Latitude home Latitude 38

Back to 'Letters' Index Letters
February 2014

Missing the pictures? See our February 2014 eBook!
Bookmark and Share


Garth Wilcox, my husband, has been possessed by the dream of building his own boat since he was a young boy. It started when he was four years old and his parents took him sailing on their 26-ft Thunderbird, which they raced out of Redwood City. For vacations, the Wilcox family cruised up the Delta with other members of the Sequoia YC.

From the time he was a small boy, Garth knew that his parents' dream was to sail around the world. He adopted that dream as his own. In 1973, at age 13, Garth and his family set off on their proposed circumnavigation. This was, of course, long before the advent of GPS or even SatNav, and meant that if it was cloudy, it would be impossible to get a sun sight and really know where you were.

At age 14, Garth found himself and his family, as a result of being unable to get sun sights for several days, shipwrecked on a reef in Fiji. They lived Robinson Crusoe-style until help arrived to take them to the capital of Suva.

Initially the family assumed that the boat — with a hole in her side the size of a Volkswagen, and being ground on the reef more with each passing day — couldn't be salvaged. But the more they thought about it, the more confident they became they could save her. After pulling her off the reef, Garth's parents, with assistance from him, spent nine months rebuilding the boat in the tropical heat and humidity. They wanted to see their dream come true that badly.

The Wilcoxes did complete their circumnavigation, despite having to endure numerous other significant challenges that also almost ended their voyage. In 1977, months overdue, they sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Bewildered by the media fanfare, the then-18-year-old Garth looked forward to his post-voyage life, particularly going to school. Garth's home schooling during the circumnavigation left him a few credits short of a high school degree. The California school system, in its infinite bureaucratic wisdom, insisted that Garth's four years of sailing, rowing, hauling water and other strenuous physical exercise, wasn't equivalent to the four years of gym he'd missed in high school.

The years of sailing and rebuilding the family boat gave Garth an excellent real-world and practical education, and it changed him forever. Because he was 18, he was allowed to attend Foothill Community College upon his return to make up the high school credits he lacked. Armed with a GED and a stellar SAT score, he then transferred to MIT, intent on studying naval architecture at one of the few institutions that offered such a program.

Garth's voyaging experience convinced him he could design a boat that could sail not only better than the tank on which his family had circled the world, but better than most of the other boats out voyaging, too. He dove into his studies and downplayed his unusual past. Until, that is, he met and married a woman who shared his dream of exploring the world under sail. That would be me.

Together, we raced Thunderbirds and saved our money with the idea of voyaging. In 2000, we set out for what we thought might be a brief cruise aboard a rather modest 31-ft custom design by Tom Wylie. Seven years later, after 34,000 miles of cruising in the Pacific, Garth had to beg me to sail back home to the Pacific Northwest.

One of the main reasons he wanted to return home was that he didn't want to end up looking like Quasimodo from having to stand or sit stooped over in a boat with inadequate headroom. An equally big reason was that he wanted to build the dream boat he'd been designing in his head for years. So what might have started out in his mind as a 'research trip' to refine the criteria for his boat design turned into its own epic voyage. But that's another story.

After years of Garth's mentally refining his dream boat and considering all the options that might make her perform better, he became impatient to turn his nautical dream into reality. An often-frustrating search to find the right place to build the boat finally ended with the perfect spot: a conveniently located farm house that featured a workshop in the backyard that was just big enough to build a 38-ft boat inside.

And so we've begun. The dream is already looking like more than just a pretty picture on a piece of paper, a multi-colored AutoCAD model, or a stack of wood. It's beginning to resemble a boat.

Inspired by the T-bird's simple plywood boat- building method, Garth designed a boat that would be easy to build with plywood sheets and a soft chine, but would have a lifting keel and an unstayed rig. She'd be a simple 38-footer with which we plan to explore the canals of Patagonia and the canals of Europe.

Yes, we've been around the water long enough to know that such a dream isn't very rational. But to an audience of sailors, who are somewhat irrational by their very nature, I think you'll understand. There comes a moment in life when we must not only dream, but follow it wherever it might lead.

Wendy Hinman
Bainbridge, WA

Readers —You can read about Garth and Wendy's 34,000-mile, seven-year adventure aboard Velella, which started with the 2000 Baja Ha-Ha, in Tightwads on the Loose, a Seven Year Pacific Odyssey. See

But from home schooling almost directly to MIT? Pretty impressive.


Did Latitude see the report from the US Office of Naval Intelligence saying there were zero hijackings of commercial vessels by Somali pirates last year? The peak for hijackings was in 2009, when 52 ships were hijacked. It's been declining every year since. I wonder how many private yachts were hijacked last year.

Tom Van Dyke
En Pointe, Searunner 31
San Francisco

Tom — We don't believe any private yachts were hijacked in the Indian Ocean last year, because if any had been, the news would have quickly gotten around the world. Besides, we're not sure any yachties are willing to risk those waters yet. While no ships were successfully hijacked there in 2013, nine vessels were still attacked, four in the last two months of the year.

Experts suggest there are three reasons for the sharp decline in piracy: 1) An increased presence of international navies in and around the Indian Ocean; 2) Kenyan military intervention against al-Shabab strongholds in Somalia; and 3) the vigilance among vessel owners, who have rerouted and fortified ships to combat piracy threats.

Ships transiting the west coast of Africa were less fortunate in 2013. Pirates fired on 31 vessels in the Gulf of Guinea and seized nine.


We had so much fun in the 2012 Ta-Ta that we absolutely gotta do it again this year. Count us in!

Bill & Kathryn Gaffaney
Wayward Wind, Catalina 42
Marina del Rey

Bill and Kathryn — For readers who may not remember, the Ta-Ta, aka Reggae 'pon da Ocean, started with a party at Santa Barbara on a Sunday night, two nights at Santa Cruz Island, a night at Paradise Park, a night at King Harbor, and a wrap-up party at Two Harbors on Saturday. We had a great time, and over the next few months will be seeing if we can't coordinate the event with the Santa Barbara Yacht Harbor, the Santa Barbara YC, the King Harbor YC, and Two Harbors. The event will be held in September if there are 30 or more entries. The number of entries would be limited by the amount of space available at King Harbor. We'll keep you posted.


My wife Michele and I were part of the first Ta-Ta in 2012, and had so much fun that we can't wait to do it again. Besides, it was great to get together with old UC Santa Barbara friends while in town before the start. Count us in!

Cary & Michele Hansen
Catalina 400 MkII
Nawiliwili, HI

Cary and Michele — Having attended UCSB in the 1960s, we wonder how many graduates have managed to live at such a place after they graduated. As they used to say, "Life is all downhill once you graduate from UCSB."


If Latitude is going to be doing another SoCal Ta-Ta this year, please count us in. We love sailing the Channel Islands and Southern California coast. We sailed a total of 30 days in 2012, including four trips to Catalina, two to Anacapa Island, and one to Santa Cruz Island.

We hope you will allow our Catalina 250 to enter. She motors at about 5.5 knots, and is fairly well equipped for coastal cruising. We have automatic inflatable PFDs with harnesses and tethers, a PLB, a Lifesling, two anchors and rode, a double reefing mainsail, a roller furling jib, a whisker pole, a fixed VHF with AIS and GPS, a handheld VHF with GPS, iNavX charts, paper charts, a marine head with holding tank, and a dinghy with an outboard.

We really appreciate the cruising rallies Latitude puts on, in addition to your publishing a great magazine. And since we live in Southern California, we'd be happy to help with any logistics.

