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January 2012

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  With reports this month from Drei on getting an outboard replaced in Baja; from Mystic on adventures before, during and after Minerva Reef; from Cadence on Papua New Guinea; from Nakia on seven years of cruising after the Ha-Ha; from ShantiAna on — yep, another one — replacing an outboard and a dinghy in Baja; from Beaudacious on seeing really big yachts in the British Virgins; and Cruise Notes.

Drei — Corsair UC
Gary Kahler
Outboard Replacement Blues
(San Diego)

My first experience with La Paz was a brief but nonetheless interesting one day. As Ha-Ha participants may recall, we three 'Buds' on the good ship Drei lost our outboard — brand new, by the way — in the waters of Bahia Santa Maria the night before the start of the last leg to Cabo. After several hours of free-diving to try to retrieve said motor, we decided we'd have to donate it to BSM as an artificial reef.

We figured we could buy a replacement outboard in Cabo. That was before we found out that small outboards just aren't available in Cabo. Everyone told us not to worry, because we'd have better luck in La Paz, which is home to a much larger cruiser community. We three Buds had to fly home from Cabo, so we gave the boat and the outboard-replacement task to Colorado friends Bo and Libby, who were about to start a pre-planned six-week cruise of the Sea of Cortez.

Alas, when the engineless Bo and Libby got to La Paz, they discovered that outboards were almost as scarce there as in Cabo. The best 'deal' they could find was a 2.5-hp for $1,400 — and it was a two-cycle. No way was I going to spring for that.

Knowing Bo and Libby wanted to get going on their cruise, I visited my local outboard dealer in Oxnard and begged for sympathy. He's a friend of mine, so he sold me a 2.5-hp four-stroke for $600. All I had to do was get it to La Paz quickly. I was smiling when FedEx told me they could ship it to La Paz on next-day air for $200. I stopped smiling when they told me that Customs in Mexico could hold it for 30 days before releasing it. OMG!

That did it. I decided I'd fly to La Paz with the small outboard — wrapped in a sleeping bag and stuffed in a duffel — as check-in baggage and deliver it to Bo and Libby myself. I got a ride to LAX and had standby status on the 11 p.m. flight. Who knew so many people wanted to go to La Paz? I struck out, which afforded me the opportunity to spend the night on a wooden bench at LAX. Fortunately, I was able to catch a flight to La Paz the next morning. Unfortunately, it went by way of Mexico City and took, including four hours in the terminal in Mexico City, a total of nine hours. Fortunately, I had no trouble transporting the outboard on the plane — because it didn't have any gas or oil in it.

Customs officials in Mexico City wanted to charge me duty based on the value of the motor. I convinced them it was only worth $300, which is the maximum value allowed before duty is charged. Ironically, they gave me more trouble about the little tool kit that comes with the outboard than the outboard itself! But they let me go.

It was 5 p,m. before I finally showed up at Drei in Marina de La Paz with the outboard. Bo and Libby had the outboard installed and running in less than an hour.

While hanging around the dock during that hour, I bumped into several Ha-Ha folks, and we decided to get dinner together. My having been back home in the States for all of 10 days, it was like Ha-Ha Part II for me. After drinking beer and eating tacos at a great outdoor stand, I spent the night on Drei's tramp sleeping under the stars. 'What a life!' I thought to myself.

Wanting to get an early start, Bo and Libby dropped me off at 5:30 a.m., 12 hours before my flight. With nowhere to go, I decided to walk the malecon — from where I got to watch my friends and boat sail off toward the islands.

— gary 'g-bud' 12/05/11

Readers — While it may not have worked in Gary's case, there are many more flights to Los Cabos than to La Paz, and once in Los Cabos, there is frequent luxury bus service to La Paz for $16 U.S.

Mystic — Mariah 31
Jenny Haldiman, Randy Ramirez
Samoa, Tonga and Minerva Reef

We arrived at Minerva Reef — hundreds of miles from any real land — on November 7 after a beautiful four-day sail from Tonga. Minerva Reef is the last possible stop before the 800-mile — and sometimes difficult — passage the rest of the way to New Zealand. Most South Pacific cruisers make this migration in November to avoid the tropical cyclones of the South Pacific summer.

We thought Suwarrow was remote, but it was a reasonable size island with solid ground, lots of coconut palms, two rangers, and cruisers coming and going on a daily basis. Minevera, on the other hand, is just four miles across, and has no islands, no motus, no palm trees and no rangers. It's 99% ocean!

It's true that there were nine other boats taking shelter inside the reef when we arrived. But within an hour of our dropping the hook, they'd all left. It wasn't that we had body odor; they'd simply just gotten word that it was a good time to make a dash for New Zealand. That meant we were left completely alone in a calm anchorage in the middle of the South Pacific. It was strange and beautiful at the same time. As we write this there are a total of four boats here.

We're told that tiger sharks, one of the most dangerous species of shark, are common at Minerva. So I'm really glad that Randy got the mahi and we don't have to spear fish for dinner. But the possibility of tiger sharks hasn't kept Randy from making night dives on the reef for lobster. Last night he came home with three. Yum!

