,000 DWT bulk carrier I have had the engines on full astern and the helm hard a-starboard for a coastal vessel approaching on my port bow. Collisions between ships and fishing vessels are not infrequent. Furthermore, when near any entrance to the Inland Sea, you can have tidal currents of eight to ten knots. Despite all modern aids and watchkeepers on the bridge, it can still be a nightmare.

Frank Keavy
Florence, Oregon


We loved your 'Lectronic write-up about the Antigua Classic Regatta, particularly the business about an unrecognized Dennis Conner walking the docks asking if anyone needed crew. Dennis will be 70 this fall, and may have gotten a little bigger with age. We suspect that none of us are the physical specimens that we once were.

Rennie Waxlax & Anne Blunden
ex-Casseopeia, Swan 65
San Pedro

Rennie and Annie — Our intent was not to denigrate Dennis or his physical condition, but to note he was both quite a bit older and larger than most people walking the dock looking to crew. And make no mistake, Dennis still kicks ass when racing his various boats on the West Coast. For example, in last year’s highly competitive Etchells Worlds, he and his crew took sixth out of 83 boats. Very impressive.

More on Dennis. When Doña de Mallorca boarded an American Airlines flight back to the Caribbean from the Strictly Sail Pacific Show in Oakland, she spotted Dennis sitting in first class, and wondered how much that ticket cost him. It turns out that it didn’t cost him much — at least according to an article we read a short time later in the Wall Street Journal. About 30 years ago, when American and other legacy airlines were desperate for cash, the geniuses at American came up with the idea of selling lifetime first-class passes. They varied in price depending on the buyer’s age, but they were usually about $250,000 with the option to pay $150,000 for a companion seat. A total of 64 people took American up on the offer, including sports figures such as former San Francisco Giants centerfielder Willie Mays — and America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner.

American, of course, has come to rue the offer, at least the way a few of the 64 buyers have been taking advantage of it. One of the 64 free-pass guys has flown 40 million miles! Another has flown only 10 million miles, but estimates that he’s taken over 10,000 flights. Let’s see, 10,000 first-class flights for $250,000 comes out to what, $25 a flight, and includes drinks, champagne, good food, excellent service — and frequent flier miles. It seems as if Dennis called the layline on that offer.


Before listing sources of weather forecasts for Mexico, we’d like to say that the late Don Anderson’s forecasts were the gold standard for Mexico — and beyond. It will be years before we see another individual as dedicated to helping the cruising community. Don was a great friend to all cruisers and is deeply missed.

Here in the Sea of Cortez, there are several weather options:

For HF Radio: Sonrisa Net ( Geary Ritchie gives his forecast from Burro Cove in Bahia Concepcion in the mornings at UTC 1330 during Daylight Saving and at 1400 during Standard time on 3.968 MHz. It is a ham net, so you need a ham license to ask questions legally. Geary also posts speech-to-text transcripts of his forecasts on the internet.

For VHF: There are cruiser nets in La Paz, Puerto Escondido, Guaymas/San Carlos and Mazatlan. They all have some form of local forecast, even if it’s just a reading from one of the internet sites. Farther south, there are nets in San Blas, Banderas Bay, Barra/Tenacatita, Santiago Bay/Manzanillo, and Zihua.

Our favorite weather resources on the internet include Buoyweather (; Magic Seaweed (; EEB Mike (; Swell Watch (formerly WetSand,; Predict Wind (; Sol Mate (, which is also available on Sail Docs); and the usual cast of NOAA and commercial weather sites. Most of the sites have limited free forecasts, but some have subscriptions for longer term.

During the hurricane season we use the following additional sites:;; (pay-to-view);;; and

We think many cruisers overlook the importance of learning to interpret GRIB files and satellite images — available through Sail Docs — for themselves. We think sailors have become complacent, relying on others to tell us what we should be doing rather than learning to understand what is happening around us and making decisions for ourselves. We think we need to use all of the resources available and then make our own decisions.

Dennis & Susan Ross
Two Can Play, Endeavor 43
Marina Palmira
La Paz, BCS, Mexico
‘02 Baja Ha-Ha Vets

Dennis and Susan — Thanks for the info. We very much like your inclination toward self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, but when it comes to a complicated subject like weather, where misinterpreting the data could possibly lead to unfortunate consequences, we see nothing wrong with relying on expert advice.

We received many more letters about sources of weather information for Mexico, but due to space considerations, are saving some for next month.


I like that Latitude 38 is online, because that’s the only way a sailor such as myself in the south of England would likely be able to read it. Furthermore, our sailing magazines aren’t nearly as entertaining as what you’re publishing out there in California.

For example, in the May Changes about Spindrift, I learned that: 1) French women walk like cats; 2) French women can be very picky; and, 3) French women say all their boyfriends cheat on them. Why waste editorial space on boat reviews when you can report entertaining social news such as that?

