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Latvian multihull in San Diego on global round trip

By Michael C. Burgess
Reporter

Art Burgelis was driving to breakfast at the end of July when he first noticed Kaupo, a 44-foot sailing catamaran flying a Latvian flag, moored off the western tip of San Diego's Shelter Island.

Although Bergelis, a longtime Point Loma resident, was born in Latvia 67 years ago, he's still fluent in the language and was able to hail Kaupo's crew in Latvian.

The head of Kaupo's white-bearded skipper, Valdis Grenebergs-Grinbergs, popped up from a hatch, surprised to hear his own language so far from his home town of Riga, Latvia.

Acting as San Diego's own ambassador to visiting Latvian sailors, Burgelis has halped Kaupo's crew around town, translating and advising as the group prepares for the next leg of their trip.

Kaupo left Riga in November 1999. Its mission: to demonstrate the seaworthiness of the Centaurus class of multihull yachts by being the first to circumnavigate the world under a Latvian flag.

The Centaurus class has been winning races in the former Soviet Union since the early 1970s. Now that Latvia is once more an independent nation, another Cold War success story can be told.

So far the voyage has taken Kaupo and its crew through the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, around Cape Horn and up the coast of Chile to the Galapagos Islands. From there, Kaupo sailed up the Mexican coast and into San Diego.

Although it has sailed 17,000 miles, Kaupo is not yet halfway home, but the crew does not seem to be in much of a hurry to complete the round trip.

Asked if he misses Latvia, Grenenbergs is diplomatic. "Every day brings new concerns. There is not much time to think about the past," he said.

Navigator Alex Popov told how Kaupo's mast was destroyed by a rogue wave 25 miles off the coast of southern Brazil.

It took eight hours to reach land using the 45-horsepower engine that had been donated to Kaupo by Lativan manufacturers Riga Diesel, one of the trip's sponsors.

The crew of six had to spend three months in Rio Grand Do Sol building a replacement mast from wood and fiberglass. The Brazilian Navy donated theuse of a crane to step the 800-pound mast in place.

Another near disaster occurred off Cape Horn when the crew attempted to anchor in what they thought was a protected area.

Sudden high winds broke the anchor cable. Without an anchor, Kaupo was forced to sail to and fro while the rest of the crew returned by dinghy from a trip ashore to take photographs.

Kaupo was designed by Aldis Eglajs and built by Grenenbergs himself in 1977. With a 27-foot beam, the plywood and fiberglass hulls hold the galley and engine on the port side, the navigator's chart table starboard.

Of its 11 berths, five are occupied by storage. The other six are the longterm homes of Grenenbergs, Popov and his wife Svetlana Timofejeva, Igor Pimenov, Stas Marcenjuk and Juris Petrovs. Besids being worldwide sailors, Popov and Timofejeva are both doctors of chemistry.

The crew said they plan on picking up a ham radio in San Diego before striking out for Hawaii.

"After that, I don't know," said Grenenbergs. He plans to meet with other yachtsmen in Hawaii before deciding whether to head for Australia.

Although this has been Grenenberg's first time round Cape Horn, it is his second voyage to the United States.

On the previous occasion, he only visited the East Coast. Sailing across the Atlantic apparently was quite enough for the crew of that trip, none of them returned for this circumnavigation.

Popov said the present crew recruited itself. "They heard there was a group of crazy sailors and they simply wanted to join them," he said.

So, what do they think of San Diego?

"I'm all the time working on the boat I don't know," said Grenenbergs, diplomatic as always.

"It's a very nice town, but very expensive," Popov said. "The people are very helpful."


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