Don & Linda Murphy
Serendipity, Catalina 250

Don and Linda — We can't imagine why we wouldn't allow you to enter. Stay tuned.


I did the first Ta-Ta in 2012 with my Beneteau 440 St. Somewhere, and we had great weather and a hell of a good time. The only way a 2014 Ta-Ta could top it is if nobody has to go to the hospital. Kurt Langford, my crew from 2012, is already inked in as crew, so sign me up!

Patrick McCormick
St. Somewhere
Beneteau 440
Alamitos Bay

Patrick — Doña de Mallorca has had a couple of minor bouts of vertigo since — she never left her cabin during the Little Ensenada Race — but hasn't had any major episodes like the one that struck her in the dining room of the King Harbor YC. It turns out vertigo is far more common than we realized.


I read that you are seeing if anyone is interested in doing a SoCal Ta-Ta in 2014. You can count Moonshadow in. If you can convince a couple of 60-year-olds to Bash all the way up from Mexico, we don't imagine you'll have a problem filling out the rest of your dance card.

I should be back in Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz in another week or so, and I'm really hoping we don't find yellow crime scene tape around Moonshadow. Maybe we'll find we lucked out, slipping into the marina just after AGACE's visit, and the authorities are now all off to other marinas. Or better yet, a more sensible solution.

We have a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and all the other correct documentation. However, Moonshadow, the third of four Deerfoot 2-62s built in Finland in 1986, doesn't have a HIN (hull identification number) or any other kind of hull number markings. Our US Coast Guard document accommodates this fact by stating 'None' in the box for hull number. I would be happy to break out our Dremel and engrave '3' in our transom, but somehow don't think that will get us out of the penalty box if we find ourselves there.

Finally, I also read about the Bird Boat named Swallow. I really hope somebody steps up to restore her. David Rogers, my uncle, owned and sailed Swallow in San Diego from the early 1950s until the late 1970s. Back then you scrounged up an old engine block and some heavy chain and tires, and made your own mooring. That's what my uncle did in front of my grandfather's La Playa Cove waterfront house, and that's where Swallow could be found for about 25 years.

I had my first sailing experience aboard Swallow on San Diego Bay at age five — and let me tell you, that was a long time ago. I remember that my uncle made us kids wear life jackets that were made of bulky cork covered with canvas. More than once we had to come about to get out of the way of US Navy sea planes landing in the bay next to North Island. It would be nice to know that Swallow, the boat that launched a lifetime of passion for sailing for me, is still going strong after all these years.

John & Debbie Rogers
Moonshadow, Deerfoot 2-62
San Diego

John and Debbie — We're sure you're going to Bash north for more than a Ta-Ta, but it would be great to see you two on the ocean again. One night when you were passing through St. Barth wasn't enough.

Your story about your uncle's setting his own mooring at La Playa Cove is indicative of how quickly and dramatically things have changed along the California coast. If you tried something like that today, we imagine it would only be minutes before the harbor police's phone lines were ringing off the hook with complaints.

The matter of 338 foreign-owned boats being impounded in Mexico is about as big a story as we have ever covered in
Latitude, as it has a tremendous effect on the marine industry both in Mexico and on the West Coast of the United States. Almost the last half of Letters will be devoted to that subject.


The entrance to Treasure Island's Clipper Cove has silted in more than ever recently. With winter's lower tides, I've regularly seen boats getting mired in the muck near the Treasure Island Sailing Center. Our boat draws four feet, and at the extreme low tides we try to heel her way over when entering and exiting the cove. But we frequently still get muck on our keel. After asking for tips from one of the TISC instructors, we got this in reply. Keep in mind that his reference is a J/24, so boats with greater draft will have to adjust accordingly.

"At low tide, I have been able to enter and exit the cove by staying very close -— two to three boat lengths — to the pier that houses the Google barge. I take this all the way down until I am about two lengths from the corner where the small red crane has been living near the west end of the Google barge pier. At this point I am two to three boat lengths from the rocks as well. Here I make a left turn and aim for the tip of the ramp. This strategy lets me enter and exit the cove without heeling the boat over, dragging on the bottom, and other bad stuff. I even used this when I went out on New Year's Day. I got back into the cove with -1.5 tide, as I recall. I hope this helps."

Melissa Litwicki
Downtown Uproar, J/24
San Francisco

Melissa — It would be nice if the government would use some of the billions of dollars we use to bribe corrupt officials in Iraq and Afghanistan to do a little dredging at Clipper Cove. Until that happens — look for snow in hell — watch those tides.


Fourteen years ago we completed a homebuilt Hughes 60 catamaran that we started in Indianapolis and finished in Florida. Her hulls are similar to Latitude's Profligate, although we subsequently stretched her five feet. Based out of Florida, we then spent most winters cruising in the Caribbean. We're now starting a big change and new adventure in our lives.

A few years back we had some guests aboard who had started a nonprofit organization called Sea Mercy. The mission of the program is to provide much-needed medical services and supplies to the remote islands of the South Pacific via boats. The more we heard about the program, the more we wanted to become involved, and soon signed up our Dragonfly to be one of the first boats in the fleet. Our cat's large platform is perfect to transport a variety of medical skills and supplies to the remote islands. So after we complete an adventurous 8,000-mile trip from Florida to Tonga, we will become a floating health clinic.

With such a demanding trip ahead of us, we needed the boat and all systems to be in great shape, and to have adequate spares onboard. So we replaced the engines, purchased a new DC refrigerator and freezer, and installed more solar panels and a back-up autopilot. As you can imagine, the list of spares is pretty long. We also are changing our navigation system, which now will be based on the iPad and Mac, using WiFi to get data from the instruments.

We left Florida on December 18 and, after a boisterous trip, arrived in Belize on the 22nd. By the time you read this, we should have passed through the Canal. We expect to be in Tonga by mid-June. Our crew for the various legs of the trip consists of people willing to donate their time and share of costs of getting Dragonfly to Tonga.

As we say goodbye to the Caribbean, we will miss all those wonderful areas we cruised and the friends we made along the way. But we are looking forward to the adventurous journey and putting Dragonfly into service helping those in need. For more info on Sea Mercy, visit

Al & Jill Wigginton
Dragonfly, Hughes 65

Readers — Before having Profligate built, we flew to Indianapolis to see the Wiggintons, who had completed about a hull and a half and were offering to build boats for others. We passed. We didn't see them again until about 10 years later when they anchored in front of us in St. Barth. They not only completed the boat, they have covered a lot of ocean miles since then. We wish them a happy voyage.

By the way, it's too bad they aren't in Tonga right now, as it needs help following being hit by Tropical Cyclone Ian on January 11.


I appreciate Latitude's use of 'The First Couple of Cruising' to describe the Lin and Larry Pardey, but I believe that even they would defer that title to Eric and Susan Hiscock.

P.S. Great magazine and superb 'Lectronics.

Steve Hersey
SeaScape, Union 32
San Diego/San Carlos

Steve — We're also sure that Lin and Larry would defer to the Hiscocks. On the other hand, Eric passed nearly 30 years ago and Susan nearly 20 years ago, so the description seems a little dated.


Having done last year's Ha-Ha, I have a comment on something that mostly didn't work. All boats were required/asked to report in each morning via radio. Although we tried to comply with this safety feature by monitoring the VHF, for the most part we were unsuccessful. The idea was that boats that only had VHF radios could communicate with other boats in the fleet, who would then relay that information to the committee boat. It sounded good, but didn't work very well for us. Between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas, we were able to make contact only two or three times.