But I must admit that the topics in that Changes were rather timely because we’re enjoying a high-profile Franco-Anglo catfight at the moment. The circumstance is that Samantha Brick, a blonde 41-year-old former TV presenter who now writes a column for the Daily Mail, is married to a Frenchman, and has lived in France for four years, has made some bold claims. She started by writing a column titled ‘Why Women Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful’.

Not being satisfied with the near universal slagging she received for being so modest, Ms. Brick — now there’s a name for you — decided to add French women to those being worthy of her scorn. “I find them hostile and predatory,” she wrote, “ever eager to humiliate their rivals, and never batting a beautifully made-up eyelid about falling into bed with someone else’s man.” If that weren’t controversial enough for an Englishwoman living on French soil, Ms. Brick continued with her rout by saying: “To them, an adulterous affair is a feather in their cap, or merely another scalp. You see, French women don’t really like other women.”

So with Ross Delvin of Spindrift apparently headed to this part of the world to crew on some big boats in big regattas, Ms. Brick’s message is clear. It’s not just French men who cheat, but the French women, too. Having been forewarned of the habits of women who walk like cats, hopefully Mr. Delvin won’t have his heart broken while on the Continent.

Michael — but not the singer — Bolton
Southampton, England


It’s sad that relatively low-cost — as little as $700 — technology might well have prevented the tragic loss of the Hunter 376 Aegean and her four crew. AIS was not required on boats entered in the Ensenada Race chiefly because so many boatowners object to the modest extra cost, thereby putting a low value on safety.

An Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder continuously broadcasts a ship’s position and course, helping to avoid collisions by making boats easily visible to large commercial ships in the area. As a lifelong sailor and racer, I think AIS should have been and should be mandatory for all boats in offshore sailing events.

John Navas
San Francisco

John — While the Coast Guard has yet to release its findings on the Aegean tragedy, it appears that she was not hit by a ship, but was rather driven into the steep face of North Coronado Island, probably while under control of the autopilot. The bit of technology that could have saved the lives of the crew was a radar set with a ‘guard zone’ of a mile or so.

That said, we agree that it’s time for boats sailing offshore to be equipped with either a functioning radar or at least an AIS receiver, which costs much less than the transmitting variety. One or the other is now a requirement for both the Baja Ha-Ha and the SoCal Ta-Ta.


The Spot GPS track of the Hunter 376 Aegean that ran into North Coronado Island during the Ensenada Race really does shed new light on the tragic accident. I’m guessing that the crew set a waypoint off the Ensenada Race finish line — it goes right through North Coronado Island — and were using their autopilot to go to that waypoint. This would explain their constant track and speed.

It’s very easy to set a waypoint to somewhere and forget to check to make sure that the track doesn’t go over any land. Perhaps Aegean was so far from the Ensenada waypoint when they set it, and their chartplotter was zoomed out so much; that little North Coronado Island didn’t show up. Had it been daylight when they got close to the island, they likely would have seen it.

Airplane pilots have the same problem — especially at night — of putting in a waypoint on their GPS and not realizing that the track would take them right through a mountain. That’s why the more sophisticated aviation GPS units have terrain warnings. Maybe sailing chartplotters should have something similar.

John Thompson
Aldebaran, Tanzer 22,
Loch Lomond

John — We don’t know what happened in the Aegean case, but it’s been our experience that we humans can’t rely too much on machines and software without losing our edge. Call us old school, but we worry about sailors relying too much on technology.


While traveling up and down the California coast, my wife and I have had some great times anchoring at Santa Cruz Island, Port San Luis, San Simeon Bay, off Pfeiffer Beach, and off the Santa Cruz Boardwalk — all free. While in the Bay, we might anchor by Angel Island for lunch, or with the insane group of Blue Angels spectators. Again free. I do love the sense of freedom that dropping a hook brings when there is no fee.

The catch I see to free anchoring is the rather large group of people who are using boats as low-cost housing. I’m not talking about transient cruisers staying for days or weeks. I do not mean ‘voyagers’, who live a life less ordinary, and work hard wherever they put in, sailing from port to port, casting off the “pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert (most of us) for the sheer idiocy of the charade.”

I’m talking about bums on boats. I am talking about boats that have not seen a hoisted sail or a pump-out station in months. Or even years. Boats without current registration, without insurance, without proper safety equipment, and boats obviously not held to the standards of accountability I have to pay for and meet, with our boat every year. Richardson Bay and Treasure Island are two perfect local examples.

My guess is if everybody just followed/enforced the existing laws, the need for charging fees to anchor might fizzle away. My understanding is that mooring buoys in many tropical areas would protect coral and marine life, and I would support such an effort, even if it cost $200-$300 a month. But $450 a month to anchor with no amenities seems like high seas robbery to me. It’s a rip, plain and simple.

