I believe the reports from Latitude 38, the West Coast sailing magazine more than sailnet. From their November Edition of letters to the editor, which can be found here:
PIRATES IN MEXICO?
I appreciated your recent editorial response to a letter regarding cruiser safety and Mexico. In that response you wrote, "As we reported last month, we can't recall a case of a violent attack on a cruising boat in Mexico in decades. When we asked our readers last month, they couldn't either. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, we stand ready to be corrected."
Well, I would like to remind the sailing community of Alameda sailor John Long, who was killed off of the coast of Southern Mexico in '08. And I would encourage the sailing community to read David Vann's moving piece, Last Voyage of the Culin, which is about the incident. It appeared in Outside magazine, which can be found at tinyurl.com/8m6ypmy.
Perry — We're very sad to hear about the death of John Long, and wish we'd been told about it earlier.
We'll gladly alert our readers to that incident, and to the article in Outside magazine. But frankly, we hardly know what to make of it, especially when Vann claims that Long "was killed" as opposed to simply having died. After all, Vann's tale not only is colorful, but also seems to be full of exaggerations, embellishments, admitted speculation, and what we find to be questionable conclusions. Speaking as an editor, it seems to us that Outside went hook, line and sinker for a sensationalized bit of writing, assuming few of their readers knew anything about sailing in Mexico.
Consider, for example, the following paragraph: "The truth may be elusive in other places, but here in Puerto Madero and La Cigüeña, I believe it never actually exists. Even as events occur, they immediately become something else. An outsider can never know anything for certain, and this is partly because we are mythological creatures, born of conquistadores and sitting on our mountain of gold in El Norte. We aren't believable ourselves, even our existence, so we're told stories, and every story is about one thing: money."
We're pretty open-minded as an editor, but we'd have suspended Vann's poetic license for at least six months for writing stuff like that. Furthermore, it doesn't sound anything like the coast of a country we've visited countless times with our own boats over a period of 30 years.
Mind you, there is no doubt that Vann knows something about Puerto Madero, for he writes about his misadventures with his own boat there 15 years ago:
"My sailboat was a 48-ft ketch, just like Long's, and in the late fall of 1997 I hired another captain to deliver her from San Francisco to Panama while I finished a semester of teaching at Stanford. My plan was to pick up the boat in Panama and continue to the British Virgin Islands, where I would run winter charters. This boat, Grendel, was my business and my home.
"But the captain I'd hired, an accomplished sailor in her thirties, took on some bad diesel in Acapulco, diesel with water in it, and limped into the town of Puerto Madero on a bit of wind. For some reason, she waited a week before calling me. Then the cook took off on another boat for la pura vida in Costa Rica, and took my $2,000 in emergency cash with him."
It would have been helpful had Vann identified his accomplished female skipper, as it would have allowed us to ask her why she supposedly waited a week to call him about the boat's problems, and generally get her version of the events that took place. Anyway, when Vann got down to his boat in Puerto Madero, things were grim. Really grim:
"My sailboat was large and broken, tied to the one crumbled chunk of concrete on the shoreline, visited by rats, snakes, begging children, prostitutes, the police, the navy, drunken fishermen, and the crooked port captain's men. At first I tried to have the engine fixed, but a mechanic with a disco shirt, gold chains, and a group of thugs at his shop held the high-pressure injection pump for ransom, demanding $900 instead of $100 for the repair. So I tried a new tack, spending $3,500 to buy a used engine and have it trucked down from California. This engine was stolen before it ever arrived, only to reappear mysteriously months later, a 500-lb hunk of metal dumped on the beach in the middle of the night."
Nothing but rats, snakes, begging children, prostitutes, the police, the navy, drunken fishermen, and the crooked port captain's men — do tell! We find this description to be just a wee bit dramatic, even for Puerto Madero, which admittedly was for a long time the most corrupt port on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It's now home to the new Chiapas Marina, which we're told is being run by the much-liked former harbormaster at Huatulco.
We also find it interesting that in the 35 years we've covered cruising on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, we can't remember anyone — but Vann — using the incendiary word "pirates" in Mexico. Pirates who Vann claims sometimes transport drugs nearly 2,000 miles up the Pacific Coast to California in pangas powered by 115-hp outboards. Boy, their asses must be sore when they get to the States.
The other thing that gives us pause with regard to the veracity of Vann's speculations was the 78-year-old Long's physical and mental condition at the time of his death. Long is said to have been in such poor physical shape that he could hardly climb the bleachers at baseball games. As for his mental abilities, Vann reported that Long twice left San Francisco and turned north, somehow thinking that Tomales Bay was on the way to Mexico.
Vann speculates that Long was the victim of an attack by 'pirates'. It's possible. But we're skeptical. Very skeptical.