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June 2013

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Deep in the DNA of all men is a warrior. We devise ways to feel the rapture of being alive as we float down the river of life. Death is part of being a warrior. As such, I think we need to get over the fact that there was a death on an AC72 and let the warriors/professional sailors do what they do.

It takes one to know one, and for those in the know, I think we can all agree — set the friggin' kite and hang on, mate! Otherwise don't play. Yeah, the AC72s are freaky, but so was the Aussie 18 I sailed on. The great skiff sailors of the world don't question the safety of those rigs, they just strap on a pair and get 'er done. On with the race, boys!

Jonathan 'Birdman' Livingston
Punk Dolphin, Wylie 38
Point Richmond

Birdman — Rapture, smapture, we couldn't disagree with you more. Dan Meyers of Newport, Rhode Island, co-owner of the 175-ft schooner Meteor, and a longtime racer, said it best in a recent letter to Scuttlebutt:

"That he [Andrew 'Bart' Simpson] was a wonderful guy and a champion professional racer seems incontrovertible. But athletes are not gladiators to be thrown to the lions. They want to compete, enjoy the sport, the people they sail with and against, be fairly compensated, and then at the end of the day go home, hug the wife and kids, have dinner and go on. This is a tragedy, nothing less."


Race car drivers die at the Indy 500, Talladega, Daytona and so forth. Horses and jockeys die in multitudes in horse races. Football, rugby and soccer players die, along with base jumpers, skiers, paragliders, hang gliders, surfers, windsurfers, kite surfers, scuba divers, air racers, boat racers, snow boarders, swimmers, joggers, cyclists and so forth.

I'm not trying to make light of the Bart Simpson tragedy, but am only trying to illustrate that most of the deaths in the activities listed above occurred with the safest known equipment in that sport at the time. Then the accidents were investigated, the reasons were found for the deaths, and possible changes were evaluated. The sports improved.

Let's hope that intelligent, reasoned, analytical thinking prevails in light of the Artemis tragedy, and that if changes need to be made, they are sound.
Name Witheld By Request

Planet Earth

N.W.B.R. — There hasn't been a death in the Indy 500 in 50 years, except for Swede Savage way back in '73, who actually died from a contaminated blood transfusion. Twenty drivers have died in Indy 500 Trials — in the last 100 years. Only four of them since the '70s.

Suppose new race cars with dramatically increased horsepower were introduced at the Indy 500, and half of them crashed during the trials, with deaths. Would you think that the new cars should still be used in the real event?

We hope you're not suggesting that the AC72s are the "safest known equipment," even in the realm of high-speed multihulls. Everybody knows they're very extreme boats. After Oracle flipped, Paul Cayard of Artemis predicted she wouldn't be the last. Unfortunately, he was right.


Besides being a sailor, I have been a fan of Formula One motor racing for many years, including the times when the death of one or more top drivers was expected each year. Now the fatalities are amazingly rare due to the extraordinary construction of the cars, with safety the top priority. It seems to me there is a parallel between the current AC72s, despite their enormous sophistication, and the construction of Formula One cars before the huge advances in safety.

Jon Price
Tiburon YC

Jon — The record shows that 49 drivers have died driving in Formula One championships, the first being in 1952. Formula One driving deaths have decreased dramatically over the years: 15 in the '50s; 14 in the '60s; 12 in the '70s, four in the '80s, and just two in the '90s. There hasn't been a fatal Formula One crash since the great Ayrton Senna was killed nearly 20 years ago.

Personally, we think the parallels between Formula One cars and AC72s aren't that great. Consider the amount of gradual testing and ultimate miles put into a Formula One car before it hits the starting line. There hasn't been any similar ramping up with the 72s. So we think the crews on the AC72s are more like the test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in the 1940s and 1950s than Formula One drivers.

It's also worth noting that some people have had the balls to pull the plug on huge projects, despite the enormous expense and the blow to their egos. Think of Howard Hughes and the 320-ft Spruce Goose, which was actually mostly made of birch. It got airborne only once, for 30 seconds and half a mile. It was never flown again, and Hughes lived to be one of the all-time great old wackos.


The death of Andrew 'Bart' Simpson is tragic beyond measure, and should have been prevented. When the AC45 design and fleet racing program was first proposed, I heartily supported the idea and followed the development of that design closely. But with the introduction of the massive, high-speed 72s, I made the following comment to my wife: "Someone will surely get killed on these beasts before the gun for the first start ever sounds, mark my words. The human being is out of proportion to the loads!" I wish to hell that I had been wrong.

I'm no genius naval architect, but I do have a degree in aeronautics and 40,000 ocean miles. The leap forward in the design envelope to the 72s was done just because they could and to raise the bar in risk-taking — just to thrill the fast-paced F1 generation. I say let Larry Ellison dance across one of these 72s while she is foiling at 40 knots.

I also say the boats should be slowed down, the foils should be eliminated, and rules should be introduced to increase safety. Formula One had the courage to do it when Ayrton Senna was killed in 1994. Why can't Ellison, his ego, and the America's Cup Management crew do the same? We should not let Bart Simpson's death have been for naught.

John Monroe
On the Beach


I say run the America's Cup with the 72s, as it's too late in the game to 'change horses'. But each crewmember should have to wear a breathing device with 10 to 15 minutes worth of air; their life jackets should be worn outside of the team clothing so they can be removed quickly, if need be; two rescue divers should be on each team's chase boat; and there should be a reserved boat with two more divers.

I say scrap the 72s for the next America's Cup and use ORMA 60 trimarans instead.

Vance Sprock
Seazed Asset, Cal 40
Santa Clara

Vance — Those are all excellent suggestions. But instead of the breathing device you recommend, how about the ones they currently use, plus hookah mouthpieces for each crewmember on the side of each hull?

If the 72s are to be used, the greatest safety measure would be to limit the maximum wind speeds in which they could be raced. Indeed, on May 17, Luna Rossa head Patrizio Bertelli said his team will not sail in winds over 25 knots.

"What are they going to do with the television time if there is too much wind?" asked one reporter. Patrizio had a killer response, saying words to the effect of, "We came here for a boat race, not to be part of a television show." We almost went out and bought our first-ever Prada shirt.

The next day Luna Rossa went out sailing for the first time — despite the fact that the safety review committee had asked the teams not to sail the 72s for another week. That's the thing about billionaires — they do whatever the hell they want.

As for the great ORMA 60 trimarans, they have been replaced by the one-design MOD70s, which have design features intended to make them safer than their predecessors. As we've said several times before, MOD70s, or something similar, would be our choice for the America's Cup. Being so much less expensive, they'd attract many more teams, they're transoceanic proven, and they're darn near as fast as the 72s.


Tragedies happen at the highest levels of all sports. No matter if you're talking about the Vendée Globe, the Volvo Race or the America's Cup, there has never been an exemption from danger. The America's Cup is not amateur racing on weekends. These are professional teams and athletes. Yes, the boats are new and everybody is still trying to figure out how to sail them. Yes, it's San Francisco Bay, not Newport or Valencia. Probing the boundaries means sometimes breaking outside the envelope. From a distance I've seen more attention to safety than I've ever seen in a yacht race. Play on.

Russ Irwin
New Morning, Paine 54

Russ — Sure, there is danger in sailing and most sports. But at the far end of the spectrum there's also unconscionable risk. Personally speaking, we don't want the America's Cup going anywhere near unconscionable risk. Unfortunately, unless there are significant changes, we think there's a significant risk that several more sailors could be killed.

Just as we believe that all the sons and daughters of all the Presidents, Senators and Congress members ought to have to serve in any wars declared by the United States, if the 72s are to be used in the America's Cup, we think the primary financial backers of each syndicate, as well as officials of the Event Authority, should have to be aboard. It might help them focus on the risks involved.


