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December 2015

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As I write this on October 23, Category 5 Hurricane Patricia is bearing down on Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. On November 2 last year, there was concern that Hurricane Vance might threaten Cabo San Lucas. When I did the Ha-Ha in 2013, I recall that there was a tropical storm or depression threatening Baja Sur while the fleet was heading into Turtle Bay.

I'm sure there will be some people who are about to start the Ha-Ha who are thinking like I'm thinking, so I'll bring it up. Might it not be a good idea to delay the start of next year's Ha-Ha until, say, mid-November? I know that Patricia will certainly be gone by the time the Ha-Ha reaches Cabo, but the warm water that fueled it probably won't. So the threat of another late-season hurricane remains.

Mark Novak
Betty Jane, Hans Christian 43 Ketch
Santa Cruz

Mark — Excellent question. Having sailed our own boats to Cabo in late October/early November for 22 of the last 23 years, as well as five other times between 1981 and 1993, we've thought long and hard about the best time to head south. Our goal has been to find the right time between the last — hopefully — of the tropical storms and the increased likelihood of cold, crappy weather along the Ha-Ha course.

Prior to choosing the Ha-Ha dates, we went to the Unisys hurricane website and studied the paths of all the tropical storms and hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific for the last 50 years. We made sure that none of them would have intersected or even come close to the Ha-Ha course during the dates of the Ha-Ha. We also took into consideration the fact that the Ha-Ha dates were similar to the starting dates of decades' worth of the first Mexican races of the season, and to our knowledge they never had a tropical storm issue. We were also aware that as early as mid-October, Cabo is packed with fishing boats for the Bisbee and other fishing tournaments — not that we would be there that early with our boat. Finally, we haven't heard of any insurance companies refusing to move the start of a boat's coverage up from the first week in November to the last week in October. It may be because the Ha-Ha doesn't get south of the Tropic of Taurus (ex-Cancer) until November anyway.

In the years since we started the Ha-Ha in 1994, we've naturally been acutely aware of the weather from mid-October on. What we've found is that it's not at all unusual for there to be tropical storms — even monster hurricanes — in late October. But by November they all but stop for the last 150 or so miles south of Cabo. The late-October storms seem to run into a cooler water barrier between Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, and/or make a sharp turn east, something they don't usually do earlier in the year. The rare tropical storm/hurricane after November 1 has always been to the south of Cabo and fizzled by the time it got anywhere close.

And to clear up a misconception, there have been hurricanes off Mexico in November and even December. But they've always been south of Baja. Indeed, as we write this on November 20, the National Hurricane Center is forecasting that Tropical Storm Rick will form off the coast of mainland Mexico on about November 25. You also may want to remember Hurricane Kenneth in 2011, a Category 4 hurricane, from November 19-25. Fortunately, it headed directly west and caused no damage.

While we're clearing up misconceptions, warm water is not in itself enough to create tropical storms or hurricanes. There are many parts of the world with very warm water that never get hurricanes. It's also interesting to note that while the water off Mexico has been unusually warm, the number of named storms has actually been fewer than in 2014 and 2013, and the same as in 2012.

The downside of not starting the Ha-Ha until mid-November is the potential of cold, crappy weather along the Pacific Coast of Baja. It may not seem like it because we're in a warmer water and weather cycle, but there have been a number of Ha-Ha starts when it was really cold the first couple of nights out of San Diego, as well as at Turtle Bay. And there have been years when the Ha-Ha fleet was just a couple of days ahead of abysmal weather coming down from the north.

There have been 66 Ha-Ha legs in the last 22 years. While two of them had elements of upwind work or some lightning, they weren't bad, and the other 64 have been off-the-wind and almost rather benign. In our opinion, that's a fabulous weather record.

The other thing to remember about the Ha-Ha course is that both the stops offer very good protection in the event of a storm. We don't usually start the second leg from Turtle Bay until November, and at that time we're still 400 miles north of Cabo and in significantly cooler water. Before taking off, we contact Commander's Weather, to see not just if anything is developing in the tropical zone, but if the conditions are conducive to a storm forming. If a storm does form, we would expect to get a five- to seven-day warning of the extremely unlikely event of any effect on Turtle Bay.

The only time we've held the fleet in Turtle Bay was last year, as three different professional weather sources said that in order to exercise an abundance of caution we should hold the fleet. So we did. As it turned out, Tropical Storm-then-Hurricane Vance never came close to Cabo. You might remember, about half the fleet decided to head south after a one-day hold anyway. But following the advice of the professional weather forecasters, the Poobah held the official Ha-Ha fleet in Turtle Bay for two days.

The second Ha-Ha stop at Bahia Santa Maria offers excellent protection for weather from the east, and nearby Mag Bay offers pretty good protection against wind and seas from any direction. In the event of an unprecedented post-season tropical storm coming that far north, there would be a couple of options. The first would be to strip one's boat exterior and get settled in at Mag Bay. We know of boats that have ridden out 100-knot hurricanes there. Since there would be lots of advance warning, it would also be possible for skippers to backtrack north to Turtle Bay, where the water would be much cooler and any storm effects much less. But once again, there hasn't been a tropical storm in recorded history that threatened Bahia Santa Maria during the Ha-Ha dates.

There are no absolute guarantees when it comes to hurricanes and hurricane seasons. All you can do is play the odds. Given the history of excellent Ha-Ha weather, including this year, we don't have any plans to change the dates of the Ha-Ha. Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor the situation to see if a change in dates would seem prudent. After all, we do the Ha-Ha every year, putting our personal safety and boat on the line along with everyone else.

I saw Wendy Rybicki's letter asking about marine weather forecasts for California's Central Coast. After the SoCal Ta-Ta, we lingered on Catalina for about a week, then jumped over to Marina del Rey for a long weekend in L.A. with friends and family.

Heading north, we waited in Santa Barbara for five days before attempting to round Point Conception. After all, NOAA was predicting gusts of 30-35 knots, and the waves were projected to be 'square'. By square they mean the wave period was going to be about the same as the height of the wave in feet. Such as eight-foot waves at a period of eight seconds. That's not good at all.

