Offshore Taxes

The president announced a plan today to lessen the advantage of using tax havens. There will be kvetching. I feel little sympathy.

attessa.jpgIs this what he’s talking about? Dennis Washington is a very wealthy man with one of the largest yachts in the world. He is an American and made his money here. The yacht is flagged in the Cayman Islands. I took the photo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

trump-jet.jpgThe same question goes for Donald Trump’s jet. It’s callsign is VP-BDJ. I wrote about this in more detail in February 2006.

Why is Donald Trump’s jet registered on a British Island? Whatever the reason I suspect I don’t benefit.

Funky Nassau

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

We got an elephant! This was Helaine’s greatest anticipation and biggest fear. She wanted towel animals–sorely missed on our NCL cruise to Mexico.

When I went back to the room for a few minutes, he was waiting on the bed–our white elephant. Helaine’s sunglasses finished the look as his eyes.

It’s funny how a tiny stateroom can really have enough room–but it does. There is plenty of closet space and four small drawers. We put the suitcases under our bed and some bulky stuff on the top of the closet.

Last night had prime rib and lobster on the menu. I decided on the prime rib, but Helaine asked the waiter to bring me both–and he did. I’m a growing boy.

We went to the smaller showroom for Tony Esposito’s “R” rated show. Trust me–we’ve heard plenty worse without the “R” warning. I’ve become a Tony Esposito fan. He’s very funny.

I have a suspicion he’s a lot less good old boy/redneck than he claims. No–he is from the south, but from time-to-time something sophisticated comes out which belies his claimed simplicity.

It was another night with plenty of sleep! The ship really isn’t rocking that much so I suspect it’s the “less drowsy” Dramamine I’ve been taking. So, as of this morning I’ve gone off the meds, but not quite cold turkey. Before the trip Helaine started me on ginger capsules. I am very prone to seasickness. We’ll see how I fare without help.

We woke up docked in Nassau, Bahamas. Next to us was the Disney Wonder and alongside it Carnival’s Valor. We are the smallest of the three ships even with our seventy some-odd-thousand tons of displacement.

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

Among the coolest things is a lone policeman on a pedestal directing traffic with his gloved hands. He is all spit and polish and precision. There had to be a dozen little camcorders trained on him. One of the few times I’ve seen people recording video.

On the horizon Atlantis dominates. There are two huge hotel buildings. Helaine and I both have heard stories of people being nickel-and-dimed incessantly while there. We passed.

This is a short port call. We’ll be leaving around 6:00 o’clock.

Must Be The Season

I spend a lot of time watching the tropics. It comes with my job. These tropical systems are fascinating and devious.

Right now I’m watching two with great interest. The first is Ernesto, off the Carolinas and officially just below hurricane strength.

When Ernesto’s path out of the Caribbean was first predicted by the Hurricane Center, it was centered in the Gulf. Actually, it was well into the middle of the Gulf. Ernesto actually moved up the center of Florida and emerged in the Atlantic.

Not even close.

This is not to say the Hurricane Center doesn’t do a great job. They get the word out, which is probably their most important job.

Even though Ernesto is a wimp, people will die and property will be destroyed. We can predict, not prevent. I feel frustration over that. Isn’t that silly?

Stef’s move back to college is scheduled for Saturday. That’s Ernesto’s big day in the Northeast. Darn!

The second storm is more interesting on an intellectual level, though it won’t affect me personally. That’s Hurricane John, in the Pacific, off Mexico’s West Coast.

John is on track to strike Cabo San Lucas. We were there in January.

Cabo is a beautiful seaport town. It’s at the southern tip of Baja California. Stretching south of the city, into the Pacific is a string of rocky islands, called Land’s End.

If John passes just west of Cabo, its winds will be out of the south. They’ll be guided by Land’s End, piling water into the harbor and flooding all the low lying areas. Meanwhile, damage to the homes and businesses built on the surrounding hills will be immense.

Again, as with Ernesto, I can see it happening in my mind’s eye. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. There’s just nothing I can do about it.

With proper warning, most people will be saved. You can’t move a building. You can’t stop the terror for those who have nowhere else to go, or the uncertainty for those who get evacuated.

Playing With Posters

After our Mexico trip I created a poster from a series of our pictures. Helaine suggested I do the same thing after our trip to the American Orchid Society.

Here’s the (hopefully) finished poster. I’m not sure if this is as effective as the one from Mexico, but it’s certainly pretty in its own right.

The full sized file will allow for an 18″ by 24″ print at 300 dpi. I’m still a little naive on these printing parameters, but I think that’s OK. The files you can see here on the website are heavily compressed and reduced in size.

