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January 2015

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With reports this month from Witch of Endor on the bottom in La Cruz; from Geja on adventures in Venice and other northern Adriatic ports; from Camelot in San Diego on a total refit in anticipation of a South Pacific cruise; from Benevento on cruising from San Francisco to the Spanish Virgins; from the Riviera Nayarit on opening the season in Mexico; and Cruise Notes.

Witch of Endor — Vagabond 47
Steve Cherry
Sinking at the Dock
(La Cruz, Mexico)

It is with a profound sense of sadness that I inform my friends that my Vagabond 47 Witch of Endor sank alongside the dock at Marina Riviera Nayarit sometime during the wee hours of Nov.17-18.

I got the call on the 18th, and flew to the boat to assess the situation and do whatever had to be done to make things right with the marina, the port captain and others.

When I arrived on the 20th, Victor Rodriguez, my mechanic, had things well in hand. In fact, he was in the process of refloating the boat using 55-gallon drums. By the 21st we had the Witch floating again, and on Saturday she was on the hard at the La Cruz Shipyard.

The cause of her sinking has still not been determined. After she was pumped out, she “floated like a swan” through the night. There was no immediate indication of why she didn’t do so on the night of the 17th. Victor is in the process of cleaning up the inside, and then will hang her in the straps and try to determine the origin of the water intrusion.

As far as recovery goes, there isn’t any. I had no insurance, so there is no relief there. The marina had no exposure in the sinking. Victor had been replacing the fresh-water tanks and removing teak from the deck, but there is no reason to believe any of that work could have caused the problem.

Regardless of the cause, the effect has been to put me out of the sailing business. The cost of salvage and various expenditures related to this incident pretty well depleted my cruising kitty. The cost of rehabbing and refitting the Witch is way out of my reach.

That being the case, Victor is now the proud owner of the Witch of Endor. He's not sure what he will do, either rehab her and do day charters or part her out. My hope would be that he finds a way to put her back into service, as she was a fine vessel and did very well by me.

So I’m sitting here at my sister’s house in Ocala, chilling out and thinking about what’s just over the horizon for me. There are a lot of baseball parks I'd like to visit, and the USA is a pretty big country to explore — although I might need a newer Corvette to do that.

I’ve offered to crew for my newfound shipmate Gene Brown on La Brisa, whose hospitality I accepted while I was sorting things out, when he starts meandering south and east from La Cruz. And, of course, there is my longtime friend Bob Willmann of Viva!, who will be floating around out there again soon on his Casamance 47 cat and will need my input at some Palapa of Knowledge somewhere.

Here is a summary of my sailing adventures:

July 2000 — Departed San Diego on my Formosa 41 Witch of Endor.

May 2001 - June 2002 — Puerto Barillas, El Salvador.

June, 2002 — Meandered down the coast to Corinto, Nicaragua. There I met 2000 Ha-Ha vet Bob of the Islander 37 Viva!. He and I would basically buddyboat until my second Witch went down in La Cruz 12 years later.

2002 - 2003 — Continued south and east, hitting all of the usual spots, and some unusual ones, too.

March - June 2004 — Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador.

August 2004 — Transited the Canal

2004 - 2005 — Cruised Panama, the San Blas Islands and Cartagena.

2006 – 2009 — Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Jan. 2006 — Bought the new Witch in Carriacou, then took her to Fort Pierce, Florida for a re-fit. This was about the time Viva! Bob bought a new-to-him Casamance 45/47 catamaran following the loss of his Islander 37 to a hurricane at Isla Providencia.

April 2006 — Took the old Witch from the Rio Dulce to Annapolis to sell her.

2007 — Boat refit and cancer hiccup.

March 2008 — Took the new Witch back to the Rio Dulce in company with the new Viva!

May 2008 – April 2010 — Rio Dulce.

April 2010 – July 2012 — Cartagena and the San Blas Islands

July 2012 — Transited the Canal back to Pacific. My Witch was the only vessel in the locks on the way down!

Sept. 2012 – Feb. 2014 —Puerto Barillas, El Salvador.

May 2014 — La Cruz, Mexico.

Now you're up to date. Stay in touch if/when you feel the urge, and I threaten to do the same.

— steve 11/26/2014

Geja — 1976 Islander 36
Andrew Vik
A Wet and Stormy Med
(San Francisco)

Not to repeat what I reported last month, but for the seventh straight summer my salty old Islander 36 Geja and I, both hailing from San Francisco, enjoyed an exciting voyage in the Med. More specifically, it was in the northern Adriatic Sea. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast had been an excellent foreign home to Geja for five summers, so I’d already covered much of the Adriatic Sea at least twice. The one region that I’d only visited once was the far northern Adriatic, so this year it was Venice or bust!

The entrance to the Venice lagoon is about 50 miles due west of Piran, and getting there was a mellow light wind sail. Just as I’d observed in 2009, construction of the enormous gates that will prevent the Venice lagoon from flooding was still ongoing.

Inside the lagoon, of which the city of Venice is just a small part, things get a little crazy. While watercraft of all types zoom around, one must also monitor the depthsounder and heed the various aids to navigation. Dredged routes are marked by rows of pilings, but not all routes are deep enough for a sailboat. I found it hard to distinguish between those routes that were deep enough and those that weren't.