Obviously those boats that had SSB radios had no problem staying in touch. But since I had no plans or desire to continue on across the Pacific, there was no way I wanted to drop $3,000 for a piece of equipment — SSB — that I would have no use for once the Ha-Ha was over. While it was not something that caused any problems or was a cause for worry, I wonder what other 'VHF-only' boats in the fleet thought about this.

Joe Helfand
Jolin, Nonsuch 30

Joe — If you were able to reach other Ha-Ha boats only two or three times between San Diego and Cabo, we think there must have been something wrong with your radio, radio antenna or radio technique. Unless you were sailing courses that were wildly out to sea, there is no way you could have been out of range of 124 other boats that were sailing a relatively straight line to the next stop, particularly with the second and third legs being only 240 and 175 miles respectively. Every year there seem to be three to five boats that are unable to make VHF contact with other boats, even if they are just a few miles away.

To give you some examples, our roll call records show that 42 VHF-only boats successfully checked in via relay on day three of the long first leg. That's about 2/3 of the VHF-only boats. On day two of leg two, 47 of the VHF-only boats were able to relay their positions. A number of VHF-only boats were unsuccessful because they didn't try to reach anyone, they overslept, their radio didn't work, etc.

When we started doing races to Mexico in the early 1980s, there were no roll calls or weather reports between the starts in California and the finishes off Cabo or other ports. There was simply no contact with the outside world, and only by chance with other boats in the races. If we remember correctly, we didn't have daily weather reports or roll calls when we started the Ha-Ha in 1994 either. When SSB radios became more common on boats, we instituted the daily roll calls. Owners of boats that didn't have that expensive equipment pleaded with us to still be allowed to participate. Since the Ha-Ha is basically a straight off-the-wind course with so many boats, and because all boats are required to have EPIRBs, it seemed like a reasonable request.

We haven't gotten any negative feedback from VHF-only boats, but we're as interested as you in the thoughts of people without SSB. For what it's worth, while we personally wouldn't get a new SSB radio just to do the Ha-Ha, being able to tune into the daily roll call makes the Ha-Ha a much richer experience.


Thanks so much for all your efforts at Latitude. I particularly enjoy the ‘Lectronic Latitude. You asked about New Year's sailing resolutions. On December 31, 2012, I took off singlehanded from my marina near Annapolis aboard my 1979 Pearson 365 ketch Evening Ebb. On February 4, I got a weather window out of Morehead City, North Carolina, and arrived at West End Tortola in the British Virgins on February 15. I spent the spring in the BVIs, St Martin, Antigua — where I crewed on a winning Carriacou sloop in the Classic Regatta — Nevis and the BVIs again. In June I sailed my boat to Grenada, and have been here since. I crewed on a Carriacou sloop in the Mango Bowl Regatta the weekend before last in St. Lucia, and am helping an owner move his Freedom 44 up to Antigua later today.

My plan for 2014? To sail from the BVIs with Tom Postin on his Beneteau 423 Dancing Bear to Brisbane, Australia. We plan to be part of the 2014 Pacific Puddle Jump. After a bit of time in Australia and then the States, I’ll return to my boat and figure out what to do in 2015.

Dirk Aardsma
Evening Ebb, Pearson 365
Annapolis, Maryland

Dirk — Thanks for the kind words. We like to hear from people who are really getting their money's worth from their boats. Enjoy a safe trip to Australia.


After cruising Mexico, we've been back in Southern California for three years taking care of parents, a privilege that all of us will most likely have at some point in our lives. It was an experience that we will never regret, but it meant that we had to quit cruising and bring our boat north. As I write this, it's late in December and we're very close to heading back to Mexico. It's cold here in Channel Islands Harbor and blowing like stink. We want out of here for the new year!

John & Debby Dye
Lovely Reta, Islander 41
Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard


It's been too long since we were in the Baja Ha-Ha in 2004 and in the Puddle Jump in 2006. We made it to New Zealand, where we sold our Whitby 42 — which is now being circumnavigated by her new Australian owners.

We agree with Latitude with respect to the enhanced — although not perfect and not guaranteed — comfort and actual aid from sailing with groups, even small ones. When we broke an inner forestay on our trip from Tonga to New Zealand, it was comforting to know we had two buddyboats within 100 miles that we could keep in touch with and who would have come to our aid if we needed it.

Let's talk about AC shorepower cords. I was a certified marine electrician in Anacortes for several years before our cruise started. During that time I saw many, many damaged and unsafe power cords and inlets. Whenever I got on a boat, whether in the yard or in a marina, I always unplugged the cord — after turning off the power at the pylon to prevent arcing at the boat plug — and gave it a visual inspection. If I saw any discoloration, brown or black, around the female end contacts, I strongly recommended that the owner replace the cord immediately. Ditto on the male boat inlet plug. The shore pylon end should be inspected also, but most problems happen at the boat end.

Discoloration is caused by heat. Heat means that there is a poor, high-resistance connection at the plug/cord. If there is enough heat, a fire will start. I would refuse to work on a boat if the discoloration was too bad. The cords and inlets are very expensive, but so are boats and people. The inlet can be a real pain to replace, too. Even slight discoloration should not be ignored. It is not sufficient to 'clean' the contacts. At a minimum, the cord end should be replaced. But the result is not as good as a new cord since a repaired cord will never be sealed as well.

What causes high resistance? Corrosion caused by salt air, loose plug contacts, arcing by connecting and unconnecting hot cords, and/or loose or corroded wires inside the boat at the shorepower inlet.

We have started looking at boats suitable for cruising again. We totally enjoyed cruising in Mexico and beyond, the most fun being making friends with locals and other cruisers. Money is the only thing stopping us. We did get to spend several days with our friends Terry and Diane Emigh of the Tayana Vancouver 42 Harmony (Ha-Ha 2011) out of La Paz in November.

I've also met Rimas Meleshyus in Anacortes. He is attempting an improbable and underfunded goal of circumnavigating aboard his 'new' San Juan 24. What an interesting character! The boating community is small indeed.

Joe Barnes
Anacortes, WA

Joe — Thanks for the professional advice.

Speaking of Rimas, we looked into what's happened to him. "Rimas left Whidbey Island, Washington, at the end of July, 2013 bound for Cape Horn," notes a report on his donation site. "After getting as far south as Mexico, the 40-year-old rigging that holds his mast up began to fail. Rimas was able to improvise to keep the mast up, but diverted to Hilo, Hawaii, for repairs. He landed in Hilo with $28 in his pocket and is relying on the kindness of friends and strangers to repair his boat so he can continue his adventure." As of early January, Rimas reported he was taking off for the South Pacific "soon."

We don't want to be critical, but heading for Cape Horn on a San Juan 24 with 40-year-old rigging? At what point does something become a manifestly unsafe voyage?


We're planning to sail from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, where we are cruising now, back to Alaska starting in mid-April. We've not been concerned about Tohoku debris for the passage from Hawaii, but Latitude's TransPac report got us thinking about it.

We'd sure appreciate hearing from anyone who has sailed in those waters to help us assess the risks. In the case of TransPac boats, when did you start coming across the debris, where was there the most, and what was the nature of the debris?

I've done some research and came up with: As you can see, it looks to us that there is almost no direct physical data across the area of interest. It's just drift modeling plus the odd yacht report. What is nearly impossible to find are the 'negative reports' from boats that have recently sailed some of our track but encountered nothing dangerous.

