February, 2004

With reports this month from Akauahelo on wanting to 'puddle jump' from Hawaii to the Marquesas; from Sea Bear on crossing the Atlantic nine times, and more, in the last eight years; from Rejoice on nearing the completion of a nine-year circumnavigation; from Nymph on big problems with an immigration office blunder in Costa Rica; from Cheval on cruising the Med and sailing across the Atlantic; from Spindrift on wishing they were back in Mexico instead of being in the Florida Keys; from Seadream on problems with DHL in Mexico; and Cruise Notes.

Akauahelo - Royal Passport 47
Brent & Susan Lowe
Wanting To Do The Puddle Jump
(Walnut Creek)

Akauahelo was listed as a participant in the 2003 Pacific Puddle Jump, but we never quite caught up with the rest of the 'Jumpers'. We left Panama in late March and had a great sail down to Salinas, Ecuador, where we completed our provisioning for the trip across the Pacific. While the trip to Ecuador adds about 200 miles to the Galapagos leg, it can typically mean fewer total sailing days because of the better winds. We reached the Galapagos in mid-April and took advantage of the newly available 30-day, multi-island sailing permits. After a great month in the Galapagos, we left for the Marquesas and made landfall at Fatu Hiva on June 7. By that time pretty much all of the Puddle Jump crowd had moved west ahead of us.

We had picked up a 90-day visa at the French Consulate in Panama, so when we we checked in with the gendarmes at Hiva Oa, we were told that we didn't have to post the normal bond. Great! After a few weeks in the beautiful Marqueses, we decided that we just couldn't rush through. So we ended up spending 4.5 months exploring five of the islands and dozens of excellent anchorages. We heartily recommend that cruisers think about the Marquesas as a season's destination rather than just a quick stop on their way west. Make sure to include Joe Russell's Exploring the Marquesas Islands in your library.

With the constant threat of being deported because of our expired visas, we left Nuku Hiva for Hawaii in mid-October, and had a generally good sail north. On the way, we buddyboated with John and Nancy aboard Nanjo, and stayed in contact with Bart on Blue Sky who was sailing up from Tahiti and was about one week ahead of us. We checked in daily with Don of Summer Passage, who confirmed our own weather reports. He was great radio company during our trip.

Hawaii has been a great stop, as it's just like being back in the U.S. in terms of being able to get anything you want for the boat. Unfortunately, dock space is a little tight right now, as a large part of the Ala Wai Marina in Honolulu has been condemned. We can't understand why! Anyway, this means they aren't accepting transients this year.

But here's our question: can we do the Puddle Jump again, but starting from Hawaii? We are toying with the idea of flying down to Puerto Vallarta for 'vacation' in March to meet this year's gang. We plan to depart Hawaii for French Polynesia in April.

- brent & susan 1/5/04

Brent & Susan - As you might expect, there are many stringent rules for participation in an event as prestigious as the Puddle Jump, but just this one time we'll make an exception for you. This year's Puddle Jump Party, co-sponsored by Latitude and Paradise Resort & Marina, will be at the Vallarta YC, on the grounds of Paradise Resort just north of P.V. on Tuesday, February 24. If you can't make it, mail us a SASE 9x11 envelope, and we'll send you a Puddle Jump burgee.

Sea Bear - Wittholtz 37
Pete Passano
The Most Recent 46,000 Miles
(Marin County / Woolwich, Maine)

There is a theory among some long-time cruisers that the more cruising gear and money a person has, the less cruising he/she will actually do. We don't know that that's necessarily true, but Pete Passano would certainly be evidence in support of such a claim. The 37-ft steel boat he and Bob van Blaricom built in San Venetia Creek behind the San Rafael Civic Center more than a dozen years ago has no roller furling, no shower, no watermaker, and no refrigeration. And for many years Pete has been cruising on about $2,000 a month, all boat expenses included.

Nonetheless, the retired project engineer for Bechtel has done more cruising than most. When he had dinner with us in St. Barth on Big O in May of '96, the then 66-year old had already sailed 42,000 ocean miles. When we were in St. Barth again this New Years', who was the first person to bang on our hull? Pete Passano, of course, whom we hadn't seen in eight years. The now 74-year-old Passano told us that he's cruised another 46,000 miles since '96, including nine trips across that Atlantic Ocean! Hmmmm, maybe you don't have to have roller furling in order to go cruising after all.