With both trepidation and excitement, we made it over thin water to Burano, the colorful little cousin of Venice. Unsure of where to moor, we were motioned by an older fellow over to a great side-tie, where we carefully aligned Geja to some vertical wooden pilings. The mooring was free, and permitted us to step off Geja into the heart of Burano, which is world-famous for lace-making.

We backtracked a bit in the lagoon the next day, motoring nine miles into the heart of Venice. We couldn't help but get goosebumps while motorng around the sights of one of the most celebrated cities in the world. I did have to pay careful attention to traffic, however, as water buses, water taxis, gondolas, private boats and cruise ships all share the waterfront in front of famous St. Mark’s Square.

There are several marinas in or near Venice, and we grabbed a spot at the sailing club on San Giorgio Maggiore, an island opposite St. Mark’s Square. Berthed there, we had a priceless view of Venice from the cockpit. The fee was the same 70 euros — about $100 — that we had become accustomed to paying in Croatia.

Despite all of my talk about summer storms, I’d yet to be caught in anything really nasty while underway. Shortly after tying up in Venice — which is less than fun when the harbormaster is guiding you by dinghy while screaming in Italian ­— the skies opened up once again. Our view of Venice disappeared, as did our need to rinse Geja’s decks. But it was a mellow, short-lived little cell that I won’t add to the summer thunderstorm tally, which then still stood at five.

When the sun returned, we boarded the dinghy for a very special experience – roaming the famous canals of Venice on our own little boat. We first had to cross the lumpy waters in front of St. Mark’s Square, pushed by my little 3.5-hp two-stroke outboard, before choosing one of several entry points to Venice’s internal waterways. Once inside, we then had to steer clear of all of the gondolas, which were mostly full of Chinese tourists. We spent much of our two days in Venice exploring the canals by dinghy.

We began Week Five by exiting the Venice lagoon at its southernmost point near Chioggia, from where it was a 57-mile sail down to Ravenna. The Italian side of the Adriatic is pretty much the opposite of the sailing paradise found on the Croatian side. It was goodbye to clear water and cute island towns, as the Italian coast is one long, unprotected, low-lying beach with murky water. Shallow water extends far out, and most harbors are expanded river basins with extensive seawalls. When the wind blows hard onshore, as it did on that day, the entire coast is a nasty lee shore. Our final 30 miles to Ravenna was a close reach, and it took some effort to point high enough into the confused seas to avoid getting pushed ashore.

After the rough ride, I was more than happy to tie up in Ravenna’s enormous marina. But what a soulless place it was! Instead of festive charterers coming and going every day as in Croatia, this was essentially a massive parking lot for boatowners from the entire region. On the plus side, it is a superbly protected marina without any morning commotion, allowing us to finally get some proper sleep. Sleep is a precious commodity on Geja's summer trips.

While my all-male crew enjoyed the beaches and many beach bars just south of the marina, I decided to finally solve an intermittent starting problem that I’d had for years with Geja’s old Yanmar 3GMF. The new battery I’d picked up in Opatija didn’t make a difference, so I worked my way toward the starter, cleaning and troubleshooting all of the connections. Finally I gave up and hired some electricians from the marina. They poked and prodded, and finally emerged with the starter in their hands. It was shot, so they managed to swap in a factory replacement by the end of the day at a very fair price. I was happy to spend the money to solve that problem.

Another 30-mile sail south, this time with a stiff offshore breeze, brought us to Rimini, one of the original Mediterranean party destinations. A local yacht club in the river basin invited us to a free berth just steps away from Coconuts, one of Rimini’s main nightclubs. Strangely, most of the girls we met in Rimini were Russian, not Italian. Go figure.

With four guys onboard and Week Five ending, the unthinkable happened. The head clogged for the second time in seven seasons. Not at the pump, but once again at the thru-hull end. (Geja has no holding tank, nor has anyone ever asked about it). As my female crew arrived for the final leg back to Croatia, there I was still trying to get things flowing again.

Finally, with the toilet end of the big discharge hose disconnected and leading into a bucket, I jumped into the water with a running water hose. Using a specially made rubber gasket, I jammed it up the thru-hull from the outside. That finally broke through the clog, backfilling the bucket inside with pure nastiness. But problem solved with minimal fuss and stink.

Although the east coast of Italy is featureless — aside from tens of thousands of beach umbrellas organized in neat, color-coded rows — we enjoyed a few more stops down this coast as part of this summer’s counterclockwise Adriatic tour. The food was delicious, towns were interesting and bustling, and the people were extra-friendly.

Fano was our departure point for the 100-mile overnight crossing back to Croatia. The weather had been unstable, and the forecast not great, but we gave it a try. But after a couple of hours of the waves not letting up, and an amazing but scary lightning storm brewing dead ahead, we changed our minds. We hung a right and enjoyed a lovely nighttime broad reach back to the Italian coast, a bit farther south than where we’d begun. All the while, the lightning show out over the sea became ever more intense.

We departed again the next morning from Senigallia, sailing part of the way in calm seas and clear skies, completing the overnight trip back to Croatia. At midday the next day, Med-moored in Sali with passports freshly stamped, we were hit by a a massive thunderstorm that blew through, dumping ridiculous amounts of rain. Let’s call this thunderstorm number six.