All the while we were monitoring a small low-pressure system moving down the coast. We hoped this system would finally disrupt the strong northwesterlies that had been blowing for a week. And there was even a chance it would bring southerlies.

We got our post Ta-Ta weather window on Sunday, October 4. We even sailed downwind — going north! ­­­— around Point Conception in lumpy leftover seas and heavy rain. When the low passed, the wind died and the sun came out. We fired up the engine and hightailed it north. We made it from Santa Barbara to Sausalito in 44 hours — an average speed of over six knots.

By the way, fellow Ta-Ta'ers Kurt and Katie Braun on the Deerfoot 74 Interlude chose the same window that we did. They caught up with us and passed us late the first night.

To answer Wendy's question, we relied on two weather sources in Santa Barbara and underway. First were NOAA's zone forecasts, which gave us a general idea of what to expect. But it was the GRIB files — using the new NAVGEM model, and downloaded with the WeatherTrack app on iPad — that amazed us. Heading north, we repeatedly checked actual conditions against the GRIBs we had downloaded days before, and they were spot-on. We will definitely use these GRIBs on our next passage.

For what it's worth, is essentially a web-based GRIB viewer. It's a great site for quick glances, but the WeatherTrack app is much more powerful — it allows you to choose from multiple models (including NAVGEM, which we found to be much more accurate than GFS), is optimized for low-bandwidth connections, and offers route-planning tools.

John and Michelle Zeratsky
Aegea, Sabre 38

John and Michelle — Thanks for the information. The WeatherTrack GRIB app is available for Apple and Android for $9.99. It gets good reviews.

Congratulations on another successful Baja Ha-Ha. Way to go! As for ourselves, we're just back home on San Juan Island from Sweden, after sailing Mahina Tiare III there from Victoria, BC, having started in March of this year. We'll return to her next April to head to the North Pole. Well, at least to the edge of the Arctic ice pack.

As our Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare III will be 19 years old in January — just a few months younger than Latitude's catamaran Profligate — we decided to have a little work done on her over the winter in Sweden. For example, we'll be replacing her 95-hp Volvo diesel with a new 75-hp Volvo. There is actually nothing wrong with our old engine other than having 14,300 hours on her, but Volvo was having a trade-in special and the cost of a new engine in Sweden was incredibly reasonable. Something like $11,800 US. Our new engine is about 200 lbs lighter and runs cleaner. Although having less horsepower, the 75-hp should have all the power we need.

We're also having the teak decks replaced. The deal with the decks is that there has been a lot of saltwater running down them over the past 191,000 miles, and the saltwater has worn about half the thickness of the teak away. I've twice pulled the caulking out, sanded the decks, and recaulked, but that's really hard on the knees and is very time-consuming.

The new decks will be vacuum-bagged — no screws — and we will coat them with SEMCO teak sealer. Friends just sent us pictures of a nine-year-old HR 43 that has completed a circumnavigation, and, thanks to SEMCO, the decks look like new.

It would have been cheaper to eliminate the teak at this stage and go with nonskid paint — as Nigel Calder did on his Malo 45. But at least the teak on the aft deck makes a perfect spot for yoga. By the way, we originally tried to get Hallberg-Rassy to build our boat without teak decks, but they refused.

Overall, we're a little surprised how few things we are changing or replacing this time around. Our electronics, except for the radar/plotter and AIS, are all original. We replace the sails every four years or 40,000 miles. We change the standing rigging every 10 years, so that's coming up next year. We've now been going for three years and 30,000 miles without repainting the bottom, thanks to Micron 66.

By the way, have you seen on sailing adventures in the high latitudes? It features Bob Shipton, an 80+ year-old ex-Royal Marine and minister who is a climber/sailor whom we first met in Tahiti 20 years ago.

John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal
Mahina Tiare III, Hallberg-Rassy 46
(even though it's 48 feet)
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA

Readers — John and Amanda are members of Latitude's informal Sailing Hall of Fame for their decades of incredible offshore sail training programs. Like them, we fail to understand the attraction of teak decks. We have them on our canal boat, and often found them to be too hot and requiring an abnormal amount of maintenance.

The November issue cover is great! Right up there with July's cover photo of the young crewmembers on the schooner Juno.

But oh man, I'm dying to know more about the circumstances of the cover shot, as your caption left a lot to the imagination. Who is the guy on the cover. What boat is he on? Where was it? When did it happen? Curious sailors need to know.

John Zeratsky
Aegea, Sabre 38

John — We left that basic information out because there wasn't enough room for it in a caption, and because we were confident someone such as yourself would be curious enough to ask. Here's the long version:

Somewhat by accident, in 1985 we bought the Ocean 71 ketch
Big O in the then-rather-unknown little French Caribbean island of St. Barth. We fell in love with the place and the people, and as a result kept the boat at or around the island for most of the next 12 years. In the late 1980s and 1990s, we always made sure we were at St. Barth for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, because many of the greatest yachts in the world would show up for the increasingly-popular around-the-island race on New Year's Eve. Because these yachts were typically on charter, they usually didn't have enough crew to race, so they would look for crew on the docks. As a result, over the years we got to crew on the likes of the 135-ft J Class yacht Endeavour, the 92-ft R/P Leopard of London, the 155-ft Vitters Timoneer, and others.

Some of our Ha-Ha friends got wind of all this and wanted to be a part of the fun. One of them was Bill Lily of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 47 Moontide. Because we'd sold
Big O by the late 1990s, instead of staying on a boat, we stayed in these funky little places over the water at Auberge de la Petite Anse. The Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca were staying in one unit, while Bill, a past girlfriend, and two potential girlfriends — don't ask — were staying in another, and some other friends were staying in others.

The adventure that year started interestingly enough, as de Mallorca found out that Jimmy Buffett was in residence and was going to be playing for fun at La Plage, an upscale beach restaurant on St. Jean Beach, for his December 26 birthday. So the whole bunch of us made our way to La Plage. It was raining torrentially that night, so there were only about 50 people there.