And obviously, you don't have to have a mega cruising boat with lots of crew to get around. Pete, who has sailed about 30% of his 88,000 miles singlehanded, likes his 37-footer because she's small enough not to require crew, but has been big enough to sail the world's roughest waters. Did we mention that he singlehanded around Cape Horn in a Force 12 survival storm? Or that more recently he, while singlehanding once again, had a collision with an iceberg in the Southern Ocean?

For the record, here's what the happy and healthy senior citizen has been up to since '96:

1996 - Sailed from the Eastern Caribbean to Maine by way of Bermuda.

1997 - Cruised Nova Scotia and Maine.

1998 - Did the 'Atlantic Circle', meaning New Foundland, the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries, and then singlehanded back to Barbados in the Caribbean for the winter.

1999 - Early in the year, Sea Bear was wrecked on Necker Island, which is near Virgin Gorda in the British Virgins and is owned by Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines. "I was sailing from Anguilla to the British Virgins when it happened. It was getting dark and I was doing something down below with my son when the gal, who was at the helm, became distracted gazing at Branson's mansion. When I came on deck, we were already in shoal water and soon found ourselves on a reef. The staff from Branson's Island was wonderful, as they rescued us in their inflatable, then put us up for the night, wining and dining us. The next morning, the manager told us that a one night's stay for non-shipwreck victims runs $11,000. The guy who owned the salvage tug who pulled Sea Bear off said he wouldn't even have bothered to come if she hadn't been built of steel, the coral is that destructive. I didn't have insurance, so I had to pay $4,000 for the tow to the boatyard at Nanny Cay, where she was fixed and repainted."

The rest of '99 was spent sailing to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Florida, and the Chesapeake.

2000 - After a spring launch, Pete sailed to New Brunswick, Maine, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.

2000 - Starting in May, Pete sailed from Virginia to the Azores, Ireland, and then Cowes, England, for the 150th America's Cup Jubilee. He then continued on to Spain, Portugal, and the Canaries. For the Atlantic crossing to Brazil, he was joined by 34-year-old Cino Benedenelli, an Italian doctor who treats the poor six months a year, and surfs and sails the other six months of the year. "He was one of my best crew ever."

2002 - While in Brazil, Passano decided to sail to South Georgia Island, Shackleton's old stomping grounds, which is at 56° south, the same latitude as Cape Horn. Passano had long dreamed of sailing there. Singlehanding, he did it in 20 relatively uneventful days. Only 14 people live on South Georgia, which is seldom visited. From there, he singlehanded another 3,000 miles to Cape Town, South Africa.

"It was during this leg that I hit an iceberg. I'd gone down below for 10 minutes to warm my hands, as it was very cold. The next thing I knew, I'd hit this small iceberg. There were no others in sight. The bowsprit was bent, which slackened the whole rig for the rest of the passage." For completing the passage to Cape Town, Passano was presented with the Rod Stephens Seamanship Award by the Cruising Club of America.

After getting a new bowsprit in Cape Town, Passano met a woman named Katherine, who, although she'd never spent a night at sea, agreed to accompany him 1,700 non-stop miles to St. Helena; 4,500 non-stop miles to Bermuda, followed by another 800 non-stop miles to Maine. "She didn't complain once. When, after 34 days at sea, I told her the voyage would end the next day, she was so disappointed."

2003 - Passano circumnavigated New Foundland before returning to Maine. While there, he met Marina, a tenant in a relative's apartment, who signed on as crew. The two of them sailed to New York, Bermuda, the British Virgins, and will be wintering in the Caribbean. After going as far south as Trinidad, they'll sail back to Maine.

Did we mention that Pete was 74?

If it seems as though Passano can't quite decide between the higher latitudes and the tropics, it's correct. "I enjoy the high latitudes, as places such as New Foundland and South Georgia Island are great. And it's wonderful to get away from people. On the other hand, it sure is nice to get to the tropics occasionally for the warm weather. But the crowds! It's so hard to find a lonely anchorage."

We couldn't help but ask Pete about the worst weather he's faced in his many miles at sea. "The worst was about Force 12, a survival situation, about 150 miles west of Cape Horn back in '95. The solar panel and windvane were damaged, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't survive. The worst long-term weather I've faced was way back in '66, when I was sailing across the Atlantic in a 35-footer. A naive sailor at the time, I didn't realize I should have shorted sail or hove to, for I made it halfway across in just nine days. When I later talked to friends on other boats, they told me they'd been hove to for five days. So even if the wind is fair, sometimes it makes sense to back off."