My Norwegian crew and I spent the remaining days casually island-hopping down the coast toward Split, with sunny skies and excellent sailing conditions. At 80 degrees, the sea temperature was still quite warm for late August. (I’d seen it as high as 85 during the trip). Maybe the unusually warm sea contributed to this summer’s strange weather.

But it was while back in Trogir, getting Geja put away for the winter, that I was hit by the mother of all storms. Anchored near the castle, I spent an entire night getting blasted by wind and rain. The lightning, which came in multiple flashes per second, came closer and closer. So I shut everything down aside from my iPhone, which I used to research what happens to humans when lightning strikes a boat. The results were not encouraging, but I survived uninjured. Call me a wimp — I was freaked out — but we just don’t experience this in California. Nor do I expect such weather at the peak of the peak season in the Med.

To remove Geja’s sails for the winter, I pulled alongside the bustling quay in Trogir. There was no shortage of assistance, with competent folks eager to help get the sails down and folded. One such fellow was a higher-up at Ireland’s Royal Cork YC, the oldest yacht club in the world. Apparently they’re having a big 300th anniversary celebration in 2020.

Communications technology has evolved enormously during my past seven summer cruises. Just a few years ago, foreign travelers would sometimes pick up a local SIM card in order to make local calls and texts. Now, the main thing that matters is that the SIM card offers an Internet connection for our SIM-unlocked smartphones. Most communication is done in writing these days, and I’m not talking email or even standard SMS. These days one needs to have Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Snapchat, and Tinder in order to keep in touch with old and new friends.

Tinder is an interesting app for the single traveler, as only people within a certain distance who each find the other attractive can chat with each other. During one of the stops this summer, in a small and quiet little town, one of my crew managed to connect with some backpacker girls that were Tindering at a bar just a few minutes away from the boat. Tinder isn’t always this extremely efficient, but stands to have a big impact on dating life, both at home and when 'travel dating'.

The problem with all this connectivity is that I often find my crewmates looking down at their devices. Few read books, probably because they no longer have the attention span to last past 160 characters. They devote so much attention to their Facebook 'friends' and Instagram 'followers', and although Tinder can deliver results, the time spent swiping through possible matches and sending pointless messages is huge. Hopefully the connectivity fad will fade; otherwise I’ll install a data-jamming device on Geja.

Despite the constant weather watch, I enjoyed an awesome 790 miles of summer cruising, 40% of which were sailed with the engine off. Ten crewmembers from eight different countries joined me this summer. Geja was underway for 38 out of 50 days, overnighting in 34 different locations, 12 of which were new to me. Due mostly to Croatia’s infamous anchoring fees, we paid overnight fees in all but eight places.

I’m a really lucky guy to have stumbled across such an inexpensive but capable sailboat as Geja in the Med. Even luckier still to have so many good friends with whom to share the cruising experience. Life ain’t bad.

— andrew 11/12/2014

Camelot — Islander 37
Claude Martin & Dana Ferris
Getting a Boat Ready to Cruise
Cork, Arizona

Typically, most people who go cruising have a decent amount of sailing experience, but their boats aren't as ready as they would like them to be. The opposite is true with Claude Martin and Dana Ferris, who are from Cork, Arizona, "a whistle stop west of Saffron.” Claude was a powerboater years ago, so he has very little sailing experience. But as the owner of a machine and welding shop who has spent seven years working on his Islander 37, Claude has his boat about as prepared and customized for sea as any boat we've seen.

Claude is a do-it-yourself guy. For example, when he bought the Islander 37 in San Diego 20 years ago, she needed a lot of work. "I couldn't afford to pay yard rates, so I pulled her out of the water, measured her, went back to Arizona, and built a custom trailer for her. My brother had a semi-truck at the time, and we towed her home with that."

The 46-year-old boat sat in the desert sun for about 13 years before Claude started to work on her, at which time he built a shed so she could be partially covered.

"You can't tell from looking at her," he says, "but she needed a lot of structural work. For example, the foredeck was old and a little soft. I used half-inch fiberglass board that I glued and bolted on the bottom. It's solid now."

To make sure the bow wouldn't be damaged, he added six layers of epoxy and cloth from the stemhead fitting all the way down to the keel.

One of the boat's most unusual additions is the swim platform with a swim ladder, which can easily be lowered to sea level and raised back up. The dinghy sits atop the apparatus, as do the solar panels. The quality of work is excellent.

Claude built a horse for the mainsheet, and hard dodger that he powder coated. "I found out that powder coating isn’t hard to do at all. We built our own oven using a metal frame and a tin cover. We used a weed burner to heat it. It worked like a charm. Powder coating is so much better than painting, and you don’t have to wait for it to dry. It just has to cool off.” Because it’s so expensive to rechrome things, Claude also powder coated the port lights.

Camelot's electronics are inside the hard dodger and include an analog — no kidding — radar, an analog knotmeter, a forward-looking sonar, plus all kinds of light switches — including the new underwater lighting for the boat. Need we state that Claude made the underwater lighting — which is brilliant — from scratch?