Steve & Dorothy Darden
Adagio, Morrelli and Melvin 52 cat

Readers — Can anybody help Steve and Dorothy with firsthand information?

The Dardens love higher-latitude cruising in places such as Tasmania and Alaska. The only problem with high-latitude cruising is that it's a long way between high latitudes, whereas it's a short hop from Northern Hemisphere tropics to Southern Hemisphere tropics.


I really like the earth wind map shown in the January 3 edition of 'Lectronic Latitude.
If anyone is looking for another good weather tool, here's a wave height and direction site I have used for years when planning trips along Coastal Alaska:

John Schroeder
Planet Earth

John — The earth wind map is one of the most brilliant educational weather tools ever, as it gives an dynamic 'big picture' view of the weather such as we've never seen before. We think it's particularly educational for the ITCZ, the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea . . . well, just about anywhere in the world. It's mesmerizing.


We have kept Talofa, our boat, in the Caribbean for more than 20 years. Over that time we have seen the percentage of catamarans growing substantially. As I write this, I'm anchored in the Bight of Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. There are about 50 boats here, and more than 50% are catamarans — mostly on charter! I have made a few observations about catamarans, regarding which I would like to hear the opinions of Max Ebb and Lee Helm:

1) All cruising catamarans have their masts raked aft. Is this, as I believe, due to the fact they don't have real backstays, but are kept from falling forward by two swept back spreaders, and the raking may provide better stability for the mast?

2) Almost all cats have fractional rather than masthead rigs. Maybe this is related to the raking of the mast.

3) Many modern cruising monohulls have their mains furl inside the mast. I have never seen a catamaran with a furling mainsail. Maybe that's indirectly related to the raking of the mast's forcing an undesirable shape on the main.

I would very much like to hear from the experts.

Cesare Galtieri
Talofa, Gulfstar 43
British Virgin Islands

Cesare — Before we pass your question along to Max and Lee, we'll make a few comments. Some catamaran masts have no rake at all, some have moderate rake, and a few of the smaller Dean cats have masts that are raked so much the masthead is straight up from the cockpit. We'll leave the details of mast rake to Max and Lee.

Most cats do indeed have fractional rigs, but there have been quite a few — mostly older ones — with masthead rigs. As we recall, a lot of the Spronk cats in the Caribbean were not only masthead- but schooner-rigged. And many of them have been in heavy service for many years.

When catamarans have furling mains, they furl in the boom because it would be hard to furl with a typical cat's rake. The Darden's much-travelled M&M 52 Adagio has in-boom furling; so does Scott Stolnitz's Switch 51 Beach House, which is nearing the completion of a circumnavigation, and so do many others. In-boom furling is reportedly excellent once you figure out the details of how to use it properly, but it is not cheap, which is why you don't see them on charter boats.


My eight-year-old son and I want to thank you for Latitude 38, which we look forward to each month. After we got the October issue, my son spent hours staring at those three lovely European women sunbathing topless. He then declared his love for Latitude 38. I want to acknowledge Latitude for being a part of my son's rite of passage.

The accompanying photo shows him studying the current issue of Latitude while at Two Harbors, Catalina, searching in vain for what wasn't there.

By the way, we also attended the Wanderer's colorful presentation at California YC last year. A good time was had by all.

Scott Alyn
X Cygnet, Swan 37
(soon to go to the "dark side" with a multihull)
Pacific Palisades

Scott — We suppose it's a better rite-of-passage than he would get from the Sears catalog. But if we were you, we'd start saving up because it's likely he's going to want to spend his junior year abroad. His junior year in high school, that is.


I'm currently on a bicycle tour down to Brazil for the World Cup in July. During my travels in Baja, I encountered many sailors, which is how I came to hear about Latitude 38. They told me it's fairly easy to get on a boat as crew.

After riding to Brazil, I would like to sail home to Florida via the Caribbean. I was wondering if there is a sailing crew networking site for the Caribbean. I have basic sailing knowledge and am a seasoned traveler. Please let me know if you have any insights that may help me out.

Henry Flaig

Henry — If you were wanting to sail down to Brazil, you'd pretty much be out of luck because the currents and wind direction make it a difficult trip. But coming up is the easy way, and it's on the great highway from South Africa to the Northern Hemisphere, as nobody goes by way of the Red Sea anymore. You need to find out which are the most popular stops for cruising boats in Brazil, then just hang out there.

The only tricky part is that the World Cup doesn't end until July 13, which means it'll be getting on toward hurricane season in the Caribbean, so you're a little bit out of sync. But as hurricanes aren't an issue until you get up to Grenada, you shouldn't have trouble getting a ride there, and there are always a couple of late-season boats making the dash to Florida. As a young strong guy, you're a prime candidate for crew.


What do we use our Dremel tool for? To put our HIN (Hull Identification Number) on our boat.

Barry & Kathy Foster
Tillie, Hans Christian 38T
La Paz, Mexico

Barry and Kathy — Your letter made us burst out laughing. As many readers know, AGACE, a sub-agency of Mexico's IRS, was reportedly putting some boats into 'precautionary embargo' for more than a month if they didn't have a Hull Identification Number (HIN), not being aware that pre-1974 boats and many foreign boats were never given such numbers. And not being aware that boat hulls get painted, and in the process the HIN number often gets sanded off. The solution for some boatowners? Get a Dremel engraver — even Catalina used to use them to engrave hull numbers in some of their bigger boats. In fact, one marina in Mexico was loaning out a Dremel tool so boatowners could engrave the HIN number in their hull.

But here's something that was new to us. According to
Soundings Trade Only, as of 1984 US boats are required to have HIN numbers in two places, one outside on the starboard transom and one inside in an inconspicuous place.


I'm sharing the following letter I wrote to officials in Mexico:

"I am writing to you about the recent impounding of more than 300 boats by a branch of the Mexican IRS. I have sailed my own sailboat up and down the Mexican coast from Ensenada to Zihuatanejo for more than 10 years. My boat is currently in the United States, for which I am very thankful. My wife and I were planning to purchase a home in La Paz on our next visit to your beautiful country. I am sorry to say that we will not be returning to Mexico, at least not by boat. And after watching what has happened to the boatowners recently, I believe it would be a mistake to buy property in Mexico, where assets can so easily be taken away for no reason. We have cancelled our intention to buy property in La Paz.

"I love Mexico and have made many friends in your country. This incident is going to bring terrible hardship and undeserved consequences to the thousands of workers who derive their living from nautical and other tourism. What a sad, awful mistake Mexico has made. I cannot imagine why. It breaks my heart."

Charles Lane
Shamwari, Tayana 37
San Francisco

Readers — What's not made clear in Lane's letter is that almost all of the boats that have been impounded for more than six weeks have been found to be in compliance with Mexican law or are expected to be found in compliance.

Impounding foreign-owned boats — and planes, motorhomes and cars — is nothing new in Mexico. Sometimes it's been done because the owners of these modes of transportation hadn't gotten all the proper papers, but often the owners were in full compliance. Or, as in the famous Moreno case, when Mexico wanted to get back at the US for kidnapping a doctor who had helped torture a DEA agent in Mexico. A friend had a $30,000 motorhome in Mexico at the time of the kidnapping, and his motorhome, along with a lot of other American assets, was seized. At the beginning of the week, the Mexican IRS was demanding more than a million dollars for the motorhome. By the end of the week they were down to some trifling sum, which was paid and it was all over.