Mark Wieber
Goliard, Slocum 43

Mark — The Richardson Bay situation has always been a mystery to us. We’re never received what we consider to be a rational explanation for why a certain class of boatowner — the anchor-out — is seemingly allowed to break every law, and in plain view. But people with boats in berths in Richardson Bay are held to a much higher standard. We were recently told that 70% of the anchor-outs on Richardson Bay are convicted felons, and wonder if law-enforcement is willing to let it be an ‘anything goes’ zone to keep from having to take on what would admittedly be a difficult law enforcement job out there.

As for Treasure Island, the Treasure Island Development Authority not only booted out all the squatters in Clipper Cove a couple of years ago, but also removed all the wrecks in the anchorage. Though you have to call a number if you plan to spend more than one night, visiting boaters can now anchor close to shore without fear of a derelict’s dragging into them or having their anchor get fouled on a wreck.


San Diego did away with their free anchorage in response to a perceived threat of mariners looking to abandon their boats, and/or because of the extreme cost of policing the anchorage. True, there were boats that just sat out there, and some sank from neglect, but that was common in marinas, too. The Port of San Diego was so kind as to provide a few more mooring balls, but the price went up from $50 a month to $150 a month.

It seems that no matter where you go, there is someone waiting to charge you.

Paul Clausen
Washington County, OR

Paul — With all due respect, much of the old free anchorage in San Diego seemed like a disaster to us. And to be fair, San Diego does offer an anchorage where true transients — your boat can’t be registered in San Diego County — can stay for up to three months for free. That’s not bad.

If you go to popular and/or populated areas, there indeed will always be someone waiting to charge you. But if you go cruising to places such as Mexico, the Caribbean and the South Pacific, you’ll find there are countless great places where you can still anchor for free. Actually, it holds true for the Channel Islands too, and even parts of Catalina.


Greetings from the first bay east of Cabo San Lucas. I sailed over from Mazatlan to Bash my way up to Ensenada for the hurricane season. I went to the port captain’s office in Cabo to check in and out, and am now waiting for a weather window to head north.

But a panga full of API folks just came alongside and asked me to pay 220 pesos — about $18 — to anchor in this hellhole. I went to their office thinking this might be a one-time fee, but no, they want $18/day! I paid less than that at the Fonatur Marina in Mazatlan, and I got a slip, showers, laundry facilities, and electricity and water.

I have been cruising Mexico off and on for 35 years, and had never been charged to anchor. When I brought my current boat down four years ago, I had to pay a one-time API fee in Cabo of $4.50. But $18/day is ridiculous.

Considering that Cabo has been an anchorage of refuge for boats heading north for centuries, I find this crass money grab to be shameful. I understand that you no longer run the Ha-Ha, but if you could somehow exert pressure on Mexico City to change this, we cruisers would appreciate it. We cruisers bring a lot of money into the Mexican economy.

Rob Neun
Taisho, Islander 40 MS
San Francsico

Rob — Last time we checked, we still ran the Ha-Ha. But but if you understand the situation in Cabo, you’ll understand why we don’t have much influence. The ‘situation’ is that Cabo gets over one million visitors a year, many of them on alcohol-fueled long weekends where they spend money as if there is no tomorrow. As such, it’s not the same free anchorage of refuge you first visited 35 years ago.
While it’s not exactly tit for tat, we think cruisers need to realize that Mexico is providing much more in rescue services than they ever did before. Check out the next letter for proof.


After 30 years of sailing and 12 years of cruising in Mexico, it was embarrassing to have the Mexican Navy help us when our autopilot and manual steering gave us problems. You would think we’d have been able to work it out ourselves.

We’d sailed around the east side of Isla Isabela after leaving Matanchan Bay, maneuvering through the minefields of long lines. It was night, of course. It always is when things go wrong. My husband was below and I was on watch when something seemed to be amiss. It turns out that we were going around in circles at six knots. It’s an interesting thing to do because the compass goes crazy. It also gets attention. A nearby buddyboat called wanting to know why they kept seeing our red light, then our green light, then our red light again.

It seemed odd that starting the autopilot wasn’t a problem but turning it off had its complications — or was it that I was just dizzy? Slowing our boat down helped with the course, but trying to turn the wheel back to our original course seemed harder than it should have been. At least we were miles from land so there was no reason to panic. We figured that we’d probably picked up a line or net around the rudder. Fearless as we are, neither of us was going to go overboard at night to look.

The rudder seemed to get stuck in a position that luckily was close to our course toward Mazatlan. We were 59 miles out, but didn’t want to go more than four knots, fearing the rudder might move suddenly. We resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be a long night, but when we were 19 miles out of Mazatlan we heard our buddyboat talking to the port captain’s office. In fact, he was describing our situation. I managed to get in on the conversation and report our position. I felt we were on good terms with the port captain, since out of respect we always check in and out. Nonetheless, I was pretty surprised when I heard the port captain talking to the Navy, then the captain of the Navy vessel Rescati.