This is not to say that Claude did everything. He had the boat’s compass, a beauty by modern standards, rebuilt “by someplace back east.”

For safety's sake, he had his Arizona friend Elmer Prophet make stainless steel railings. "They are taller than the typical ones, which don’t make sense because they are more likely to trip you overboard than keep you aboard.”

"The stanchions and rails are double-reinforced for the bottom 12 inches and are super-strong," says Elmer.

The stanchions hold a series of long tubes, the purpose of which mystified us. "When we’re at anchor, we'll assemble them to make the frame for shade screens that will enclose the entire back of the boat," says Claude.

All the winches and padeyes were so bright we almost got blinded. "I had them all rechromed," Claude explained.

Working in his machine shop, Claude built a custom cockpit table out of stainless — with a cowboy and buffalo engraved in it. He also built a custom fish-cleaning station out of stainless that folds out from the stanchion and rail, and there's a similar stainless cleaning station in the galley.

Why stainless?

"It's what we had laying around in the shop."

The sliding hatch for the top of the companionway? Stainless.

The boat is equipped with a compost toilet. The vent is made of . . . stainless.

When we asked Claude how many hours he spent on the boat, he just laughed. Obviously it's been a labor of love.

The ancient Wayfarer Marine electrical panel was replaced with a custom panel with circuit breakers. Claude built a custom cabinet for his new SSB radio. "The old radio wouldn't work with a Pactor modem, so I got rid of it," he says.

He also got rid of the settee bunk on the starboard side, and made cabinets with carvings on them. "We have lots of storage now, but you can't imagine the time it took to make the cabinets."

Claude built a wood cabinet in front of the salon table to house the flash water heater. You can imagine what the overhead on a nearly 50-year-old boat might look like. So Claude not only did a professional job of replacing it with fiberglass board, he put in one inch of insulation.

Claude is big on bright and energy- efficient LED lights, for both inside and outside. His deck-level navigation lights are LED. His masthead light as well as steaming light and deck lights are all LED. He even put a junction box up on the port spreader in case he feels the need for more aerial lights.

"The deck lights cost about $10 each, and they are really, really bright," says Claude. "The LED dimmers for the inside lights only cost $5 each."

Twenty years ago Claude brush painted the boat with “a one-part Interlux polyurethane product” that we had a hard time telling from a spray job. After two decades in the desert sun, it looks astonishingly good.

Camelot has Treadmaster all around. “There was some on the boat to begin with, but it was in bad shape. And it was really hard to get off, requiring scrapers with sharp blades and lots of sanding. I put new Treadmaster everywhere. It’s not cheap, but it’s good.”

The engine, located behind custom-built companionway steps with a large utensil storage area, is a rebuilt Perkins 4-107. "We moved it back six inches to make some room. We tried moving some of the tanks to the starboard side of the boat for more room, but had to undo it as it had the boat heeling to one side. We thought about putting a 25-gallon tank in the bow, but needed that room for water. After all, water is more important than fuel on a sailboat."

The galley has been completely rebuilt, with a new fridge and thick insulation. "Elmer did all the stainless counters and the stove with ceramic coating paint. Works great.

Claude and Dana hope to sail to Mexico this year and stay about a year. "We're going to be full time cruisers, and after Mexico head across the pond."

— latitude/rs 12/16/2014

Benevento — Pacific Seacraft 40
The Massaro Family
The Other Latitude 38
(San Francisco)

It’s been more than 12,000 nautical miles since we — my husband Darold, our 10-year-old son Dante, and I — left San Francisco in late September 2013 for a two-year cruise. We sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and a little over a year later sailed under its sister bridge in Lisbon, Portugal — 'the other latitude 38'.

During the first year of our cruise we rode out the remnants of hurricane Raymond in Mag Bay, dodged a tropical depression at Cabo San Lucas, rode the bucking bronco-like Papagayo winds of Central America, got beat up by the wind and waves off the Dominican Republic, encountered a nasty thunderstorm off North Carolina, and hid from hurricane Arthur in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia. Other than that, our cruise has been great fun.

Truth be told, while all of those weather events were fatiguing, we never felt unsafe. And the great experiences we've had have far outweighed the challenges, We love to look back at our photos to remember all of the amazing things that we’ve seen and people that we’ve met — some of whom will be friends for life. There is a great camaraderie among cruisers that makes traveling this way so much fun.

It took us a few weeks to cruise down the coast of California, and then we spent about six weeks cruising Mexico. We loved the Sea of Cortez and the Gold Coast of the mainland, and could easily have spent our two years just cruising in Mexico. But we wanted to see more, so we made tracks south.

After a straight shot from Puerto Chiapas in southern Mexico, we transited the Panama Canal three months to the day after leaving San Francisco. The Canal is an engineering marvel. The experience of taking your own boat through it, along with a 900-foot container ship, will make you appreciate both the importance of world commerce and the relatively small size of your boat.

After transiting the Canal, we visited the San Blas Islands — which we still consider to be one of the major highlights of our cruise. The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of about 378 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They are governed by the lovely Kuna Yala people.

