Latitude home Latitude 38

Back to 'Changes' Index Changes in Latitudes
January 2009

Relaxation and accommodation at its finest
at Hotel La Estancia Cabo San Lucas.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2009 eBook!

 With reports this month from Sisiutl on a New Zealand to California passage; from Fafner on what's going to be an Arnold family circumnavigation plus; from DreamKeeper on adventurous cruising in the Solomon Islands; from Flashgirl on volcano-laced Vanuatu; and an extra heap of Cruise Notes to start the new year.

Sisiutl — Gulfstar 44
Bob and Caryl Bechler
50,000 Pacific Miles

Since leaving Seattle in '02, my boat and I have logged over 50,000 miles in the Pacific. After arriving in New Zealand in '07 at the conclusion of my third Pacific Puddle Jump, I met and married Caryl St. Clair in Wellington. She loves the islands of the South Pacific and animal welfare. In fact, she established a foundation at Majuro in the Marshall Islands to spay/neuter animals to control the population and improve their lives. She received a grant to purchase the equipment veterinarians would need to perform the surgery on the remote islands. In fact, the two reasons we made the 7,500-mile trip from New Zealand to California was to pick up the equipment and to join the '08 Ha-Ha fleet, which was to be the third Ha-Ha for me.

Caryl had never sailed before, and she was to get a rough introduction. We had gale force winds on the nose for eight of our first 11 days heading north. Our first stop was Minerva Reef, out in the middle of nowhere. We were pinned there for days, with waves breaking across the only opening. Once we got to Tonga, we spent a couple of months in the Ha'apai and Vava'u Groups. Our next stops were at the lovely Savaii anchorage in Samoa, then Tokelau. We had to stay on the boat anchored off the east tip of Tokelau because we hadn't gotten a visa in advance.

I last visited Palmyra in '06, which had then been purchased by the Nature Conservancy. I was surprised to see how much their presence has been expanded. When I visited the first time, there were only three people living there: two caretakers and one guy from Fish & Wildlife Service. Now there are 40 people doing various research and support activities. Continuing on, we had a pleasant passage to Hawaii. Our first stop was a couple of days at Niihau, which is restricted to native Hawaiians, so we could only anchor in a quiet bay. We then sailed to Kauai, arriving on September 1.

After a couple of weeks of resting up in Hawaii, Caryl flew to Seattle while I started a solo passage to California. The first few days were marked by absolute calm, and I had to motor a long way to get wind. Once I got to the halfway point, where lows seem to spawn, I got the expected rough weather. In fact, I got caught in a squash zone and had to go bare poles and trail warps to keep the boat speed down. Once I got 600 miles from California, and on the latitude of Pt. Conception, I was able to turn east for a delightful beam reach right toward my destination of Oxnard.

Unfortunately, the Pacific has a lot to learn about the concept of average wind speeds! A developing high just off the coast above Pt. Conception started churning up big winds and seas under perfectly clear skies. When the wind hit 50 knots and the seas 30 to 40 feet, I hove to for three days waiting for the conditions to settle down again. It was really amazing to see the monster breaking waves heading for Sisiutl, but each time they seemed to flatten and roll harmlessly under her before heading off to the south again. But this was the same storm that caused the crew of the La Cenicienta to abandon ship, as reported in an October ‘Lectronic Latitude.

When the winds dropped back into the 20s, I started sailing for Oxnard once again. A day later, in the middle of the night, I was hit by the only breaking wave of all the bad weather. It swept over Sisiutl, taking the dodger down and delivering its contents to King Neptune. With torn sails and a furling headsail that couldn't be lowered because of a jammed top roller, I rigged an inner headsail from a storm sail to make headway again. Unfortunately, the wind then died and I could make no progress. With only 18 gallons of fuel remaining, I contacted the Pacific Seafarers Net for assistance. They arranged for the Coast Guard to meet me with five gallons of fuel. The following day I received enough fuel from the Coast Guard vessel Halibut to complete the passage to Oxnard.

After a short stay in Oxnard to get the sails repaired and meet up with Caryl, we set sail to San Diego to join the Ha-Ha fleet. The night before the start, I discovered that the rear seal on the transmission had blown out, and I couldn't use the engine. Faced with a similar problem in '06 when the engine failed, I decided to do the Ha-Ha and continue on to Puerto Vallarta under sail alone. I figure Teapot Tony, my mechanic in Puerto Vallarta, was worth the extra effort.

We had pleasant sailing on the first day of the Ha-Ha, but then the wind died. In the subsequent days, we covered totals of 25, 45 and 40 miles! We arrived at Turtle Bay after the Ha-Ha fleet, and decided to make it on our own for the rest of the trip. When the winds returned, we made a direct run to Cabo and then across to Banderas Bay and a slip at the beautiful new Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz.

It's good to be back down here and to have Teapot Tony doing the repairs, for we'll be doing another Puddle Jump in March. This time we plan to end up in the Marshall Islands, and spend some time before continuing on with what we plan to be a circumnavigation. As for the North Pacific, I've had enough of that for awhile!

— bob 12/05/08

Fafner — Dufour 1200
Geoff, Karen, Claire & Alex Arnold
An Ice Cream Circumnavigation
(San Jose)

During our passage from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa to Santiago, Brazil, our family celebrated having been out cruising for two years. That means it had been two since we sailed under the Golden Gate and worked our way south to join Baja Ha-Ha 13. We've logged a few nautical miles since — almost all the way around the world — but it still seems like only yesterday that we were in Cabo watching the From Here to Eternity Kissing Contest, then sipping margaritas at Philo's Restaurant in La Cruz, and then eating ice cream in Puerto Vallarta.

I'm going to let everyone in on our dark family secret — we cannot control ourselves around ice cream! This is a rather new, cruising-oriented condition. Back home, ice cream would sit in our freezer until it grew ice crystals. Not so while cruising. Three days into a passage, and we start having daydreams about mint chocolate chip cones. By the time we're a week out, it's to the point that we're drooling while describing the black cherry sundaes that we have known and loved. Sadly, our boat doesn't have a freezer capable of storing enough ice cream to accommodate our obsession.