I have sailed multihulls off and on since I was about 20, and I'm now 65. I sailed the TransPac on a trimaran in the early '70s where we averaged 17 knots for three days straight. I sailed a 20-ft Tornado cat from Point Fermin to Avalon, a distance of 18.5 miles, in one hour and fifteen minutes. Evolution in multihulls has made these achievements rather insignificant. I'm in awe when I watch the videos of the AC72s on their foils at speed.

The sailing envelope for catamarans is completely different than for monohulls, and it is not conservative at the high end. I don’t know exactly what the upper limit on speed of these boats will be, but I’m relatively sure that it will approach 45-50 miles per hour. There is nothing safe about traveling 45-50 miles per hour on the ocean while under sail. To expect that these 72-ft behemoths will balance at speed on their foils through the wind shifts of San Francisco Bay — both expected and unexpected — without the use of trim tabs on their rudders is a bit naïve.

On the other hand, this is the environment — both financially and technologically — in which these problems need to be addressed. Multihull sailing has a lot of advantages over monohull sailing. The early determination of the solutions for the problems that surround this type of sailing could have benefits for all those who love the balance and speed that catamaran sailing has to offer.

I offer two suggestions:

1) There may need to be some re-thinking on the use of trim tabs. As the center of effort shifts forward at 45 to 50 miles per hour, the bows on these monsters will go down quickly, and pitchpoling could follow. This problem is compounded by the weight aloft, as well as the driving force on the tall foils. Trim tabs might help solve these problems.

2) Many of the crew have life jackets that are not the inflatable type.  When a catamaran of this size tips upside down, the trampolines cover a large surface area. The life jacket may have enough upward force to keep an individual under the trampoline for the first few minutes after the incident. If inflatable jackets were worn, perhaps then a crewmember could get out from under the trampoline before he expires. I’ll grant that this only works if he is conscious. If he is unconscious and already under the trampoline, I have no suggestions other than that this would be a crew training issue.

Dennis Clinton
San Diego

Dennis — It seems to us that inflatable life jackets are the last thing the AC crews need. We rescued the crew of a flipped Corsair 670 tri during a Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race, and one of the crew was tremendously shaken. His auto inflating PFD had inflated while he was beneath the boat, making in nearly impossible for him to swim out from beneath the pretty small multihull.


In the April 5 'Lectronic there was a report from Ryan Shamburger, skipper of the Sausalito-based 82-ft schooner Seaward, who reported on their making it from Cabo to San Francisco Bay in 11 days, 11 hours using the 'Clipper Route'. The skipper said that the weather forecast had been ideal for the Clipper Route. Can you explain what conditions/forecasts would be good for taking the Clipper Route? I've done the Baja Bash many times and would welcome an alternative.

David Hume
Planet Earth

David — The Clipper Route was popular with square-riggers of the 1880s because they didn't sail to weather well and because they didn't have engines. Indeed, there are accounts of old-time sailing ships taking three weeks to make 10 miles to the good along the coast of Baja. So the clipper ships would head off the Mexican coast on starboard tack until they started getting lifted. Usually this would mean initially having to sail almost southwest, which was about 90 degrees off course from their ultimate destination. And usually they wouldn't start getting lifted very much by the northeast trades until they were 500 or more miles due west of where they'd started from. They'd then stay as hard on the wind as possible until they got far enough north that they could flop over onto port in northwesterlies, again hard on the wind, to lay their intended landfall. Because you usually can't flop over until you get pretty far north, the Clipper Route makes more sense the farther north you want to go. For instance, it makes a lot of sense if you need to get to Seattle from Cabo, but almost no sense if you just need to get to San Diego.

With all due respect to Capt. Shamburger, based on Seaward's plotted course as seen in 'Lectronic, they made out like bandits with a weather anomaly — including 60 hours of southerlies along the California coast — because they didn't have to sail anywhere near as far offshore as a traditional Clipper Route.

If people want a somewhat more typical experience doing the Clipper Route, they should visit, which is the 2002 blog of the late Terry Bingham of the Union 36 Secret O' Life. While it's true he started from Zihua, almost 400 miles to the south of Cabo, and finished at Newport, Oregon, several hundred miles north of San Francisco, it took him 28 days to cover the 3,250 miles. Yeah, it's that far, and yeah, it was all hard on the wind.

As for a 'good' forecast for doing the Clipper Route, we're not sure there is such a thing. Starting off with as many days of southerlies as possible would be excellent, of course, but in that case you'd be crazy not to make the straight shot to California instead of sailing 500 miles offshore in search of a lift. Similarly, weather forecasts are only good for a few days, and any Clipper Route passage is going to be a pretty long one, so you're going to have to accept whatever comes along.

We've had readers rave about their Clipper Route passages back to California and what nice weather they had, and we've had others bemoan the fact that they spent most of a month 500 miles offshore slamming to weather in 25 knots. The way we see it, there are two potential downsides to a Clipper Route. The first is that once you start, you're pretty much committed. The second is that unlike the coast of Baja, there are no anchorages along the way.

Readers, if you've done a Clipper Route trip back to States, we'd love to hear about your experience.


I read that Colorado State University’s hurricane forecast team is predicting that there will be 18 named tropical storms in the Atlantic/Caribbean this season, with nine of them becoming hurricanes, and four of them becoming major hurricanes. The forecasters say that the warming of the waters in the tropical Atlantic and the anticipated lack of El Niño winds in the Pacific will be the primary reasons for the increase.

I know Latitude has been skeptical of the Colorado State forecasters in the past, so I wonder if you have any comment this year.

Jim Sexton
No Boat Right Now
San Jose

Jim — We can tell you that Donald Street doesn't think much of their forecast for the June 1 to November 30 season. "I'm convinced that those boys are blowing 100% smoke," he wrote.

Younger sailors may not be familiar with the man. But Street, now 80, has spent 57 years cruising to and around the Caribbean, most of it on his 46-ft yawl Iolaire, which was built in 1905. It's significant that the heavy old boat hasn't had an engine in something like 40 years. Street nonetheless says he has 300,000 miles with the yawl, all of them, we can assure you, while holding a bottle of Heineken in one hand. Street has also been a prolific author of cruising guides and cruising articles, and was in the marine insurance business for 51 years. So when he talks, it's worth listening.

"I have been closely studying hurricanes since 1954," he says, "when I spent the summer trying to dodge them in Long Island Sound. After 1990, when Klaus caught me and everyone in the Caribbean completely unaware, I made an in-depth survey of past hurricanes. It was easy, as I used the data in Tropical Cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean 1871-1998 (with updates available to 2012), also known as the 'hurricane book'. It has the track of every hurricane and named storm since 1851. If someone went back and compared the Colorado State predictions to what actually occurred, they would come to the conclusion that their predictions are pretty useless!"

Street can certainly be vexatious, but this time we think he's spot on. Consider that last year the Colorado State guys predicted 10 named storms, 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. To say their predictions were off would be akin to saying the Pacific Ocean is a small body of water. After all, there were 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. Last season wasn't the quiet season they forecast at all, but rather tied for the third worst, with the highest number of named storms in a season in the last 150 years! So how are we supposed to have much faith in their forecasts?

Hurricane Fun Fact #1 — The year with the greatest number of named storms in the last 150 years was 2005, when there were an astonishing 28 — eight more than the next highest year ever. We remember it well, because we'd gotten big Profligate out of the Caribbean just in time.

Hurricane Fun Fact #2 — A 'major hurricane' is a 3 or higher on the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, which means sustained winds of at least 96 knots. When we dropped the Olson 30 La Gamelle off at The Shipyard in St. Martin, where she'll spend the hurricane season on the hard, we got to talking to manager Hank Engelkens about hurricanes. "If we get a Category 1 or 2, we should be all right," he told us. "But if we get hit by a 3 or 4 . . . " He just threw up his hands. He didn't have to tell us. When Category 4 Luis hit St. Martin in 1995, something like 700 of the 750 boats that had taken shelter in Simpson Bay Lagoon were either badly damaged or destroyed.