Imagine the stereotypical vision you have of the Caribbean: azure seas, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, and islands with coconut palms and white sand beaches scattered everywhere. That's the San Blas Islands. There is great snorkeling around the reefs, beautiful anchorages, and enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away and the wind generators spinning. Yet the islands are behind the reefs, so the seas whipped up by the constant 20-knot winter trades break on the windward side of the reef. The waters on the leeward side of the reefs are calm and protected.

We wore our bathing suits all day in the San Blas, and slept without any coverings at night. The temperature is so comfortable all the time! We anchored in 10 feet of water that was so clear that we could easily see that our anchor was set correctly. Although the islands are isolated, fresh supplies were delivered to our boat by Kunas in dugout canoes.

The trades continually charged our batteries and ran the watermaker, and there wasn't any laundry to do. It was so nice it makes you wonder why anybody leaves! As it turns out, we met a few cruisers who have been on the hook in the San Blas for years — and have no intention of ever moving on.

Our next stop was the Greater Antilles, starting with Jamaica. It was a seven-day beat against the trades to make landfall, but it was definitely worth it, mon. Jamaica is off the beaten cruiser’s path, but it was lovely, the food was delicious, the people friendly, and the music as great as you would expect. And it wasn't crowded.

We stayed in Montego Bay for a little over a week, taking a road trip inland to see some of the wonderful sights. We happened to be there for Bob Marley’s birthday celebration, and attended a reggae concert in his honor in Negril, the self-proclaimed 'Capital of Casual'. Needless to say, there was a lot of smoke in the air at the concert. "Are we going to get cancer because of the smoke?" our son asked. “No,” we replied, “but we might get the munchies.”

We also went on a riverboat tour to see crocodiles, jumped off rope swings at YS Falls, and had our fill of Jamaican patties, Red Stripe beer, fantastic fruits and vegetables, and all kinds of 'jerked' stuff.

After Montego Bay, we spent several days anchoring along the north coast on our way to Port Antonio, which is a beautiful and protected harbor. Port Antonio has a lot of nice attractions within walking distance of the anchorage and yacht club, as well as a wonderful vegetable market, restaurants and an ice cream shop.

We took another road trip to Kingston to visit Port Royal, the former pirate capital of the Caribbean, and the Bob Marley Museum. Both were well worth the visit. By the way, being on the roads of Jamaica was more dangerous than anything we've faced at sea.

Our next stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we would meet up with friends. It took us 12 days to get from Port Antonio to San Juan because it was upwind against the trades. On the way we got pinned down by near-gale-force winds for several days on the coast of the Dominican Republic near Cabo Beata. The anchorages we stopped at were beautiful, and we passed the time swapping recipes with other cruisers.

We had a great time exploring the walled city of Old San Juan, which has fantastic forts. We even took a seaplane ride over Old San Juan to get another perspective of this amazing city.

The Spanish Virgins is the Tourism Board's name for Culebra, Culebrita and Vieques, all of which used to be owned by the U.S. military and therefore had been off-limits. Because of that, there aren't anywhere nearly as many boats as at the 10-mile-distant U.S. Virgins. Nice.

Culebra is a laid-back island of just 2,800, and it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Playa Flamenco, a large half oval of a white sand beach with palm trees and crystal clear azure water, certainly fits that bill. A tank tastefully spray-painted with graffiti on the beach is an incongruous remnant of the former military occupation. The beach isn't crowded and the snorkeling is fabulous. The beach at the nearby island of Culebrita is even less crowded, and just as beautiful. Hawksbill turtles frequently swim through the anchorage.

We met a cruiser at Culebrita who told us that after 21 years of cruising all over the Caribbean, it's his absolute favorite spot. It was also at Culebrita that someone on a passing boat yelled out to us: "Didn't I see you guys in the March 2013 issue of Latitude?"

After Culebrita it was decision time. Where should we go next? One choice would have been to continue east toward the U.S. and British Virgins, and maybe even as far as St. Martin or Dominica. But that meant we would have to double back to sail to the East Coast. Our insurance required that we be in Georgia by June 1, So we headed toward the Bahamas instead.

More next month, including our trip across the Atlantic to Portugal.

— jennifer 12/01/2014

The Splash /BB Blast/ PFPSRFC
Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

The mainland cruising season officially opened on the Riviera Nayarit half of Banderas Bay on December 12 with the grand reception at the chic Eva Mandarina beachfront restaurant and bar in La Cruz. Hosted by Riviera Nayarit Tourism, there were free t-shirts, food and beverages, live music, and a bonfire, all of which attracted 200 new, old and former cruisers. The bonfire was for effect only, as it was in the high 70s well into the evening.

Sunday the 14th was the start of three days of Banderas Bay Blast rally-racing. The first ‘race’ from La Cruz to Paradise Marina and back had to be cut short because of a lack of wind. But it was beautiful out on the water, and the sailing was followed by the traditional ‘Water Balloon Drop for Pizzas’.

The second race from La Cruz to Punta Mita was a beaut, for after light winds in the very early going, it blew up to about 17 knots on the typically flat waters of the Bay. The stars of the day were doublehanders Barry and Sylvia Stomp and their totally rebuilt dark-blue hulled Hughes 48 yawl Iolani from Sausalito. Although not familiar with the area, the couple were the first to tack to get inside the classic shift, and thus crossed the finish line first by a comfortable margin.