Wait, I didn't tell you about 'the mahi' yet, did I? During a night watch on our passage from Suwarrow to Samoa, my headlamp shone on a group of mahi trailing Mystic. Randy, who did the '06 Ha-Ha aboard his Flicka 20 Dulcinea, the smallest boat ever to do that event, had always wondered if he could spear a fish from a boat. After using a bright light to attract the fish, he managed to shoot one. Unfortunately, the powerful fish snapped the mono line, and took the spear with him to what we presumed would ultimately be Davy Jones' Locker.

So imagine our disbelief when we landed the monster mahi days later — and noticed that it had a wound in his head. A small circular wound about the size of a spear shaft! It had to be the same mahi, because how else could it have a spear-shaped wound that entered and exited his skeleton? So it appears that Capt. Randy got his great white fish after all. Amazing!

To backtrack a bit, after Suwarrow we spent almost six weeks in Pago Pago, American Samoa. We didn't do any sailing there, and only dove a couple of times. We had read many negative reports about Pago Pago being dirty and such, but we found it to be surprisingly enjoyable. It just goes to show that cruising opinions and experiences can vary.

One of the things we really enjoyed about Pago Pago was how friendly and warm the Samoans were. Riding the buses, for example, was always an interesting community experience. The buses are custom built on the chassis of pickup trucks, brightly painted, and feature unusual — for the States — decorations. It was not uncommon to see buses festooned with fans, feathers and stuffed animals. And the powerful sound systems thumped out hip-hop and reggae music. Some even played videos, which included Samoan movies, music videos — and even drag queen shows! The buses are small and the Samoans are really big, so it was not uncommon for people to be stacked two or three high on each others' laps. If the person on the bottom of the stack needed off, everyone would pile off the bus, then reload.

Other things going for Pago Pago are the national park system (which maintains gorgeous hiking trails), inexpensive provisioning, and unbelievably inexpensive health care. Randy and I both decided to take advantage of the low prices. He had a hernia repaired and I got much-needed dental care.

After Samoa, we headed straight for Tonga, where we spent three seemingly short weeks in some of the most beautiful waters we've ever seen. We were in Vava'u, the northernmost island chain, where the sailing was idyllic. There were over 30 small islands with 100 different anchorages, all within a couple of hours' — or much less — sailing time of each other. Most of the sailing was in calm seas because the numerous islands practically eliminate the swell. Tradewinds and flat water equal sailing fun!

The diving in Tonga was spectacular! The water was the most intense shades of blue, and the visibility was up to 80 feet. There were so many gorgeous corals and fishes, as well as giant clams and schools of squid. Although we didn't see any whales, we often heard their songs. But when it came to edible stuff, the pickings below the surface were slim. There were very few fish of any size, and the bugs had been well picked over. Our stay in Tonga was short but sweet, so we're hoping to make our way back up to spend all of next season between Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

We plan to stay another week here at spectacular Minerva waiting for a favorable weather window to New Zealand. Besides we have provisions that we need to consume before we arrive in New Zealand, which has strict biosecurity laws.

Once we get to New Zealand, we'll be taking a 30-day bike trip around the North Island with cruising friends James and Kim on Doin'. Then it's to work for us, as we have depleted our sailing kitty. Based on conversations with the numerous Kiwis we've met cruising, it sounds as though Randy — given his skills — will be a hot commodity. I'm optimistic that I'll find something fun and interesting.

So far Mystic and our Fatty Knees Salty Bean have taken good care of us. We've done some amazing sailing and love having the Fatty Knees. But once we get to New Zealand, it will surely be time for some TLC for Mystic.

Although even pirates get a little homesick from time to time, it's still a pirates' life for me, as cruising has truly been liberating.

— jenny 11/25/11

Cadence — Apache 40 Cat
Frank Ohlinger
Palau to Cairns, Australia
(ex-Monterey/Koror, Palau)

Day 14 of our trip from the Republic of Palau to Cairns found us running out Steffen Strait and down the west coast of New Ireland, one of the larger islands of Papua New Guinea. We were bound for Rabaul, one of the more famous places in PNG. For one thing, it was the main base of Japanese military operations in the South Pacific during WWII. Second, the old provincial capital was reduced to insignificance when the volcano on which it's located erupted in spectacular fashion in '94.

Toward evening we found a secure anchorage in a nondescript bay near 3°38’N, 152°20’E. We were off a small village where the children swam out to laugh and stare and wonder at the strangers in their midst. Mr. Po, the schoolmaster, came out in a dugout and joined us for sunset libations. We caught up on local issues and politics.

Apparently the village is in shock from a recent incident of cannibalism. Tragically, one older resident was "ordered by a voice" to eat a child. Another wider issue is seabed mining. Saint George’s Strait will soon see the world’s first deep sea dredging operation, a gold mining venture, and concerns about its impact on fishing and the environment are prominent. The arrogance and negligence of the logging operations in the area are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Underway at sunrise, we were anchored by mid-afternoon in the open roadstead off Kokopo. We hiked up the beach to the main road, which is lined with well-stocked supermarkets. We bought dinner fixings and a WiFi card. I spent the evening answering email and downloading satellite images of the Louisiades Group, which has always been popular with cruisers. With poor charts and poor water clarity, I find that a properly geo-referenced JPG file of an island is the best navigation tool available.