I found the following quote from Naomi Crum's May's Changes to be memorable: "Got bogged down in Nicaragua because of a bad turnbuckle.” Therein lies the rhythm of waves and a song’s lyric.

Shirley Burek
Moffett Federal Airfield

Shirley — It's not exactly John Fogerty's "stuck in Lodi again", but it's more exotic because of the reference to Nicaragua, and because hardly anybody gets stuck anywhere because of a bad turnbuckle.

Speaking of bad turnbuckles, there were a couple of options Naomi may have had that could have kept her from having to wait for a stainless turnbuckle from the States. The first would have been to track down a galvanized turnbuckle. Unlike specialized stainless turnbuckles, galvanized ones are easy to find even in Third World countries. Another option would have been to make a couple of deadeyes from some hardwood to replace the turnbuckle. That was the way they tightened shrouds in the days of wooden ships and iron men. Thanks to low-stretch synthetic fibers, deadeyes have been coming back on some of the most high-tech boats.


As we got ready to sail to the South Pacific a year ago, we needed a liferaft. We found an ad on Craigslist for a used Plastimo for $800. We called the seller and arranged a meeting on our boat on Harbor Island in San Diego. Two seemingly nice guys, with connections to the marine industry, showed up.

We had a lengthy conversation about our planned trip to Mexico and the South Pacific. They talked about their experience sailing to the South Pacific, and we were impressed with their knowledge. We explained that we were on a tight budget, which was why we were looking for used equipment. The one fellow convinced us that the Plastimo Offshore raft for four people was exactly what we needed. He said it was only four to five years old and had never been used. We inspected the canister, gave them $800, and got a handwritten bill of sale.

After the purchase, a friend recommend that we have the raft inspected. When we did, the certification company informed us that not only was the raft unsafe, the condition of its contents was dangerous. It turns out that the raft had never been serviced and none of the recalls performed. The valves and bladder were no longer warranted by the manufacturer, and could not be replaced. The air cylinder could not be refilled, and the batteries had leaked acid, ruining the pack. There was a service manual inside the canister that showed the liferaft was 20 years old!

We asked ourselves if we'd been stupid or the sellers had been irresponsible. We talked with several experts to find out if it is illegal, maybe even criminal, to sell useless safety equipment. We got mixed opinions. We would appreciate response from the sailing community, and maybe some advice on what to do. Our attorney is convinced we would win in small claims court.

Herbert & Gitta Kellner
Prana, Hunter 45CC
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Herbert and Gitta — If the story you tell us is accurate, we don't think you've been so much stupid as trusting. Unfortunately, given the plunge in social values these days, being trusting has become almost equivalent to being stupid.

It's against the law to grossly misrepresent something that you sell. That would include lying about the age and condition of the product. We have no doubt you could win your case in small claims court, but we doubt that it's worth $800. After all, you've got to track down the seller and show up in court, and even if you win, it can be a hassle — if not impossible — to collect the money. In our view, the time and aggravation of trying to get satisfaction from apparent scumballs wouldn't be worth the money.

When buying a used liferaft, we recommend the purchase be conditional on the raft's passing certification or having had a very recent certification that the repacker would vouch for. You don't want to take off across the Pacific unless you know your liferaft is in excellent condition.


Since the editor asked for inquiries such as this, we'd like to know whatever happened to Orient, the 80-ft S&S teak sloop, and Soliloquy, the 1934 12 Meter that we raced on back in the '60s and '70s out of Marina del Rey. What majestic sailboats they were! Also, what happened to Roy Disney's Peregrine, a Morgan ketch?

Ed & Connie Quesada
Sirena, Cardinal 46
La Paz, Mexico

Ed and Connie — We think your memory might be playing tricks on you, for if you're thinking about the famous S&S cutter Orient from 1937, she was 65 feet, not 80 feet. It was a combination of the first half of the name Baruna, the S&S 72 sloop that was built in 1938, and Orient, that resulted in the name of the Barient Winch Company, then dominant in the industry. A veteran of the 1966 St. Francis YC Big Boat Series, the third one ever, Orient was reportedly trashed later in life when she was used as a prop in some B movies. Fortunately, she was purchased by Kathy Roche of Santa Barbara, who had her beautifully restored in Channel Islands Harbor. She's now permanently moored in Santa Barbara.

According to the 12 Meter Class records, there never was a 12 named Soliloquy. We remember Roy Disney owning a green ketch, but it certainly wasn't a Morgan production yacht.


From 1971 to 1978 I sailed on Viking, a double-ended wooden sloop berthed at the Alameda Marina. She was a sturdy 28-ft Scandanavian design with good freeboard and a substantial bowsprit. She took the very worst and windiest days on San Francisco Bay in stride. I believe she was owned by William Phillips and maintained by his son. I've often wondered what became of her.

Carol Putman
Walnut Creek


Whatever happened to the 73-ft ketch Windward Passage?

Mike Jackson
Wings, Columbia 5.5

Mike — As you surely know, Passage was built on the beach in Freeport, Grand Bahama, in the late '60s for Robert Johnson, owner of Georgia-Pacific Lumber. His goal was to better the TransPac time of his previous yacht, the great Herreshoff ketch Ticonderoga. Considered the precursor of modern maxi yachts, the fir, Sitka spruce and epoxy Passage set all kinds of records on the East Coast and Caribbean, and set elapsed-time records for the TransPac in 1969 and 1971. She participated in many St. Francis YC Big Boat Series, both as a ketch and a sloop, as well as the Pan Am Clipper Cup in Hawaii and many other events. After a long career as one of the most famous racing boats ever, she's enjoying a leisurely retirement in Newport Beach, where she is kept in immaculate condition and, at last word, was being sailed every Tuesday.


Back in the '60s there was a Snark boat that was heavily used for advertising Kool cigarettes. I was in Hawaii at the time, and it was perfect for my sailing needs. I bought mine secondhand for $50. Because the 'hull' was made of lightweight polystyrene, I could throw it on top of my car myself. But I could also sail her with one or two people aboard. She was distinctive, like all her sisterships, for having a green and white sail with the word KOOL on it. (Kool cigarettes were flavored with menthol.) When I was done sailing for the day, I would rinse off the boat in my pool.

Phileta Riley
ex-Eagle, Cal 35
Bandon, OR


What ever happened to Puffin, Bird Boat #12? I sailed on her from 1948-'53 when my dad owned her. We used to race her against Myron Spaulding. Some years ago I donated a few bucks to have her taken from San Rafael Boat Works to somewhere else for possible restoration. She had somehow gotten a big hole in her starboard side. I never heard anything more about her.

Ron Witzel
Staff Commodore
Marin YC

Ron — As Editor LaDonna Bubak reported in the May issue's Boatyard Tour, wooden boat restoration expert Rick Mercer is hard at work on Puffin in Larkspur.


Whatever happened to David Vann's CT 50 Grendel, the boat that got stuck in Puerto Madero, Mexico years ago, and became the part of the basis of his rather dark article in Outside magazine? I know that Grendel is alive and well, because I own her! She's been lovingly restored with a new engine, Electrosan toilets, new sails, new paint — and looks gorgeous. She sailed on San Francisco Bay for many years and was, in my opinion, the most beautiful boat on the Bay. Now I keep her in Southern California.

It's true that Grendel had a rough life even before Vann owned her, but let me tell you, she's living the good life now.