Our passage from Manzanillo to the Galapagos took 18 days. When we got to port, it took us about two hours to anchor, check in — and then locate and consume the best ice cream in town. We were hit by sticker shock in French Polynesia, so we found an economical solution to satisfy our ice cream jones. We would grab four spoons from the galley, dinghy ashore to the magazin, buy a liter of whatever flavor ice cream looked most appealing, take it outside — and eat it right there! Sometimes we'd be able to hold off until we made it to a local park or scenic spot, but not always.

We've found kindred spirits via our public consumption of Neapolitan. Yachties from South Africa, Seattle, Norway and San Diego have all exhibited a similar weakness for orange chocolate chip, and become good friends. We've bonded over ice cream following hikes on Moorea, over ice cream after hours of snorkeling in the Vava'u Group of Tonga, and while licking ice cream after canoe rides to traditional villages in Vanuatu.

If there is ice cream to be had ashore, our family will find it. Our trip may best be described as an ice cream in every port. We island-hopped our way from the Marquesas to Vanuatu over the summer and fall of '07. Then we sailed north and west to visit the Northern Territory of Australia. In addition to massive tides and killer crocs, Thursday Island has tasty waffle cones. And although it's not in the guide books, the mini-mart next to the Chook Shack outside Tipperary Waters Marina in Darwin has a wide selection of liter tubs of delicious ice cream. We baked Christmas cookies onboard, but you guessed it, we went ashore at Labuan Bajo on Flores Island in Indonesia for ice cream on Christmas.

From December to February '08, we traveled through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, where we had excellent adventures involving culture and arts, flora and fauna, and people. We saw traditional dancing in Bali and Komodo dragons on Rinja, and met wonderful people on Lombok. But, sad to say, what almost brought tears to our eyes was the large neon Swenson's Ice Cream sign that we spotted on a busy street corner in Singapore. The four of us huddled around the menu and quivered. The kids had to stop me from taking photos of our large, neon-colored sundaes.

Over the spring months of '08, we crossed the Indian Ocean, traversed the Gulf of Aden, and traveled up the Red Sea into the Med. We broke up the passage across the Indian Ocean with a stop at Male in the Maldives, which is where we met up with those ice cream-loving cruisers on the San Diego-based Kosmos. It was at Male that our older daughter discovered that ice cream is a recognized currency. For in return for climbing the mast of Kosmos and tightening a few things, she got a Strawberry Fudge Ripple! We made our Middle Eastern landfall in Al Mukallah, Yemen. We found a sincerely warm welcome from the port officials and townspeople we met. We also found and enjoyed ice cream with chocolate sauce that was served in parfait glasses at the Moderne restaurant near the harbor. The Red Sea has some of the best snorkeling we've experienced. We spent quality time on water sports and managed to squeeze in some time to see the Pyramids in Egypt. But perhaps most satisfying of all, we also managed to find excellent ice cream in a small shop in Port Ghalib.

We spent the summer of '08 touring the Mediterranean from east to west. We saw Greece from Rhodes to the Peloponnese, during which time we also discovered that Greek yogurt served with honey is almost — but not quite — an acceptable substitute for ice cream. Lucky for us, the Greeks also like ice cream. When we reached Sicily, we were reminded how much we also enjoy gelato. We spent many happy hours sitting at an outdoor café, people-watching and eating excellent fruit-flavored gelato in Siracusa. We had no trouble finding both ice cream and sites of historical importance throughout Europe. In fact, we'll all fondly remember the time after each tour spent discussing history, art and culture over delicious ice creams.

In September of '08, we left Gibraltar and the Med and made our way to South America. We stopped at the Canary Islands. By then it had been almost a week since we'd had any ice cream. After a summer of easy access, it was hard to go back to viewing ice cream as a rare treat. In the Cape Verdes we had to make do with ice cream bars from a mini-mart freezer. We crossed the Atlantic to Brazil and our ice cream opportunities improved, for the Brazilians make a wonderful dessert that has a crepe wrapped around dulce de leche as its base. Then it is topped with ice cream. It was hard for us to leave Brazil. We are now in Argentina — at latitude 38, no less, although latitude 38 south — on our way back to the Bay Area via the Straits of Magellan. We'll let you know what kind of ice cream the penguins prefer.

— the arnold family 12/05/08

DreamKeeper — Pacific Seacraft 40
Gar and Nicole Duke
The Solomon Islands

It's eight in the morning in the beginning of November here in the Solomon Islands, and we're already dripping with sweat. A cup of dark roast Vanuatu Tanna coffee, freshly-baked sourdough bread, and some delicious organic homegrown Solomon Island pineapple start the day. We tune the SSB to Radio New Zealand and hear about the continuing economic problems back home and around the world. But we relish the fact that we have finally elected what we believe will be a competent President.

We try to stay in touch with the 'other' world, but let me tell you, the United States sure feels a long ways away from this country just to the northeast of Australia. We're mostly alone here in the Solomons, as the majority of yachts we know are on their way to Australia or New Zealand for the South Pacific cyclone season. It's been almost two years since we 'Puddle Jumped' from Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas, and we're excited to be still be heading west. Our ultimate goal is to sail back beneath the Golden Gate in a few years.

Isn't the Solomon Islands a dangerous country? Aren't there dangerous rascals about, to say nothing of crocs and malaria-carrying mosquitoes? Wasn't there a major ethnic conflict recently, and isn't it a place where some of the most feared headhunters in the South Pacific lived? We smile. After all, that's the point, right? There are some legitimate dangers, and you do need to be on your game, but that's what makes it a true adventure. The truth is, we at Team DreamKeeper are very happy to finally be off the beaten track and cruising some less-traveled locations. In fact, the Solomon Islands are beginning to rank up there with our favorite South Pacific countries.

David Stanley, he of the Moon Handbook of the South Pacific, calls the Solomons "best kept secret in the South Pacific." We've only been here two months and have seen only a fraction of the country, but we were quickly seduced. What's so great about the Solomons? Let's start with the people.

Everywhere we've gone in the Solomons, including the capital of Honiara, we've met about the most friendly people you can imagine. We've been invited to many villages, been treated as family, have had the most wonderful conversations, and have been given incredible wood carvings as gifts. By the way, the master carvers of the Solomons are considered to be the best in the South Pacific. In addition, Nicole has even been given hugs by a couple of our local male friends. If you know Melanesian culture, this is very uncommon. Guys just don't touch women, especially not in public. When our friend Robert hugged Nicole during our good-byes, Nicole and I both shed a tear, as it was a rare act of deep affection that reached across traditional cultural norms. Anyway, these are the kind of people we've been meeting.