According to Tere Grossman, who has been in the marina business in Mexico since 1977 and has been the president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association for most of the time since then, the Mexican government has periodically inspected, impounded and released foreign boats. The impoundments ceased when the TIP program was instituted in 1996. And after President Fox's wildly expensive — and ultimately failed — 'nautical stairway' program to bring more American boats to Mexico was announced following his inauguration in 2000, there hadn't even been any inspections, "and the government has left us in peace."

That all changed in late November. "The current program of inspections has been the worst one ever and the most complicated," says Grossman. Why a country eager to fill its marinas, increase the number of tourists, and attract investors would treat foreign boatowners — their best ambassadors — so badly is beyond understanding. It's as if Mexico won't stop punching itself in the face and undoing all the outreach it's spent so much money on.

It was too late to get it into this issue, but next month we'll present a history of Mexico's complicated relationship with foreign boatowners, which will demonstrate how things have gotten so much better — until the sudden reversal in late November.


Ours was one of the many foreign boats seized at Coral Marina in Ensenada. We're trying to find other victims of the AGACE attack on boatowners, but it's not easy. I imagine most people are afraid to speak up because they fear revenge on the part of the Mexican government.

We were wondering if Latitude could connect us to others who have had their boats stranded in Mexico. Or perhaps you can give us some advice on what we should be doing in this situation. We were even thinking that what we are going through could be the basis of a class action lawsuit.

We don't take the illegal seizure of our boat — which is also our home — lightly. We consider it to be an act of theft or an act of terrorism. After all, there have been no official charges against us or our property, nothing in writing, no legal proceedings, just verbal threats of violence against us if we make noise or try to leave.

Cranky Sailor
Coral Marina, Ensenada

Cranky — We know that the Marina Owners Association has a list of boats, but we don't know if they have contact information. In any event, they probably aren't authorized to release the names and addresses.

As infuriating as this disastrous episode has been, according to Enrique Fernandez, harbormaster at Puerto Los Cabos, it's the fourth time in his 25-year career that he can remember a branch of the Mexican IRS impounding a group of foreign boats without good cause. Thanks to the Internet, such news gets around faster and penetrates more deeply than it did in the 1990s, so AGACE's outrageous handling of the matter has generated worse and more widespread negative publicity for Mexico. In view of this, we expect that all boats that didn't have serious paperwork problems — which was most of them — will be released in less than the 140 days it took in 1996. Our advice is to grin and bear it, and have confidence that the foolishness will be over soon.

That's the same advice that we gave to a woman who phoned
Latitude from Ensenada in late January and said that, after their boat had been impounded for six weeks, she and her husband had had enough. Their cruising dreams shattered, all they wanted to do was to get back to the US and sell their boat. They wanted to know what we thought of the idea of their making a run for the border in the middle of the night. We advised against it because if they were caught, the consequences could be severe. Besides, as of the third week in January, some boats had been released and there was a lot of pressure on AGACE to release the rest as quickly as possible. We also suggested that they wait just a bit before giving up their cruising dreams, as this is the biggest national nautical brain fart we can remember in the more than three decades that we've been covering sailing. The president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association agrees. That being the case, we don't expect we'll see anything like it any time soon.

A class action lawsuit in Mexican courts against the Mexican IRS? If you want to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars and many years in court in a country where you don't speak the language, we think you'd have about a 3% chance of winning — assuming the Mexican legal system even allows for class action lawsuits. But you never know. Some dining companions who own a home at Higuera Blanca, which is near Sayulita, told us that about five years ago the local government was in desperate need of money, so they decided they would fine all gringo owners of waterfront homes that had non-native plants. Among the non-native plants was bougainvillea, which grows wild all over the area. When one homeowner fought the Mexican government in court over a proposed $5,000 fine, the court sided with him.

By the way, the woman who called from Ensenada said there was another cruising boat in her marina whose owners have been so shaken by their boat's being impounded that they have a similar goal — get their boat back to the States as quickly as possible and put her up for sale. Another set of cruising dreams destroyed by AGACE's very poor handling of what could have been a quick, clean and easy process.


As I recently wrote in a letter to Mexican officials, I just purchased a Peterson 34 and was planning to sail her from my home waters of San Francisco Bay to Ensenada to have her refitted. I planned on spending about $30,000 on the refit. I would then continue on to La Paz and the Mexican Riviera, where I wanted to spend the winter and spring before turning right for Polynesia in May. I figure I would have spent another $20,000 on a vacation with my wife in Mexico before continuing on to the South Pacific.

Why did Mexico spend all these years encouraging visits by nautical tourists — and then shoot itself in the foot like this? Unless this problem is resolved, I will spend my money elsewhere.

Steve Bryant
Svenska, Peterson 34
San Francisco Bay

Readers — Most of Mexico's government is doing all it can to encourage nautical tourism while one small branch is making life difficult and scary for nautical tourists. Once again, one hand of the Mexican government doesn't know what the other hand is doing.

One of the most troubling impoundings involves a multimillion dollar yacht that was brought from San Diego to Ensenada to have a few days' work done at a yard. The captain and crew were visited by AGACE agents while in Ensenada, and were left with the distinct impression that there weren't any problems with the boat's paperwork. Yet when they went to check out a few days later, the port captain informed them that they couldn't leave because their boat was on the impound list. Six weeks later the boat was still stuck in Ensenada, despite the owners' having hired a lawyer and enlisting the efforts of Arizona Senator John McCain. The last we heard, the owners were thinking that once they got their boat back, they would bypass Mexico entirely on the way to Panama. Could anyone blame them?


We're in the process of buying a new boat. As she's in Southern California, we were thinking of taking her to Mexico to get some work done on her. There is now zero chance of our doing that. This means there are a few thousand dollars that won't be spent in a Mexican boatyard, along with hotel rooms, air fares, etc. What Mexico has been doing is idiotic, and I have yet to get a reason that these folks would be so stupid.

Beau Vrolyk
Santa Cruz

Beau — First Ensenada loses its main highway with Tijuana and the States, and now this. Could it get any worse for what many cruisers have found to be a charming little city? Yes, it can, as it's likely that many potential participants in the Newport to Ensenada Race — once the largest on the West Coast — are having serious second thoughts. After all, they can do a similar race — the Border Run — that ends in San Diego and doesn't have the risk of their losing control of their boat.

Mexico needs to release the boats that have complied with their laws immediately, and get serious about making amends to foreign boatowners.


I'm sorry to hear about the problems cruisers are having with Mexican authorities. You probably don't remember the 'Nanamukers'. We met the Wanderer in Mexico in 1982. We spent five months in Mexico on that trip, and 30 months in Mexico at the start of our circumnavigation in 1994.

We just spent eight days at the Decameron Resort in Bucerias, dreaming of having Nanamuk back on Banderas Bay next season and staying for years. But the change in the way cruising boats are being treated by Mexico will definitely cause us to cancel these plans. Perhaps you can forward our letter to someone who can speed up resolving the problem with impounded boats, because if it drags on too long, we won't be motivated to do all that is needed to return Nanamuk to Mexico.

Rob & Grace Dodge
Nanamuk, Endurance 35
Nanaimo, BC


I had been hoping to bring my boat back to La Paz this year, but I'm staying away until the latest nuttiness goes away.

Jim Patrick
Tortuga, Grand Banks 42
San Diego

Jim — Given AGACE's blow to the reputation of Mexico's nautical tourism industry, members of the Mexican Marina Owners Association tell us they don't believe they will be conducting any similar 'audits' in the near future. As a result, some US boats are coming down to Mexico. Unfortunately, nobody can guarantee there won't be any such raids, which is why it's easy to understand that some mariners are choosing to stay away.