Eva Pardee-Russell
Grendel, CT 48
Southern California


Sometime around 1970 I took my first sailboat ride. It was on my brother's Newport 30, In Lieu Of, and we headed out of Ventura Harbor for Anacapa Island. Halfway to Anacapa we were smacked by a full-on Santa Ana. The roller furling jammed and the cable for the wheel steering parted. We then learned you had to remove the steering pedestal to put on the emergency tiller. I'm not making this up! Anyway, I was hooked on the sport from then on.

In the '90s, long after my brother had sold her, we crossed tacks with her between Alcatraz and Angel Island. I've always wondered what happened to her.

Jimmie Zinn
Dry Martini, Morgan 38
Point Richmond


Reading the Sightings piece about the most recent Banderas Bay Regatta, we were reminded of the 1994 BBR. It was a smaller event, but the members of the Geriatric Racing Syndicate — Ralph, 75, foredeck; me 68, tactician; and Richard, 62, helmsman — won second place. Richard was a bit young for a Geriatric, but he owned the boat, so we were stuck with him. This was reported in Latitude with a picture of the crew and trophy. I'm sure that we wouldn’t have done as well if we'd had the distractions of the bikini-clad women on some of the other boats that year.

Unfortunately, I'm the only remaining member of that team. But at age 87, I'm still sailing. This year we will buy a boat to spend our remaining summers on the Bay. The way we see it, when you are aging, you have to decide to either just live or really live. We believe that teaching our great-grandchildren the joys of sailing and the beauty of the Bay will be really living. Anyway, when I can’t sail, I will only be existing.

When we completed our cruise to Florida that started aboard our Challenger 32 Utopia with the 1993 Ha-Ha, we bought a home on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We still have the house, and I still sail a Big Fish, which is Island Packet’s Sun Fish on steroids. The Bay Area is still our real home, but we can't afford to live here full time.

Jack & Sandy Mooney
ex-Utopia, Challenger 32
Hudson, FL

Jack and Sandy — Good on you!


I didn't write about cruiser racing last month, as I wanted to let the heat die down a little after the collision between Blue and Camelot, which resulted in sailmaker Mike Danielson suffering two broken legs. But now that some time has passed, I would like to pass on what I learned from the cruiser racing series that I ran in Marina del Rey for something like seven years.

To give you some background, I'm the guy who started the cruiser racing series in Marina Del Rey in the late '80s, and helped get the Windjammers YC's Del Rey to San Diego cruise class started in 1989. This became the model for all subsequent cruiser classes in Southern California distance races, such as the Newport to Ensenada Race and the Del Rey YC race to Puerto Vallarta, as well as cruiser classes in many local races. And when we wrote in to join the 'Over 30 Club', Latitude said that I might even be the 'Grandfather of the Baja Ha-Ha'.

As we own a very heavy Taiwan-built cruising boat, and since I participated in quite a few PHRF races, I like to think that I had an idea of what was keeping the vast majority of cruising-style boats and casual sailors from coming out racing. Here is what I came up with back in the day to try to solve that problem:

1) If at all possible, avoid using a yacht club race committee. They insist on using traditional starting procedures and racing rules, which confuse and intimidate non-racers. In the Windjammers YC's cruiser series, we conducted the races under the International Rules of the Road, not the racing rules. Protests were not permitted. I was a benevolent dictator, and would have barred any bad players. But I never had to because there weren't any. The Windjammers YC had 12 cruiser races each year, and in the seven or so years I ran them, I don't recall there ever being a collision.

2) I had a mandatory Skippers Meeting at the club prior to every race, where I explained the starting procedures. I used starting shapes and sounds as a teaching tool, but we did the starting countdown over the radio. If a boat was over early, we didn't have them return for fear of collisions, but gave them a five-minute penalty.

3) I always made the starting line long, perhaps a quarter of a mile.

4) Boats always started in the same direction, no matter which way the wind was blowing.

5) The courses were cruiser-friendly, which meant — gods permitting — lots of reaching.

6) Boats were divided into classes by boat length — under 30, 30 to 40, and over 40. Within these classes were sub-classes: spinnaker, non-spinnaker, doublehanded, female skipper, and so forth.

7) We also added or subtracted a few seconds to handicaps depending on whether boats had better sails and equipment, if they were liveaboards, and if the skipper had lots of experience. We also had a golf-style handicap system, which leveled the field after a few races.

8) We gave out lots of trophies, as many as seven deep in class. We had nice season trophies, too.

9) The most important rule, however, was that we didn't permit any known race boats or boat designs primarily used for racing to participate. At that time in Marina del Rey, this eliminated boats such as Schock 35s, all the J/Boats, the Martin 242s, and because there was a big one-design fleet at the time, even Cal 20s. Being a benevolent dictator, I would also not accept the entry of any boat that I didn't feel was right for the spirit of the series. Naturally some people were unhappy with my decisions, but if you try to please everyone, you please no one. But I think this is the primary thing that kept the series successful and safe.

Depending on the weather, we'd average 45 to 65 entries per race. We once had more than 80 boats.

In my perhaps not-so-humble opinion, eliminating the race boats and known racers from cruiser races in Mexico might result in greater participation by cruisers.

I read Latitude cover-to-cover every month. I hope that you will continue to organize and manage the Ha-Ha, as Enola Gay and I can't wait to participate when we're finally able to retire in a few years.

Wayne & Enola Gay Warrington
Elfinstar, Explorer 45
San Pedro


I organized and participated in cruiser races in Mexico for about a decade in the '90s, and the guiding principle was 'when you're racing for fun, winning isn't about beating other people'. The cruiser racing fleets seemed to be smaller and less formal back then. The more organized things became, and when the resident populations of places such as Puerta Vallarta got involved, the more difficult it became to keep the focus on fun instead of winning.

I was closely involved with the Banderas Bay Regatta from the time it began in 1991 with rabbit starts, to the era of the fully hosted gala event it later became. In my opinion it was an ugly evolution compared to the Baja Ha-Ha, which has managed to stay a light-hearted celebration of sailing fun.

In the case of the Banderas Bay Regatta, I think the problem centered around the need to make the event important enough to justify increased community support. And a substantial winner's trophy and bragging rights became a central symbol of the event's importance. Without the event's being so important, it would have been silly to lavish time, energy and resources to host a regatta that ended with a grand trophy banquet around a pool with all sorts of luminaries and officials in attendance.

The true silliness is that the organizers saw the ragtag regatta of mismatched sailboats as a fleet of equitably handicapped yachts vying for a grand prize. The fact is that the real pleasure of a ragtag regatta is to have a good time on the water with sailing friends, and then have a good time with them ashore after the race.

Early foreshadowing of the looming importance of the Banderas Bay Regatta was the appearance of serious people — and worse, serious racers. As a result, I urge the current generation of cruiser race organizers to be wary of serious racers and of significant awards for winning the races.

In the cruiser races that I ran in Mexico in the '90s, the first trophy I awarded was always the '#1' — which went to the skipper who demonstrated that he wanted it more than anyone else. Rarely was another competitor jealous of that win. The memory of a good time, and maybe even a painted wooden fish, were the most valuable trophies that anyone could take home.

Tim Tunks, aka Padre Timo
Santa Monica

Tim — Although we agree with your guiding principle and analysis, we have to point out that the Banderas Bay Regatta has had a long and mostly illustrious history. Thousands of sailors have had a lot of fun participating in it, and to our knowledge there have only been a few unpleasant incidents. Although the two broken legs and the resulting firestorm mean we have no idea about the future of the event.

For readers who may not understand Tunks' reference to "painted wooden fish," he's referring to the ones you buy for a dollar in any tourist area of Mexico. When he ran cruiser races in Mexico, he would give these out as trophies. When we started the Ha-Ha, we recognized that the cute but humble 'trophies' were a brilliant way to keep participants from taking the competition too seriously. Not only do we still use these wooden fish as trophies in the Ha-Ha, they've turned out to be very popular mementos of the event. Some boats that have done multiple Ha-Ha's have multiple trophy fish — with ribbons signifying if they got first, second or third, third being the worst you get in the Ha-Ha — hanging in their nav station. We've even seen Ha-Ha boats that have gone all the way around the world return to California with the fish still at their nav station.