To be honest, there are a few bad people here in the Solomons. Most people are very poor, and some are desperate to make a few bucks to either send their kids to school or, in the worst case, buy a cold Sol brew and fresh betel nut at the local island shop. It's no different here than in any developing country, so you have to remember not to flaunt material wealth and to keep your boat locked when you leave her. The boats that usually have trouble here are the ones where hatches have been left open, dinghies left unlocked, and decks cluttered with stuff that can be easily swiped by someone in a dugout canoe. Fortunately for us, we've had none of these problems, and have been warmly welcomed to every village by most kind and giving people.

The Solomon Islands are intriguingly beautiful. They are covered with green trees and bushes that grow from the base of the limestone and volcanic substrate. And many anchorages feel like we have traveled back in time, for most places have no electric lights. The people travel primarily by dugout or outrigger canoe. Parrots and hornbills fly through the forest, and frigates and sea eagles are everywhere. Orchids grow like weeds, and gardens are abundant with fruit and vegetables. Every time we come to a village, we trade rice, sugar, pens, pencils and notebooks for tasty pineapples, coconuts, watermelons, eggplant, scallions, bush limes and lemons, green beans and papaya. In one village the kids learned that Nicole loves flowers. Soon every dugout canoe full of kids was bringing out beautiful bouquets of orchids, bird of paradise, hibiscus and frangipani. She was in heaven!

There is abundant life in the ocean, too. We caught four yellow fin tuna just sailing into our anchorage a few days ago. Last night the local lobstermen brought us four lobster in exchange for some D-batteries for their flashlights. In Marovo Lagoon, where we spent a couple of weeks, the passes to the outer reefs were full of big pelagic fish such as giant trevalle and dogtooth tuna. It was also home to the most gray reef sharks we've seen anywhere. There were hundreds of them! We thought diving the passes in the Tuamotus was cool, and it definitely is, but if you want to see healthy shark populations, the passes in Marovo Lagoon are unreal!

We also spent a few days out at the Arnavon Islands, which is a marine sanctuary. The Nature Conservancy helped set up this protected area, along with the three local communities who share the ownership of the land and sea. Arnavon is one of the most important sites in the South Pacific for hawksbill turtles to lay their eggs. It's amazing, for not only are there turtles everywhere, but also fish and bird life. Within minutes of dropping our hook in the lagoon, manta rays began swooping around our boat, thriving in the nutrient rich water. Pairs of parrots squawked as they flew by, and the seabirds laid their eggs on the nearby sandy beach. When we immersed ourselves in the 85-degree water, we saw an abundance of giant clams, plenty of rare napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish, and possibly the largest sweetlips and giant grouper. The local rangers were happy to show us around, and even take us to see the turtle nesting sites, where they record and help protect the hawksbill nests. There is a $20 anchoring and visiting fee to help pay for the management of the area, and we were happy to pay it.

But we'll be the first to admit that the Solomon Islands are not for everyone. If you're a cruiser who is looking for white sand beaches and doesn't like to spend much time with locals, you'd be better off somewhere else. For in the Solomons, you'll get 'canoed' at every village — and possibly all day long, too. It's the culture for locals to come and check you out, welcome you and talk story. In addition, not that many yachts roll through these islands, so at many anchorages and villages you visit, you may be the only yacht that stopped there in years — if ever. Usually we are the center of curious attention, and sometimes have been visited by canoes from sunup until sundown. Many times people stare, enjoying watching our daily routine. The people take pride in your visiting their home, and love it when you visit, walk around, say 'hallo', and laugh and play with the pikinini (kids). And when you need a break from the villages, there are still many beautiful isolated anchorages where you can chill out in privacy. The Solomon Islands cover a lot of territory, and in most places the population density is very low.

Two dangers are crocs and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. You need to be careful where you swim, because there are safe places and unsafe places. It's sometimes a bit annoying that you can't simply swim anywhere you want, because it does get seriously hot here. But you can seek out safe anchorages and safely get in the water there. We haven't been bothered much by mosquitoes. But we do take some prophylactic medication, and we do cover our hatches and portholes with nets at night. Malaria is a very real threat out here, so you do have to be smart. Thankfully we haven't had any issues with the 'mozzies', and have seen little of them these past couple of months.

There was considerable ethnic conflict on two of the main islands, Malaita and Guadalcanal, in the eastern province between '99-'00. And Honiara, the main city on Guadalcanal, was not a good place to hang out. But these days it's a dusty, bustling South Pacific city, full of aid organizations from Australia and New Zealand trying to get the country moving forward again. The streets are stained red, but it's from all the betel-nut chewing locals who, once they get over their initial shyness, greet you with big red-toothed grins. The local market is huge, much larger then the one at Port Vila in Vanuatu, and is filled with incredible veggies and fruit. You can even head to the Lime Lounge for the best thick milkshake in the South Pacific, or the yacht club for a cheap cold local Sol beer to drink while you watch the sun go down. There are some good supermarkets, an interesting museum, and many WWII sites and wrecks worth checking out.

When we arrived in Honiara, ours was the only cruising boat in the harbor. A week later, there were seven cruising boats, including ones from Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Norway and Germany. It was a real international mix of yachties who had decided that the Solomons couldn't be as bad a place as the rumors had it. As I write this, we are at our last Solomon Island landfall, a place called Mono Island on the northern border next to Papua New Guinea. There are five yachts here — from Norway, New Zealand, Holland, England and us — and it's the most boats the village has ever seen at one time. The people are ecstatic, and the pikinini are laughing nonstop as they swim and paddle around us. There is a celebratory feel in the air, and everyone seems elated that we have chosen to call upon this little island.

We hope this letter inspires readers to not only light out on your own dreams, but to take risks and find adventure in your lives. During the years we spent preparing for this journey in Sausalito, countless people told us that we were too young and too inexperienced, or they felt the need to try to scare us with stories of storms and pirates. And once we entered the world of 'cruisers' traveling oceans, the scary stories got even worse. People would tell us to avoid this place or that, either because of the people, weather or navigation hazards. Some of this information was valuable, but most often we had delightful experiences where we were warned not to go.