Kokopo is about 20 miles down the coast from Rabaul, and is springing up to replace that damaged city as the provincial capital. We drove into Rabaul the following morning. Curiously, no one seems to notice the Japanese armored tank parked on the shoulder of the highway — where it was left in '45. The center of the city is still digging out from the volcanic eruption of '94. When the sun is high, dust devils swirl down the empty streets. This is Pompeii, on a smaller scale perhaps, but just as devastating for the 5-by-10-mile metropolitan area downwind of the eruption. Yet the harbor area is largely unaffected.

Rabaul is still a working port, and the yacht club is still in operation — though three-foot tall ash piles surround the barren grounds. Even in the post-apocalyptic landscape, they serve the coldest beer in town, and from the bar you can see the wisps of steam coming off the volcano cone only a few miles away. The town was evacuated at the time of the eruption, and from across the straits it was said to look like Hiroshima. The sky became dark at midday, with lightning flashes all around. Later pumice floated in and killed the reef fish.

"PNG yesterday, PNG today, PNG tomorrow. Suppose you sellem what belong you, you sellem life belong your children (pikinini), before long you long for behind time." Or so the wise locals say.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza was in port when we visited Rabaul, as were three Royal New Zealand naval vessels. Greenpeace is here to mediate a protest by the villagers of Pomio, who claim their land was stolen. According to the newspaper, government agents brokered 'Special Business and Agricultural Leases' between landowners and a foreign business group. The terms included clearing the land and building farms, factories, schools and roads on 300,000 hectares — in return for mineral and logging rights for 99 years. When the land was cleared and the trees loaded onto ships for China, everyone involved disappeared. The villagers got nothing except flash floods and sun-bleached fields.

As for the Kiwi navy ships, they are purportedly on a mission to clear the heaps of unexploded munitions in the area. However, it was no secret that their inport coincided with the Rugby World Cup final between the All Blacks and the Les Bleus. This was a passionate game both on the field and in the bar. The French team played well enough to redeem their tarnished reputation, but when they attempted a winning field goal, the Kiwi gent at the next table was literally on his knees pleading for divine intervention. The French choked. But forget the NFL and its shoulder pads, commercial breaks and lawyers. You just have to love a sport where the players just tape their ears back with electrical tape from a hardware store.

PNG is a nation where masks, feathers and bones-in-the-noses meet the internet and cell phones. The people are in their own world, one that’s developing so quickly it would make your head spin. In some ways they are Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers living on the frontier, and wondering what to make of this 'civilization' thing. They are a proud people, and they fully intend to continue wearing bones and feathers when they open their Facebook accounts.

Much has been written about the violence in New Guinea, both between tribes and on visitors. All I can report is that we felt no threat in Kokopo, either on land or at anchor. Nor did we feel in any danger at any of the towns we stopped at. We only visited Rabaul for a day by car, and heard nothing disconcerting while at the yacht club. I know there are horror stories out there, but I think they get too much schoolyard press. My advice? Hoist your dinghy at night and don't wear a Rolex into town. Besides, it seems to me the 'dangerous' places tend to be the most interesting and hospitable — with a few exceptions such as some big Third World cities and remote Micronesia.

Even though we had another week to traverse the Solomon Sea and the Louisiades Group before making the jump to Cairns, we did the departure formalities in Rabaul, the last town of any size we expected to see. Again, Customs and Immigration were polite and professional, and the service was gratis.

The rest of our trip — a quick but lumpy four-day reach into Cairns after anchoring off a few uninhabited islands in the Louisiades Group waiting out a storm system — was anticlimactic. It did occur to me, however, how amazing it is to reach into the Jaws of Death — a.k.a. the Great Barrier Reef — on GPS, when just a generation ago you'd have had to feel your way in with noon fixes, Decca, radio bearings and so forth. The pucker factor would've been considerable, and the probability of standing off in 20 knots of wind for daylight would have been very real. Now the approach is a no-brainer day or night, and there's cold beer and hot showers on the pier when you clear Aussie Customs. Wow, are we spoiled!

— frank 11/15/11

Nakia ­— Hans Christian 33
John Gratton and Linda Hill
Seven Years In Eastern Pacific
(Redwood City)

John and Linda are the ultimate in fast-responding pick-up crew. On our way to the start of the first of the three Banderas Bay Blast fun races with Profligate, we passed their boat Nakia on the hook at Punta Mita. Having not seen them since the '04 Ha-Ha, we hollered for them to come along with us. It took them about two seconds to accept our offer, and just a few more minutes to gather what they needed for three days of fun racing. Given their considerable experience, they were terrific crew. Since we had them as a captive audience for three days, we pressed them for what they've been up to the last seven years.

"Well," replied John, "after the Ha-Ha we spent four winters and three summers in Mexico, all of the summers being up in the beautiful Sea of Cortez. In the spring of '09, we continued down to Ecuador, then sailed back up the Pacific Coast of Colombia to Panama. We next set sail for the Galapagos, and continued on to the Marquesas and Hawaii. We liked the Marquesas, so we sailed back there from Hawaii, and continued on through much of French Polynesia. Late last year we sailed back up to Hawaii, then in December and mostly January, we made a 34-day passage from Hawaii to Manzanillo."