I've spent the winter researching all the Santa Cruz 50s and their owners in order to establish a master list of their current names and locations. I just saw a Changes from David Addleman, owner of the SC50 X. This boat is not on my list, and I would love to contact him. Could you help?

Ellen Kett
Octavia, Santa Cruz 50
Santa Cruz

Ellen — We'll be happy to forward your request to him in the Philippines, where he's currently on X. And to use this opportunity to encourage other SC 50 owners to contact you.


I hope that Latitude will alert readers to the hazardous entrance channel at Marina Puerto Salina, a private marina located about 20 miles north of Ensenada and 50 miles south of San Diego. Sailors doing the Bash may be tempted to enter this marina based on its slick website (, which promises modern facilities and an entrance channel with a minimum depth of 14 feet at "low low tide."

When we arrived outside the marina on May 4, we tried to hail them on VHF without success. I thought it would be safe to enter based on the depth information provided on the marina’s website. I had also stopped by the marina when I drove by last December, and was assured by the staff that they welcome visitors. Nobody mentioned any problems with the channel shoaling.

When we entered the channel with our Mason 33 Sabbatical, we found the actual depth to be barely five feet at high tide. We were lucky that we didn't go aground. People with boats in the marina told us there have been a number of groundings in the channel recently, some causing serious damage to boats. We were also told that several large sailboats are trapped inside the marina because their draft is too great.

The marina was apparently dredging the channel up until about six months ago when they had problems with their dredging equipment.

In order to find a safe escape route for Sabbatical the next day, I made a careful survey of the entrance channel using a handheld depthsounder on May 5. There is a path — hug the south side of the channel near the ocean and then the north side near the marina — that allows a minimum depth of six feet at high tide. But I do not recommend that sailors try it. The channel is open to the west, and strong swells would make it very dangerous for a boat that had run aground.

As of May 6, when we made it out on a high tide, the marina had not posted signs warning of this hazard. We feel that we were very lucky to get in and out without damage. Until Marina Puerto Salina solves their shoaling problems, we think sailors should avoid it.

My wife Claudia and I are veterans of the 2009 Ha-Ha on Sabbatical, and the 2012 Ha-Ha as crew on Talos IV.

Bill & Claudia Thompson
Sabbatical, Mason 33
Long Beach


In 'Lectronic, you asked about experiences with boat batteries blowing up. Two years ago I blew the crap out of my four three-month-old 6-volt Trojan golf cart batteries. All 860 amp hours worth! It was a self-inflicted explosion that occurred as I was tracking down a short in our electrical system while getting ready to do the Banderas Bay Regatta.

To make a long story short, I was lying across the batteries, disconnecting cables to begin chasing the short near the batteries. Alas, I inadvertently dropped a cable onto an opposing post. The explosion was instantaneous and fucking huge! It blew the tops off all four batteries, showered me with battery acid, and left my two assistants — Eric Anderson of Full Shell and Jack McFadden of our crew — choking in the smoke-filled cabin. After making sure there was no fire, I rushed up to the shower to flush my face, which was bright red and had a few cuts from the hydrometer I had stored in the battery compartment. We never did find a trace of the hydrometer.

Lessons learned? Cover the terminals when working on a battery and wear safety glasses. The latter was the only thing that saved my eyes. I eventually found the short — a crappy connection in a $1.25 lug.

P.S. Thanks to Elizabeth at Vallarta Yacht Supply at Paradise Marina, who loaned us a battery while having replacement Trojans shipped from the U.S., we took second in class in the BBR!

Chip & Katie Prather
Miss Teak, Morgan 45
Dana Point


Based on my career as a marine surveyor, it's not rare for wet cell batteries to explode. In fact, the subject is usually raised about once a year on our SAMS in-house forum for marine surveyors.

In addition to the cause that Latitude mentioned — low electrolyte levels allowing hydrogen and oxygen to accumulate — there is also a danger when an automatic battery charger is connected, especially to a bank of batteries. If a cell in a battery drops out, it lowers the overall voltage that the charger sees. In response, the charger starts putting out more power, which quickly overcharges the remaining cells, which produces serious gassing, heat and depletion of electrolyte.

I know of several instances from here in the Brisbane area. A new catamaran was being commissioned with solar panels and new battery banks when the boatbuilder’s wristwatch shorted something on a battery. It blew up in his face. The assumption is that the solar panels were overcharging the batteries.

In another case, a surveyor colleague of mine was about to enter an enclosed engine compartment when the owner said, "I'll start the generator for you." When he hit the starter, the generator battery exploded all over the engine compartment. A couple of years ago, a new owner of an old fiberglass powerboat replaced all the batteries with cheap automotive batteries and had an automatic charger in the circuit. The batteries exploded so violently that they blew a hole through the boat, sinking her.

Paul Slivka
SAMS, AMS, retired
Brisbane, Australia


Good warnings on the danger of batteries exploding.

But I have a correction. Hydrogen is flammable, but oxygen is not. Oxygen is what is needed to support flames or other forms of 'oxidation' of other substances.

Jack A. Everett
Sr. Electronics Engineer
Oxigraf, Inc


Latitude is a great magazine, but you made a mistake when you wrote that hydrogen and oxygen are both highly flammable and explosive. Of the gases produced when batteries are charged, only the hydrogen is flammable. The oxygen is, well, it's the oxidizer. Because there's a lot of oxygen from the electrolytic breakdown of water, the mixture with the flammable hydrogen is explosive.

The passenger airship Hindenburg "burned violently" rather than just blowing up like a fertilizer plant because the pure hydrogen in the gas bags had to wait for some oxygen to come near so it could burn. And that happened 76 years ago last month.

But you're right, exploding batteries are no joke. My house bank is beneath my quarter berth, and I have a tiny brushless — read: 'sparkless' — DC fan to blow a little bit of air through there whenever my shore charger or engine alternator is on. I don't want that kind of a wake-up call. At least the hydrogen doesn't sink into the bilge like gasoline and LPG vapors do. Just open some ports and hatches and away it goes.

Mark Sutton


I've seen a few batteries like the one in the 'Lectronic photo. Latitude's advice is good: keep the water above the plates and ventilate the area. But battery spaces must be vented upward to avoid trapping hydrogen, which is lighter than air. It's not easy to reach an explosive concentration of hydrogen if there is any ventilation to speak of, but it can happen.

It's also important to keep battery connections clean and tight, as this avoids sparks in a critical area. I use a torque wrench on high-current connections.

I would also add a caution regarding ferro-resonant battery chargers. These older units are still found on lots of boats, and can be recognized by the humming that varies with load current. They are very reliable units, which is why they're still around, but they don't treat batteries well. When I see them, I normally recommend that my customers replace them. I justify the expenditure by explaining that battery life will likely be increased when using a three- or four-stage charger with battery temperature sensing.

But the thing I especially don't like about ferro-resonant chargers is one of their failure modes — they can turn into an unregulated supply capable of significant current. This was the cause of one battery explosion I had to clean up. The charger said "I've got 18 volts here for you, and you can have up to 50 amps of it." BANG! The explosion blew the hinges off the louvered door of the locker above the battery compartment.

Once the water falls below the plates, things get bad fast. Both hydrogen and heat will be produced, and pressure within the battery case can exceed the vents' ability to release it.

For customers who are unlikely to check their battery water often enough, I suggest AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) batteries. These have improved to the point where the only real disadvantage is cost. But it is critical that all sources of charging be configured for AGM batteries, and this may require modifications to some internally regulated alternators. So check for that before buying them.