Anyway, Jimmy was having a good time playing sloppy rock 'n roll with Papagayo, another St. Barth character, when Jimmy called Catherine Zeta-Jones out of the audience to sing with him. We've never been much of a Zeta-Jones fan, but our mind was changed when she walked to the stage in what we remember as a skin-tight shimmering gown. She looked so womanly! After she and Jimmy laughed and sang a bit, Zeta-Jones went back to her seat next to her husband, actor Michael Douglas.

A few songs later, Jimmy called up Jon Bon Jovi. Bill's ex-girlfriend, who hadn't been having the greatest vacation, possibly having to do with the awkwardness of her ex having brought two other women along, perked right up when her rock 'n' roll hero took the stage. Jon, Jimmy and Papagayo played a few more happy songs, after which Jon wandered off to the back of La Plage, where he struck up a conversation with Bill's ex. The two of them had a relaxed conversation for about 10 minutes. At the end, Bon Jovi, who had been as much of a regular guy as possible, looked at Bill's ex and with sincerity said something to the effect of, "You're a very beautiful woman." A moment later she turned to the Wanderer and said, "I can die now." Rock 'n' roll singers have that effect on some women.

So that was the social context of the situation. Anyway, on the eve of the New Year's Eve race, Tom Reardon, who had been running the Herreshoff 72 Ticonderoga, one of the five greatest American yachts ever, told the Wanderer he'd got him a berth on Altair. "She's a 135-ft Fife topsail schooner built in 1931," said Tom, "and Yachting World magazine declared her one of the top 10 yachts ever built." When we asked if Bill could come along, Tom shrugged and said, "See what the captain says."

When we showed up for pickup at the dinghy dock on race morning, it was the usual chaos, and Bill, looking sort of like he'd been on a boat before, was readily admitted to the crew. Once aboard Altair, Stephon, the captain, quickly assigned positions. The Wanderer was directed to the starboard headsail winch and lost track of Bill, who was on the other side of the house.

Our position was difficult, as the starboard rail was regularly getting put under in the stiff winds and tradewind swells. Trimming the sail, keeping our camera dry, and staying aboard the lifeline-less yacht was a bundle of work. Plus, there weren't enough winches, so when we tacked, we had to tie a rolling hitch onto the sheet so our female counterpart on the port side could use the winch. Given the yacht had cost about $5 million and had gotten a refit a year before to about the same tune, the lack of another winch was a surprise.

Anyway, we survived the upwind part of the race. After cracking off following rounding the Grenadiers, things relaxed a bit. Someone else stood in our position so we could roam the boat and take photos. That's when we came across Lily, lying on the teak deck, his left arm casually on the rail, his right hand holding some headsail sheet on the winch, looking as if he owned the boat. The moment we took the shot we knew it would someday become a cover.

There is more to the story. After rounding Île Fourche, the leeward mark, Altair was back on the wind, which put us down on the leeward rail for the four-mile upwind beat to the finish. It was noisy, but from time to time we could hear snippets of Lily's distinctive voice in conversation with Stephon and others in the afterguard. "How is this happening?" we wondered.

We finally got some relief from our position at the winch to get a few more photos. As we turned aft, we could not believe our eyes. For there, all alone at the helm of one of the 10 greatest yachts in history, wearing a crazy Gabby Hayes-style hat was pickup crew Bill Lily. WTF!? It looked like something out of the 1930s. We got a great photo of that, too.

The moral of the story? Show up and don't be shy, because you never know what might happen.

We've been doing the Ha-Ha every other year since 2009, and this year was the best so far. Yes, Mothers Ocean and Nature provided great conditions, but what really made it fun were the terrific people in the fleet. The other thing was the familiar relaxed nature of the Grand Poobah, who enjoys nothing more than helping others discover the joys of cruising. For example, even though I don't particularly like children, it was nice to hear the young voices that he encouraged to make position reports on the daily nets.

However, for me the most exciting story of the Ha-Ha was getting the news, while standing on the bluffs at beautiful Bahia Santa Maria, that I'd been laid off my high-tech job of 19 years. BSM was an excellent place to receive such news because where I was and what I was doing at the time are what really matters in my life. Plus, it means that we can do the Ha-Ha again next year!

Paul Martson
Vanishing Girl, Beneteau First 40

Readers — We're glad you liked the latest edition of the Ha-Ha. The Poobah loves kids, so no matter if we got them to talk on the radio, helped them get a big hit at the cruiser baseball game, had them treasure-hunt on the floating island, or allowed them to express their anti-authoritarian tendencies by letting them hit the Poobah with a biodegradable water balloon, we thought they were great.

The Baja Ha-Ha is our all-time favorite event — which is why we've done eight of them so far and are planning on the ninth. We don't know where the rumors of it being a 'drunk frat party' ever came from, although we have an idea. But as anyone who has actually ever done a Ha-Ha can tell you, no other event gives you the opportunity to meet so many great people who become lifetime friends. Even today we frequently visit with friends we made during the 2000 Ha-Ha!

On a slightly different subject, we've had excellent luck with the Latitude 38 Crew List. We have selected people from the list for sailing with us on San Francisco Bay and for the 2011 and 2013 Baja Ha-Ha's. The crew that we've gotten have been honest, fun-loving and eager to learn. For Marina and me, these personal qualities are more important than sailing experience, because novice sailors can learn quickly, and the 750 miles to Cabo gives them plenty of ocean miles during which to hone their new skills.

Our only suggestion would be a voluntary list of email addresses. There were lots of people we wanted to talk with again, but didn't always have boat cards to exchange with us.

Myron and Marina Eisenzimmer
Mykonos, Swan 44
San Anselmo

Those who hadn't done a Baja Ha-Ha told us not to do it. Those who had done one told us we should do it. With some trepidation, we signed up at the last minute — and we're so glad that we did. I loved the daily check-ins while underway, as they made us know that we weren't alone. And not only did we meet the greatest bunch of people, we knew that if anything were to go wrong, there would be friends there to help.

Being part of the Ha-Ha made us stretch our sailing abilities and improve our confidence. Now that we are safely ensconced in La Paz, I look back on the experience and am so grateful for all the hard work that the organizers put into ensuring that the event was fun and safe.