A lot of drugs come out of the sparsely populated Pacific Coast of Colombia, so we asked John if it seemed dangerous.

"Linda and I felt very safe," he replied, "in a large part because of the U.S.-funded drug interdiction efforts. For example, at every place we anchored between Tumaco and Bahia Salano, there would be five Boston Whalers with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on their bows. And there would be a battalion of Marines stationed ashore. The Marines were always friendly, and told us to call them if we ever had any trouble.

"Prior to going to Colombia," continued John, "we'd contacted some officials in the Colombian Navy and asked them how safe it was. We were advised to stay away from the very lightly populated 150-mile stretch of coast between Tumaco and Buenaventura, because there was lots of drug activity in the region. Tumaco is the place where several narco semi-submersibles have been found.

"We always felt very safe while ashore," adds Linda. "And I really liked Colombia because the people, culture and food were so different from that of Latin America."

"Apparently the Pacific Coast of Colombia used to be more dangerous," says John, "because much of the narco activity has moved north to the Darien jungle area of Panama. We're were told that many of the local people were relocated because it had become too dangerous."

We asked the couple about their Hawaii to Manzanillo passage, one of the longer and more unusual ones we've heard about.

"We have some friends who live in Santiago Bay, just around the corner from Manzanillo," said John, "so we decided we'd sail over and visit with them. But it did take 34 days."

"Spending 34 days at sea just to visit friends seems like a pretty stupid idea," laughed Linda good-naturedly.

"We did most of our sailing in January," explained John, "so there were lots of fronts that came through, allowing us to sail east if not northeast until we got to the edge of the Pacific High. Once we reached the edge of the High, we could crack off."

The couple say they will be making yet another Pacific crossing in the spring as part of the Pacific Puddle Jump. "We really like the Marquesas," says John. "After that, we'll sail up to Hawaii and figure out what to do next. We've had a hard time committing ourselves to going west from there."

We asked the couple about the possibility of sailing to Southeast Asia, an increasingly popular yet inexpensive cruising area.

"That had always been our plan, but we have a cat, and cats aren't allowed in New Zealand or Australia, which would have been our stepping stones to Southeast Asia," responded John. "But we've thought about going to Micronesia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and all that. In fact, we met some Kiwis who, prior to doing a circumnavigation had spent years sailing an Indian Ocean circuit that included Malaysia, Thailand, the Andaman Islands and the Chagos Archipelago. They said they loved it, so it's tempting. We've also heard good things about the Philippines. It's not only supposed to be beautiful, but we're told you can hire good woodworkers for $3 a day."

Speaking of money, we asked the couple about their cruising budget. "We try to keep it down to $2,000 a month, but we usually end up spending about $2,500 a month," said John. He was one of those who got in early with a tech company and was able to walk away with a bit of a nest egg.

John and Linda have owned and lived aboard their Hans Christian 33 for 20 years. The 33 is heavier than most more modern cruising boats, but John says she did just fine on the long, upwind sail from Hawaii to the Marqueas. "We stopped trying to make easting when we got to 140°W because that's what Jimmy Cornell recommended. We should have held on all the way to 138°W or even 137°W, because we ended up having to tack a few times."

Would he and Linda do the same passage again? "If our friends were there and wanted to see us, that's what we would do."

— latitude 12/05/11

ShantiAna — Columbia 38
The Bartlett Clan
The Stolen Dinghy
(San Francisco)

We have quickly learned that nothing is black and white in the world of Mexico officialdom, but rather many pleasant shades of gray. Let me give you a couple of examples.

After doing the Ha-Ha with my husband Bill, his son Keene, 20, my children Paddy, 13, and Chelsea, 11, and our cat Lily, we took a berth in the marina for a big boat and personal clean-up. For some reason, we thought the restrooms everyone used during the Ha-Ha Awards ceremony were the bathrooms and showers for the marina tenants. After I complained to Bill that the ladies' restroom was full of boxes and mops, and there was no door on the shower, he said he'd stand guard while I took a shower in the men's restroom, which at least had doors. So I got naked, turned on the hot water — and got drenched with rusty water. I really needed a shower then! The water clarity eventually improved, but I was none too happy and got out of there quickly. Alas, we would soon find out that those banos were the locker rooms for the marina employees, not the marina tenants! There were other facilities for marina tenants, which were clean, had doors on the showers, and had plenty of hot water.

Then there was the matter of our dinghy disappearing on the night of November 7, after our son borrowed it with our permission. He pulled it up on the beach out in the bay, but when he returned 20 minutes later, it was gone. We assume that it was stolen.

I didn't care that it was midnight, I insisted that we go directly to the police station to report the theft. We were directed to the Bomberos — the fire fighters — which the locals told us was the same as the police department in the middle of the night. When we arrived at the fire department, a fireman responded to our ring by twirling down a classic fireman's pole from the second floor. He even had a spotted Dalmatian.

The Bombero took our report, but advised us to report the theft to the Navy also. The fact that it was now 2 a.m. wasn't going to stop me, so we took a taxi to Navy headquarters and banged on the iron gate. It was opened by a troop of sailors with machine guns. Using our best Spanglish, we reported our loss. They took the info and told us to return in the morning. Nonetheless, they immediately got on their Navy boats and started searching the bay. According to friends who were anchored out, they checked the stern of every anchored boat looking for our dinghy.