I'm a fellow cruiser at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz with all the proper paperwork whose boat was nonetheless impounded by AGACE. Like all involved, I find this situation quite upsetting, as it has compromised a long-planned family reunion here in Mexico. Like the owners of Profligate, the only thing I'm guilty of is not being on my boat during the unannounced inspection by AGACE. Actually, I did get back to the boat that afternoon in time to ask an inspection team if they needed to inspect my boat. They said it wouldn't be necessary but my boat ended up on the impound list anyway.

I hope we can go whale watching again soon.

Steve Wilson
Oakland / Marina Riviera Nayarit

Readers — There has been a small group of boatowners and former boatowners, most based out of the Vallarta YC, who have scoffed at our reports, saying: 1) Latitude has been making a mountain out of a molehill, and 2) if any boats got impounded, it was the owners' fault. These people seem unaware of how many winter plans have been disrupted, cruising dreams destroyed, and unnecessary expenses incurred — by mariners who did indeed follow all the rules. Nor do these people seem to appreciate the apprehension that AGACE's actions have instilled in the hearts of boatowners whose boats haven't been inspected yet.


Having spent most of the last 14 winters in La Paz, it's obvious we love this place. However, if AGACE keeps impounding boats for long periods of time, and mariners either start leaving or don't come down, the real losers will be orphanages, local schools and local merchants that so many gringo cruisers and retirees spend so much time and money supporting. They are the ones who have taken the brunt of the hit from those bad raps in the past, and the recent actions by AGACE surely won't help them.

Rod DuFour
Beachcomber, Lagoon 35
Oak Harbor, WA / Sea of Cortez

Readers — That's true, as cruisers are big supporters of many charitable causes in Mexico, from the unbelievably successful SailFest to Subasta to smaller ones such as the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. Indeed, had Profligate not been impounded, we would have started our fifth charity regatta in Mexico, which was to be the Tenacatita to Barra Rally with Dino of Grand Marina in Barra. Maybe next year.


If 338 US boats had been impounded in Iraq or Syria, the United States would have stationed 128 ships of war off their coasts firing rockets into their administrative and political offices as well as their military positions. Our planes would have turned their sand to glass by now.

Name Withheld By Request
Planet Earth

N.W.B.R. — Yes, well thank goodness that Mexico isn't Iraq or Syria, because nobody needs to be killed over what's been a massive public relations blunder by a newly created sub-agency of the Mexican IRS. A lot of spankings are in order, but not bombings.


My documented boat was among the many foreign-owned boats seized by Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) in 1997. Marina Palmira in La Paz had misfiled my papers and I wasn't aboard at the time, so Hacienda chained my boat to the dock. I flew down the day after hearing of this, and went to the local office of Hacienda. I told them about the legal status of US-documented boats, but they weren't impressed by it or my fluent Spanish. So I told them I was going to go to the marina, cut the chain securing my boat to the dock, alert the US Coast Guard via Ham radio of my situation, and take off.

I cut the chain, then cast off as armed soldiers marched down the dock toward me. I got away and headed out toward the Cerralvo Channel. After four hours passed without any boats coming after me, I reversed course and headed for Isla Partida. I stayed on the hook at Partida for one week, then returned to my berth at Marina Palmira. I never heard another thing about it, nor did I ever find out why nothing happened to me. But the local head of Hacienda was fired a short time later.

Dane Faber
WAFI, Vagabond 38

Dane — AGACE told one Mexican boatowner that he couldn't leave a marina on Banderas Bay. The owner basically told them to buzz off because he'd not only bought his boat from Hacienda, he was taking off right then for Acapulco, and they could try to stop him. He did take off and they didn't try to stop him. But we're not sure what happened when he got to Acapulco.

It was after the ill-conceived impounding of boats in the 1990s that the TIP (Temporary Import Permit) was instituted. Once that was instated, the Mexican government hadn't engaged in the mass impounding of boats — until late November.


The present situation in Mexico is like the second verse of an old song. Latitude will recall that in July of 1995 several hundred yachts were seized by Hacienda. My boat was placed in 'protective seizure' in Marina Palmira along with 12 others. I was given an attorney by the marina, but he couldn't speak English, so I hired another attorney. I contacted the US Embassy, my senators and state reps and the Coast Guard, and placed articles in The Log, the L.A. Times, San Diego papers and boating magazines.

In the November 1995 issue of Latitude, the publisher wrote, "Dr. Hersch [me] made a big stink in all the papers, hired lawyers and raised hell. It's unclear whether making a big stink was a smart move."

It took 140 days to get my boat released.

Since Latitude's boat Profligate has been seized, the publisher apparently has had no problem mounting a full-scale publicity campaign and making a big stink to get his boat released.

By the way, my papers were 100% in order and we never learned the true reason behind Hacienda's action. We were pawns in someone else's game. I predict that all the boats currently impounded in Mexico will be released, but as they say in Mexico, "not at this moment."

Dr. Robert Hersch
Huntington Beach

Dr. Hersch — The difference between 1995 and now is that back then people in the industry advised us against making a big stink, thinking it might be counterproductive. It's hard to say if it was or wasn't.

This time around we've received overwhelming encouragement from almost every member of the Mexican marine industry we've talked to, as well as important officials in Mexico's Tourism Department. They all say our reports and editorializing have been critical in putting pressure on AGACE to release boats sooner rather than later, and to encourage them to change their procedures before conducting any future 'audits'.

By the way, as we write this on January 20, AGACE seems to have made a distinction regarding which marinas boats are being released from. They haven't released more than 30 of the 338 foreign boats yet, but the only ones they've released have been from marinas that agreed to be depositarias, meaning they would take financial and other responsibility for all impounded boats in their marina. About half the marinas agreed, about half didn't because they are under no obligation to do so. Profligate is in Marina Riviera Nayarit, which refused to be a depositaria. So while a few days ago an AGACE agent confirmed that Profligate is in compliance with Mexican law, AGACE has refused to say when our cat will be released from impoundment. To us, it looks as though AGACE is using our boat as a pawn in a revenge game with the marina for not agreeing to be a depositaria. But we'll see.


I want to thank Latitude for all you've done for cruisers over the years. But according to some cruisers I've talked to via email and the Cruisers' Forum, your latest efforts regarding the situation in Mexico are counterproductive and are making cruisers very scared of what might happen to them. They haven't been nailed by AGACE, but are really shaking in their boots over what actions might be taken as a result of the negative publicity. Please reconsider adding fuel to the already burning inferno.

Steve Bondelid
ex-owner, Grey Max, Lord Nelson 35
Greenbank, WA

Steve — Throughout this entire unfortunate episode, we've been in contact with many marina owners/managers in Mexico, as well as the director of Mexico's tourism office in California. Every single one of them has told us the same thing: Latitude's reports and editorializing have been great, and it's critical that we keep the pressure on. Indeed, most of them have been forwarding our writings to elected officials in their respective cities and states and Mexico City. Several of these people have cited the avalanche of negative publicity as the primary reason they believe it's highly unlikely — 99.9% unlikely, said one — that there will be any more 'audits' until AGACE procedures and policies have changed, and their personnel get the training they need to know what they are doing.

If we were writing what we've written without any skin in the game, it might be one thing. But our highly visible catamaran Profligate is one of the 338 impounded boats, and is probably worth considerably more than the average impounded boat.