For example, we actually loved the Marquesas and Tahiti, wouldn't have missed the Tuamotus for the world, and relished in the coral reefs in the Ha'apai Group of Tonga. We must have had the easiest check-in to Suva, Fiji. All of these are places that people told us they disliked or advised us to avoid. We've learned to go and see for ourselves instead of relying on the reports of others.

We also suggest people not be afraid to leave the 'American-only' yachtie groups, which we think are too common. These folks rarely branch out to spend time spend time meeting yachties from other countries or getting to know the locals. Don't be afraid to go take some risks, explore and get off the beaten cruiser track. There are still thousands of islands out here in the South Pacific that are rarely if ever visited, and they are waiting for you.

Now that we have had a glimpse of the Solomon Islands for ourselves, we would come back again in a heartbeat. And we recommend it to all. Tomorrow we leave for Papua New Guinea, soon followed by Palau, Micronesia, and West Papua, Indonesia. Our dream is still alive and the adventures continue.

— gar 12/05/08

Flashgirl — Wylie 38+
Commodore and Nancy Tompkins
Cruising The Happiest Place?
(Mill Valley)

Greetings from Vanuatu! We finally got away from New Zealand on October 20, and had an interesting sail — meaning many headsail changes to match the conditions — to get here. I'd been wanting to visit Vanuatu — which has a population of just 200,000 — for a number of years, so our arrival was particularly sweet. In '06, the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth environmental group rated Vanuatu, using the Happy Planet Index, as the happiest place to live out of 178 nations of the world. We'll be looking into that.

Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides until 1980, when it declared its independence from England and France, which had been managing it with an unwieldy condominium government. The country consists of two main islands, Efate and Espiritu Santo, and 80 less important and/or smaller islands. Some of the areas of Vanuatu are so remote, and the terrain so rugged, that over 100 native languages evolved. In many cases, fewer than 2,000 people speak a language. In order for the islanders to understand each other, bislama, a type of pidgin English, developed. Although French and English are still spoken in the populated areas, bislama is the official language spoken in Parliament.

On our way up through Vanuatu, we'd hoped to first stop at Tanna Island to visit the famous active volcano. But it was raining hard as we approached, and the wind coming from an unfavorable direction. So rather than stop, we continued another 126 miles on to the island of Efate, home to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. Upon arrival, we spent a week soaking up big city life. Even though it was the end of cruising season, there were lots of yachties when we arrived, so it was fun catching up with our old friends and making new ones. We took a tour around Efate and made up a picnic lunch to visit some lovely cascades just outside town. The next day we got our cruising permit and headed out around the west side of the island, sailing toward the northern group of islands.

The passage to the first island was 50 miles, which made for a long day. We reached Revelieu Bay, anchored inside the reef in the black sand, and went ashore to meet Chief Baron. We came to a small village of thatched huts and found the chief, who was busy trying to fix a bicycle wheel. Although he was the chief, he — like most others — wears Western clothing except during special ceremonies. The chief was happy to meet us, and Commodore, in his element, lent a hand fixing the wheel.

This village was home to about 30 families, all of whom live at a very slow pace. There is a river nearby where the ladies wash the clothes, so we joined them with some of our laundry. We took a swim in the river, and found the fresh water to be a real treat. Once we got back to Flashgirl and the sun went down, the village went completely dark. We later learned that most of Vanuatu lives without electricity, cars, roads or outboard motors. Port Vila on Efate, and Luganville in Santo, are the only two places in the country with regular electricity! Well, there are a couple of places that have generators, but even at these places the lights go off pretty early.

After a few days in Port Revelieu, we continued north about 15 miles to the Lamen Bay on Epit Island. The village here was quite a bit larger than the last, and boasted a boarding school with students from five nearby islands. While here, we met up with a few other cruisers, swam with the sea turtles and resident dugong in the bay, and caught a classic sunset, complete with outrigger in the foreground. After three nights, we continued over to Malekula.

The nice thing about Vanuatu is that you can do easy daysails of 20-25 miles between islands or anchorages. We spent another five days in the southwest corner of Malekula in an area called the Maskelynes. Once we got there, we found a protected anchorage, had dinner, and retired. The next morning we awoke to see a flotilla of outriggers, some powered by sail, some by paddle. It turns out that the residents of a small nearby island come over to do their gardening. Their coming and going was a wonderful sight that kept us fascinated for days. I even got invited aboard an outrigger for a ride to shore to get some fresh coconuts.

Our next stop was Ambrym, which has two active volcanos. They put on quite a show for our arrival, and at night the sky glowed red above the cones. The next day we went ashore and found some young lads to walk up the mountain with us to the next village, one that is known for its wood carvings. It was a lovely afternoon, with one of the fellows using my ukulele to serenade us the whole way! When we returned to the beach, we learned that we would be able to see the Rom dance, which is unique to this island, the following day.

We attended the ancient ritual Rom dance the next day, but left wishing we knew more about it. The figures on the outside were completely covered in banana leaves and wild masks, while the two rows of men in the center, who hardly had anything on, were the percussion section.

From Ambrym, we continued north to Pentecost, and then Maewo, where we stayed for a week in Asanvari Bay. This place is about as perfect as an anchorage can be, complete with a waterfall. We anchored near the cascades, and could swim from the boat to the falls in five minutes or row over in the dinghy in little more than a minute. Each morning I started the day with a swim off Flashgirl in the silky smooth and warm seas, sometimes with a snorkel to view the fish and coral.

We are now in Luganville in Santo, have been here three days, and will begin our loop back to Port Vila in the morning.

— nancy 11/26/08

Cruise Notes:

The first dinghy theft of the season in Mexico, at least to our knowledge, took place on about November 10 at Rincon de Guayabitos, which is about 25 miles northeast of Punta Mita. The dinghy was a West Marine 9-ft RIB with a 9.9hp two-stroke Mercury outboard, and belonged to singlehander Andrew Wood of the Victoria, British Columbia-based Bavaria 47 Amizade. The dinghy was tied to an unusually long painter, and sometime during the night the line was cleanly cut about 18 feet from behind the boat. Wood reported the theft to the local Navy officials, who didn't express much interest. The dinghy was covered by Wood's policy with Lloyds.