Lithium batteries are starting to be seen on racing boats. These make lead-acid batteries look baby-safe by comparison — as Boeing is finding. At least when a lead-acid battery explodes it probably it won't burst into flames and set fire to your boat. I would only install a lithium battery in a fireproof box along with a dedicated controller with access to each individual cell voltage. Victron has such a system, and there may be others.

Michael Daley
Laughing Matter, Islander 36
Redwood Coast Marine Electrical, Richmond


Our Latitude arrived 'late' here in South Maui this month — the 6th, instead of the 2nd or 3rd, and I have no clue how your staff gets it out so fast — and I took it out to the beach to settle in for my monthly fix.

Lo and behold, a few letters in was a shocker. The current urban myth, which I have to say has been circulating around the sailing community for some time, is that the Wanderer had gone into semi-retirement and, as I recall, in his own words announced some time ago that he would slow down. actually do some cruising, and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Trust me, many of us were thinking just that.

But no! Far from kicking back and just enjoying the tropics, the Wanderer is working harder than ever from early morning to well past dark in a windowless tattoo parlor followed by a quick beer and crashing back on the boat. Holy cow, there goes that balloon!

But then, I guess I really shouldn't be that surprised. I've spent some time both hanging out and sailing with the Wanderer and there's a reason Latitude is so successful, and it's because he works his tail off. I remember clearly one short passage on Profligate where nearly the whole crew were trying to get him to slow down. Turns out he sails the same way, not in the racing sense, but just go, go, go from sun-up on.

I remember meeting his dad at an event years ago and thinking what a mellow guy to raise such a hard-driving son. Secretly it would be great to see him slow down as I thought he had — God knows he deserves it, and there is, after all, a great staff back at base camp.

Mark Joiner
Kihei, HI


A year ago I had my first and hopefully last experience with a lead acid battery exploding, It was a five-year-old battery used to start my onboard generator.

I usually top off the battery water every four to six weeks, but in this case it might have been twice as long. The battery was hooked to a West Marine charger, and we were on shorepower. The battery was enclosed in a commercial polyethylene battery case and strapped closed. There were vents in the top of the battery case and the battery was located in the engine room, essentially a closed space.

When I hit the starter switch for the generator's monthly workout, there was a loud bang in the engine room. When I opened the hatch, I was greeted with a cloud of what smelled like sulfuric acid, with splashes of the acid around the engine room. There were also parts of a busted battery case strewn around. Nobody was hurt, but it sure was a mess. The analysis was that the battery was old and probably needed water. When I hit the start switch, the current flow made some part of the internal battery glow hot or spark, igniting hydrogen gas.

I think the lessons are to water your batteries on a rigid schedule or install an auto watering system, or buy AGMs or equivalents; and have a substantial, well-vented battery box. And maybe actively blow your engine room clear before pressing the start button.

The genset battery blew up while I had two prospective buyers — a nice man and his boat-skeptical wife — looking at my boat. They had toured the boat, were enthralled, and started talking about new carpeting and artwork when I volunteered — volunteered! — to show them how everything, including the generator, worked so well. After the explosion and cloud of sulfuric acid, they were last seen hightailing it over Potrero Hill like characters in a Roadrunner cartoon, never to be seen again.

Bruce Adornato
Pelagic Magic, True North 38
South Beach


When I was 17 or 18 — a century or two ago — I attempted to 'jump start' a boat engine by hooking up the 6-volt battery from my VW bug to the boat's 12-volt starting battery with jumper cables. I never was that bright. (Sigh.)

Oops, because as I completed the connection, the 6V battery blew up in my face. Fortunately, I was at Hickham Harbor in Hawaii and there was a lot of water nearby. I got in it quickly. This had nothing to do with my presence of mind, but rather my girlfriend's quick thinking. I think she was less than impressed with my skill as a mechanic. There was no permanent damage done, as I wasn't very good-looking to begin with and my eyesight was never that good. But the explosion did get my attention.

John Tebbetts
Ichi Ban, Yamaha 33
San Carlos


I am interested in gaining some offshore sailing experience, and recently attended John and Amanda Neal's seminar at the Strictly Sail Boat Show in Oakland. The seminar was terrific, and I'm tempted to join them on one of the trips to get offshore experience. My problem is that I'm kind of hooked on catamarans. Do you know of any school or program that provides offshore experience in a catamaran? I realize many of the skills will be the same, but still wondered if there was an option for training on a catamaran.

Chris Peterson
San Francisco

Chris — Sorry, but we don't know of any offshore catamaran training programs, at least not any with as detailed a curriculum or as long a history as the Neals'. While most of the stuff the Neals teach would translate directly to sailing offshore on a catamaran, there are a couple of major differences. For example, our biggest catamaran fear is getting caught with too much main up while sailing off the wind. The problem is that as you round up to get into position to reef the main, the apparent wind increases like crazy, particularly in the 'zone of death'. We've had helmsmen on Profligate inadvertently come up from a deep reach to a beam reach, and in a matter of seconds the boat speed increased from the low teens to the attention-getting mid 20s. If you round up into the wind in too strong a breeze, the cat could flip, at least if she were a performance cat. You don't have that problem with a monohull.

All the rest of the cat-specific stuff would be pretty easy to pick up over time. You'd have a lot of fun learning it, too, as it's almost like learning to sail all over again.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the sailing experience on a cat is so very different than on a monohull. The lack of fatigue from not heeling over and rolling, the 360-degree visibility, the speed, and the tremendous amount of deck and cabin space. While we love the much more active sailing required on a monohull, such as on the Olson 30 La Gamelle — five solo circumnavigations of St. Barth! — after a few hours we really want to get back on the cat.

About 10 years ago the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca did three-day charters on Profligate from Redondo to Avalon to Two Harbors to Newport over long weekends. While we didn't have a curriculum, they were good introductions to open-water catamaran sailing. We've been thinking about doing some again next summer.


When I drive the 285 miles from Bakersfield to my Uniflite 42 in Glen Cove Marina, one of the first things I do is pick up my copy of Latitude. I may be a powerboater, but most of the information in your fine publication pertains to all mariners.

There were two articles in the March edition that I found especially interesting. One was the powerboat vs. ferry tragedy in Raccoon Strait, and the other was the sailboat collision with the barge under tow just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. As Latitude pointed out, keeping a sharp lookout at all times is critical for safety.

In the article about the barge, LaDonna Bubak made an excellent analogy comparing the barge to a "runaway train." As a retired freight train conductor, I know all too well what can happen when high tonnage vehicles — be it a barge, ship or train — are freely moving with momentum. Even in emergency situations it takes a lot of time and effort to stop or redirect them.

Being totally aware of your surroundings, and what may be below the surface, is the only prudent way for a mariner to operate. In train operations, we say you want to be thinking two miles ahead. The same kind of thinking can and should be used when in the same area as larger vessels on the water.

I really enjoyed the last few words of Bubak's article. "Always, always check behind a tug to be sure it's not actively towing a loose caboose." My yacht is named Loose Caboose, and so far in my explorations on the water, I haven't — knock on wood — had to be towed behind a tug! I have, however, assisted a couple of boaters who needed to be towed behind my Loose Caboose!

Aboard Loose Caboose, we keep a sharp lookout for problems that might arise, just as the crews did on trains. In fact, I always ask my guests to keep a sharp lookout, too. But to me, it's mind-boggling that, even with all that open water out there and all the electronic safety devices, vessels can still be involved in tragic accidents. Even in excellent weather conditions. All because the skipper and crew weren't thinking of the big picture or they let their guard down.

The sailing season is upon us, so please, everyone, safety first!