By the way, we highly recommend that all future Ha-Ha entries have a SSB radio. Those with only VHF radios miss out on the morning nets when at sea, and those nets are really fun.

Jeff and DeAnne Warner
Stryder, Cascade 36
Newport, OR

Jeff and DeAnne — We're glad you decided to listen to the people who had actually done a Ha-Ha rather than those that hadn't. Firsthand reports tend to be more reliable.

We were reluctant to do the Ha-Ha because we were concerned that we might end up being in a group of Ugly Americans who don't appreciate our Mexican hosts. But LaDonna Bubak, a former editor at Latitude, convinced us that this wouldn't be the case. She was right, and the Ha-Ha was terrific. The other crews were fun, the parties were great, and there was some terrific sailing on every leg. Everyone was helpful to one another and complimentary about the great efforts the Mexicans made to accommodate us.

The only thing we'd suggest is that those folks who don't like loud and obnoxious music, jet skis, and charmless locations bypass Cabo San Lucas and stop at Puerto Los Cabos Marina in San Jose del Cabo instead. That's what we and several other boats did, and we found wonderful cafés, great happy hours, nice beaches, friendly people, and the charming town of San Jose del Cabo. And it was easy to bus to Cabo San Lucas for the last two Ha-Ha events.

Jim Brainard and Deb Ehler
Brainwaves, J/35c
San Francisco

Jim and Deb — We're glad you liked the Puerto Los Cabos option. So we'll have to do a better job of getting the word out next year. By the way, harbormaster Enrique Fernandez Castillo is a very good friend of the Ha-Ha from way back. In fact, he was the one who instituted the awards party with free beer in the parking lot of the Marina Cabo San Lucas, as he was running the place at the time.

If anyone is wavering about whether to sign up for a future Baja Ha-Ha, take it from the three circumnavigators who were on our cat — just do it! My wife Kent and I have done four Ha-Ha's, and can tell you they've been a great way to meet like-minded sailors, sailors that you'll more than likely see over and over again in Mexico and, if you continue on, in the South Pacific and around the world, too. I'm not sure how many Ha-Ha's our crew Greg King has done, but he just finished a nine-year circumnavigation and he had a great Ha-Ha, too.

It may be hard to believe after we've sailed around the world, but not only do we meet new friends during each Ha-Ha, we also learn more about sailing.

Jim Milski
Sea Level, Schionning 49 Cat
Lake City, CO

Readers — For the second year in a row, we on Profligate and Jim and crew on Sea Level had a fabulous time sailing in close proximity in the mid- to high teens. We patted each other on the back when it was over for having the sense to drop the big chutes before breaking stuff. With age there might even come a little wisdom.

Speaking as a boatowner, one of the really fun things about the Ha-Ha is seeing how your boat stacks up against different boats in different conditions. For example, during the third leg we on
Profligate simply could not shake Patsy 'La Reina de La Mer's Gulfstar 50 Talion. In winds under 10 knots, she made out like a piratess against our big cat, sailing a shorter rhumbline course while we sailed hotter angles hoping in vain for a better VMG. It was only after the wind picked up that we were able to sail away.

Another great moment was a couple of hours into the third leg when we were able to spinnaker-reach through much of the fleet. We saw boat after boat sailing well beyond what we thought they were capable of doing. Bob Staniec, for example, with his brother Jim and daughter Erin, had his Cal 46 Aerie on a spinnaker reach. What a beautiful sight!

Here's a little follow-up to thank the fellow participants who assisted my crew Nguyen (pronounced 'Wen'), myself, and my little Mirror 19 sloop Bluebird.

I was so unprepared for being presented with the Philo Hayward Memorial Award, which I was honored to receive for helping others in the Ha-Ha, that I didn't take the opportunity in front of the awards ceremony crowd to thank all the Baja Ha-Ha folks who helped us!

First, I want to thank our 'greeters' and co-captain Ralph and his wife Patti, of the Ha-Ha powerboat entry Western Flyer. Following Nguyen's and my arrivals in both Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria, Ralph met us in the early morning with much-appreciated coffee and breakfast. In BSM he got on the radio to find Marky on the Davidson 55 Pipe Dream, who let me use his Honda generator to bring my batteries back from 7 volts to a usable level. Bluebird's instruments had quit just as we were traversing the cliffs at the entrance in the dark, although the autopilot was still working. After that, Nguyen and I relied upon the solar panel for our power. But it didn't provide very much power, so we no longer had use of the reefer or autopilot.

Of course, I couldn't have used the Honda generator without Glen and Debbie of Beach Access loaning us the 12-volt cord needed to connect the Honda to our batteries. Glen and Debbie also provided us with five gallons of fuel for the last leg to Cabo. Thank you, thank you, thank you, even though it turned out we didn't need it.

Patience Warnick, who like me is from Santa Cruz, and was aboard the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 52.2 Scout, graciously provided us with six gallons of fresh watermaker water to top off our tanks for the last leg. Thank you so much — and I'll see you back in Santa Cruz.

I'd also like to give a special thanks to the crewmember on the Hunter 380 Amador who found and returned my wallet. I'd left it on a table after one too many margaritas at the beach party in Cabo.

And last, but certainly not least, I want to thank our good friends Brian and Patti Martin, and their crew Nancy, on our 'buddy boat' Kailani, the Hunter 410 from San Diego. Their Iridium satphone allowed us to check in with our families during the ports of call. Our boats are docked in adjacent piers in Santa Cruz Harbor — A28 for Bluebird and B28 for Kailani. Brian and I are both graduates of the 'O'Neill University', having each worked for Jack O'Neill in many and various projects over many years. In addition, my wife Anne and Brian's wife Patti worked side by side for decades as nurses in labor and delivery at Dominica Hospital in Santa Cruz.

I want to also thank the Ha-Ha fleet in general for the immense support they offered at each stop. Thank you one and all.

Tom Carr
Bluebird, Mirror 19
Santa Cruz

Tom — We're reminded of the lyrics of a song popularized by Barbara Streisand years ago. "People who need people," it went, "are the luckiest people in the world." As counterintuitive as it might seem, there is a lot of truth to it.