At 10 the next morning, I took the entire family to the Navy. They wrote a more thorough report, and promised that they would search from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo to try to recover it for us. We were very impressed with the Navy. But then things got so strange that not even Hollywood could make it up.

That afternoon three plainclothes police officers — except for their machine guns and bulletproof vests — came down to our boat and asked for Bill. They had a two-page report, in Spanish, in their hands, titled BillahBarsllettShantiannsa, with the name "Paola" near the top. They said that according to the report, an individual named Paola had stolen $70 dollars from us.

I understand some Spanish, so I told the officers that we hadn't had any money stolen, just our dinghy. They nonetheless took us to the police station to identify Paola. I didn't want to go, but Bill was worried sick that his son had somehow got himself in some kind of trouble. So they put Bill in the back of the police truck and me in front between the two police officers. Each of them apologized for having to lay their machine guns next to my legs.

While driving to the police station, I causally let them know my dad and stepmother were police in the States, hoping they would understand what side of the law we were on. I also asked to read the report using my Spanish dictionary, but got nowhere. The officers did, however, tell me that Paola was a gay man who had surgically been transformed into a female! Then they asked where we were from, and I answered truthfully, "San Francisco." They laughed and said something to the effect of wasn't everyone in San Francisco gay? They also asked if I liked women. I reassured them, using my wedding ring, that I was on the hetero team, and pointed out that I was married to the man in the back of the truck.

The police station was about 10 miles from the marina. Once inside, Bill and I were taken to separate back offices separated by a wall. Nonetheless, I could hear them ask if he understood Spanish. When he said he didn't, they pantomimed massage and inappropriate sexual hand gestures with regard to Paola. Hearing this, I got up and went into the office where they had Bill, and tried to explain for the third time that it was our dinghy. We hadn't had our money stolen by a transgender or anyone else. Further, we'd never seen or heard of anyone named Paola.

We finally got through to them, as one of the men finally wrote a three-page report saying there had been some sort of confusion, and that we hadn't had any money stolen. We were told they were going to launch an investigation in to the loss of our dinghy. We had to sign the report, even though it was in Spanish and we didn't really understand it. After we signed it, the police walked away, leaving us sitting there in their office.

We finally asked a young man, the secretary, if he could take us back to the marina. He said he could — right after he added water to his car's battery and got someone to jump start the engine.

All this was a bit disturbing, to say the least. Despite this, we plan to continue cruising Mexico and do the Puddle Jump in the spring.

P.S. We would like to thank the Grand Poobah and staff for the great adventure that was the Ha-Ha. I'm a pretty seasoned traveler, and I had never done or experienced anything quite like it. And we can appreciate all the thought and effort that had gone into it.

— shantiana 12/10/11

Beaudacious — Catalina 470
Paul and Lynne Klein
Cruising the British Virgins

It's been a busy couple of months for us, what with having done the Caribbean 1500, taking our crew on a week's cruise of the British Virgins, and having to do a quickie haulout to fix a blemish on the keel. It was only while enjoying a sundowner by ourselves at glorious Virgin Gorda that we began to appreciate our accomplishment. We'd completed what had been a difficult 1,500-mile — rhumbline — trip from Virginia to the Virgin Islands, and done it in 11 days. Not bad. Just then, we suddenly saw not just a big yacht, but a huge yacht dropping her sails. We could hardly wait for morning to check her out.

It turned out that the first Superyacht TransAtlantic Regatta from the Canary Islands to the British Virgins was finishing right next to us at the brand new — and very exclusive — Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. Seven of the big boys — 150-ft and longer — had already arrived and more were coming. These were magnificent sailing vessels, each and every one of them!

We subscribe to the notion that it's 'better to ask forgiveness than permission', so we barged ashore to have a look around and take some photos. We got a photo posing with the 219-ft Hetairos, the ultra-modern, semi-retro looking yacht that took line honors. Not only did we not get kicked out, Paul even got the chance to chat with some of the crew and at least one owner! He found out that these multi-million-dollar sailing machines with professional crew had crossed the Atlantic in an average of about eight days! Twice our distance in less time. It seems that most of the boats were headed to St. Barth and the Caribbean Maxi Series.

We then headed back to Nanny Cay at Road Town. This is ground zero of bareboat chartering, so they have outstanding facilities and services. It was a good thing because we needed to have our Spectra watermaker and Raymarine autopilot looked at, and our starter battery replaced. Paul is getting grouchy about the 'boat units', but we've got friends arriving from California for 12 nights — including New Year's at Foxy's on Jost van Dyke. Next New Year's we plan to be at St. Barth.

— lynn 11/29/11

Paul and Lynn— We used to do every New Year's at St. Barth, and they were epic — until the early '00s. Since then much of the fun seems to have been displaced by money and 150 or so mostly souless $20- to $500-million motoryachts. Given all the pretense and $10,000 bottles of champagne, most of our sailing and riff-raff friends now give it a pass.