One hour later, our knights in blue and yellow arrived with smiles on their faces and a friendly “hola.” After requesting permission to come aboard — no easy task given the way the two boats were rocking — the captain decided he would send a diver down to check on our rudder. While the diver was down there, we were to start the engine and do about three knots while making some turns. Yikes! Some line or something must have fallen off, because nothing was amiss any longer. Regardless, we were advised to take it slow and steady when entering the marina.

The wonderful young men of the Mexican Navy stayed with us for a few miles until they felt we were safe enough to enter the harbor. We asked how we could pay for their help and were told there was no charge, but we should pass the word to other cruisers that the Mexican Navy is always happy to help.

Arriving at the entrance to the channel, we were met by a small powerboat with a uniformed man on board. He gave us instructions on when and how to negotiate our way through the breakers that were hitting the seawall. Friends were waiting to grab our lines as we came into the slip.

We are now home in Colorado listening to how many shootings there are in Albuquerque and Phoenix, and thinking how dangerous it is in the United States. But as they say, it’s all relative!

Beryl & Ron Seabourn
Sea Bourn, Hunter Passage 42
Durango, CO


The letter about California boat taxes brings to mind the way the Vietnamese peasants avoided such impositions. Their boats had a lashed-together wood frame covered with matting that was waterproofed with buffalo shit. When the taxman was nigh, the craft was quickly dismantled and any queries were met with wide-eyed denial. “Boat? What boat? We just have this matting that got messed up by the animal.” Alas, in the United States, fiberglass is not a natural product.

I grew up in the United Kingdom, where boats weren’t taxed. Even the hoi polloi could afford a humble craft — perhaps a converted lifeboat — sitting in the mud at half-tide moorings. Arriving in America in the mid-’50s, I was appalled to find that boats, even homemade ones, were taxed. One remedy was to buy surplus U.S. Navy craft. I contrived a usable motorsailer from a 36-ft launch, which I christened the Earl Grey after the tea — a riposte for the Boston Tea Party perhaps. When threatened with a high tax assessment, I produced a receipt showing that I’d bought the boat for $126.

Increasing prosperity allowed me to own more proper yachts — but not in California. In the ‘80s, low fares and hassle-free flights made it less expensive for me to own and keep a boat in England. At different times I had a 48-ft Dutch trawler and a 43-ft teak ketch. More recently, falling prices have allowed me to keep a modest sailboat in California.

I find it ironic that a country established by opposition to taxes now charges higher taxes than are levied in the mother country.

Michael Barton
Dolly Grey, Aries 32

Michael — According to Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, some people who own big buildings in Los Angeles had a way of getting the assessment of their property lowered, which resulted in their tax bills sometimes being reduced by more than $100,000 a year. The property owners just made a contribution to the re-election campaign of Assessor John Noguez. To make the story even more juicy, the public employee union that represents Assessor Department employees ordered members to refuse to cooperate with prosecutors! If you think we’re making this up, we read it in the L.A. Times — right after the story about 33-year-old Desmond Hatchett of Knoxville, who has fathered 30 children with 11 women but is asking for a break in child support payments because he has a minimum-wage job.

If you’re an honest and productive citizen of this state and country, do you ever get the feeling that you’re in the minority, and that you’re carrying way more than your share of society’s load?


Just a literary note on your mention of China Camp in San Pablo Bay. Jack London wrote exciting sailing stories about his time in the Fish Patrol near the Bay’s entrance to the Delta. Some of your readers may enjoy them. They do, however, exhibit all of London’s racism and WASP machismo. On the other hand, he loved boats and wrote exciting stories of sailing on the Bay. Here’s a taste from White and Yellow, where he wrote about sailing within sight of the Chinese fishing villages:

“When I was a youngster of 16, a good sloop sailor and all-around Bay waterman, my sloop the Reindeer was chartered by the Fish Commission, and I became for the time being a deputy patrolman. After a deal of work among the Greek fishermen of the Upper Bay and rivers, where knives flashed at the beginning of trouble and men permitted themselves to be made prisoners only after a revolver was thrust in their faces, we hailed with delight an expedition to [the beaches of Points Pedro and Pablo] against the Chinese shrimp-catchers.”

Rick Kennedy
Pt. Loma

Rick — For those who may have forgotten, Jack London (1876-1916) was born in San Francisco, and attended Oakland High School and for a short time the University of California. However, he did most of his reading and studying at dingy Heinold’s First and Last Chance saloon in what is now Jack London Square and the site of the annual Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show. London’s most famous works were Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in the Alaska Gold Rush, but he also wrote about the South Pacific and San Francisco Bay. Although London became one of the first authors to make a fortune writing fiction, he was a big socialist and fought for union rights.