I enjoyed the November 9 'Lectronic reporting that Bill Lee has repurchased his legendary 67-ft sled Merlin and about the Wanderer's helping him drop sails after finishing the first-ever Singlehanded Farallones Race. Here's my Merlin Memory:

Back in 1978 I thought I would see why my dad and grandfather were so crazy about sailing. At that age all I had on my mind were powerboats and waterskiing. So I went down to the docks in Santa Cruz late one Wednesday afternoon, stood on the fuel dock, and stuck my thumb out. A huge boat that was headed out — and moving quickly under sail — radically changed course, swung her bow to the dock, and turned just in time to avoid contact. "Jump!" shouted the guy at the helm. I jumped, landing in the cockpit.

The guy at the helm turned out to be Bill Lee. He asked me what I knew about sailing.

"Nothing," I replied.

"See that rope?" he said. "That's the jib sheet. The thing it's wrapped around is a winch. The jib sheet controls the sail up front. Do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it."

I stood there and did what Bill told me to do. He never stopped talking to me. He told me about the function of various parts of the boat. Why the sails were let in and out. How to read the sail for optimum performance. What a spinnaker was and why a boat needed one. He told me why he steered this way and that, and what the effects were on the boat and boat speed. He told me about how the wind would change as the sun went down. He told me more than what I thought my brain could absorb. But somehow it did. I have been sailing ever since.

Thank you Bill Lee. You made a huge difference for me and my family.

Frank Dietsch
Shelly Shelby Shannon, Capri 16
Bend, OR

Frank — One of Bill's greatest contributions to sailing was to make it as inclusive as possible. He wanted everybody to join in on the fun.

Bill Lee's 67-ft ultralight sled Merlin, which he just bought and brought back to Santa Cruz after many years, has always been a 'people's boat' and Bill always had a 'the more aboard the merrier' attitude.

For example, when there was a Wednesday night beer can race out of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, it was not uncommon for there to be 35 to 40 people aboard Merlin. If Bill hadn't cast off promptly at 5:30 p.m., more people would have climbed aboard.

Bill would sip brandy in the main cabin and watch the passing action through the large cabin windows. From the aft cabin, which had a bunk as wide as the boat, people drifted in and out, experiencing the contact high as purple smoke wafted out the transom ports.

One of the favorite activities for guests during the sails was to climb into the narrow bow of Merlin and position their backs on one side of the hull and their knees on the other. The bow would flex and pant, gently compressing the person into a fetal hug known as the 'cosmic squeeze'.

The Coast Guard didn't know what to make of Bill and Merlin's shenanigans, and would count the number of crew that left Merlin after every Wednesday night race. Bill Lee knew what was coming, which was to be asked for proof that he had enough PFDs. Just as certainly, Bill would pull out five or six large sailbags from the forepeak, and empty dozens of lifejackets from them onto the dock to be counted.

Before the 1977 Transpac, in which Merlin would crush the course record and change the Transpac forever, race safety inspector Hayes McClellan wanted all the requirements meticulously adhered to by the rogue new boat from Santa Cruz. As Hayes went down his list, he stopped at the motoring requirement.
"OK, I want to see this boat motor at eight knots," he boomed in his deep, authoritative voice.

Dave Wahle, Merlin's bosun and a professional garbage man, cast off the docklines and, with Hayes aboard, roared down Santa Cruz Harbor at eight knots. Backward. The harbor's winter sandbar blocked the entrance, so when Merlin reached the end of the harbor, Wahle spun the wheel. Merlin turned on a dime, nearly throwing Hayes overboard. Then Wahle triumphantly motored, with the whole harbor watching, back to Merlin's slip, again at eight knots, and again in reverse. Hayes quickly checked off the rest of the safety items and bemusedly fled what he seemed to think was craziness.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, it seemed that everyone in Santa Cruz had sailed on Merlin at one time or another. That might have been true, as in one local election. Bill, without campaigning, got more votes as Port Commissioner — a position he still serves — than the newly elected mayor.

Skip Allan
ex-Wildflower, Wylie 29

A friend and I were having a beer in the cockpit of my boat Toloa in November 1978 at Turtle Bay and were talking about the then-new 67-ft sled Merlin and other fast boats — when, as if by magic, Merlin sailed into the bay. As they sailed past, a guy on the foredeck yelled "No engine!" They then dropped a really small Danforth anchor, and once it held, dropped the main. After sails were stowed and secured, we dinghied over. A Seattle group had chartered Merlin for a Mexico race and these guys were the delivery crew taking her home.

The problem with the engine was a broken fan belt and their not having a spare. I returned to Toloa and picked up my collection of spare belts. We found one that did the job, but Merlin's batteries were flat and the engine wouldn't start. So we tied Merlin up to Toloa, found two sets of jumper cables, and started Merlin's diesel from Toloa's batteries.

Merlin's captain was anxious to get moving, but he had time to give us a tour. He said that they had more liquor, wine and beer than they would be allowed to import into the United States, and would we like it? Is the Pope Catholic? Wow. We had enough to share and a great party as Merlin motored out of the harbor toward San Diego.

Jim Plowman
ex-Toloa, 30-ft ketch, ex-Highroler, IOR 2-Ton
Woy Woy, New South Wales, Australia

That great photo in the November 9 'Lectronic of Bill Lee rounding the Farallones in the first Singlehanded Farallones Race really brings back memories of just how windy it was that day. In your brief review, you forgot to mention that the 90-ft tug that was the mothership for the event was forced to return to port after someone was thrown against a bulkhead and broke some ribs. Out of the 64 boats that started, three of which were specifically set up to race singlehanded, only 14 finished.

I have two 'greatest' memories of Merlin. The first was at the starting area of the Singlehanded Farallones, and is of how huge Merlin looked, what deep reefs Bill had put in her despite there being less than five knots of wind, and that he hung back from starting until almost everyone else had gone off. My second greatest memory of Merlin was realizing that she was the only boat that had finished ahead of me and my 30-ft Piver Nimble trimaran Harmony, as we glided across the finish line two hours behind her. I have never seen Merlin since.