I'm asking Latitude to please use your contacts in the international press to make sure the story of foreign boats impounded in Mexico is reported daily in the international media. One problem is that many top officials in the Mexican government, including President Peña Nieto and Luis Eduardo Lara Gutierrez, the latter being the person at AGACE who came up with the stupid 'auditing' idea that created all the chaos, don't speak English. It takes time for the Mexican press to pick up these stories from the foreign press.

The level of stupidity behind AGACE's audit has been so high that the problem is not being resolved as quickly as it should. I read the January 17 'Lectronic and want to make it clear that this fiasco was not created by the marinas, which along with owners of foreign boats are also victims of the official stupidity of AGACE. It's all AGACE's fault!

Because of varying amounts of experience, some marinas have handled the situation differently than others. Since I started working in marinas 25 years ago, I've always kept a copy of the TIPs, boat documentation and insurance. I didn't do this because the marinas I worked at were obligated to do it, but rather to be sure who was who and what was what. We've had many inspections from different authorities in the last quarter of a century, and our customers didn't even know the inspections had taken place. We tried to handle the most recent inspection as a 'desk audit'. I was successful in working with the authorities again this time, although I have to admit that luck was also an important factor.

I know that several marinas have hired attorneys, not only to keep themselves free of problems, but most importantly to resolve the nightmare for their boatowners. In addition to our Marina Owners Association group, we individual marina operators are putting political pressure on the authorities and state governments to get this problem resolved. We all know that AGACE eventually has to liberate all the boats with TIPs, which is most of those that have been impounded, but that time is our worst enemy because the bad publicity continues. All of us in the marina business understand that even if AGACE did not raid our marina, we have to help owners of impounded boats, no matter what marina they are in.

Enrique Fernández del Castillo
Gerente General, Puerto Los Cabos Marina
San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

Readers — While all the marina owners we've spoken with have encouraged our articles and editorials on this matter, and say they have forwarded them to various Mexican officials, all but Enrique, who was previously the harbormaster at Marina Cabo San Lucas, have asked to remain anonymous. "If Hacienda wants to, they can create all the problems in the world for a marina like mine," said one marina owner.

To demonstrate how inconsistent the AGACE audit process has been, if some AGACE auditors couldn't find a HIN on a boat, it was grounds for putting a boat on the impound list. Yet at Puerto Los Cabos and some other marinas, the auditors didn't even go down to the boats.

Some members of the Vallarta YC have claimed that boats in some marinas got into trouble because the marina didn't have copies of all their documents. As you can see from Castillo's letter, he says marinas aren't obligated to have them. We were told the same thing by the manager of another marina, who is adamant that there is no law requiring marinas to keep copies of all the documents. Note that this is a marina manager who says things have been working out well at his marina with AGACE, except for a few boats with unique situations. What's a unique situation? The owner of an impounded boat taking AGACE to court for impounding his boat.

Besides, does anybody really believe that a boatowner should have their boat impounded for months because a marina office misplaced or lost copies of the boat's documents, or didn't believe they were obligated to have them in the first place? Since the boatowner has no control or knowledge of the situation, shouldn't that be a matter between just the marina and the Mexican government? Duh.


Keep up the pressure on Mexico. Money talks. It may take awhile, but when the tourist dollars drop like a winch handle into the Bay, policies will change. But thanks for being the one taking the heat!

Steve Ware

Steve — Thanks for your support. As easily the biggest supporters of nautical tourism to Mexico for the last 30 years, we have a lot at stake here, and hate to see what AGACE has been doing to Mexico's nautical tourism industry — and to a lesser extent, the real estate industry.


In the late '30s, my grandfather had his property in Mexico seized. His advice after that: "Never own property in Mexico, as you can't argue with the barrel of a gun." After a year in Vietnam, I understood with what he meant. Good luck with your boat, and to the other poor souls as well.

Jim Gunderson
Next Adventure, Catalina 30
San Jose

Jim — What happened to your grandfather was 80 years ago, and much has changed since then. But one thing remains constant, which is that Mexico needs to impound boats as a very last resort, not as first resort when they are just verifying documents. At least if they want to keep a nautical tourism industry. Some Mexican officials just don't appreciate how skittish Americans are of having their assets seized or impounded. Foreign boatowners are in need of immediate reassurances by the Mexican government.


I'm glad that Latitude has been keeping up with the impounding of foreign boats in Mexico. I am surprised that the US government or embassy has not been involved, since US-documented boats are considered property of the United States that can ostensibly be requisitioned in time of war or national emergency. In the States, even a simple repossession of a US-documented vessel has to be done by a US marshall who has to 'arrest the vessel'.

Actually, what's happening may only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected under the promise of going after what have been labeled 'tax cheats', meaning Mexican nationals as well as gringos. Currently the Mexican government is concentrating on boats, cars, motorhomes and other objects 'imported to Mexico'. But they will reportedly soon go after gringos earning money in Mexico and not paying taxes, especially on the condo/home rentals and sales.

Many Mexican nationals and gringos avoid much of the taxes they owe when they sell real estate in Mexico. For instance, if a house should sell for $100,000, the owner will sell the house for $10,000, which is taxable, and the furniture in it for $90,000, the sale of furniture not being taxable. The Mexican IRS claims they are going to crack down on all that now, as well as anyone who earns income from rentals in Mexico. They are also going to be levying a tax on bank accounts and more. The new bank laws took effect January 1.

Mexico says they are cracking down on Mexican nationals also. Supposedly this has all been precipitated by the big drop in revenue from oil, and the fact that almost no one in Mexico pays any taxes — sort of like Greece, Portugal, Italy, etc.

A Mexican-American friend who recently returned from a holiday visit with her family in Cancun claims that everything they bought, even a simple Coke, had doubled in price because now everyone has to pay more taxes. For her it was not a big issue, but for her relatives in Mexico it was a major change.

At the moment the Mexican government seems to be acting more as the Venezuelan government did under Hugo Chavez. As Latitude pointed out, it's going to have severe repercussions for tourism, which was just starting to recover after years of narco violence. I just talked with Grace Bodle in Richmond this morning, and she told me that she and Bill had planned to take their 110-ft schooner to Mexico this winter, but have cancelled because of the impoundings.

John 'Woody' Skoriak
Sausalito / San Carlos, Mexico

Woody — The US government was slow to get involved in the mess, but that was partly because most of the people who owned impounded boats didn't even know their boats were impounded, and because it was assumed that nothing could be done over the holidays. The State Department and consulates subsequently got involved, but it's hard to know what kind of effort they have made. In any event, sometimes constant mild pressure and patience is the most effective policy.

While it's true that all US-documented vessels are subject to requisition during time of a national emergency — as many great yachts were during World War II — it is not true that the US government is going to leap into action any time there is a problem with a US-documented boat. In fact, we think documentation of a recreational boat counts for very little except proof — in most countries — of ownership.

For what it's worth, Mexico, which Goldman Sachs projects to be one the of the 10 biggest economies in the world by 2020, ranks 53rd out of 189 countries in "ease of doing business" by the World Bank. Tellingly, Mexico ranks 133rd in availability of electricity, 150th in registering property, and 118th in the collection of taxes. As such, it's hard to believe Mexico has been doing as well as it has. Mexico rates best at the ease of starting businesses and resolving insolvencies.