In our opinion, the best times to visit St. Barth are: 1) The St. Barth Bucket, March 24-27, where 40+ invited mega sailing yachts do a three-race series. It's the greatest sailing spectacle in the world. 2) The Voiles de St. Barth, a French version of Antigua Sailing Week, April 2-7, just a week later. If you're female or look the part of a sailor, there's a good chance you can get a ride on something like a Santa Cruz 70. Sail all day and party Bartian- style on the quay all night. Ooh-la-la! 3) Carnival, which this year is Feb. 20-21.Don't forget to go all out on your costume! 4) Any other time from mid-February to June, when the weather is best and the island is mellow.

Cruise Notes:

Could we get a round of applause for Jenny Haldiman and Randy Ramirez of the Stockton-based Mariah 31 Mystic? The couple — who have the second Changes in this issue — burned just 12 gallons of diesel on their nine-month voyage from Mexico to New Zealand. Brilliant! To give you an idea of their cruising style, when they were just 10 miles from completing their 8.5-day voyage from Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand, the wind died. Instead of firing up the donk so close to landfall, they appreciated the fact that the sun had come out, they enjoyed watching new-to-them species of birds diving for fish, and took time to decompress and think about the new country they were about to visit. And despite the fact the wind was blowing a chilly and blustery 25 knots when they were released from Quarantine, they sailed off the dock and dropped the hook under sail in the anchorage.

"Sailing into anchorages and even up to docks has become something of a fad in these parts," reports Haldiman. "People have even told us they call it 'Doing the Mystic'. Sailing all the time instead of using the diesel is exciting and builds your confidence in being able to use your boat the way she was designed to be used. In addition to being good for the environment, it keeps you from relying on your noise-maker, which you can't always trust."

The next time we make some Latitude 38 hats, we're going to make some green ones so we can present them to true 'Soul Sailors' such as Jenny and Randy. You two are the bomb! Any other genuinely 'green' cruisers out there?

There is good and bad news to report from December's Banderas Bay Blast. The good is that more than $3,000 — $1,000 of it in the name of last year's Ha-Ha fleet — was collected to support the primary schools in the Punta Mita area. The bad news is that only about 15 boats participated, a pathetic number given the fact that the event is free, is for a good cause, is held in such a great sailing venue, and included free berthing at the Marina Riviera Nayarit and Paradise Marina. The winners of the three divisions were proclaimed rather than calculated, yet there was no dissent when Race Committee Chairman Randy Hough declared the victors to be Dorr Anderson's Vallarta-based Jeanneau 40 Bright Star, Arjan Bok's San Francisco-based Lidgard 43 RotKat, and Robin Kirkcaldie and Stephanie Mortensen's 60-year-old Santa Barbara-based Bounty II Red Witch II. If any boat deserved overall honors, it was Red Witch II. Robin, who comes from generations of sea captains who sailed cargo vessels from New Zealand to England, and Stephanie, a former surf champ who for years battled countless male surfers on a daily basis to get her share of waves at Malibu, sailed the daylights out of the old girl. They were deadly fast in light air, not only rhumblining with a now class-illegal J/105 spinnaker, but also upwind.

But if one lesson was learned in the Blast, it was that you can't hug the north shore of Banderas Bay anywhere within the general the vicinity of the La Lancha surf break. With sailmaker Mike Danielson calling tactics on the J/160 Blue, they gybed out to deeper water just before a reef, but had to gybe back when a line got fouled on the bowsprit. As a result, they hit a reef head-on. We watched in semi disbelief as the bowman did what appeared to be a 10-ft imitation of Superman right off the bow. This was followed by the mandatory getting a line fouled in the the prop, 15 minutes of bouncing on the reef, and an unscheduled trip to the boatyard.

In a move to increase Blast participation, officials from the sponsoring Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and Vallarta YC will probably move the Blast dates back to mid-December next year to give folks in chilly Baja time to get down to warm air and water for some 'nothing serious' racing.

The next major event on the Mexico cruising calendar is the Zihua SailFest, which traditionally has been the most successful cruiser fundraiser ever. The dates are Feb. 7-12, and every year a new class of cruisers is needed to keep the wonderfully worthy cause going. So don't miss it. And wait until you see the dramatic Zihua sunsets!

"We've been back in Thailand for almost a month now and have been enjoying it greatly," report John and Renee Prentice of the San Diego-based Serendipity 43 Scarlett O'Hara. "Despite this supposedly being the prime season with fine weather, we've had strong winds with rain, lightning and big seas. John braved the elements to help a woman, whose husband hadn't returned from Egypt yet, to re-anchor in 30 knots of wind. And the skipper of the boat he was to race on in the famous King's Cup Regatta got ill and backed out. It was just as well, as the night before the first race the fleet at Kata Beach was nailed by a nasty storm. Three boats ended up on the beach, many banged into each other, and a bunch of dinghies washed up on the beach. Some skippers were unable to get out to their boats, and had to stay in hotels while their boats fended for themselves. It was a real mess, and the second time in two years that it happened. We returned to more protected Chalong Harbor because of weather issues, and have been having a great time with friends. The beach is wonderful, an hour massage on the sand is $10, and dinner with lots of beers for John is $15. We've also taken a taxi to Phuket Town to explore things such as Super Cheap, which is a huge building with hundreds of shops. They have everything under the sun, from total junk to real bargains. We'll be heading to Patong Beach for Christmas and New Year's, as it seems to be 'the place to be'. Patong Beach is probably the prostitute capital of the world, and the girls are not shy about what they offer! A sign at one massage parlor even advertised a 'Ball Massage'! We had lunch at a beach restaurant and watched the scene — it's crazy. We were surprised by the huge influx of Russians, but given Russian winters, we guess it makes sense. We plan to sail to South Africa, but may be dropping Sri Lanka from our route."