That there is racism is London’s writings is interesting because ex-slave Virginia Prentiss was a maternal figure throughout his life. This all happened because London’s mother wounded herself in the head with a gunshot when her husband, who claimed he wasn’t London’s biological father, demanded that she get an abortion. Upon London’s birth, his mother turned him over to Prentiss for several months.

Thanks for the great magazine, but regarding purchasing a new iPad for navigation, I think it’s important to inform your readers that a wi-fi + 4G version is necessary because only it has assisted GPS and GLONASS.

Ted Gay
Alpenglow, Tartan 3500
San Diego

Ted — We’re going to assume that you and the geniuses at the Apple Store know more about this than we do. All we know is that our now ancient iPad, which is wi-fi + 3G, runs the Navionics programs just fine, even when well out of wi-fi and 3G range.


The better way — read ‘only way’ — to buy batteries with 100% confidence is the way commercial truck fleets do it. They buy from Interstate Batteries, Co. When a company sells/manufactures only batteries, their business depends on 100% performance! Need I say more?

Tom Horn

Tom — We can see a certain logic to your thinking, but the problem is that according to the Interstate Battery retail locator, they have only four marine battery outlets in the Bay Area. Two are in San Rafael, and there isn’t a single one in the East Bay. That’s not much in the way of convenience. And with so few marine battery locations, you’d have to worry about selection, too.

We think the most important thing is to test the battery with a tester — they cost about $50 — before taking a battery away from the retailer. We previously reported on a case where a buyer hadn’t done that, and thus didn’t find out the battery was bad until he’d gone to all the trouble of installing it on his boat. While in St. Barth, Capt. Tom on the legendary Herreshoff 72 Ticonderoga did the same thing. But in his case, the battery was an 8D. Man, are they heavy! In the case of the other battery buyer, when he went back to the store for a replacement, he found the other batteries were bad, too.

We think a proper battery tester is an ‘ounce of prevention’. If you don’t have one, check for a black sheen on the bottoms of the battery caps. A new and good battery shouldn’t have a black sheen.


The Un-Zen Delivery story in the May issue about the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca’s sailing the Olson 30 La Gamelle the last 250 miles from Martinique to St. Barth was fabulous. It was great writing — some of Latitude’s best — about a great adventure. I guess de Mallorca and the Wanderer are becoming kids again, which is a good thing, because juveniles usually have much more fun than adults.

In any event, the story reawakened my feelings about the sea and sailing. So I’m thinking about getting an Etchells, and am getting ready to find a boat to rent over this summer for the America’s Cup World Series, and then again for the real thing in ‘13.

By the way, Solar Planet, the Beneteau 51 that I owned and sailed in the ‘04 Ha-Ha, is on her way around the world.

Leif Vasström
ex-Solar Planet, Beneteau Idylle 51
San Francisco

Leif — Given this era of less editorial space, we had serious reservations about indulging ourselves with such a long article. But if it got you jonesing for boats and sailing again, we figure it was worth it. By the way, the adventure didn’t make us feel younger, but it made us feel as if we were living life to the hilt. And we suppose that’s about all you can ask for.


The Wanderer’s report on the La Gamelle delivery to St. Barth was very entertaining. My son Andrew Zimmerman singlehands his Olson 30 Warpath on the Bay, and got first in the Great Vallejo Race and second in the Stand Down Race. He was thinking about doing the Singlehanded Farallones Race — which was rescheduled to August 4 after the Coast Guard called for a stand down — and that concerns me, as he hasn’t done that type of race before and the Olson is such a light boat. I’ve done the crewed Farallones a couple of times on the Farallone Clipper Hoyden II with Bill Trask, and the Buckner, so I have an idea of what it can be like out on the ocean. But in any case, it was a good read.

Robert Lockwood
Celebration, Gulfstar 50

Robert — The Farallone Clipper and Olson 30 are about as different as two designs can get. As you no doubt know, the Stephens Brothers of Stockton built 19 of the Clippers between ‘40 and ‘64. Although the Olson 30 is eight feet shorter than the Farallone Clipper, it has almost the same waterline and beam, but displaces about half the weight of just the Clipper’s keel. Which is, of course, why Olsons are so lively and surf so well, and why Clippers have a slower motion and don’t surf. By the way, we have nothing but respect for you older hands who did the Buckner to Bodega Head and all the other hard-core ocean courses that haven’t been attempted in years.


The report of the La Gamelle delivery to St. Brats was terrific. No matter if you’re going uphill or downhill in the Caribbean, it can be tough. But having done it myself, I think you described it perfectly. Especially since you did it on a $5,000 boat built and designed by George Olson — whom I had the pleasure of working with down at Bill Lee’s Soquel ‘Chicken Coop’ so many years ago. A 30-ft ultralight without a dodger or reef points in the Caribbean? Good on ya, mate!