The better news about the Guayabitos area is that a number of cruisers think it's a great place. "Everyone in our group of four cruising boats thought it was a great anchorage with calm waters and beautiful scenery," reports Gilly Foy of the Alameda-based Catalina 42 Destiny. "The dinghy landings were easy, and provisoning was widely available in the well-developed tourist town. For some reason it doesn't seem to be visited by that many cruisers, most of whom prefer Chacala, another great place which is eight miles to the northeast. While at Guayabitos, friends Lou and Laura Kruk of the San Francisco-based Beneteau First 42s7 Cirque discovered an Italian beachfront restuarant called Daniel's. In addition to food, they also brew excellent beer on the premises. Daniel, the owner, is an Italian immigrant — and a real character. He has a Mexican wife and two beautiful daughters, all of whom work in the restaurant. They'll keep an eye on your dinghy while you check out the sights. We highly recommend it!"

The reason not many cruisers stop at Guayabitos is that it's exposed to the northwesterly winds. On calm days, which are not that unusual, it's fine to anchor at Guayabitos, but when the northwesterlies blow, it's better to be anchored in Chacala, which offers pretty decent protection if you tuck into the corner. But there's nothing wrong with the fishing in the area. "Fifteen minutes after weighing anchor at Guayabitos, and near Isla La Pena, we landed this 48-inch wahoo," reported Lou Kruk of Cirque. "It fed the crews of our friends on Destiny, Amizade, Jammin' and us — and we still had half the wahoo left!"

"We'd hoped to have our boat ready to join everyone for the Banderas Bay Blast," writes John 'Corby' White of the Puerto Vallarta-based Yorktown 35 Ianiack. "In fact, we came out on Tuesday night for the party on Profligate, but we had problems with a shroud. It's not surprising, as I'd only recently bought the boat, which had been sitting unused near the entrance to the P.V. Harbor for 12 years. I got Ianiack, plus a license to charter, plus a permanent free mooring for $10,000 — so I knew she needed lots of TLC. But I want to thank Latitude for giving me the inspiration to stop drinking and start sailing. I'd raced Prindle 19s in Southern California for six years earlier in my life. Then three years ago my esposa — and best friend — Elaine Berger and I came down to P.V. from Aspen, and fell on hard times. Capt. Carlos, the friend who I bought Ianiack from, basically rescued Elaine from the street. As for myself, I went into rehab at a local church for a year, where I had nothing to read but a Bible — which I've gotten to know quite well — and some back issues of Latitude that Capt. Carlos let me have. Anyway, Elaine and I got cleaned up. Every now and then we have a cerveza, but never a tonaya. Anyway, when I came into a few pesos a few months ago, I was able to buy Ianiack and have a project for my life. Elaine and are are fixing her up and will be cruising this beautiful coast with her, then later on hope to do some charters.

If we in any way helped you folks get clean, we couldn't be more pleased. Good luck with your never-ending recovery, your cruising and your charters.

"We'll soon be leaving for the Revillagigedo Islands of Socorro and San Benedicto, which are about 240 miles south of Cabo San Lucas," report Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House. "The seldom visited islands are renowned for having lots of manta rays and sharks. We hope to get some great underwater photos. Another boat, Chuck Houlihan and Linda Edeiken's Allied 39 Jacaranda, should join us about 10 days later. From there we'll head straight to Zihua, Central America, Cocos Island, the Galgapagos and French Polynesia.

Here are some fun facts about the Revillagigedo Islands: First, there is no really good anchorage, and it's rolly enough that crews on monohulls tend to have a hard time. Second, there are no facilities or services. Third, the islands are volcanic and have very little vegetation. Fourth, the Revillagigedo Islands are one of the three island groups in the Pacific Ocean that are not on the continental shelf. The others are Guadalupe Island, about halfway down Baja but 150 miles out, and Rocas Alijos. Fifth, the islands were named after Don Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the 53rd viceroy of New Spain. We bet his friends called him 'D.J. 53' for short.

Whatever happened to David and Susanne Ames of the Seattle-based Spindrift 40 Cheshire, who bought their cat in Europe, then sailed her across the Atlantic and Pacific? After sailing up to Vanuatu, where they bumped into Commodore and Nancy Tompkins aboard Flashgirl, they returned to New Zealand. And there was only one reason for that: "To earn freedom chips so we can continue exploring the glorious South Pacific."

Speaking of New Zealand, the folks at Marsden Cove want everyone to be aware that their new marina, just inside Whangarei Harbour, is an official port of entry and ready to receive foreign yachts. "Cruising vessels can now enjoy the convenience of an international standard marina with fuel, water and sewage. Amenities ashore include modern ablution and laundry facilities, plus a range of domestic retail services. If maintenance is required, there is an extensive range of ship building and repair companies located approximately 10 miles up the river close to Whangarei City." The folks at Marsden Cove also want to remind everyone that foreign yachts must contact New Zealand Customs 48 hours prior to their arrival, with an estimated time and place of arrival. This can be done one of three ways: Call Taupo Maritime Radio (ZLM) on SSB 4125, 6215, 8291 or 12290 Khz. Call Russell Radio on SSB 4445, 6516 or 13103 Khz to have them report for you. Or . What happens if you anchor in Kiwi waters before clearing customs? Big trouble. By the way, when is the last time you heard anybody use the term 'ablution'?

"Roy and I are once again at Placencia, Belize, experiencing everything from 30-35 knot gusty fronts to calm days with no wind," reports Marlene Verdery of the Sausalito-based Manta 42 cat Damiana. "One day when the winds were very light, we took Damiana out and flew our new chute. The wind was so light that Roy's brother Bill, who was along with us, said he thought he could tow our cat faster. So he dove in, we harnessed him with the bridle, and he started swimming. It's unclear whether he got us moving any faster than the spinnaker, but we know he needed a lot of fuel — in the form of hamburgers along with Belikin beer and rum punch."

It's a shame the photo was shot in low resolution, as it's a shot we'd have liked to share with our readers.

Having spent lots of time with their Morrelli & Melvin 52 Adagio in Tasmania, Australia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, Steve and Dorothy Darden — who lived in Tiburon for 12 years — have finally brought their cat to San Francisco Bay. Joined by Joe Siudzinski of the KatieKat, the trio left the icy docks of Neah Bay and headed offshore to avoid crab pots, fishing boats, ships and logs. They had a boisterous 4.5-day passage. Fortunately, the winds abated just outside the Gate and the sun came out, so they passed beneath the Golden Gate in glorious conditions.