When you look at the work of a ‘real’ artist, you see that they have a distinct style. That’s a nice way of saying all their work is self similar. This “nine square on a grid poster” seems to be my style – at least for the time being.

Random Cruise Notes

So, we’re back from eight days on the Norwegian Star. We left Los Angeles, sailed to Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was an exceptional vacation.

During the vacation, as you might have noticed, I posted daily blog entries. Of course I couldn’t post everything and there were these oddball things we saw or did or experienced. I’m going to try and add them now.

My sense is, this will be a multipart series. I have over 1,500 photos to go through, and that will help me decide what to write.

Every cruise must have a muster drill within the first 24 hours. We had ours at 4:30 PM the afternoon of our departure. That was two hours before we left, and I assume not everyone was on board by then.

I’ve often worried if I’d remember any of this in the event of a ‘real’ emergency.

Of course normal lifeboats aren’t the only way off. There are some oddball methods which are enumerated on Deck 7.

In this one, we’re all supposed to slide down this fire engine red tube to a boat bobbing 40 feet below. There is even a box with shoe covers located alongside.

I already posted a shot of a device where you lower yourself down in a rope harness.

All I’m asking is, please float!

I can’t begin to tell you how clean this ship was. There were squads of employees constantly patrolling the food areas. No piece of schmutz would stay for long!

What I didn’t expect where these cleaning stations, little orbs with what looked like a saline breast implant inside. If you held your hands underneath, a small spray of disinfecting lotion would shoot down. rub your hands together and it sanitizes you and then evaporates away in a few seconds.

I guess earlier problem with the Norwalk Virus weren’t good for business.

How, in spite of this, I caught a cold is beyond me!

If Mexico to you is Tijuana, you would have been sorely disappointed. There was virtually no sleaze!

Here’s the one exception. In case you can’t read the small type, the club is Splash (across from Cabo Wabo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico). It features (or so they claim) Mexico’s Finest Showgirls.

This arch, at Lands End, Cabo San Lucas, is a sight made famous by The Love Boat. I snapped a few shots of it as we passed by. Then, our ship made a u-turn and headed around the other side. I waited with the camera, but the arch never reappeared!

I don’t get it. Shouldn’t I have seen it from both sides?

It was very strange, because I waited diligently for the arch to reappear.

Going to the Colima Volcano was one of my favorite moments. It was reasonably far from Manzanillo (which the ship’s captain constantly pronounced “Man-zan-ill-oh”), which meant a long car drive.

On our way, we passed this typical highway scene. I guess I never thought about it, but speeding tickets are universal.

As we traveled from port-to-port, I began to notice these prehistoric looking birds.

They were very graceful in the sky, but even more noticeable was their incredible formation flying. There was never a bird out of place. I’ve never seen anything like this.

In the beginning, I actually thought I was watching some sort of radio controlled models.

If you know what they are, please let me know.

Is there a Mexican Navy, you might ask? Sure. We saw installations of four or five ships at a few of our port stops.

More importantly, every time we entered or left a port (and that included San Pedro in the United States) we we flanked by a small, fast boat carrying heavily armed sailors.

On one hand it was reassuring. On the other hand it was sobering.

Who would want to harm an innocent ship with 3,000+ passengers and crew? Unfortunately, it’s a long list.

More coming as I go through more photos.

Gotta Love Cabo

Aboard the Norwegian Star

I’m on the balcony. It’s around 1:00 PM. The breeze is gentle, the air is warm and moderately dry. We are at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

If you’d like to find me on a map, it’s easy. Find Los Angeles, then trace the coast south with your finger. Pass San Diego and Tijuana. Keep tracing until you run out of land. I’m there. Simple!

Before I get to more specifics about today, let me wrap up yesterday.

We did decide to see Dave Heenan, the comedian, again. This time he was in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 12. It’s a nightclub style venue. I’m guessing it seats 400 or so. The chairs are comfy. The service is excellent.

There’s no doubt, Norwegian Cruise Lines is making money on booze! It’s tough to sit anywhere for any length of time without a waiter or waitress approaching to ask if you’d like a drink. They are everywhere taking orders and delivering drinks.

Dave Heenan’s show was totally different than the one we had seen earlier in the week. He says, and I believe him, that he ad libs everything. He knows enough jokes to keep a stream of consciousness running for 45 minutes at a clip.

Best line of the night. Speaking about the cleanliness of the southern restaurant chain, “Waffle House”: “I saw a cockroach there throwing up.”

When the show ended, we walked downstairs to Aqua. That’s deck 12 to Deck 6 for those counting. It was nearly closing time and the restaurant was emptying out. Once again the meal was great and once again I had a light cooking meal that couldn’t have been light. It was Chicken Parmesan with pasta. The dessert was a souffle.