I was so keen on that first Singlehanded Farallones that I had sailed to Aquatic Park two days before and spent an hour or so practicing starts. That paid off, as I was the first or second boat to cross the line, and about the third or fourth boat to go under the Gate — where the wind jumped from about six knots to more than 20 knots in about three boat-lengths. It happened so quickly that it blew the head off my relatively new genoa before I could get it down. It was at that very early point in the race that lots of skippers had drama trying to go from light-air to heavy-air sail configurations.

Prior to the race, we'd been preparing Harmony for our South Pacific cruise. As a result, she was in top shape with all excess weight removed. After years of racing in Moreton Bay, Australia, I subsequently learned that multihulls can actually be too light for upwind sailing in rough weather. The problem is that the multihull starts bouncing so much that she loses speed and suffers from too much leeway. That was definitely the case for me in the Singlehanded Farrallones, as I couldn't point with the monohulls. In fact, Harmony didn't have sufficient inertia to tack in the strong winds and heavy seas, so after three tries I paid off and jibed (wore around instead of tacking).

The Farallones were really ugly and frightening when I rounded, with large surf breaking on the rocks. I think everyone gave them a really wide berth, as you could hear the surf pounding from a quarter mile to windward. Everyone knew it would probably be fatal if you got in trouble to weather of the rocks.

I was probably about the 10th to 15th boat to round the islands, but once around rapidly passed everyone but Merlin on the leg to the Gate — although I didn't know that at the time. Despite flying a reefed main and small working jib, Harmony was still well overpowered. But there was nothing I could do about it as I couldn't leave the helm. I had let the sails out so they were feathering some of the time, but the course was almost a run. Harmony pegged her speedo at 18 knots a couple of times surfing down waves. It was definitely more frightening than thrilling, but there were no other alternatives.

We still have Harmony in our backyard here in Brisbane, Australia, but she is slowly deteriorating as we haven't used her in 10 years. We purchased the 44-ft trimaran Tevake in Hawaii in 2012 and now use her regularly out of Brisbane.

Paul Slivka
Tevake, 44-ft trimaran
Brisbane, Australia

Paul — Thanks for the first-person account of that historic race. The following are the few, the brave, who also completed the first ever Singlehanded Farallones Race, in order of finishing: Merlin, Bill Lee; Harmony, Paul Slivka; Duce II, David Wahle; Elysium, Roger Hall; Wildflower, Skip Allan; Eos, Norton Smith; Blithe Spirit, Dick Mitchell; Ankle Biter, Cliff Stagg; Vicarious, David Jesberg; Pyrrhic Victory, Don Carlson; Champagne, Hall Palmer; Courageous, John Robinson; Jubilation, Don Durant; Killer Whale, Mike Matheasen; and Mambo, Paul Kamen.

By the way, we'll have more 'Memories of Merlin' in the January issue of

As things start heating up for the Pacific Puddle Jump, I uncovered a nasty present given to us by the IRS. Most international cruisers don't bother to have Obamacare/ACA health coverage as it provides minimal — or no — coverage outside the United States. But there's a rule that says if you're outside the country for 330 days or more, then you don't have to pay the penalty for not having ACA coverage. For 2016, that's at least $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18. (See as your penalty may be higher).

But there's a nasty gotcha in how they determine if you've been out of the country for 330 days. They count all the time that you're between countries as though you were in the United States. (See Change of Location, Example 2, about two-thirds down the page.) If you're a US citizen at sea for 35 days or more per year, then you've got to pay the penalty or have a useless ACA policy.

How they're actually going to enforce this is beyond me. How do they know whether you're at sea? One thought is to use passport entry and exit stamps marking when you're in or out of a foreign country. You take your passport to an IRS audit and they just subtract the time between your entry and exit stamps for each country. If that's more than 330 days you pass.

But a bit more thought shows that this won't work. When you enter Canada by boat, you generally don't get stamped on entry or exit. Can't you claim your time in Canada as being in a foreign country? Then what if you just skip out of Mexico without getting an exit stamp? Or, if you lose your passport? Or, if you happen to have multiple citizenships and put some stamps on one passport and some on another?

Enforcement of this is going to be a huge mess — unless you're guilty until proven innocent, and it's up to you to prove that you were actually in a foreign country.

Mark Novak
Betty Jane, Hans Christian 43 Ketch
Santa Cruz

I was wondering if you could tell me how much kelp you had when sailing down the Pacific Coast of Baja in this year's Baja Ha-Ha?

Shaun Mitchell

Shaun — We've been doing the same Baja route at the same time of year for more than two decades, and traditionally we have observed heavy to extremely heavy kelp around Cedros, Isla Natividad, and as far south as Turtle Bay. We've never seen any kelp as far south as Bahia Santa Maria, presumably because the water is too warm.

When we passed through the Turtle Bay/Cedros area coming north in August this year, we noticed that there was very little kelp compared to in previous years. And when we passed the area in late October heading south, once again there was an unusually small amount of kelp.

For what it's worth, in previous years we used to spend a lot of time on the hook atop Harbor Reef off Two Harbors, Catalina. The kelp forest was always very thick on the reef. But when we stopped there in early September this year, there was very little kelp.

The accompanying photo was taken at a yacht club in one of the seven Bay Area counties on November 8, 2015. It shows the US flag not fully raised. It had been like this for a month or more, so it was mentioned to one of the members and one of the staff — yet it still didn't result in a correction.

It seems to me that if you're motivated to fly the flag — and you're not engaged in a protest — you ought to fly it correctly. Perhaps Latitude 38 will help. If Latitude publishes this and it's not corrected within a week of the publication, I'll identify the club.

Ted Keech
Fayaway, Sigma 41
San Francisco

Ted — We suppose that this would be a good opportunity to review flag etiquette. Let's start with the little-known fact that because the United States flag is the symbol of a living country, the flag itself is considered to be a living thing. Thus it needs to be displayed and cared for properly as per United States Flag Code.