"It was Adagio's first visit to the Bay, so it was very special," Steve writes. Getting a berth for a big cat isn't easy, so Dorothy spent countless hours investigating every marina from San Francisco to Newport Beach. Then we got lucky and snagged an end-tie at Marina Village. If we can't be in Sausalito, Alameda is the next best thing. We're also really enjoying our two-hour bike route around Bay Farm Island. As for the upcoming year, we're soon flying to Tasmania — where we enjoyed several wonderful summers with Adagio — for four months. Once we return, we hope to cross the Pacific smartly to New Caledonia so we'll have a couple of months to circumnavigate Grand Terre before we have to scamper out."

"I was planning to do the Banderas Bay Blast, but just before it started I found a bad leak in one of the engine rooms," reports Mai Dolich of the Belvedere and Puerto Vallarta-based Marquesas 56 Dolce Vita. "So I took the boat up to Mazatlan and had her hauled at Seni, a very professional and reputable yard, where it was obvious to me the workers take pride in what they do. Not only that, they speak good English and the price is right. It cost me $1,000 to haul and launch my boat, plus $1.16 U.S. ft/day to be on the hard. One engine still isn't working, but we'll get that fixed in back at Puerto Vallarta."

As we mentioned in a 'Lectronic last month, the new Nayarit Riviera Shipyard opened last month at the Nayarit Riviera Marina. It's a beautiful facility, with lots of room, a fuel dock, a brand new 150-ton Travel-Lift, and — for big boat and catamaran owners — capacity to haul boats with beams to 32 feet! It's the biggest on the West Coast of Mexico. As good and as new as the facilities are, boatowner after boatowner told us they were taking their boats to other yards because of the high prices and the fact the management won't allow owners to do even the most basic boatwork. Shipyard manager John Gerber told us that a bottom job — prep, paint and labor included — would run about $79/ft. Cruisers, an admittedly thrifty group, blanched at the price. They gathered in circles and traded stories about having gotten the same work done in the States — where labor costs are many times higher — at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, when the December issue of Latitude came out, the boatyard ad on the back cover offered to do the same work for $33/ft — or 41% less.

After much head-scratching, we've finally developed a theory about why many businesses in Mexico persist in charging prices far in excess of what the market will seem to bear. Up until recently, Mexico has had only two classes of people, the super rich and the poor. The super rich never cared how much anything cost, because they had money to burn. The poor couldn't afford anything, so there was no point in businesses trying to lure them with specials. In the States, on the other hand, where there is a huge middle class that really cares about price, businesses compete feverishly to win business. The result is that American boatowners can't understand why the owners of some Mexican companies charge such high prices when it's obvious nobody is going to pay them, and Mexican businesses can't understand why American boatowners take their work elsewhere. Any thoughts on the validity of our theory?

You think cruisers are the only ones worried about their personal security in Venezuela? It's the number one concern of Venezuelans, too. And with good reason. In '07, 2,710 of the two million residents of the capital of Caracas were murdered. This was by far the higest murder rate of any city in South America, and was five times that of New Orleans, the notorious murder capital of the United States. In addition, an average of 311 cars were stolen in Caracas each day. Mind you, officials think only about half of the crime is even reported. In a recent poll, over 50% of all households in Venezuela — not just those in Caracas — reported they have been the victim of crime in the last six months. Extreme violence is often found when poverty and unemployment get worse, but in Venezuela the unemployment has dropped from 16.5 percent to 7.1 percent, and an unprecedented number of social programs have cut the rate of extreme poverty by 50%. So what's the cause? According to Ana Maria Sanjuan, director of the Center for Peace at the Central University of Venezuela, the combination of a weak judicial system, impunity, under-trained and poorly equipped police officers, and political polarization make it difficult for government and opposition forces to work together."

Whatever. There are many great cruising grounds in Venezuela, and most cruisers haven't had problems. Nonetheless, the amount of crime against cruisers — even when on their boats — has reached the level where more than a few cruisers think it's no longer worth the risk.

They got the extension they were looking for — and we're not talking about a hair extension. "Alene and I are back in the States until January, at which time we'll head back to our Cross 46 trimaran Migration in Tahiti," writes Bruce Balan. "We can't wait, because we just got word that the officials have granted our request to have our visas extended."

Readers might remember that Bruce and Alene spent two months at Easter Island earlier this year. Anchoring is challenging at Easter Islands, as the winds often shift, and require moving to another anchorage. Because of this, the couple have prepared an anchoring guide, which we'll be publishing in the next issue.

"It's December 14, and it's waaay too cold," write Richard and Sharon Drescler of the Long Beach-based Catalina 470 Last Resort. After cruising from Mexico to Alaska and back to Victoria last year, they are now wintering in Sidney, British Columbia. "We've had blizzard conditions with gale force winds blowing continuously for 24 hours," they write. "The wind chill is somewhere around 10 degrees, our boat is heeling 10 degrees in the slip, and the power cord ripped the jack off the utility pedestral. As for the hose bibs for water, they've frozen. Welcome to winter in the Pacific Northwest! We'll be doing another summer up here, but come August, will be returning to warmer southern climes. No more cold weather winters for us!"

"But we are having a ball nonetheless," they continue. "A highlight was being awarded the '08 Coastal Cruising Award at the General Meeting of the Bluewater Cruising Association in Vancouver. The Association consists of nearly 500 members, many of them very accomplished sailors, so our getting the award for our 4,200+ mile trip from Ensenada to Alaska and back to British Columbia was thrilling. For anyone who will be following in our wake, we've got some statistics that might be interesting. We covered 4,261 miles in 254 days, during which time we burned 1,361 gallons of diesel. The fuel cost an average of $4.66, which means the total fuel cost came to $5,346. Lest anyone think we motored all year, that's not true. Between Mexico and Cape Flattery, Washington, we managed to sail 40% of the time. That's a lot for what's often an on-the-nose passage. But our strategy of waiting until a low pressure system was about 24 hours offshore, then scooting to the next port on the southerly winds produced by the lows, meant we got to sail 40% of the time. Once we got to the Pacific Northwest and headed toward Alaska, sailing was almost always out of the question. In fact, it brought our total sailing time last year down to just 7%. Once we head south again, our sailing time will go way up."