I could get used to this life, if my arteries would allow it.

We finished dinner and headed back up the six flights of stairs to Deck 12. Steffie wanted to see Dave Heenan again – and he was funny enough that it made sense.

Another 45 minutes with hardly a repeat… and when he did repeat, he’d acknowledge it was something he said earlier.

Our night was done before midnight. We were all tired. There’s just so long you can lead this kind of life without a recharge. Anyway, today’s port call would be very early and with much less time than any of the others.

I’m not really sure whether it was the captain’s announcement or Helaine in the shower that woke me this morning. They happened pretty much simultaneously. We were anchored near the harbor at Cabo.

Everything I know about Cabo, I learned on Love Boat. Everything she knows about Cabo, Steffie learned on MTV. Who has the more liberal knowledge? Captain Stuebing – you’ve let me down!

From the balcony, I immediately made up my mind. This was the most beautiful of the ports we’d seen.

Looking out I could see miles of white beach flanked by five and six story hotel (maybe condo) buildings. Between us and the shore was a huge yacht. Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s bigger. A helicopter sat on an upper deck in the rear of the ship. Attached by lines were a few jet skis and other small boats.

I can’t see the name, but I do have the tail number of the copter. The ship is registered in some British Commonwealth country (based on the flag, which has a Union Jack). The chopper is from the United States (the tail number starts with “N”).

Helaine and I went up to Deck 12 for breakfast while Stef showered. As soon as we had a vantage from the port side of the ship, I saw the rocky outcropping that makes Cabo San Lucas so famous.

There is no harbor here large enough for the Norwegian Star, so we walked down to Deck 4 and got on a tender.

I’ve seen this on cruise ships before. There is actually a dock that swings out from the ship’s hull which is used for boarding.

A few of the lifeboats had been lowered down to the water. They would be used for tendering.

Again, with so much else on this ship, these lifeboats are super sized. I believe they can sit 125 or so in case of emergency! This is not some little dinghy.

The trip to Cabo took five minutes – no more. We landed at a marina full of moderate to large sized fishing boats – most from the states. There was an amazing amount of activity in the harbor and the marina.

When you looked to the water, you saw boats and you saw pelicans. Lots of pelicans.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Pelicans up close like this. They are not pretty birds. They are substantial. We saw more than one down a fish whole in his beak!

Like I said, Steffie knew this place from MTV – specifically Laguna Beach. She knew where she wanted to go and Helaine already had directions to “Cabo Wabo.”

“Cabo Wabo” is owned by rocker Sammy Hagar. It’s a few blocks off the main drag, up a hill and across the way from a strip club. Inside was set up for small concerts with bar service. My guess is the real money maker is the merchandise stand near the front door.

Steffie now has a t-shirt and I have a hat. Sammy can taste some more Tequila on us.

Cabo is loaded with little shops selling silver and crafts. We went into a store where Helaine got a bracelet and another where I got a silver bookmark (now in Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat,” which I should finish before Ls Angeles).

We headed back to the ship, through the marina area. Every few feet someone wanted to sell you something. There were hats and serapes and little carved toys. If it could be sold… If Heche en Mexico could be stamped on it… it was here!

We didn’t buy anything from these vendors, but we did make one more stop. At a bend in the marina, a Mexican man stood, holding two iguanas. One was wearing a sombrero. Neither seemed particularly mindful that they were the main attraction in this man’s business.

For $2 US, I could have my picture taken with the iguana – and I did! Actually, nimble fingered Stef shot of a half dozen – maybe more.

The mere fact that Stef got this photo is amazing, considering she was laughing herself silly at the time.

We tendered in and were back on the ship by 12:30. Right now, as I type, the last of the tenders are bringing passengers back. A few of the tenders have already been hoisted on their davits and stowed for their real job. We should get underway within 10 – 15 minutes.

This is our last port before returning to San Pedro/Los Angeles. We’ll be at sea all night tonight and all day tomorrow. We dock early Thursday. Los Angeles is the better part of 1,000 miles from here.

With a few blasts of the ship’s horn, we’re underway. Though we’ll be doing 21 knots on the trip north, it takes a long time to accelerate to that point.

We headed south first, then a sharp u-turn around the tip of Baja.

I am surprised, 45 minutes after leaving Cabo, a Mexican Navy patrol boat is keeping pace between the Norwegian Star and the coast. Finally, at 2:48, it makes a clockwise turn and heads home.

We’re all alone in the Pacific.

There is no doubt this was our most beautiful Mexican stop.