The 34-ft sloop Waltzing Matilda was lost on the rock at Punta Camarones in Matenchen Bay near San Blas on November 29, several cruisers reported. Younger Girl, Mark Sciarretta's San Diego-based Lagoon 380 was the first on the scene. "We found that it was an Aussie or Kiwi singlehander whose boat had sailed onto the rocks while he slept. Although Camarones is sometimes the site of great surf, it was rather calm, yet the boat kept getting driven further onto the rocks. By the time we got there, Waltzing Matilda had lost steering and her drive shaft. I offered assistance with my dinghy, but the skipper insisted on staying aboard as long as possible."

With Somali pirates having all but eliminated the Red Sea to the Med circumnavigation route, cruisers who still want to 'go around' are now left with having to cross the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, and make the long — but usually very pleasant passage — up to Brazil toward the Caribbean. And that means they've missed the Med. So what cruising options are left for folks looking to go beyond Mexico and Central America, the South Pacific Milk Run, as well as New Zealand and Australia, but who don't care about a circumnavigation? Ignoring the fact that there's at least a decade of great cruising in those already-mentioned areas alone, Henry Mellegers and Glenys Henry of the Oakland YC-based Cal 3-46 Dreamcatcher, vets of the '03 Ha-Ha, highly recommend Southeast Asia. In fact, next month we'll have a report on the cruising in the culture-rich countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos— the latter three of which would need to be visited by land. One of the many great things about the area is the low cost of cruising.

"Our rough estimate for an annual cruising budget for a couple wanting to live a nice but not extravagant lifestyle aboard would be $13,000 to $15,000," reports Glenys. "This would include a week per month in a marina, food, booze, fuel and ground transport. We do not include expensive options such as a day at Universal Studios in Singapore or the cost of a haulout or major boat repairs." Sounds good to us. In fact, if we had a free year or two to kill, Southeast Asia would be our number one cruising destination.

During the Vallarta YC's early December Chili Cook-Off for Charity — their most successful ever — we got a chance to talk with Nicol Lyons about homeschooling. The Lyons family consists of Tom and Nicol, vets of a Ha-Ha aboard Profligate in '02, and son Max, 8, and daughter Mckenzie, 6. They have been cruising Mexico ever since right after Tom and Nicol completed the '09 Ha-Ha aboard their Hawaii-based Gulfstar Sailmaster 47 Ohana. They spent the last summer at a berth in Nuevo Vallarta's Paradise Marina. "It was hot and humid," says Nicol, "but not hot and humid like St. Louis in the summer." It helped that Ohana has air-conditioning and the family left Mexico for the month of September, the most unpleasant weather month of all.

"Home schooling is very challenging," Nicol admitted. "It's so difficult that I can see how it could force some families to give up cruising. I teach using the Calvert course, and school is in session on our boat from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. — although that includes breaks, meals and recess. By 1:30 p.m., I've had about all I can take for a day. It's been my experience that it's important to maintain a formal atmosphere, so when school is in session my kids must address me as 'Miss Lyons', and they have to hold their hand up and be called on before they can speak. Home schooling seems to go easier for Mckenzie, who is doing very well. Like most boys, Max is more restless, but he is keeping up with his level."

After-school learning is much easier. "We lived in Hawaii for a couple of years before we started cruising, so the kids learned to swim when they were very young. And now one of the daily activities is for Tom to take the kids swimming. I just can't believe the size of some of the waves little Mckenzie dives under and through, but her dad is right there to supervise."

The Lyons family plans to continue cruising Mexico, perhaps going out to the Revillagigedo Islands. Tom has visited the islands a number of times before, taking some spectacular photos and videos of the giant manta rays.

Bill Yeargan and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mitu Kuuluu report that they've already received 60 entries for this year's Cruisers' El Salvador Rally from March 10 to April 29. The event is free, and they've put together an extensive guide covering just about everything that a cruiser headed that way might need to know. "The most common reaction we've gotten from past participants is that they had no idea how fantastic El Salvador is. And by the way, the civil war in El Salvador ended in '92, so nobody needs to worry about that."

What a difference a year can make in the 2,700-mile Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the granddaddy of all cruising rallies. Last year only two of the 200+ entries managed to make the 2,800-mile crossing from the Canary Islands off Africa to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean in less than a pedestrian 16 days — and one of them was a motoryacht, which had inexplicably been allowed to enter. This year the fastest of the 217 boats were blessed with mostly excellent tradewind sailing conditions, and even the boats that were a little off the pace had fine tradewind conditions until the last couple of days when the winds went soft. Excellent and fine tradewind conditions mean squalls at night, of course, with big windshifts and big increases in wind speed, so there was still plenty of excitement. But thanks to the generally good weather, the injuries and breakages were on the low side.