Rick Meyerhoff
Maya, LaFitte 44
Sausalito / Caribbean

Rick ­— We don’t know if “St. Brats” was intentional or a typo, but it got a big laugh out of us and some of the locals who have a sense of humor about the billionaire buffoonery they sometimes witness.

We’re glad you enjoyed the tale, but there’s a little more to it. We’re lucky we kept things simple on La Gamelle until we got to St. Barth, because once there we decided to try out our new Harken roller furling and new Pineapple #4 — with disastrous results. Ignoring powerful resistance, we foolishly continued grinding on the winch to furl the tiny headsail — until it twisted the 7/32nd headstay wire right out of the swage fitting at the top of the mast. Down came the headstay! The foil! And the sail! The only thing that kept the mast from falling was the baby stay, which we thankfully hadn’t yet had time to remove.

A quick look at the furler instructions solved the mystery of what had gone wrong. “Don’t be an bloody idiot,” the instructions read. “Unless your mast was specifically designed for roller furling, you will need a restricting block near the top of the mast to keep the dang halyard from wrapping on the foil, which is the number one cause of furling disasters. A restrictor block is especially needed on boats such as Olson 30s, where the headstay and halyard connect with the top of the mast at the same height.”

We don’t know if making sure there was a restrictor block on the mast was the responsibility of the riggers who put the furler together, the boatyard who put the mast up, or us who did not oversee the project as closely as maybe we should have. All we know is had that swage failed during the trip from Martinique to St. Barth, we would have had a big problem.

Getting La Gamelle sailing again at an island where the only way to lift the mast out is with a prohibitively expensive $1,000+/hour crane proved to be a frustrating and expensive experience. First there was the incompatibility of a California boat with standard measurement shrouds and terminals in a metric part of the world. A big honcho at FKG Rigging in St. Martin, probably the biggest and most sophisticated rigging outfit in the Caribbean, assured us that we could put a 5mm Norseman swageless terminal on a 7/32-inch headstay. When we got the 5mm Norseman back to the headstay in St. Barth, we quickly learned that Mr. FKG was flat-out wrong.

It took us about 100 readings of the furler instructions to understand that in order to replace the upper terminal, we had to take every single piece — and there were about 50 — of the furler system apart before we could re-snake the repaired headstay down the foil. That was no easy task, as some of the foil sections were secondarily bonded with 5200. Harken says you can free up 5200 inside the foils by heating it with a torch. We’ve got 25 cents that says you can’t. It took us highly-levered brute force to pull the foils apart.

Taking the furler apart and putting it back together was like learning a crappy computer program. It was difficult to do the first time, but from now on it would be a snap. After several weeks of the distractions of work for the magazine and getting the necessary standard parts, we finally got the headstay back up and La Gamelle sailing again. Alas, not with the new sail or the roller furling working. Those are things we get to look forward to next season.

Before we undertook the great La Gamelle Adventure, we told friends that it was going to be either one of the most foolish things we’ve ever attempted, or one of the most delightfully adventurous. It’s clearly been the latter.


During our recent mini-cruise to China Camp, we spent one night anchored next to the wreckage of the Quinault Victory, one of the two ammunition ships that blew up during the Port Chicago disaster in July of ‘44. The other ship, the USS Bryant, “vaporized”, so no identifiable remains were ever found. But the steel structure seen in the accompanying photo was blown about a mile away.

The blast that destroyed the ships and their crews registered as a 3.4 magnitude earthquake on the Richter Scale in Berkeley. The town of Port Chicago was nearly leveled, and bodies and debris rained down from the sky for miles around. A total of 320 men lost their lives, and another 390 were injured. Most of the dead and wounded were African-Americans. The incident was not widely reported at the time because there was a war going on, but also because it would have highlighted the fact that our military was segregated at the time. Some would say it still is, but it’s getting harder to argue the point with an African American president in the White House.

Anyway, if anyone finds himself sailing past Port Chicago, he might take a moment to remember the many souls who were lost during that horrific moment in time. If you wish to see the wreck for yourself, it’s located at 38° 04.651N, 122° 01.429W.

On a lighter note, we caught a huge sturgeon — too big to keep — while anchored by the wreckage, and had a great time rafting up with friends at China Camp.

John Curtis
Coool, Cross 42 tri
Bay Point

John — Just to make sure nobody gets confused, China Camp is located at the southern entrance to San Pablo Bay, and is therefore about 25 miles west of Port Chicago, which is located in Suisun Bay, halfway between Benicia and Pittsburg.