"Patty and I are waiting for our third crewmember to return from a delivery to San Diego, so we've been doing some exploring around La Cruz," reports Sandy Smith of the Portland-based Morgan Out-Island 41 Faith. "While Patty was out looking for bugs — yes, bugs — the other day, she came across a restaurant called Arriba. Opened just over a month ago by owners John and Carol, it's got some great food at reasonable prices. Check it out!"

There are a couple of reasons that La Cruz, located on the north shore on Banderas Bay, has become much more popular with active cruisers — and we think will become even more so in the future. First, in a complete turnaround from last year, the folks at the Nayarit Riviera Marina have been getting rave reviews from marina tenants, many of whom are vets of the last two Ha-Ha's. The marina is also getting rave reviews from the anchored out sailors, beause there are now two free dinghy docks. Then, there are the great little places to eat in La Cruz, all of which are within easy strolling distance of the marina. There's ex-cruiser Philo's, of course, which in addition to live music and pizza is now offering delicious ribs. For thrifty cruisers, there are fun taco stands and shops all over town. The two favorites are probably Dos Amigos and Tacos on the Street, where even Pavatotti couldn't have spent more than $5 on dinner.

If anyone is looking for a romantic place, we recommend the Octopus' Garden, which serves breakfasts and dinners, features great music, and is also the place to get boat T-shirts made. It's owned by Wayland and Aruna, two wonderful and interesting people, who, some 20 years ago, built an unusual catamaran in the Cotswolds of England, and intended to sail her to Port Townsend, Washington. They never made it, first spending four years in Nicaragua, and more recently spending nearly 30 years in La Cruz. In addition to their other businesses, they also sell Huichol art, which is worth taking a close look at — particularly if you want to relive some hallucinogenic moments from your past. Wayland told us something that surprised us. Rather than feeling looked down upon, the Huichols actually look down on white people with scorn. They believe that the only reason that crops grow, rain falls, and the seasons change is because of their ceremonies. They believe that if it was left up to lazy ass white people, none of those critical things would happen. Anyway, check the place out.

While we're on the subject of restaurants on the north shore of Banderas Bay, we might as well give some tips on Punta Mita. It's tricky to know where to go, because some of the restaurants cater to Four Seasons guests, most of whom pay thousands a night for their rooms. Our favorite is the Blue Water Grill, right at the foot of the panga marina. It's owned by Mark of San Diego and Jason of Tiburon, and run by Mark. If you're looking for a great bargain in delicious food served in a casual environment, this is it. Mark is an enthusiastic waterman who knows all the surf spots and where to get a panga to take you to the islands. His ahi tuna dinners, with all the trimmings, run 120 pesos — which at the most recent exchange rate was a little over $8 U.S. And the ahi is often big enough for two. Cocktails are less than $5, and for ambience, David plays the guitar and sings in a unique way. For burgers and other good food, try Debo's, where you can also get on the internet and make Skype calls. And there's always Hector's Margarita restaurant, which every now and then is home to the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club. A new Italian place, between Margarita and the Bluewater, opened in mid-December, and had Dona de Mallorca so ga-ga that she can't even remember the name.

Is there anything more annoying than getting to Mexico and having countless birds land on your masthead instrument wands and Windex? If you've got a solution that doesn't involve guns or tactical nuclear weapons, we'd like to hear about it.

"May the best of last year be the worst of this year!" says Kirk McGeorge of the St. Thomas-based Hylas 49 Gallivanter, who recently sailed with his wife Cath and son Stuart from Cartagena to Bocas del Toro, Panama. "After a Christmas party at the Bocas YC, we headed back toward the Canal Zone with a side-trip up the Chagres River on our way to Colon. The Chagres was dammed in order to create Lake Gatun, which provides the water supply for the Canal. It's supposed to be spectacular, with all kinds of wildlife. We've also got a reservation to spend a month or so soaking in the luxury of Shelter Bay Marina, located at the site of Fort Sherman, guarding the entrance to the Canal. Nowadays it's a national park. We'll park our boat here while we visit friends in Costa Rica for the holidays. Friends and family are planning to join us for our Canal transit toward the middle of January, after which we'll cruise the coast of Panama for a few months, then set a course for the Galapagos and French Polynesia. The adventure continues!

It's not been the best of years, so Glenn Twitchell of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 38 Beach Access decided to look on the bright side by making a list of his "miscellaneous highs" from his time on his cat in Mexico: Seeing tons of sea life, catching and eating fish, perfecting my recipe for ceviche, finding the best massage therapist in the world in Mazatlan, enjoying the sunsets, sunrises and stars, meeting all the wonderful people out cruising, meeting many of the wonderful people in Mexico, and not feeling the current economic crisis too much as I was already cleaned out by divorce.

"After the Ha-Ha and sailing to Puerto Vallarta, we continued on to my favorite place on earth, Careyes, on Mexico's Gold Coast," reports Robert Strang of the Mud Island, Tennesee-based Hylas 49 Sky. "After enjoying ourselves there, we continued down to Grand Bay Marina at Barra Navidad. Thanks to the Ha-Ha list of marinas, we'd made an advance reservation. There is limited space for larger boats, so a deposit was required. However once we got there, we found the marina was attached to the five-star Grand Bay Hotel, which has all the amenities. After being at sea for some time, it was great. The small town of Barra is just across the narrow channel, and has lots of funky restaurants that are popular with cruisers. Since the marina is mostly filled with gold-plated powerboats, there's really only one dock for cruisers, and that's G Dock. All was great there. For those not wanting to pay for a marina, the adjacent lagoon is popular with cruisers. But we left our boat in the marina for the month while we went home for the holidays. By the way, well done on the Ha-Ha!"

The Vallarta YC held their Chili Cook-off, their big fundraiser for the year, in the parking lot in front of the club on December 6. It drew all kinds of interesting people. Our favorite moment was when Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police roared in on a chopper with a pretty senorita sporting a flashy sombrero sitting on the sissy seat. We never found out what it was about, but they were looking fabulous!