For example, you raise the flag briskly, but lower it ceremoniously. You never allow the flag to touch the ground or floor. You do not fly the flag in bad weather unless it is an all-weather flag. The flag can be flown at night only if properly illuminated, otherwise it's sunrise to sunset only. The flag should always be allowed to fall free, and should never be used to carry, store or deliver anything.

When a group of flags is being displayed, the US flag should be at the center and at the highest point. The only exception is when the flag of another nation is being flown — national flags should be of the same size and fly at the same height.

The flag should never be used as bedding, drapery or clothing. This is why when we see women wearing American flag bikinis, we have to ask them to take them off.

Flop-stoppers are a good way to reduce rolling while at anchor in a harbor, but I've used another technique to good effect. I tie a line from a stern cleat to a point on the anchor rode 20 feet off the bow, using a rolling hitch to swing the bow around into the swell.

Perhaps it is better described in Practical Boat Owner, a British website:

"A final technique worth considering is to use a bridle, formed by taking a line forward from the aft quarter of your boat to the anchor rode, and made fast with a shackle or rolling hitch about a boatlength forward from the bow. This can be used to bring the bow into the swell — but it will put significant extra load on the anchor, so it should only be used in settled conditions."

Bruce Adornato
m/v Mary Shaw
South Beach, San Francisco

Bruce — Never heard of that one. Sounds interesting.

For the benefit of my children, I'm writing a travelog of my eight+ years on the Cal 39 Ariadne and the Stamas 44 Ariadne II from Alameda to Mexico to Maine to Trinidad. As such, I need help in identifying a 'Mabel', who accompanied me from San Diego to Cabo in 1995. We were not, however, part of the Baja Ha-Ha.

It might have been a year later, but Mabel and I exchanged nastygram letters in Latitude. She was a moderately well-known sailor from the Bay Area.

At one time it was possible to Google Latitude letters from before 2000, but no longer. So can you help me by either identifying 'Mabel', or by telling me how to access Letters earlier than those available on Google?

Roger Bohl
San Francisco/Sonoma

Roger — To our knowledge you could find pre-2000 Latitude letters on Google. And no, we don't know 'Mabel'.

It's none of our business, but do you really want to drag up "nastygrams" written more than 20 years ago for the "benefit" of your kids? It seems to us that it might be better to accentuate the more positive aspects of your life and the cruise.

I'd like to put out a formal 'thank you' to David and Jeanie of the Lake Oswego, Oregon-based Windrover for help beyond the call of duty. I left Channel Islands Harbor on the morning of October 18, and about five miles out the water pump on my Perkins 4-108 diesel froze up. The engine overheated, so I shut it down.

What to do? Let's see, my Double Angel is a sailboat, so I set sail in a 15-knot northwest breeze. I sailed all night, but about 10 miles south of the island the wind gave out. I saw a sailboat about four miles away and called them on the VHF. Another boat answered my call, but when I explained the problem of not having an engine, the crew refused to help. Fortunately, David and Jeanie on Windrover also answered my call. They said they saw me on their radar four miles away and would turn back to help.

When they arrived, David said he thought he had a replacement pump, but it was actually a sea water pump and wouldn't help. He then got out a 200-ft nylon towline and started towing me toward San Diego. "We're going that way anyway, so it won't take too much longer to tow you," David said.

As shown on my OpenCPN chartplotter, we were 50 miles from San Diego at the time. David called back and announced that our ETA would be 1 a.m. I hated the idea of having to call for help, but I had a problem and there was another cruiser there to help. I guess we all pay it forward at one time or another, and I remember having once backtracked 20 miles to tow a yacht club friend's powerboat to a marina at Anacortes.

We arrived at the A-9 anchorage in San Diego at 2 a.m., and David and Jeanie made sure my anchor was properly set before saying goodbye and good night. What a relief it was to be safe at anchor thanks to the incredible help from two members of the boating community. Thank you David and Jeanie!

I'll be updating my boat equipment here in San Diego until next March, at which point I'll set sail for the Marquesas as part of the Pacific Puddle Jump.

Captain Jim McCarthy
s/v Double Angel

I recently read the article in Latitude 38 about the Java Head being taken to Maine for restoration. What a wonderful boat!

I started sailing in the first Richmond YC junior program, and then started sailing on Java Head. We sailed, raced a lot — she did very well — and did some cruising in the Delta. At that time she was owned by Elmer Peterson, who probably owned her for 30 years. I probably sailed on her for 10 years during the 1950s and early 1960s.

One of my earliest sailing treasures is a T-shirt that fits a 12-year-old and says "Java Head First Mate." At that time there were four families that sailed Java Head in the races, including my parents, so it was a great family experience. Those four families are still friends to this day.

Goodbye Java Head, Thank you for the wonderful experiences!

Bill Claussen
Cuckoo, Bird Boat
Point Richmond

The question about what size outboard one needs to get a dinghy to plane is a great one, and can't easily be answered. But here are some thoughts:

1) Small inflatables — less than about 9 feet — can plane easily because they have so little wetted surface and because the bow rise is extreme. Once on a plane, they are not very stable directionally, and want to 'fall off' a plane as soon as you turn the boat or slow down a little.

2) Inflatables in the 9'6"-to-10'6" range will plane with a healthy 8-hp engine — presuming they are lightly loaded with two normal-sized people. Again, longer boats will generally plane more easily. A 10-hp outboard is better. And for boats in the 10'3"-to-10'6" range, 15-hp can be used if the driver is careful.

3) What might be surprising is that a light 11-ft boat, like an old Zodiac sportboat with a high-pressure floor, can plane with 5-hp with a single rider, or two to three people with an 8-hp. Why? Because it is more efficient. It creates less resistance and has far less bow rise than the smaller boats.

My experience — over 30 years working in the industry, cruising, and testing boats — is that small increments in inflatable boat length have a ton of impact on your enjoyment of the dinghy. I would much prefer to get a light 11-ft dinghy that was occasionally a hassle than to try to shoehorn into a compact dinghy that was easier to stow.

Chuck Hawley
Santa Cruz

Readers — Chuck is a marine industry 'know it all' — and we mean that in greatest respect.