The part you left out of the Port Chicago story is that the servicemen, almost all of them African-American, believed conditions were unsafe even after the explosion, which led to protests and eventually the Port Chicago Mutiny. The ‘Port Chicago 50’ were convicted of mutiny and given long sentences. Nonetheless, there was enough public pressure to reconvene the court martial board, which again found the 50 to be guilty. But a continued public outcry about this and other racial matters resulted not only in all 50 being released soon after the war, but in the beginning of the desegregation of the Navy.

A detailed investigation of the explosion revealed that all of the loading officers were European Americans, while all of the petty officers, and the laborers whom they supervised, were African Americans. The whole bunch of them were considered to be close to the least competent in the Navy, and there was also lots of animosity. The loading officers often placed bets on their teams’ being able to load faster than other teams, the petty officers were considered slave drivers or Uncle Toms, and safety regulations and practices were regularly ignored.

There was actually a little humor in the story later on. Members of the Manhattan Project studied the post-explosion cloud and wrote about it. Then in ‘80, one Peter Vogel discovered documents at a rummage sale in Berkeley, and developed a theory that it had actually been a nuclear explosion. For the next 20 years, Vogel continued to hunt for clues to support his theory and eventually wrote a book. Experts who examined his claims later criticized Vogel for being silent about all of the opposing evidence, and described his work as exemplifying “the process by which conspiracy theories and other astounding knowledge claims gain popular attention.” A process that is well-known in Berkeley.

The story of the Port Chicago 50 was the basis of Mutiny, a made-for-television project that aired in ‘99 and starred Morgan Freeman. It’s a much richer story that warranted full-blown treatment on the big screen.


The Wanderer may remember us from Mexico in ‘82 when he had his Freya 39 Contrary to Ordinary down there at the same time we were there with our Endurance 35 Nanamuk, a boat we still have and keep in front of our house. We’re writing to say that our boat has had the same sight-glass fuel gauge since we built her in ‘78, and it still works great.

The sight glass itself is a clear PVC tube that runs outside the tank from almost the very bottom to the top. There are ball valves at both the top and bottom, which are normally left closed in case of fire or to prevent a spill if the PVC pipe were to be broken. We only open the ball valve to check how much fuel we have. With the tank empty, I added five gallons of fuel at a time, and marked the bulkhead behind the sight glass so that I know how many gallons we have left in the tank or can safely add.

Every surveyor has passed this system. The only maintenance has been to replace the PVC tube, which I do when I take the nipples out to use the holes for cleaning the tank. I clean the tank by using a lint-free rag on a stiff wire, which allows me to swipe the whole interior of the tank. Like the rest of Nanamuk, the fuel gauge is simple, reliable — and cheap!

P.S. We were one of the lucky ones who sailed away from Cabo during the famous ‘Storm of ‘82’ that caused so many of our friends to lose their cruising boats on the beach. Instead of staying on the lee shore at Cabo, we took off up to La Partida in the stormy conditions. As it turned out, we had a great run under the storm jib. We are on the Latitude Circumnavigator’s List, having gone around from ‘94 to ‘01 on our second cruise. We live on Protection Island in Nanaimo Harbor with the boat anchored out front, and would love to show you some Northwest hospitality.

Rob & Grace Dodge
Nanamuk, Endurance 35
Protection Island, WA

Rob and Grace — Thanks for the invite! You not only belong on our Circumnavigator’s List, but also our ‘Over 30’ list for folks who have owned the same boat for over 30 years. Simple, reliable and inexpensive — we love boat gear like that.

We received an astonishing number of responses to our question about fuel gauges. Alas, most will have to wait until next month.


We seldom concern ourselves with navigation lights on cruise ships, mainly for the reason Latitude states — you can’t see them. However, we developed a sure-fire method that has always worked for us, even when we can’t see the navigation lights. If the ship is going from left to right, we are looking at her starboard side. If she is going from right to left, we are looking at her port side. And if she is getting closer, she is coming toward us. This method has always worked for us and we have yet to be run down by a ship.

Bill Yeargan & Jean Strain
Mita Kuuluu, Irwin 37

Bill and Jean — If it’s that simple, why bother requiring navigation lights on ships at all? As you’ll see from the following letters, it’s a slightly bigger problem than you seem to think, even for some of the most experienced sailors in the world.


I know you guys are always looking for stories, but cruise ship lights? Come on, cruise ships are pretty hard to miss, even though you can’t see the running lights. They are much easier to see at night than smaller boats with the “proper” running lights.

Phil Jay
Yankee Traveller, Cal 39
Redondo Beach

Phil — Another doubter? We have so many things to write about that we hardly go “looking for stories.” But as we sail very actively, many topics do come from personal experience — including that not being able to see cruise ship navigation lights causes a potentially dangerous situation. The topic came from our motoring past Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, shortly after dark when four cruise ships departed the cruise ship docks in rapid succession. Some left in a straight line, while others backed out, reversed direction in a curve, and took off again in another curve. When the ships did the latter, and we couldn’t see their navigation lights, it was impossible for us to tell what they were doing and thus take the proper evasive action. If we think we’re the only ones who have had this kind of trouble, you’ll get an education from the following letters, which are only some of the many received complaining about the situation.