Pete Passano, it's hard to imagine him ever backing off.

- latitude/rs 1/5/04

Rejoice - Westsail 42
Bob & Sue Kendig
Nine-Year Circumnavigation
(Aspen, Colorado)

It was February of '95, when Bob, a lawyer, and Sue, a teacher, left the snows of Aspen to depart Newport Beach on a circumnavigation. They've only been home to Aspen once since, and that was back in '95, too. The couple had reason for confidence in their Westsail 42, as Bob's uncle, Charlie Donnelly, and family, had cruised her to New Zealand and back in '79-'81. This was, of course, in the days before GPS and other electronic navigation.

Bob and Sue started their trip by enjoying a leisurely 4.5 years in the Pacific, including an 18-month stay in New Zealand, and two years in Australia. "We visited every winery in New Zealand," they say, "doing much of the travelling by camper. When we got to Australia, we visited most of the wineries there, too." Between New Zealand and Australia, they had cruised as far north as the Marshall Islands, which are above the equator. Stopping once again, Sue took a job as a teacher.

When the two got to Darwin, Australia, they eschewed the normal cruiser path north to Thailand and Southeast Asia, figuring they could visit it later by plane. They were intent on visiting the Chagos Archipelago, the cruiser nirvana in the middle of the Indian Ocean, accessible only by private yacht. As such, they ended up sailing west from Darwin to the Kimberly Region of Australia near Broome. "It's a fascinating area with zillions of islands, more big crocs than anywhere in the world, but hardly any white people or wind." It also has extreme tides that rival the Bay of Fundy. This allowed them and some Aussie friends on a catamaran to power up the Croc River and anchor in a spot that actually became a landbound lake when the tide went out.

In preparation for setting sail to the remote Chagos, where no goods or services whatsoever are available, they filled their freezer full of meat and the lockers full of staples. While at the Chagos, they grew basil and tomatoes, and Bob even established an onboard brewery. The Chagos lived up to all their expectations. In fact, their only regret is that they only stayed two months.

After the Chagos, cruisers are always faced with the same decision - to continue west by way of the Cape of Good Hope or via the Red Sea and the Med. These, you'll remember, weren't the most reassuring of times, as it was only a short time after 9/11. Oddly enough, that was the exact day that the couple arrived at Cocos-Keeling Island in the Indian Ocean, which is actually a group of three small islands. The Aussies stay on one island, the Muslim workers on another island, and the cruisers are based on yet a third island. The Muslims they met there expressed great sorrow over the terrorist attacks.

In any event, the couple decided that with such a heavy military presence in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Med, that that route would actually be the safest. And they didn't have any problems. In fact, they never had so much as a disagreeable word with any of the Muslims they met anywhere on their trip.

Despite spending two years in the Med, Bob wasn't terribly impressed. "I didn't like it much because it was so crowded. In many anchorages you had boats just a few feet away on both sides and in front and in back. And many of them were poorly anchored. In addition, there wasn't much wind in the Med. During our last year there, we put 600 hours on the diesel. Fortunately, we'd repowered in Australia."

One thing they did enjoy in the Med was the last Eastern Med Yacht Rally, which took them from Turkey down the Eastern Med to Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. One of the other boats in this event was Hall and Wendy Palmer's San Francisco Bay-based Beneteau 51.

The couple crossed the Atlantic between December 1 and 23 of last year, but didn't have the best trip. "During our Atlantic crossing, there was only one day in which we covered 150 miles. During our passage from Cocos-Keeling to the Chagos in the Indian Ocean, we averaged 150 miles a day."

"Despite the slow trip," says Sue, "we probably had our strongest sailing winds of our entire trip. We're guessing it blew 40 to 50 knots with torrential rain for about 11 hours. What's more, there was constant lightning that was so brilliant it would temporarily blind us. We didn't know where to look to avoid it."

The only comparably bad weather they'd had previously was during a rough trip from Tonga to New Zealand when they took a full knockdown, allowing lots of water to pour into the cockpit and even some belowdecks. That was the only time Sue was ever concerned for her safety. She was thrown during the incident, breaking or cracking some ribs.

Speaking of safety, we asked the couple how many cruising boats they know of that were lost during their travels. Sue was able to count nine - one a year - that they knew personally. They didn't have any cruising acquaintances who were lost at sea.