Larry A. Fredeen
Loose Caboose, Uniflite 42
Bakersfield / Benicia


Friends and I had an exciting experience with a tug and tow some years back when I was crewing on their C&C 36. We left Smugglers on Santa Cruz Island under sail and headed to Channel Islands Harbor. As we did, I noticed a military-style ship coming toward us from the direction of Santa Barbara. Although the wind and haze had picked up, I was later able to see that there was another smaller vessel ahead of it.

It was impossible to see the tow cable, but I could tell the larger vessel was being towed. The tug was being forced inland and was desperately trying to get the tow out to sea — which meant on our path home. We made a quick tack toward Santa Cruz Island, the tug changed course, and went safely on its way.

It's always good to keep a safe distance from a tug, both for you and the tug.

Lance Carlson
Whatever, MacGregor 26

Lance — If you can't figure out whether a tug has a tow — a black diamond shape, if the length of the tow is over 200 meters; no shapes if less than that — or where they are headed, you can always hail them on either Channel 13 or 16.


On March 11, there was a report in 'Lectronic that the Mexican Navy had found the body of William Hoffman aboard his Ilwaco, WA-based vessel Dark Star at Chamela Bay on Mexico's Gold Coast. The report stated that since there weren't any signs of a struggle, authorities were treating it as a suicide. It was also reported that Charlie Free, a friend of Hoffman's, felt that it would have been out of character for Hoffman to commit suicide and that something else must have happened. I'm addressing my comments to Mr. Free.

I sail on Sea Note and was in Chamela the morning that your friend was found. Our boat had been checked out by the Mexican Navy, who went to Dark Star next. When they couldn't rouse anyone, they came back to us to ask for assistance. The Navy officer in charge explained that they couldn't go aboard a boat unless they were invited. I returned to Dark Star with the Navy. When there was no response to my hail, I climbed aboard and found Hoffman's body. I called the Mexican Navy officer, and he came aboard and took photos.

It appeared to me that there hadn't been any foul play. For one thing, his cell phone and a camera were sitting on the counter in plain view. There was also a small amount of blood on the table. It seemed to me that Hoffman had fallen, struck his head, and made an attempt to pull himself up off the floor.

There wasn't a lot of blood, so I don't believe Hoffman had slashed his wrists, as was reported in 'Lectronic.

I must say that the Mexican Navy treated the situation with the greatest of respect. They posted a guard shortly after the body was discovered, and asked me if I would mind staying in the harbor until their investigation was completed. They removed the body shortly after dark that day, and towed the boat to Barra de Navidad. Once this was done, they told me that we could continue with our trip.

Please pass our condolences on to Hoffman's family.

Ray Wood
Sea Note

Ray — We appreciate your firsthand account. The news reports coming out of Mexico — which are often unreliable because of translation and other problems — said that Hoffman had slashed his wrists and something resembling a suicide note had been found. We put much more credence in your account.


We on the San Francisco-based Switch 51 Neko have signed up for this year's Baja Ha-Ha, and will be bringing our dog along. We're wondering if you have any information on bringing pets into Mexico. In addition, maybe you could create a list of others bringing pets to Mexico so we could communicate with each other. I'm guessing that past participants may have some insight.

Mary Perica
Neko, Switch 51
San Francisco

Mary — Many cruisers bring pets to Mexico on their boats, and most are dogs. They don't seem to have any problems. But since we're not experts on the subject, we'll ask them to write in with any tips or suggestions.

The one thing we do know is that dogs are not allowed in Mexican Nature Preserves, which means they aren't allowed on any of the islands in the Sea of Cortez. This is not unusual, as pets aren't allowed on any of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park either.

We're sorry, but we don't have the time to create a list of Ha-Ha folks taking pets to Mexico, but we'll publish your email address so people can contact you in case you want to start a 'pet group'.


Bill Merrick, my husband, passed away on April 15, shortly after his 64th birthday. Many Latitude readers raced with Bill in the Singlehanded Sailing Society. In addition, he and his Ericson 35 Ergo competed in the 2004 and 2006 Singlehanded TransPacs, and he was Commodore of the SSS.

Born in Pennsylvania, Bill was a strong Irish-American who could figure out how to do just about anything. This resourcefulness would later serve him well as a singlehanded sailor. He began sailing in Annapolis after meeting the skipper of the U.S. Women's Challenge entry in the 1993 Whitbread Race. In exchange for Bill’s fundraising advice, they taught him to sail and he raced with them for about a year.

After moving to San Francisco in 1994, Bill sailed on Al Holt's Olson 30 Think Fast for two years, then bought his first boat, a Catalina 22. In recent years when he wasn't sailing Ergo, he enjoyed crewing on Jim Quanci’s Cal 40 Green Buffalo. He had a great time helping sail Green Buffalo back after the 2012 Singlehanded TransPac.

About nine months ago, Bill was diagnosed with stage four small cell cancer, a cancer with zero survival rate. He compared the day-to-day experience as “a bit like dealing with a coastal gale. You sail the boat, work until you vomit, and when things get really interesting, go below, read a book and see what happens next.” Bill rode that gale with grace for six months.

Bill had an abiding respect for Singlehanded Sailing Society friends and was proud to be part of their adventures. After he became too sick to travel, many of the skippers he cared so deeply about stepped forward to prepare Ergo for sale. Their kindness during this time was a gift that both of us were so grateful for.

Each night, even after hours of intensive chemotherapy and radiation, he would smile at me and say, “We had a good day today.” Bill deeply appreciated his friends in the sailing community and I would like to thank them all for helping make each day a good day.

Sara Merrick
Madison, MS


I think there is a conspiracy afoot. In 20 years of sailing and cruising, I've noticed a very disturbing bias in the sailing and cruising media in favor of a 'spend a lot of money, hire experts for everything, and only take advice from those who do' mentality.

We were not an anomaly 20 years ago when we first sailed around the Pacific on our inexpensive 32-footer, and on a shoestring budget. Like many others, we did all of the work on our boat, scrimped on virtually everything beyond the seaworthiness of our vessel, avoided expensive — and even inexpensive — marinas, and essentially had a great time on very little. Since then we've found that the number of cruisers in that category are becoming about as common as hen's teeth. And those doing it are viewed as either an amusing anomaly or, for some unfathomable reason, a threat to those with the 50-footers worth more than the total wealth of most villages they anchor in front of.

While reading some boat design forums about origami boatbuilding recently, I've noticed that much of the bias is created by an alliance between the boating media and the businesses supporting them. Take the example of Brent Swain, one of the pioneers of origami boatbuilding in North America. His very successful designs — which are simple, easily built and maintained, and most importantly are affordable to average-income folks — have been safely sailing the oceans for the last 20+ years. But Brent has been attacked unmercifully on the sites and made to look like some kind of a boatbuilding hack. There have been unsubstantiated claims that Swain was somehow out to fleece his customers, was unqualified to design and sell boat plans, and generally didn't know what he was talking about.

That these charges couldn't be farther from the truth can be attested to not only by me, but by more than a hundred other very satisfied owners of his simple yet elegant boats. I have personally sailed one of his designs some 60,000 miles around and across the Pacific, including high-latitude sailing in the Southern Ocean as well as the Aleutians.

As for Swain's being "out to fleece" his customers, I can say that in 14 years of knowing Brent, and having never paid him anything other than $20 for one of his excellent books, he has always been quick to respond to any questions I've had regarding his design. In addition, he's given me extensive free advice on techniques for building everything from a windvane self-steering gear to a simple alternator welder to a terrific home-made watermaker. In short, Brent Swain is the do-it-yourself-and-on-a-budget sailor's best friend.

I guess it's no surprise that he has been banned from several boatbuilding sites. Why? Because he challenges the status quo. And because he advocates a simple, inexpensive approach to boating while eschewing the "just throw money at it and pay experts" approach advocated by the advertising sponsors of the boating media. Most of these so called 'experts' are armchair designers who've never built anything — let alone built and lived on their designs, cruised the oceans with them, and maintained them for decades on a budget. Folks like Brent are a threat to their businesses, and banning his input is their answer to that threat.