The ‘racing’ was followed by the initiation of new members into the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club, with new Commodore Debbie Monnie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow swinging the initiation paddle with skill — and an alarming amount of enthusiasm.

The final rally race of the Blast was the 12th running of the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity from Punta Mita to Paradise Marina, preceded by a dance performance by local kindergarten children, who are among the main beneficiaries of the event. Until the last few miles of the ‘race’, when the wind got light and shifty, and the brilliant blue skies were overtaken by some gray, it was a typically fabulous Banderas Bay spinnaker run. This was followed by a wrap-up party at the Puerto Vallarta YC.

As great as the sailing was, the fundraising was even better. All proceeds — and we mean all — go to the kindergartens, special needs schools, and medical programs in the Punta Mita area. Ronnie ‘Tea Lady’, the very incarnation of probity, accepts requests for needed materials from the organization, then buys them herself at the best prices. If only all charities could be half as transparent and efficient. One thousand dollars was donated in the name of the participants in the 2014 Baja Ha-Ha.

Both the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz and Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta deserve shout-outs for donating overnight berthing to participants, as does Frascotti’s Restaurant at the Marina Riviera Nayarit, for donating adult beverages.

The only real bummer of the event is that only 15 of the hundreds of sailboats in the area participated. Sure, some folks were dealing with repair issues and other distractions, and others were out of town. But to have a boat and miss the chance to sail with — not against — other great folks in some of the most pleasant sailing conditions in the world . . . well, that strikes us as unfortunate. As such, the clear winners in the event were all who participated.

— latitude/rs 12/20/2014

Cruise Notes:

Mexico on sale! Thanks to the plunge in the price of oil and other factors, the Mexican peso plummeted to 14.78 to the dollar on December 16. Exactly one month before, it had been 13.50 to the dollar, meaning cruisers pretty suddenly got a 9.1% discount on everything. Everything but marina slips, where the prices are usually in dollars, not pesos.

"We're now nine months into our around-the-world sailing adventure with the World ARC," report Charlie and Cathy Simon of the Spokane- and Puerto Vallarta-based Taswell 58 Celebration."We just came back from a wonderful safari in northern South Africa, during which time we took a ride on an elephant."

The World ARC circles the globe in 15 months, starting and finishing in St. Lucia. Despite the fast pace and the approximately 20k entry fee, the World ARC and similar rallies are quite popular. Forty-two boats are participating in half or all of the World ARC 2014-2015 in which the Simons are sailing. Nine of the boats are from the U.S., and seven boats in the fleet are multihulls.

Shortly after President Obama announced plans to "defang" the already partly defanged embargo on Cuba, which would almost certainly lead to more normal relations, Jose Escrich, Commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club, made his thoughts known.

"It's my greatest desire that the normalization of the diplomatic relations between our two countries would give us the opportunity to strengthen the already friendly relations between our club and the American boating community and to organize boating events," wrote the old friend of Latitude. "We are already very happy to have friendly relations with dozens of American yacht clubs, and already represent the Seven Seas Cruising Association, the Texas Mariners Cruising Association, and the International Game Fish Association in Cuba. I am also Honorary Conch & Citizen of the Fabulous Florida Keys."

Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, Cuba is not even remotely ready to welcome countless U.S. mariners, almost all of whom have no concept of how impoverished Cuba is, and how instilled the 'everything not specifically allowed is prohibited' authoritarian mindset is. It's going to take some time.

It's lucky when you're a cruiser who lives on the West Coast. Want proof? Cam Lewis, noted maxi cat racer, reported that he was about to depart Newport, Rhode Island just before Christmas on an unnamed Gunboat catamaran for the 1,500-mile-distant Virgin Islands. "It's frigid up here," he reported. By that, he meant the Newport highs were about 40 degrees and the lows were about 30 degrees.

The only good news for Lewis and crew was that about 24 hours into the trip they would be in the Gulfstream, where the tropical water would warm the low-altitude air. Ah yes, the Northeast, where sailors headed for the tropics have to be worried about both hurricanes and winter snow storms.

Here's why technology sometimes drives us crazy. Just before our leaving on the Ha-Ha in late October, a familiar face stopped by Profligate. We couldn't immediately place the face because we hadn't seen it in nearly 30 years. After being given some hints, we realized that it was 'Fearless Fred' Denton, whom we hadn't seen since our Clipper Yacht Harbor days in Sausalito in the early 1980s. So we whipped out our brand-new iPhone 6+ and recorded a short interview and took a number of fine photos. We don't know whether it was operator error or a crap app, but the entire interview and all but one photo were lost. Grrrrrrr!

What we can tell you from memory is that Denton had been in the military, and then had worked everywhere from Wall Street to Alaska. After showing up in Sausalito, he did two circumnavigations with his Tartan 37 Francesca. For the last decade or so he's been living in Las Vegas, where despite being in his sixth decade, he was hanging off the side of skyscrapers doing construction. Fred admitted he was by far the oldest guy doing that kind of risky work, but explained "I'm not your average guy." No kidding. For despite approaching 74 years of age, he does three sets of 50 push ups every morning.