Sue says that she, like most women, doesn't care for the long ocean passages. "That's why I love it so much here in the Caribbean. The water is so beautiful, and after sailing for just a couple of hours, you're in a new country and culture. You don't have to do any overnight sails."

Bob allows that when they finish their circumnavigation this summer, they will think about getting "a less complicated boat" in the Caribbean for sailing a couple of months a year. "We're going back home because we need to work, not because we don't love places like St. Barth."

Although Rejoice had all the cruising gear, including a fridge, watermaker, gen set, etc, Bob wasn't one to spout the "cruising is repairing stuff in exotic ports" complaint. "Maintaining a boat while cruising is like having had our house in Aspen rented out - sometimes you get so frustrated you just want to sell the thing. But over the long haul it isn't bad. Our biggest problem was with the heads."

One of the nice things about their nine-year trip has been the friendliness of all the people they've met. For example, at the curiously named Australian waterfront town of 1770, they found themselves in shallow water with the tide rushing out, not knowing where to go. A woman offered them her mooring buoy, but they had no idea how to navigate the shallows to get to it. A chandlery owner overheard their conversation on the VHF and came out in his boat to show them the tricky way to the mooring.

Nowhere, however, did Bob and Sue find people more friendly than in the Cook Islands, particularly Aitutaki, the onetime home of the lagoon base for the old flying boats of World War II. Having gone through the tricky pass on a high tide, the couple was more or less stuck for a month. During that time they became extremely close to the locals. When it came time for them to leave, they were presented with a quilt, for which the islanders are renowned, as well as so many leis stacked around their necks they could hardly see. It was the type of experience that could only happen to people cruising their own boat, which is why the couple had made the trip.

- latitude/rs

Nymph - Caree 40-ft Steel Cutter
Peter Palmer & Christina Wagner
Problems With Costa Rican Customs
(South Africa)

Prior to our arrival in Costa Rica, we had transited the Panama Canal and spent two wonderful months cruising Panama. We enjoyed snorkeling in the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side, surfing at Santa Catalina in the Pacific side, and had the incredible experience of swimming with whales and dolphins in the Secas Islands. It was a splendid introduction to Central America - which made us look forward to our visit to Costa Rica.

We cleared into Costa Rica at Golfito on September 12, and after reporting to the Port Captain, visited Immigration, Quarantine and Customs to fulfill our clearance duties. Our passports - Peter's being South African and Christina's being German - were stamped for the normal three months, with no restrictions noted. We spent the next two months sailing up and down the coast of Costa Rica having a wonderful time.

We started by visiting Puerto Jimenez, a muy tranquilo town with lots of friendly people; Bahia Drake, where monkeys feed at a trail near a hotel; and Quepos, which has a very rolly anchorage but also a great fruit and veggie market on Saturdays. We continued on to the Los Sueños Hotel and Marina, which looks impressive - but charges equally impressive fees for use of their slips and facilities. So we headed for Puntarenas, in the Gulf of Nicoya, in a series of daytrips. We stopped at Punta Leona, and Isla Tortuga, a big tourist attraction, but were then thwarted with engine problems. After Tortuga, we decided we had to return to Golfito in order to purchase parts and materials for the repairs.

The trip back was great, too, as we returned to Quepos and then stopped at the amazing anchorage at Manuel Antonio National Park. It did cost $8 a day to anchor and $7 a day to go ashore, which is expensive for us - but since it was a little paradise it was worth it. From Manuel Antonio, we had lovely sails to Bahia Drake and Puerto Jimenez, ending two months of wonderful times in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the good times were soon over.

When we gave our zarpe to the Port Captain in Golfito, he told us - to our complete astonishment - that our Customs papers for our boat were no longer in order because our Temporary Import Permit had expired a month before! We didn't know how this could have happened, because since Peter has a South African passport, we check the paperwork very carefully. Since we'd both been given three months on our passports, we could only assume that Customs had given the same amount of time to our boat. Convinced that Customs had made some kind of mistake, we headed to their office.

After hearing about our situation, the woman at Customs came back with a folder saying that our boat had only been given 30 days, not three months, and that we needed to return within two days to pay a $500 fine! We were stunned, still not knowing why our visa and boat temporary import permits wouldn't be for the same amount of time.

When we returned to Customs two days later, an official told us that because Christina was German, she got a three month visa, but because South Africa isn't on the list of countries whose passports get three months automatically, Peter's was only good for 30 days. And therefore the temporary import for his boat was only good for 30 days.