So why aren't there many young folks out sailing and cruising the world on inexpensive boats on a shoestring budget? Because there are getting to be so few boating media sources willing to risk the ire of their corporate sponsors and allow folks like Swain to convince people it's still possible to safely enjoy sailing the oceans on a slim budget.

To anyone who isn't a trust-funder or dot-com millionaire, but still wants to live the dream of cruising the world on a sailboat, I recommend reading Swain's book, Origami Metal Boatbuilding — A Heretic's Guide. Even if you're not interested in building a metal boat, you'll find many useful ideas and a philosophy that will help you achieve your sailing dreams without spending a fortune.

Andy Deering
Indefatigable, Brent Swain 36
Sitka, AK


I just purchased a Farallon 29. The interior structure is so bare bones that gutting it and starting over seems like the best course of action. I'm looking for Bay Area owners of Farallon 29s/Bodega 30s who might be willing to let me peek at the interiors of their boats and ask what they might do differently.

As there is little evidence to suggest that the boat was ever used for more than day sailing — no name and no tankage of any sort, for example — I would love to find any previous owners of the boat to gather more info on her.

Gregory Watson
Farallon 29

Greg — We know you didn't ask, but we're going to have you answer the same question that we ask everyone who is starting to build or complete a boat. Is boatbuilding your passion? If the answer is no, we're going to encourage you to think twice about what you're proposing to do. Only experienced boatbuilders have even a remote idea of the time and expense involved in building or completing a boat. Even what seem like the easiest jobs seemingly take forever, and the cost in time and materials can be shocking. In the last 35 years we've talked to a lot of sailors who built or completed boats themselves. Several of them said they really enjoyed it and would even think about doing it again. The other 99% said it had been a mistake.

Good luck!


Many thanks to Latitude for the May 3 'Lectronic posting regarding the impending closing of Nelson's in Alameda. Without this posting we would never have known about it. We're in Mexico and have a 20-ft shipping container loaded with household goods and personal effects at Nelson's. If all went well, it was moved this morning to a storage facility in Vallejo.

Name Withheld
Mazatlan, Mexico

Readers — For more on the situation at what once was Nelson's, see this month's Sightings.


Thank you for sharing my backdown reminder when anchoring, on page 40 of the May issue. Unfortunately, the editor, who frequently substitutes 'weight' for 'size' and size' for 'weight' when discussing ground tackle, took the liberty of doing the same in my letter.

I wrote ". . . anchors and rodes, none overweight to avoid having to reduce the wine selection." With over 200 feet of 5/15-inch chain and four anchors aboard a sailboat with a 28-ft waterline, minimizing weight — without compromising safety — is paramount.

Therefore, all three rigged — and quickly deployable — anchors and rodes are in compliance with common recommendations such as those found in Chapman Piloting. These three have withstood small craft and gale conditions many times without failure — meaning separation. My fourth anchor — so far unused — is an oversized Fortress, which I keep disassembled. It is quite light.

My windlass is manual, which also provides high reliability and less weight than an electric windlass. The only bad thing is that it will not accommodate chain with a higher strength-to-weight ratio.

Speaking of chain — and chain failures, as per page 38 of the May issue — I suspect that much chain used for anchoring is of unknown origin and even unknown condition, thereby contributing to anchoring roulette. This can be avoided by using only proof-loaded chain from a reliable source and periodically inspecting all of it.

Per the West Marine catalog, the 5/16" chain aboard my Arcturus has a maximum working load of 1,900 lbs. Per common practice, it was proofed to 2x1900 (3,000 lbs) which, in turn, is half the breaking strength, which would be 7,600 lbs.

About every four years, all 160 feet of the now 18-year-old chain, and its splice to 140 feet of rope, are flaked on the dock, at which time I wire brush and vacuum off all the loose zinc, rust and other debris, allowing a careful visual inspection of each link. I primarily look for material loss due to rusting. Cold galvanizing — paint — is then applied. The other two rigged anchor systems get the same treatment, as do all the swivels and shackles — the latter being oversized at 3/8-inch. I have not observed more than about 10% in cross-section reduction or made any replacements.

Paul J Wall
Arcturus, Endeavour 32
Huntington Beach


I have a correction to Mike Kennedy's note on the passing of John Wintersteen.

I was the chairman of the Long Beach YC's 1987 Cabo Race. We had 57 entries. On the night of the send-off dinner, I was at the podium going over last-minute instructions when Barney Flam walked up to me with a note in his hand. "Read it carefully," he said. I paused for a few minutes, as it was the sad news about John Wintersteen.

The note stated Wintersteen and crew were doing a man-overboard drill off Marina del Rey on his Santa Cruz 70 Hotel California when he collapsed and died. I had all 123 people at the send-off dinner stand for a minute to honor John. It was a very sad moment. We also paid tribute to him at the trophy presentation in Cabo.

It was an honor to know John.

Roby Bessent
Long Beach YC


As a teenager, I was traumatized by a close encounter with calculus, and my struggles with high school trigonometry are a dismal memory. So I have some questions about the process of calculating spinnaker halyard length as described in the May Max Ebb article.

I greatly admire Max's skills as a sailor, navigator, engineer and writer, so broaching this topic elicits the kind of anxiety that a snail might experience when approaching a salt pile. But here goes.

Calculating the ideal halyard length is a non-intuitive exercise, as one has to take into account the length of line needed to drop the sail to deck level while still leaving sufficient tail beyond the rope clutch/winch. Compounding the trickiness is the fact that a symmetrical chute floats at, and must be retrieved from, a point well outside the centerline of the boat.

"'(The halyard) has to be as long as the square root of the mast height squared plus the sum of the quantity pole length plus spinnaker luff squared,' noted the engineer."

Does this mean the square root of (mast height squared plus pole length squared plus spinnaker luff squared)? Square root of (mast height squared plus pole length (plus spinnaker luff squared))? This might be obvious to a mathematician, something to which I shall never aspire in this lifetime. On the surface the solution resembles a Pythagorean equation, but all three sides of the triangle — mast height and length of spinnaker luff and pole — are already known values.

Is this something like a three-dimensional right triangle? Would Max be so kind as to provide a solution using hypothetical numbers?

If anyone even mentions M.C. Escher, I'm turning the page.

On another note, my sweetie, a former Coast Guard boatswain's mate, also does 'Chinese handcuff'-type splices on cored line. When the splice is completed, he places a whipping on it, sewing one pass of twine through the heart of the splice to prevent its flogging loose when the line isn't tensioned.

Jean Ouellette
San Francisco

Jean — Here's an answer from Lee Helm:

Max always passes these questions on to me, just because he can't write clearly. I mean, like, that's what he gets for trying to use words to describe a formula; you never really know where the parentheses go, and I guess editors don't like multiple nested parens in a text stream. He should have written it like this: " . . . the square root of ((mast height) squared plus (the sum of the quantity pole length plus spinnaker luff) squared)."

But it reads much better as SQRT(I² + (J+SL)²) where SQRT is the square root function, and I and J are the usual halyard height and pole length abbreviations, and SL is spinnaker luff length. (It would be even clearer if I could just use a square root sign instead of SQRT, but we'll totally be lucky if those exponents of two come out as superscripts by the time ink hits paper.)

Anyway, Max didn't parse the words either, but even he recognized it as the hypotenuse of the right triangle formed by the mast as one side and the spinnaker streaming out from the end of the pole as the other side. So it's obviously the square root of (one side squared plus the other side squared), and Max mumbled something about "the son of the squaw of the hippopotamus being equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides" proving that he has, in fact, passed middle-school math.



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