Fred's big news was that he recently bought a used Nordic 40, christened her Serafina, and is heading around the world for the third time. "It will be interesting to see how it goes, as I haven't done a circumnavigation in 20 years," he said.

"We broke both our daggerboards sailing in rough seas from our boat's summer home in Curaçao to St. Barth in the Eastern Caribbean," report Greg and Debbie Dorland of the Lake Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade. The replacements cost $9,300, plus shipping from France. Ouch! St. Barth looks good despite losing 42 boats when its residents were somewhat surprised by hurricane Gonzalo in mid-October. One boat is left half submerged in the harbor, two are on the rocks at Public Beach, and one is on the rocks at quartier Corossol. While walking around the inner harbor of Gustavia this morning, we noticed a lot of damage to the smaller boats moored to the quay. The anchorage is quiet, but it is early in the season.

"The bigger concern right now is the spread of infections from the Chikungunya virus," the couple continue. "Our friend Alf, who has done a lot of work on our cat, told us over 1,000 people on the island of 12,000 have been infected. The virus, which causes severe headaches and immobility for two to seven days, followed by weeks, months or even years of joint pain, has hit the British Virgins and is bad in St. Martin, too. It's scary because there is nothing you can do but try not to get bitten. The supposedly good news is that the mosquitoes carrying 'the Chink' are only out during the day, but — whoa, you wouldn't believe the mini/micro skirt that just hopped out of the Bar d'Oubli! — the bad news is the nighttime mosquitoes carry the dengue fever."
'The Chink' has reportedly made its way to the mainland United States.

Aussie news sources report that the four-person crew of the Moody 54 Red Sky were taken aboard the tanker British Loyalty December 13 after their sailboat began sinking about 14 miles off Evans Head, New South Wales, Australia. Bilge pumps could not keep up with the inflow of water after the boat hit an unknown object. The crew set off their EPIRB at 3 a.m. Before a rescue helicopter was able to get to the boat, the oil tanker already had the stricken boat in its lee. Despite 30 knots of wind and 10-foot swells, all four sailors managed to scramble up rope ladders to safety and Red Sky was left to sink. Much to the surprise of the crew, though, she drifted ashore near Evans Head intact, but was soon heavily stripped.

If the boat name Red Sky sounds familiar, it's probably because Aussies John and Leanne Hembrow, known for their boundless energy and enthusiasm, had sailed her in the 2010 Baja Ha-Ha. However, reader Mark Reed reports that they sold the boat to one Michael Cramb a year ago.

By the way, do you have a chart posted in plain view showing the location of all the thru-hulls on your boat? It's a good idea best appreciated in an emergency.

Protecting the "liberty" of convicted Somali pirates. It's being widely reported that France has been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to pay compensation to convicted Somali pirates. The court said France violated the rights of the pirates — who took hostages from French ships — by keeping them in custody 48 hours too long, even though most of them were later convicted. One of the nine men is to receive 9,000 euros, while others will get up to 7,000 euros. The gang had held French citizens hostage after seizing a cruise ship and a yacht in 2008. The French military captured 12 pirates on the Somali coast in two operations, after the hostages had been released for ransoms of around 1.8 million euros. The extra 48 hours of custody on French soil violated the pirates' rights to liberty and security under the European Convention on Human Rights, the court ruled.

The installation of Profligate's new hardtop required 165 4-inch bolts and the same number of washers, lock washers and acorn nuts. We wanted to buy them locally in Northern California, so we called Fasco Fastners in Alameda. Unlike a few years before, they wouldn't sell to us peons, so we spent $500 with McMaster-Carr of Santa Fe Springs. Rich and Sheri Crowe, who ran the S&S 65 Alaska Eagle for decades, and who are now building a home near Glen Ellen, always raved about McMaster-Carr. "They've got everything and deliver fast," they said. They sure did for us.

Then we had to get the stuff to Puerto Vallarta. The collection of fasteners weighed about 35 pounds, but fit nicely into an old Pelikan camera case and was only a couple of pounds overweight when put into a rolling duffle. Our next concern was whether customs in Mexico was going to hit us up for duty. It turned out to be a non-issue for three reasons: 1) We got a green light when we pushed the button at customs, so they didn't even inspect our bags. 2) Even if customs had found the fasteners there wouldn't have been any 16% duty owed because 3) It turns out that if you arrive by air or sea — but not land — you get to bring in $500 worth of stuff in addition to your personal belongings, duty free. You are supposed to have a receipt for the stuff to prove the value. The exemption does not apply to booze, ciggies or fuel.

What we'd like to hear about now are the experiences cruisers have had trying to bring in expensive replacement stuff — outboards, engines, watermakers, electronics — duty free into Mexico because they have a Temporary Import Permit.

"We got a first-hand opportunity to learn about the quality of Mexican health care when 'Stewball', one of Moonshadow's Baja Ha-Ha crew, fell in the cockpit and injured his rib." report John and Debbie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62. "He gave us a scare a day after the fall, as he fell into near unconsciousness, necessitating an ambulance ride to the emergency room of the extremely clean San Javier Hospital in Nuevo Vallarta. Stewball was given a CAT scan to see if there had been any damage to his organs, X-rays to see if his rib was broken, and blood tests for something else. He also had a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. We were all impressed with the modern facilities and health team ready for any emergency. Fortunately, Stewball's organs and bones are fine, and he's now recovering aboard Moonshadow, dreaming about the SUP competition at Turtle Bay during next year's Ha-Ha.

