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Swimming Panda crosses the English Channel

An Italian automotive engineer customized a Fiat Panda Terramare 4x4 with an inflatable flotation belt and waterjet drive, then crossed the English Channel with it July 21. Maurizio Zanisi and a companion made the 25-mile passage in about six hours, driving onto a French beach at Cap Griz Nez.

Zanisi previously had tested his vehicle-vessel on lakes and rivers in Italy and England. He says a strong current pushed him toward the open sea, and he worried about rocks and running aground.

“We had some technical problems to the ventilators,” he says in a press release. “The temperatures were really high, and we tried not to overheat the engine throughout the journey. There was a lot of tension; we had to check the water and the temperature continuously.”

Retailer West Marine closing 30 to 40 stores

West Marine says it will close stores and reduce costs in the wake of a disappointing second quarter. CEO Peter Harris says the company plans to close between 30 and 40 “underperforming” stores within the year. He declined to specify which will be affected but said the company is looking at sales and projected sales, cost of operations and anticipated revenue of all its stores. In total, the stores to be closed represent about $25 million in sales.

“We have concluded the company must move swiftly to change its business model,” Harris said during a conference call. He adds that the retailer’s dip in profits comes at a time when the boating industry as a whole is “flat or declining.”

The Watsonville, Calif.-based boating supplies retailer says profits tumbled 38 percent in its second quarter, from $22.8 million to $14 million. Sales during the quarter rose. The company recorded $264.5 million in net sales, an increase of 4.3 percent from the $253.5 million posted for the same period a year ago. Comparable store sales increased 2.3 percent for the quarter ended July 1.

— JoAnn W. Goddard

Protected marine area established in Alaska

NOAA Fisheries Service in July established the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area in Alaska, bringing protection to another 279,114 square nautical miles. A month earlier, NOAA had created similar habitat protection measures off Washington, Oregon and California, and President Bush recently designated the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument.

“All of these measures complement a successful fishery management strategy [that] incorporates conservative harvest restrictions, marine protected areas, limits on bycatch, rigorous monitoring, and strong scientific research programs,” says NOAA administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher.

The Aleutian Islands Conservation Area establishes a network of fishing closures in the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. The area protects habitat for cold-water corals and other sensitive resources that are slow to recover once disturbed by fishing gear or other activities.

Free report contains crew-overboard tips

Going overboard is every boater’s worst nightmare, one that claimed 200 lives in 2004. Safety authorities, however, say that if someone does go over the side, a crew that knows the latest rescue methods and has the right retrieval gear will be able to make a quick rescue. That’s the good news contained in a final report from the Crew Overboard Rescue Symposium, available free at .

At the symposium, held in August 2005 on San FranciscoBay and funded in part by the BoatU.S. Foundation, 115 volunteers conducted almost 400 tests of 40 types of rescue gear and went through many maneuvers. Using volunteer “victims” in the water, testers addressed such topics as the best way to make contact with the victim, which methods work best for bringing a victim back on deck, what are the chances of rescuing an unconscious victim, and whether swim platforms help or hinder rescue.

The final report includes information keyed to different types of power- and sailboats involved in a recovery. Also included is a “lessons learned” section, with comments from symposium organizers, who between them had a total of nearly 200 years of recreational boating experience.