The sailing lifestyle magazine, founded by Bob Bitchin, was brought down by lies, bad checks and unscrupulous outsiders
The sudden and unexpected demise last June of Latitudes & Attitudes—a popular sailing and cruising magazine based in King Harbor—stunned staff and boating enthusiasts alike.
The magazine, which launched a TV series by the same name, was founded in 1996 by former Redondo Beach resident Bob Bitchin (whose birth name is Robert Lipkin) and his wife Jody.
What many don’t know is the underlying drama of the magazine’s end, a story worthy of “Law and Order,” one that revolves around broken contracts, bad checks, defaulted debts, unscrupulous characters and innocent lives that came perilously close to financial ruin.
It’s also the story of friends riding to the rescue, dreams restored, and a new magazine, Cruising Outpost, that helped the Bitchins and their staff rise from the ashes.
It all began last January when the Bob and Jody Bitchin sold their company, Latitudes & Attitudes Seafaring International, to Dennis “DJ” Doran, CEO of Sextant Publishing.
Speaking by phone and email from his current home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this weekend, Bitchin, 68, said the million dollar sale to Doran and his partner, Joe Morales. included the company’s television and radio ventures, exotic boat charters, boat show operations, and Living Aboard magazine.
Part of the sales agreement, Bitchin said, stipulated that he and his wife Jody were to act as paid consultants for three years and that the L&A staff would remain in place.
As reported in January by Three Sheets Northwest, a boating business site, DJ Doran announced ambitious plans for the company, including updating the magazine, launching tablet and e-reader applications, expanding the television operation and developing new lines of products for the store.
“Our goal is to preserve the style and feel of the magazine and its peripheral operations while redeveloping its core businesses to better serve our loyal fans and introduce the magazine to a new generation of readers,” the Sextant CEO said at the time.
Except that didn’t happen.
Six months after Sextant Publishing took over the magazine, a staffer went to open the office at King Harbor last June, only to find a notice on the door saying, “Offices Closed until Further Notice.”
The locks had been changed, Bitchin said, and the staff—the few left after numerous layoffs by Sextant—was out on its ear.
Bitchin later discovered that the July issue had not gone to print, even though advertisers had been billed. Company credit cards had been abruptly cancelled, bills were unpaid, and the Bitchins found themselves teetering on bankruptcy.
Not only was the couple out the $1,000,000 for the sale of the magazine, but they were still on the hook for almost half-a-million dollars in debt.
“Jody and I put our lives into the magazine,” Bitchin said. “I miss it every day.”
(Attempts by Patch to reach Doran, Morales or Sextant Publishing for comment were to no avail.)
Mainly due to friends who helped them financially and emotionally, the Bitchins climbed out of their despair and returned to doing the things they love, including attending boat shows, holding cruising parties, and acting as consultants for Cruising Outpost, an online and quarterly and print magazine.
Although the Bitchins are prohibited from owning Cruising Outpost due to legal reasons the magazine employs many of their former staff members, some of whom, like the Bitchins, were left high and dry in June.
Most know Robert Lipkin, 68, by his pen name Bob Bitchin. He “coined” the name in the early sixties, he said, when it was given to him by Tommy Chong of the comedy team, Cheech and Chong.
“Tommy and I worked out together at Gold’s Gym,” Bitchin said, and the comedy album, “Up in Smoke”, in which the name was used, had just come out.
A prolific author and lecturer, Bitchin wrote hundreds of articles under his pen name in the 1970s for Choppers, Street Bike, Easyriders, Forbes and Newlook,” he said. His nine books are also published under Bob Bitchin.
A formidable presence, with multiple tattoos, a barrel chest and curly graying-blond hair and beard, Bitchin once acted as a traveling companion and bodyguard for motorcycle daredevil Evil Knievel.
An avid Harley man, he traveled the world on his motorcycle, promoted motorcycle shows in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and created Biker Magazine and Tattoo Magazine.
But it was a three-month sail from San Francisco to Guatemala in the late seventies aboard the Stone Witch, a 74-foot, square-rigged, topsail schooner, that changed his life. “The Stone Witch was the flag-ship for Green Peace,” Bitchin said. “It had no engine, ran kerosene running lights, and used four 21-foot oars for propulsion.”
Bitchin’s account of that first day at sea can be found on his Cruising Outpost website, where he writes: “I thought I was going to die. I was amazed that the guy who was steering the boat didn’t even look concerned. As the wind caught the sail and we heeled over, I grabbed this big old chromed thingy (I later learned it was called a winch) and hung on for dear life. Now, 100,000 miles and 35 years later, I still get excited when I head out to sea.”