In my very limited Spanish, I tried to explain that we had no way of knowing that Peter and the boat only had 30 days, because both his and my passports had been stamped exactly the same, and no restriction had been noted on his. The woman said she understood, but her primary concern was not the injustice, but the fact we'd violated Costa Rican law.

When she asked us the value of our boat, we were confused, as we couldn't figure out why she needed to know that. Before we knew it, the woman was writing down huge numbers. Since nobody in that office spoke English, we had no idea what the woman was saying or what was going on. Fortunately, Bruce from Banana Bay Marina was kind enough to act as translator. He explained that we had to pay a $500 fine, plus import taxes on our boat for the time of our overstay - as well as for the month or two it would take Customs to calculate the import duty we supposedly owed! Now it looked like we'd be owing thousands of dollars - not counting the marina bills that would be incurred because the boat would have to go into bonding until the problem was settled.

Hearing all this, and the serious figures, caused the blood to drain from my face. The Costa Rican Custom officials were basically telling us we'd have to buy our own boat back from them! It was a nightmare the way people as innocent as ourselves could slide into such a terrible fix. We could sort of understand a fine because we had technically violated the law - albeit unknowingly. But forcing us to pay import duty on our boat was too much!

Our next move was to request a copy of the Customs law, hoping to find, with the help of Bruce, a way out of the disaster. At least Customs gave us another 24 hours. During this period, we read over the law, made phone calls, searched the internet for relevant maritime law, and sought the advise of other cruisers. Within hours, every cruiser in the anchorage knew our story, and all of them were as shocked as we were. Furthermore, we found out that eight other boats were in the same situation - but for more serious reasons, such as forged documents, overstaying their temporary import permit by many months, as well as other significant violations.

As a last resort, we returned to the Immigration office in Golfito where we had originally cleared into the country. The Immigration officer looked in our passports and admitted that no 30-day restriction had been noted on Peter's passport - an obvious mistake on the part of Immigration! No wonder both of us thought we - and the boat - had three months to enjoy Costa Rica.

Having finally found the source of the problem, we wrote a statement in English explaining where the mistake had been made and why we had misunderstood our situation. Noting that Immigration papers showed that we both had three months in Costa Rica, we pleaded for the officials to consider a more affordable solution. Photocopies of our passports and documentation were attached to our statement, and Christian from the Banana Bay Marina team translated everything into Spanish for us.

Early the next morning, we presented our statement and documents to the Customs official. He paid careful attention, and seemed to understand the problem. By the time we left the office, we had agreed to pay the $500 fine, leave Costa Rica almost immediately, and not reenter for six months. The import tax charges were dropped.

As far as I am concerned, the fine was too big for such an innocent mistake. Nonetheless, I'm glad we were able to resolve the matter without needing to hire a lawyer or otherwise spend thousands of dollars. Still, it's a pity we had to pay so much for a mistake made by the Immigration officer.

We thought it was important to share our experience so Latitude readers can understand how quickly innocent and well-intentioned people can find themselves in difficulty. Without the help of Bruce and his team at Banana Bay Marina, it's unlikely we could have gotten out of the situation with paying just $500. Such help, and our two previous months of sailing up and down the coast of Costa Rica, make it easier for us to retain fond memories of that country. It really is a beautiful country and a nice cruising destination.

- christina & peter 10/27/03

Cheval - Outremer 55 Light Cat
The Bridge Family
The Med & The Atlantic
(Corona del Mar)

Are catamarans becoming more popular for long distance cruising? All we know for sure is that during our first 10 days in St. Barth, we crossed paths with no less than three California couples/families who had bought new cats in France and sailed them across the Atlantic. The first was the Bernhards of Livermore with their Catana 581 Aurora, which they sailed across the Atlantic in the last two Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Then there was John and Lynn Ringseis of Bel Marin Keys with their new Lagoon 41 cat Moonshine. And finally, the Bridge family - Chris and Carolyn, and their charming kids Tristan, 7, Ethan, 5, and Cheyenne, 2 - from Corona del Mar in Southern California.

Chris Bridge had owned monohulls before, and had previously sailed across the Atlantic on a relatively slow Prout catamaran. So he knew what he was looking for in a cat - performance. After looking at most of the production catamarans and lots of one-offs, the Outremer - which has been built for many years but is not that well known in the States - appealed to him the most. "Actually," says Chris, "given what I was looking for, there wasn't really any competition."