Why is it easier to see ship navigation lights than pleasure boat lights? Simple. International law requires that ships have six-mile lights, while pleasure boats under 65 feet only need two-mile lights.


I’m a retired tow boat operator with a 1,600-ton license and 20 years with Crowley Maritime, and in the past 50 years have done quite a bit of sailing. So while the experience I’m about to describe was not ‘my first rodeo’, it was the first time I’d had so much difficulty because of a cruise ship’s festive lighting.

While southbound off the coast of Baja in the wee hours one night last fall, I came across two northbound cruise ships, apparently in company, a half-mile apart. They were both very brightly lit, and one of them had some brilliant blue lighting that I found to be quite disorienting. I was unable to make out any of their running lights, range lights, or sidelights until they were quite close — perhaps less than two miles. And I was never was able to pick out the range lights on one of them.

After watching them both for a bit early on, I decided to alter course fairly drastically to starboard so as to make my intentions very clear and pass them both port to port. I gybed and brought my boat nearly 60 degrees to the right. As I continued to watch them closely, their bearing didn’t seem to change appreciably. I can only conclude that they must have changed course, but with no range or running lights visible, it was difficult to tell for sure, or make an intelligent decision about what course I should sail.

I finally made out a starboard running light on the vessel to the west. At this point they were quite close, and I elected to gybe back over and go between them rather than try to cross the bow of either vessel. To their credit, I’m pretty sure they both slowed down considerably. I base this on the amount of time things took, and the fact that I heard one of them increasing turns as she passed abeam. I’m quite sure their watch officers — and maybe their captains as well — were as annoyed as I was.

Adding to the entertainment, a good-sized flying fish smacked me square in the rear end, and made one hell of a racket in the cockpit sole as both ships were pretty much abeam.

P.S. I had the pleasure of an afternoon race aboard Profligate in La Cruz last season, and want to thank you once again. It meant a great deal to me to pay homage in person, as you and your magazine have done a lot for me over the years.

John Tebbetts
Ichi Ban, Yamaha 33

John — Thanks for the great example of even a very experienced professional mariner’s having trouble with cruise ship lights.

Thanks for the kind words, too, but please, none of that “pay homage” stuff. We just enjoy helping people have fun on boats, and fate has blessed us with the opportunity to make the most of it.


Last August we completed seven years of cruising the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. During that time, we found that cruise ship nav lights were frequently obscured by their party lights. What further complicated things is that these ships sometimes motor around in a big circle, killing time in order not to arrive in port too early. We finally bought a ‘send and receive’ AIS. This meant we knew the cruise ships’ plans, and felt there was a reasonable chance they knew of our existence and plans. Furthermore, AIS meant we knew their name, so they probably would respond when we hailed them on the VHF. I don’t think any vessel has ever responded to a “vessel at position so and so” type of hail.

It seems that overwhelmed nav lights negate the purpose of having them, and therefore should be a violation of the rules.

Mary Ann Plumb
ex-Star Dancer, Outbound 44


After almost 20 years of cruising, living, and working in Mexico, I have moved back to my adopted hometown of Ventura. Mexico has been very good to me, and there are aspects of that country that I will miss. However, my oldest son is ready to enter high school and, among other things, I want him to have access to the team sports that just don’t exist in Los Cabos. For the near-term, I will be using Strider, my 43-foot cutter, to conduct instructional cruises out to the spectacular Channel Islands, an area I have really missed for the last two decades. But by the time December rolls around, I guess I’ll have to consider getting a real job in the real world.

Many cruisers will remember me from the last eight years, during which time I ran the Puerto Los Cabos Marina in San Jose del Cabo. It was a great job, to be sure. But my dermatologist advised me, at 49, that I can either spend three hours a day in the sun in Ventura, or one hour a day in the sun at the Cape. Too many hours spent delivering yachts up and down the West Coast has taken a toll on my skin, so the California coastal climate, with lots of morning grey, is a better option at this stage of my life.

I want to thank all the many cruisers who have passed through my (former) marina over the years. It was always a great treat to meet people living their dream, including a year ago when I had five circumnavigators pass through within a 30-day period. I have tremendous respect for all of you, and am sad that the special “cruiser discount” pricing I strived to maintain at the marina will probably be a thing of the past.

While I hate to leave Los Cabos, Ventura is a great beach town with incredible sailing conditions. I’m looking forward to making the one long tack out to Santa Cruz Island every Saturday morning.

Capt. Jim Elfers
Strider, Formosa 43

Readers — Jim Elfers failed to mention that he’s also the author of the book titled The Baja Bash, giving tips on how to make it up the coast with the least amount of pain.



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