The voyage also saved him from a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll, he said.
Sober and healthy, Bitchin soon began buying boats to live on, fix up and sell. He sold Biker and Tattoo magazines to Easyriders in 1986. In 1990, he bought a 68-foot staysail ketch, Lost Soul, where he lived for the next 17 years.
During the early ‘90s, he fell in love with and “kidnapped” Jody, a pretty bartender, with flowing brown hair, at the Portofino Marina Yacht Club.
“We knew each other for years but never dated, until 1991,” said Bitchin, who asked her then and there if she wanted to go to the islands. “She thought I meant Catalina. I meant Tahiti.”
They ended up cruising all over the world, and, upon their return, married on board the Lost Soul while docked at the Portofino Marina.
Launching Latitudes & Attitudes, a magazine devoted to sailing and world cruising, was a natural next step. The TV series, created by Bitchin and Darren O’Brien (who is he, a staff member????), was the first and only nationally televised show about the sailing lifestyle, said Bitchin, who appeared as host for 65 episodes.
The show aired for five seasons and was in world-wide syndication—until the sale to Sextant Publishing—which brings us to the abrupt demise of the magazine in June.
When responding to the news on a boating website, one individual commented: “Either (new owners) paid way too much for it and couldn’t get a return, or…there is the possibility they hadn’t paid all the cash up front and decided to cut and run.”
Well, all of the above and more.
After the Bitchins signed the sales agreement on January 13, 2012, and Sextant Publishing took over management of the company, Bob & Jody thought their troubles were over. They had gotten their asking price and agreed to Doran’s idea of his paying off the company debt instead of paying a cash down payment, thus saving on taxes.
Somewhere between the letter-of-intent and the sales agreement, Bitchin said, the collateral had changed from what was being sold (the assets of the company known as Latitudes & Attitudes & Seafaring) to stock in the new company.
Doran said it was “the same thing,” Bitchin said, because if Sextant defaulted, Bob & Jody would own the whole shebang again, which made sense—at the time.
During the next few months, Doran paid the Bitchins their consultant fee, and 10 percent interest on the almost $1,000,000 still owed. Staff was paid, and Doran even said he’d purchased the Lost Soul, asking the Bitchins to sail it to various boat shows.
Along with sailing, writing and planning their retirement, the couple attended to their Bitchin Ranch, 40 tree-covered acres that sit between the north and middle forks of the Feather River overlooking Lake Oroville.
This was the “pinnacle” of their euphoria, Bitchin said. “Things couldn’t get any better.” Or so they thought.
Still, almost from the beginning, there was reason to worry, said Bitchin, who admitted to “living in a fool’s paradise.”
The first large clue that “things were not what they seemed,” Bitchin said, was when he got a call from American Express, telling him that all company Amex Cards were being cancelled, along with their personal credit cards, due to a $9,000 Sextant check that had bounced.
Stunned, he next found that all company credit cards had been cancelled, something hidden from him, since all the bills went to the office in King Harbor.
Part of the sales agreement, Bitchin said, had been to keep all credit cards current until the assumption of debt was paid off.
Excuses were made.
But the new owners soon began liquidating products from the Ship’s Store at massive discounts. A check for the Bitchins’ consulting fees and interest bounced; and suppliers began calling Bob to complain about lack of payment for supplies.
Bitchin called his lawyer.
The next thing he knew, the office was closed, the Sextant Publishing and Latitude & Attitude sites taken down, and Doran and Morales, after absconding with computers and equipment, nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, a Share the Sail event set for May was going to be cancelled, even though Sextant had accepted all the payments and failed to pay suppliers.
To keep the event afloat, a Latitudes and Attitudes’ staff member, Peter Wood Henderson, known in boating circles as Captain Woody, stepped in and paid out of his own pocket after Sextant agreed to sign over the Share The Sail to him.
Captain Woody was also one of the many who rallied to the Bitchins’ side to help create a new magazine.
Loyal Latitude & Attitude subscribers, incensed at what had happened, agreed to pay for five-year subscriptions, offered at a lump sum of $250, so the old staff could be rehired and the magazine and site could launch. These folks were “The Founders Circle” which made the new Cruising Outpost possible.
The first issue of the quarterly is due out in December.
Since the demise of Latitudes & Attitudes, Bob and Jody Bitchin spend their time between cruising and reporting on boat shows for the new publication.
Bob Bitchin, author of seven books, including The Sailing Life, King Harbor and Starboard Attitude (released in June of 2011), continues to write and hold seminars on sailing. The books are available on his website, bobbitchin.com.
By Katherine Lowrie
The Redondo Beach Patch