It's hard to tell what's going on with the Peña Nieto administration. As Peña Nieto is a member of the PRI, which ruled Mexico with massive corruption during their 70-year-plus regime, many Mexicans are very suspicious. However, he's done some good things. One is that he's moved to clean up the corrupt Mexican teacher's union by arresting Elba Esther Gordillo, the president of the union, and accusing her of embezzling about $200 million from the union's funds. During her 23-year reign, most teachers' positions were bought or inherited. Peña Nieto is also opening up PEMEX — Mexico's notoriously corrupt national oil concern — to outside foreign investment so they can reach oil they don't have the money or technology to get to now. And perhaps most importantly, he's also attacking those who don't pay the taxes they owe. Mexico's tax rates are notoriously low, the loopholes are huge, and compliance is poor.

One huge change is that there are no more 'small businesses' that have to pay just 3% of their annual gross in taxes. Now all businesses — even street taco stands — are supposed to have computers and frequently report all expenses and income. We're not sure how that's going to play out in a country where about 20% of the people don't even have electricity.

Personally, we think doing a better job of collecting taxes is essential for the future of Mexico, and some tax rates are ridiculously unfair or in need of being increased. For example, the property tax is assessed on the size of a house, not the value. As a result, there are $500,000 condos on the ocean where the taxes are $150, the same as cinder-block-and-tarp hovels a half-mile away. Yet the roads, except for the toll roads, are dreadful. Wait until Bill Gates, who just paid $200 million for the Four Seasons in Punta Mita, tries to drive the pot-holed mess of a road from La Cruz to Mita. Of course, the big question is if the politicians will stuff all the new tax money in their pockets, or if it will actually be used for the public good.

AGACE, the sub-agency of the Mexican IRS that has caused all the problems for foreign boatowners, was actually created late in the term of Felipe Calderon, the previous president. At this point we believe the gigantic fiasco created by AGACE is a result of a political appointee who didn't know Mexican or US law, but thought he could create a big nationalistic splash by catching hundreds of foreign 'tax cheats'. Our belief is that when word of the fiasco finally filters to the upper levels of the Peña Nieto administration, they will have a fit. After all, they want as much tourism and foreign investment as possible, and are smart enough to know that the worst thing Mexico can do is scare the hell out of nautical tourists and potential investors.

At this point, any comparison between Mexico and Venezuela under Chavez is ridiculous — although Chavez never threatened to impound hundreds of visiting yachts. But we're keeping our eyes open on Mexico. How they handle this fiasco will be telling.


The main issue in this boat impounding mess seems to be that the owners absent from their boats were judged guilty. The solution is obvious. Mexican authorities should require that foreign-owned boats carry a decal on their bow, a decal that you get with your TIP. Or even with an annual cruising license fee. The decal will at least show compliance. A missing or forged decal means 'goodbye boat'. Here in the US we have such decals to prove that a boat is registered in a specific state. Easy peasy.

Tom Dalgliesh
Waverly, Islander Freeport 41
Seattle, WA

Tom — It's hard to tell what the "main issue" was, as it appears that it was different in different places.

Newer TIPs come with decals. According to the instructions — and we're not making this up — you're supposed to put the sticker on the boat window next to the "rear-view mirror." That instruction is all too typical of the Mexican bureaucratic (mis)understanding of boats. But one problem is that older TIPs didn't come with decals. The second problem is if you get a TIP online, nobody is verifying what you're claiming.

One solution might be similar to the one Mexico uses for permanently importing cars. You go through about a two-hour process, after which you get paperwork and decal — yes, you put it on your windshield near your rear-view mirror — and you're good. Well, you're good after you go to a different city to get a piece of paper, then a different city a hundred miles away to actually pick up your plate. Alas, Mexico doesn't have the manpower at each port of entry to do this with any kind of dispatch.

Then again Rick Todd, who used to fly corporate clients into Puerto Vallarta on Citation 10 jets, tells us the international check-in process for aircraft was quick and easy. "It took about 10 minutes." So if Mexico wants to come up with a solution, we know they can. It's a matter of whether the country has the political will to do what's in its best financial interest.


I just read the latest 'Lectronic post regarding the impounding of foreign-owned boats in Mexico. I can't figure out why the Mexican government would impound Profligate after all Latitude has done for Mexico in terms of the hundreds of positive articles and photos, 20 years of bringing many thousands of people down in the Baja Ha-Ha, and all the various charity regattas you have founded. It's nice to know they didn't single Latitude's boat out for special treatment, but don't they have advisors or press agents who have even a little bit of common sense?

Reading the updates in Latitude has truly been disheartening, as it completely undermines our faith in the situation down there. Why would we want to risk our yachts and all we have invested to be at the whim of a jack-booted illiterate who knows less about boats then he does about hygiene?

We can appreciate all the good words you put forth on behalf of Mexico for the last 30 years, but what's happening in Mexico sure makes the Channel Islands, Catalina, and California coastal hopping much more inviting. After all, we don't have to worry that we're going to be held hostage by a banana republic trying to flex its position with the United States by using yachts as pawns. I know that cruising Mexico can be fantastic and beautiful, but when you consider that you can get beaten within an inch of your life, have officials impound your boat for nothing, and get your dinghy stolen, I think a trip through a local bad neighborhood on a wheelbarrow sounds like a better plan.

As wonderful as Mexico is, nothing beats seeing Diamond Head rise out of the horizon after 10 days at sea. Maybe that's the future of the Ha-Ha. The Hawaiian Ha-Ha would also make the Puddle Jump less of a jump and more of a skip.

I'm partially numb from trying to understand what's happening down there. By the way, I was very sad to have missed the Ha-Ha this year, as I heard nothing but great stories about it from dock neighbors who went.

Dave Barten
Ikani, Gecco 39
Shelter Island, San Diego

Dave — It's true that we at Latitude have been the biggest promoters of nautical tourism in Mexico for the last 30 years. But as you say, it's nice to know we didn't get any special treatment. We don't like countries where some people are more equal — members of the United States Congress and the political class, for instance — than everyone else.

You're right, there's nothing as disheartening as having your boat impounded — without notice — when she's perfectly legal, and when the agency doesn't contact you, and you don't speak the language. It's undermined the faith a lot of boatowners had in Mexico, and Mexico is going to have to hustle to regain that faith. But can we cut the crap about "jack-booted illiterates"? While the excessive military presence was entirely unnecessary during AGACE's audits, our understanding is that the auditors and the marines were firm but pleasant. The "illiterate" business is insulting. AGACE officials may not have known anything about boats or the complexities of maritime law, but it's ridiculous and insulting to say they were illiterate. In fact, one of the nice things about Mexico is that the quality of their civil servants seems to have gotten a lot better in the last 10 years. It's not perfect, but it's been improving.

As for personal safety, there are something like a million Americans and Canadians who live in Mexico. Most feel safer in Mexico than they do in most big American cities.

Everybody, including many Mexican officials and port captains, is also partially numb from trying to understand the impounding of all the boats that were legal. Our take is that AGACE officials really believed they were going to catch a bunch of tax cheats and find a bunch of stolen boats, and thus be heroes. Unfortunately, they've stuck to their guns and become goats.

Readers — We're sorry to have to devote so much editorial space to this single issue, but it's a big one. If Mexico doesn't come to its senses quickly, the ramifications for their nautical tourism industry — and the West Coast boating industry — could be enormous. For the latest news on the subject, read 'Lectronic Latitude.



'Lectronic Latitude | Download the Magazine | Crew List & Party
Calendar | Letters | Changes in Latitudes | Features
Classy Classifieds | Place a Classy Ad | Advertisers' Links | Display Advertising
Links | New Stuff | Subscriptions | Distribution | Contact Us | Home
  The West's Premier Sailing & Marine Magazine.
© 2014 Latitude 38 Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.