One thing to keep in mind is that planing is not the only important consideration for a good dinghy. In Mexico, where the water is often like a mirror, planing might be a top consideration. But in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, where there is more wind and chop, we think seaworthiness is a more important quality. A short, flat-bottom screamer ideal for Mexico will often not plane in the Caribbean or the South Pacific because it would be a submarine.

I've got an easy answer for Jonathan and Rebecca Mote who are looking for the right size outboard to get their 8-ft inflatable to plane. Get the lightest outboard with the most horsepower that the dinghy is designed to handle. Bottom line, I think their dinghy is too short. It may be rated for only up to 8-hp.

I had a 9.5-ft Achilles air-floor with a two-stroke 8-hp Tohatsu. It would sometimes plane with two people. I should have gotten the next longer dinghy though, as the 8-hp was the maximum horsepower my dinghy was rated for. That confused my thinking at the time of purchase.

This is also important: Get an outboard lift of some kind, as manhandling an outboard all the time has predictable outcomes — injured toe, injured head, deep-sixed outboard, damaged dinghy, etc.

Matt Johnson
Las Vegas, NV

We, Anita, 120 pounds, and Jay, 190 pounds, manage to get our aluminum hard-bottom 8'6" AB inflatable dinghy to plane using our 8-hp, two-stroke Yamaha.

I think there are a number of factors at play when selecting an inflatable/outboard combo:

1) The weight of the passengers and cargo.

2) The size and weight of the dinghy.

3) The weight to hp ratio of the outboard.

The 8'6" AB we have is rated for a 5-hp outboard. We had a 4-hp that would plane with one of us aboard, but not both of us. As the Ha-Ha guide stressed the advantages of a having a planing dinghy, we moved up to an 8-hp outboard. But we are very careful with handling the 60-lb, two-stroke outboard we now have, for at full tilt the inflatable takes off like a scared rabbit.

While I'm on the soapbox, I'd like to make a plug for everyone wearing a lanyard from their body to the outboard kill switch. Wearing such a lanyard saved our lives once when we dumped at Caleta Partida in the Sea of Cortez. I have met other folks who have been run over by dinghies, and they are lucky to be alive.

We're back in the northwest, but I still read Latitude and remember the good times we had down south. We're happy to be in our home waters, but are so thankful to the magazine for feeding our dreams 10 years ago. Keep it up!

Jay and Anita Bigland
Karina C, Spencer 35
Nanaimo, BC

Jay and Anita — People see folks having so much fun in planing dinghies that it's sometimes easy to forget how incredibly dangerous they can be. If used improperly or if the safety lanyard isn't used, they can easily maim and kill.

As you know from your experience, inflatables are rated for certain horsepower engines for a good reason — overpower them and they can become lethal. Years ago in the Caribbean we bought a used Radial 15-ft inflatable with a nearly-brand-new Yamaha 40 outboard. If you didn't engage the throttle very slowly, that thing would flip us right on our back. It was so dangerous that we were almost glad when it got stolen at Palm Island.

The other spooky thing we've seen is well-intended parents letting their young kids take other very young kids for a spin in their high-powered inflatables. Unless they've been given lots of instruction, these kids simply have no idea how dangerous it is for them to gun the engine, which seems like a lot of fun — until the dinghy flips and somebody gets seriously hurt.

Respect the sea, but respect the body-mangling capability of the outboard prop, too.

With regard to seeing boats previously owned after many years, I started my family in 2000 while living aboard our Hudson Sea Wolf 44 Sea Whisper at Pelican Harbor in Sausalito. It was an amazing community of friends, nature, wildlife and healthy lifestyle. It was very sad, but necessary, to have to sell her in 2004.

A couple of years ago I saw an ad for her on Yachtworld. I knew she was Sea Whisper! She looked beautiful anchored in San Diego's quiet Glorietta Bay. In fact, I'd taken the photo when I sailed her down there. And hey, that was my comforter in the master and our candlesticks in the salon! The broker located in the south of England was using the photos I'd left when I sold her a decade before!

I immediately sent an email of interest, and asked if there might be a complete set of photos to see the boat. And I asked what condition she was in. The broker was kind. He said the boat was a "great value," that the owner was in the process of updating her, and he could show me the boat — by appointment. I responded, but never heard back.

I know she was the queen of the Sea Wolf fleet when I berthed at MPYC guest dock on my sail southward. George Hernandez, the original importer, had tears in his eyes when he told me she looked better than the day he had sold her new.

David Barten
s/v Ikani
San Diego

My wife and I were in Antigua with our San Francisco-based Liberty 458 Murmur for the 1996 Sailing Week mentioned in the September 30 'Lectronic. If I'm not mistaken, that was the year that the Wanderer continued on to Cuba with the Ocean 71 Big O.

I remember stopping by Big O and the Wanderer inviting me aboard for a beer. I mentioned that we'd come Down Island, having made stops in the Dominican Republic. The Wanderer asked about the advisability of having crew flying in there to meet Big O before continuing on to Cuba. I suggested flying to Puerto Plata from New York via American Airlines.

Those were great times, and I'm glad I was able to do that kind of cruising in my mid-50s. We eventually sold the Liberty to a young 50-year-old who renamed her Solstice. She's now in Madagascar on her way around the world.

Doug Murray
Murmur, Hunter 356
South Beach, San Francisco

Doug — We remember it all well. After finding out that our Panamanian 'almost girlfriend' Tania had lied and was actually seven years younger than the 24 she claimed to be, we decided to work on the relationship we'd just started back in California with one Doña de Mallorca. Indeed, we took your advice and flew to Puerto Plata with Doña and suitcases stuffed with clothes and medicine we would give away during our illegal (to the United States government) two-week cruise of the north coast of Cuba. Not that there wasn't some excitement on the way to Cuba, what with having to get rid of all the leftover fireworks from St. Barth and later having Big O searched at sea by six Coasties armed with automatic rifles.

Those were great times, but hey, while we're no longer quite as wild as we once were, we're still out there creating memories to recall — hopefully — when we're 100.



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