Donald Mitchell of the Bayliner 32 Sarah Ann, a two-time commodore of the Club Cruceros, passed away in his sleep on December 6, an indirect victim of hurricane Odile. The 69-year-old former resident of Sunnyvale had been a stalwart of the club until he slipped on a tile and hit his head in October while cleaning up debris from Odile. He underwent emergency brain surgery at the Fidapaz Hospital in La Paz to relieve the pressure of a hematoma. Although Mitchell officially came out of the induced coma, he never really woke up. He was life-flighted to a hospital in the Bay Area several weeks later, where he would ultimately pass away.

'Cut the red tape', seems to be the mantra of Joko Widodo, who in late October was inaugurated as the seventh president of Indonesia. The 'Peoples' President' somehow managed to defeat the candidate backed by wealth and entrenched interests, and is determined to crank up the Indonesian economy. One of the ways is by — duh — cutting the bureaucratic red tape required to do things like start businesses and allow cruise ships and yachts to enter the country. The owner of a yacht currently needs to get permission from at least 16 institutions to visit Indonesia. Sixteen! You can imagine the time, expense and frustration.

"The government will expedite permitting for yachts wanting to enter the country’s ports, from taking weeks to taking only one day, with an online one-stop service protocol under the management of the Foreign Ministry," said Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo. The government is also planning to lengthen the time yacht permits would remain valid, from a period of six months to a whole year of multiple entries." Maybe the Schengen Area countries of Europe, where Americans have to leave for three months after visiting for three months, should hire Widodo as a consultant. By the way, the new president has also vowed to stop the destruction of rain forests. As you know, Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world and the largest economy in Southeast Asia.

There is nothing like a newly painted boat. Starting in 1995, Bill Anderson, formerly of Squaw Valley, started what would turn out to be six years of hard work building his canary-yellow Hughes 36/38 Feet, the hulls of which are three layers of 1/8" doorskins. He then sailed to Mexico, where he's been living happily on about $500 a month. Having come into some money, he decided to have Sea Tek of La Cruz remove all the gear from the hull and deck and give the cat a shiny new paint job. He also got a new sled-mounted outboard and a power windlass.

"The windlass should add at least another five years to my cruising career," Anderson told us. He also said he had no regrets in life — "other than the four years I worked for IBM". He later became a ski instructor, his most famous student being Sonny Bono. Most of you know that the less famous half of Sonny & Cher died as a result of skiing into a tree. Oh well.

Bill Lilly of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 470 Moontide reports that the immigration office in Cabo San Lucas — like many government offices in Mexico — would be/was closed from December 20 to January 5 for Christmas vacation. "They posted a sign on their door saying that those needing docs should go to the airport in Cabo."

"In late November, we returned from six weeks aboard our boat in the Puerto Escondido area, then caught up with the November issue of Latitude 38," write Dave and Merry Wallace of the Redwood City-based Amel Maramu Air Ops. "In the Changes section, there is a letter from an anonymous cruiser sparking the debate as to whether Fonatur, with its mooring balls taking up so much room, has ruined Puerto Escondido as a hurricane hole. A worthy debate, perhaps, but the letter contains some inaccurate information.

"It’s true that right now there are only about 10 moorings that are safe in the harbor, but Fonatur is ready to completely renovate the entire mooring field. They have the chain, shackles, buoys, pendants and floats — all U.S. stuff — and the money to pay Carlos, a professional diver, to do the work. This, of course, will not improve the situation regarding being able to lay out an extremely long anchor line, but that shouldn’t be needed if the moorings are all redone.

"The writer was correct that three boats on Fonatur moorings did go ashore, but each one went off the mooring after their own lines chafed through. One mooring in the inner harbor did fail, but it was a private mooring left from the old days, one that a cruiser who normally moors in the Waiting Room took for the storm. Air Ops was on a Fonatur mooring for Odile — as well as Jimena in 2009 — and had no problems.

"In many regards Puerto Escondido is," the Wallaces continue, "in sort of a down cycle mess, but hopefully the corner is being turned and things will get better. Hey, there’s hot water in the showers for the first time in about three years! Now if Pedro will just return and open his restaurant again . . ."

A boat owner putting his/her boat on an unknown mooring is an enormous act of faith. Unfortunately, too frequently that faith isn't justified. In recent memory, for example, we can recall a catamaran at Niue, a monohull at Dominica, and a catamaran at Tahiti, all being set free after trust was put in recommended mooring balls. Two of the boats were complete losses.

And is it just us, or does it seem as though many of the moorings at Puerto Escondido are perpetually in need of replacement or renovation? And if a place has over 100 moorings — about 75% of which are never used — what's the point of 75 unneeded ones? That said, we hope that Puerto Escondido will rise again, for we started our Mexico cruising from there in 1977 when it was still a magical little spot with room for everyone to anchor.

The cruising season is in full bloom, so we'd love to hear from you. No need to send a book-length submission; a photo or two and a short note is fine. Thanks.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2015 eBook!


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