Their Outremer 55 Light only weighs about 20,000 pounds, which is only about 60% of that of similar production cats her size. As a result, she's a fine sailor among cats in light air. And when the wind pipes up, she really takes off. "During a good blow in flat water off the Mediterranean coast of France," we once hit 21.5 knots under Solent jib alone."

There are a couple of downsides, however. Chris admits that he often uses the first and even second reef. The Bernhards, on the other hand, seldom reef their Catana 581. Furthermore, the Outremer has a smaller salon and less interior space in her hulls than some of her competitors. Everything is a compromise.

After christening their new boat Cheval in the southwestern France port of Grand Mott in the spring of last year, the Bridges proceeded to sail 3,500 miles around in the Med in just four months as part of an extended shakedown cruise. "We like to keep moving," says Chris, in something of an understatement, "and rarely stay anywhere for more than a day or two." Starting in France, they visited Corsica, Sardinia, Naples and southern Italy, the Aeolian Islands - which have been their favorite stop to date - Sicily, the Ionian Islands of Greece, the Corinth Canal, the Cyclades, and the Peloponnese. From there, they headed back west, stopping at Sicily, the Aeolian Islands again, Sardinia, Naples, St. Tropez, and the factory back at Grand Mott for some warranty items.

As many readers will remember, it was ferociously hot last summer in Europe, and tens of thousands of people in France alone died of the heat. Despite being on the water, Chris says it was often 100° on the boat and 90° in the water. "And there was one time we went swimming when I swear the water temperature was 100° also," he says. That would eliminate the need for an onboard hottub.

I loved the Med," says Chris, "but I wish there had been more wind."

"We particularly liked the Aeolian Islands," says Carolyn, "because there weren't many tourists, and because they are so different. Panarea was our favorite. It only has a few homes, all of which are owned by rich Italians, who somehow prevent more from being built. Stromboli, another of the Aeolian islands, is one of the few active volcanos in the world. We got to within 100 meters of it before we were warned away."

The one place none of the family liked was Naples. "It was just disgusting, with trash everywhere," says Carolyn. She is far from the first to express this sentiment, so perhaps it's good it wasn't selected for the America's Cup.

The Bridges say that if you're not careful, it can be really expensive to cruise in the Med. "We had one friend," says Carolyn, "who paid $500 to anchor his 60-footer in a marina at chic Capri for just one night!" The Bridges' solution was to stay out of marinas - something that proved to be not difficult at all. "Other than Greece, where the berthing is inexpensive," says Chris, "we probably stayed in a marina no more than 10 nights. We even anchored in places like the middle of the harbor at exclusive Puerto Cervo, Sardinia!"

As you might imagine, three energetic kids are a real handful. Chris and Carolyn made sure they got a lot of chores to sap some of their energy. In addition, all three had two hours of schooling each day. After that, it was time for swimming, snorkeling, and their latest favorite - wake-boarding. "The kids really learned a lot being on the boat," says Chris.

"When I went home with them while Chris did the Atlantic crossing," says Carolyn, "the kids really missed the boat. They love being onboard, and they've become real waterbugs."

Judging from our short visit to Cheval, she makes a perfect floating jungle gym for the kids. They use the forward netting like a trampoline, and richochet around the interior with incredible speed and ease. Carolyn says her life was made much easier by the watermaker and clotheswasher. Chris says short passages - such as St. Barth to Antigua - are much easier if he gets up and leaves in the middle of the night when the kids, and usually Carolyn, are still asleep.

The Bridge family will cruise Cheval in the Caribbean until the end of February, at which time Carolyn and the kids will fly home. Then Chris and a crew will take the cat to California. After that, they're thinking about heading to the South Pacific, Alaska, or wherever. In any event, they believe they've got the perfect boat for them for the trip.

- latitude/rs 1/8/04

Spindrift - Catalac Catamaran
Ron & Linda Caywood
In Florida Missing Mexico

After three winters in Mexico, we decided to cruise the East Coast of the United States. So we paid $5,000 to have our boat trucked from San Carlos, Mexico, to Houston. Inexplicably, half of that cost was for the mere 300 miles between San Carlos and Tucson! We spent one winter at South Padre Island, Texas, where it wasn't all that warm, and last winter at Ft. Myers, Florida. We're spending this winter here in Marathon - "the heart of the Florida Keys" - about 50 miles from Key West.

This is not what Linda and I expected of the Keys. In fact, we can't wait to get back to Mexico and the Sea of Cortez.