Although the ARC is supposed to be a cruising rally — and for the most part is — the headlines go to the biggest and the fastest boats in the racing divisions. Russian Vladimir Kulinichenko’s 100-ft super-maxi Med Spirit, with 16 crew, nipped Alain Hulmeau and his four crew aboard the Pulsar 50 trimaran Rayon Vert by a couple of hours for line honors, but still fell short of the 11-day, 5-hour course record set by the Italian maxi Capricorno in '06. Not that any of the sailors on the 180 non-racing boats — most of which were in the 35 to 55-ft range — could have given a toot. These folks were sailing for personal achievement rather than glory, and so to our thinking were the real 'winners'.

Fifteen of the ARC entries were from the United States, which is a typical number. The only one we recognized as being from the West Coast was Roger Hayward's Long Beach-based Catalina-Morgan 440 La Palapa. Hayward, a vet of both the '07 Ha-Ha and a serious Somali pirate threat last spring in the Arabian Sea, finished a gentlemanly 133rd. But knowing Roger, we're confident that he finished near the top in having fun.

"Sailing into Cabo 20 years after our last visit was totally mind-blowing," report Ned and Carol Backus of the Seattle-based Outbound 44 Frannie B. "The place has gone from a sleepy beach town to a Las Vegas-ville. Still, it was worth a short stay for a quick city glitz fix. We reminisced about signing some book in '91 and getting a Baja Ha-Ha T-shirt. Fortunately, the Grand Poobah convinced us that we hadn't lost our minds by explaining that Latitude had a 'sort-of' Ha-Ha with shirts before the 'real Ha-Ha' started in '94. Whew! On our way to La Paz, the usual stops in Frailes and Muertos helped to turn Ha-Ha acquaintances into real friendships. By the way, we'd had mixed feelings about signing up for the Ha-Ha because we're not joiners, but found it a great way to get ourselves out of San Diego by a fixed date and move down the coast at a reasonable pace with great rest stops. In retrospect, we're glad to have done the Ha-Ha, and thank everyone involved for an event so well run we can hardly think of anything we'd change. Maybe a bit more wind and some smaller t-shirts. The Poobah, Assistant Poobah and Doña, Chief of Security, did a great job in stressing safety and friendship over too much booze and craziness. But that doesn't mean it was boring. We recommend the Ha-Ha to everyone.

"La Paz was as lovely as ever," Ned and Carol continue, "maybe even better than in '91 as the sidewalks are less treacherous now. Maybe it's just that back then we were trying to negotiate the streets with a baby stroller and six-year-old in tow. Marina de la Paz is as good as ever, too, and Mary Shroyer, unlike the rest of us, seems to have not aged at all. The newly finished malecon makes cycling or jogging from Marina de la Paz to well past Marina Palmira a delight. The Saturday/Tuesday market across from the Post Office is very small, but the hydroponic lettuce is worth the trip, as good lettuce is hard to come by in Baja, and the heads we bought were still crisp and beautiful after two weeks. We know everybody raves about Rancho Viejo — five locations — but we think the best restaurant in La Paz is the La Marmolera on Cuauhtemoc and Serdan. They have wonderful coffee and breakfasts, and a 70 peso — about $5.50 — lunch that is to die for. It was tough to leave La Paz, but the Poobah recommended getting up into the Sea while the water was still warm. So we've been on a quick lap. The water did cool off to about 72 degrees, but it was still all right, and the air temp was a lovely 70s during the day and 60s at night. Great temps for hiking and pleasant temps in the cabin. It seems as though we've been sailing in the Grand Canyon, with the sunrises and sunsets especially colorful. And there are too many great anchorages to mention. We're sorry to say that we think we were the only Ha-Ha boat that made it to Puerto Escondido for the Thanksgiving Pig Roast. It was the easiest Thanksgiving meal we didn't cook!"

Correction: We previously forwarded word that the Grand Marina in Barra de Navidad had been sold. It turns out that marina — which is part of the complex that owns the big hotel, the golf course, and much of the nearby real estate — is merely under new management.

Here's a little story that illustrates how happily service-oriented Mexicans can be. We pulled into a Pemex station on our Honda 250 dual sport motorcycle, and as normal, the attendant pumped the gas and checked the oil. It turns out the oil was overflowing the crankcase. We found a straw and began to extract the oil a few drops at a time using the 'stopper method'. The attendant would have nothing of it. He found a quarter- inch diameter hose attached to a clear, open-ended container the size of an orange-juice can. He then proceeded to suck the extremely hot and toxic oil out of the crankcase. Not all the way into his mouth, mind you, but until the clear plastic container was filled almost to his lips. He removed about a quart this way — without our having asked him. Yes, we gave him a tip.

Some of the things this year's cruising class seem to have in common is the realization that life can be less complicated when cruising, and you don't have to endure many of the stresses that are so common 'back home'. And, that it's great friends and experiences, not material goods, that bring real pleasure and contentment. And finally, that you can enjoy this often better quality of life for much less money than the 'old life' up north. Nobody is suggesting, of course, that cruising doesn't have its frustrations or that it's all cocktails and sunsets, because it's not that way at all. But on the whole, it's a much more natural life.

Personally speaking, we can't remember meeting such a great bunch of people, from all walks of life, on all kinds of boats, with so many different plans. If it ever comes your time to cruise, we think you'll love it!

Missing the pictures? See the January 2012 eBook!


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