"I sailed from San Lorenzo, Honduras, on September 20, which was at the end of my three-month visa, and had a nice trip down to Costa Rica," reports Glenn Tieman of the Southern California-based 38-ft homebuilt catamaran Manu Rere. "There were various weather conditions to deal with, but that doesn't bother me much anymore. Along the way I stopped for two nights at a wilderness area inside a beautiful but uninhabited bay. From there I cleared into Costa Rica at Playa del Coco. I stayed there and at a more sheltered nearby bay for five weeks until the end of the rainy season. And it rained a lot — including one week where the rain almost never stopped. Costa Rica is great, and I want to spend more time there. As for Panama, a friend told me he had to pay $125 just to enter. Nicaragua isn't cheap either, as it costs $65 to get in. Meanwhile, I can't start my crossing to French Polynesia until February, because officials won't issue visas for boats until tropical cyclone season is over. Since my three-month visa for Costa Rica would only last me until January, I sailed back to San Lorenzo, Honduras, where I am now. It was a great sail, and I'm fine being here again in the land of cheap shrimp. But I'll be turning around again within a week to return to Costa Rica. This time I'll cruise that country all the way down Golfito until February, at which time I can sail across to French Polynesia. As for those people who suggest Americans don't have to follow any immigration or customs laws, they're out to sea!"

What's it like to make a passage on the engineless 38-ft catamaran that the thrifty Tieman built himself for $14,000? He sent us a day-by-day report of his 200-mile passage between San Lorenzo and Bahia Santa Maria, Costa Rica. First night: anchored off a Nicaraguan beachtown. Second night: anchored off a remote Nicaraguan village. Third night: anchored off Corinto, Nicaragua, but was blown back up the coast by a storm. Fourth night: beat back southeast along the coast trying to make up the ground I'd lost the previous night. Fifth night: boat self-steered on beam reach in improved conditions. Sixth night: no report. Seventh night: anchored at heavenly Bahia Santa Maria. Ninth night: hove to just short of rounding the islands after beating all day. Tenth and last night: hove to until dawn, then entered Playa del Coco, Costa Rica. And no, we don't know what happened on the eighth night.

So yes, what Tieman describes as a "day by day sample of real sailing" on his cat meant he averaged just 20 miles a day. It underscores the fact that in less than ideal conditions, patience is not just a virtue, but is mandatory, on an engineless cat.

There's been a changing of the guard at the Nayarit Riviera Marina in La Cruz, and not all cruisers are happy about it. Former manager Christian Mancebo, who had become extremely popular with tenants, has been replaced by Rafael 'Raffa' Alcantara, former manager of the Vallarta YC. The problem is that the marina just wasn't attracting as many boats as the owners had hoped or expected. And frankly, we're as shocked as anyone that it hasn't. After all, the Nayarit Riviera Marina is the newest, biggest and most scenic marina in Mexico, and its located in the lovely town of La Cruz, away from all the hustle and bustle of P.V. And unlike last year, when there were some public relations blunders on the part of the marina, this year the place has gotten rave reviews about the facility, how clean it is and how friendly the staff has been. As for the upstairs palapa restaurant run by the Marival organization, the food is delicious and reasonably priced, and the view is to die for. Anyway, everyone wishes Raffa and the marina much success, but also their friend Christian, who will apparently remain around the marina pursuing other nautical interests.

"A huge 'thank you' for the superb Baja Ha-Ha," write Alan and Christine Jackson of the Berkeley-based Passport 40 Mystical Crumpet. "The rally was well organized, with a suitable emphasis on fun and safety. We really did have a great time, and met so many people at the excellent shore activities. Turtle Bay was our first experience with small town Mexico, and not only was everyone friendly and helpful, but we got all the fuel we paid for! The party with the rock band and fantastic food on the bluff at Bahia 'in the middle of nowhere' Santa Maria was amazing. Everyone we spoke with had a great time on the Ha-Ha. The event was our incentive for 'getting out of Dodge' on a specific date. Our cruising dream started when we left Berkeley at the end of September. We're now in La Paz, which means the folks at the yacht club who bet we'd never make it past Half Moon Bay have lost! Even though we don't know any Spanish, we've really been enjoying La Paz. We'll soon set sail for the nearby islands, then head across to Mazatlan for the holidays.

We're glad you had a great time. We've received many letters expressing the same sentiment, so we think just about everyone enjoyed themselves. The big change we're looking forward to next year is moving the beach party in Cabo away from Mangos, where we've never been able to get them curtail their normal "let's try to get everybody drunk and sleazy" program. Next year we'll be holding the beach party about 150 yards away at the Baja Cantina Beach Club, a much classier place with better facilities and reasonable prices. Unfortunately, it hadn't been completed in time for the last two Ha-Ha's. By the way, we've already heard from three boats that will be returning to California for the summer, in part to be able to participate in the 'Sweet Sixteen' Ha-Ha this fall.

"We're planning to be in the Sea of Cortez in April and May of this year," writes Sally Cable, "and are wondering if you're planning to host a Sea of Cortez Sailing Week again. It sounds like the kind of racing for our Island Packet. If so, what are the dates?"

The revived Sea of Cortez Sailing Week will start from La Paz on — most appropriately — April Fool's Day. We'll 'rally' out to the islands, have a layday, rally up to Isla San Francisco, rally back to Isla Partida, have another layday, then rally back to La Paz. The number of entries will be limited to 30, based on the fact we don't think we can accommodate the crews of more than 30 boats for the potlucks and sunset cruises aboard Profligate. If anyone is interested in this free 'every participant is a winner' event, email your name, boat name, boat type and hailing port to . The slots are filling up rapidly. In the interest of full disclosure, this event is not for you unless you actively enjoy sailing, hiking, snorkeling, being hit with waterballoons, wearing fake mustaches and costumes, and laughing long and hard with new and old friends.

If you're one of the folks lucky enough to be out cruising in these difficult times, be sure to appreciate your good fortune. And don't forget to send an email and a couple of high res photos.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2009 eBook!


'Lectronic Latitude | Download the Magazine | Crew List & Party
Calendar | Letters | Changes in Latitudes | Features
Classy Classifieds | Place a Classy Ad | Advertisers' Links | Display Advertising
Links | New Stuff | Subscriptions | Distribution | Contact Us | Home
  The West's Premier Sailing & Marine Magazine.
© 2015 Latitude 38 Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.