Michael Beattie of the Santa Cruz-based catamaran Miki G wrote a positive report on Key West in the last Latitude, and said nice things about the weather. Well, we arrived on November 1, and have found the weather not to be to our liking. Beattie reported that the air temperature drops on occasion when a front comes through. Since we've been here, the fronts have come through about every three days! When they have, the temps drop to the 60s during the day and the 50s to low 60s at night. The air temperature rises to the 70s in the day between cold spells, but it's not long between them.

If I could afford $700 for a slip like Beattie, we could plug in our electric heater and the weather might not seem so bad. We started out here paying $160/month for a mooring in Boot Key Harbor, which included one pumpout per week. But since the wind was predominantly from the north at between 10 and 25 knots, we kept keeping our butts wet during the 300-yard dinghy ride to the dock. So now we're anchored 50 yards from the dock. We now have to pay $60/month for use of the dinghy dock, and 5-cents/gallon for water. We also have to pay $5 for a pumpout, but it's a bargain because they come right to our boat.

Although NOAA says the weather here is the same as in Key West, it's not exactly true. Even NOAA says that the water at Key West is only 70°, while here at Sombrero Reef in Marathon, it's 78°. Warmer, of course, is better.

There's another reason we like Marathon better than Key West. Our friends were anchored at Key West in October of '02, and because of the strong tidal current, their boat dragged. It hit another boat and did damage before finally going aground. We don't have that kind of current here in Boot Key Harbor.

There are other advantages Marathon has over Key West. Three of the top five restaurants in the Keys, as rated by a newspaper poll, are here in Marathon. The Keys Fisheries Restaurant and Marina has the best tasting seafood I've ever eaten. They have a fleet of boats, and the catch is fresh every day. A fish sandwich is $6 with fries and coleslaw. The Stuffed Pig has such big breakfasts for $5.95 that you can hardly finish them. We're also within walking distance of Publix, Winn Dixie, K-Mart, Home Depot, Boaters World, and West Marine. The library, hospital, and senior citizen center are two blocks from the marina.

In last month's Latitude, I read that Boot Key Harbor had the most polluted water in the Keys. But I wonder if the author spent any time here. The water is clear enough for me to see our anchor buried in eight feet of water, and it looks clean. I'm sure there is some pollution, as there are over 200 boats moored and anchored here in Boot Key, and none of the year-round liveaboards seem to use the pumpout facilities. But this can't be the most polluted. The sea grass is healthy and we've seen two manatees in the harbor, one right next to our boat.

Although we prefer Marathon to Key West, neither can compare to Puerto Vallarta - except for the fishing. The fishing is great in the Keys. Dorado - locally known as dolphin or mahi mahi - wahoo and mackerel are all plentiful, and you can catch a limit of snapper in 30 minutes. We plan to spend the winter here, go north in March, then come back early enough to catch a window to the Bahamas where we'll spend next winter - hopefully with friends Pete and Suzie of Magic Dragon. They are having a new boat commissioned, and we're looking forward to seeing her. As soon as we've seen enough of the East Coast and Caribbean, we'll sail downwind to Panama and then back up to Mexico, which we love so much. Tell all my bridge-playing friends that "I'll be back!"

Our favorite bit of cruising gear? We've had our Aquamarine watermaker since April of '98. I bought that brand because the guy who makes them lives close to our old homeport of Portland, and because he's knowledgeable enough to install watermaker units large enough for cities. I bought the 600 gal/day model because it was only a few hundred dollars more than the lower capacity model, and because I didn't want to run it that much. Two hours a week keeps our tanks full. That's using it often enough so that I don't have to worry about pickling it. I fill a five-gallon jug with fresh water, and when the tanks are full, switch the the input hose to the jug, flushing the unit with freshwater. I also rinse out the filters on schedule, and change them when they won't come clean.

We've had no trouble with our watermaker, and I wouldn't leave home without one. We think a watermaker is one of the essentials for healthy cruising. You get freshwater showers and never have dehydration problems. I took our unit apart last week as I was sure things had to be growing inside the tube after 5.5 years - but it was as clean as the day I put it together. One final tip - don't run the watermaker at night, as that's when the plankton come to the surface, and they'll clog the filters.

P.S. We were glad to see a picture of Sylvia of Marina Mazatlan in the December Latitude, and to know that she's still there. She's the glue that holds the place together. We should be back there in three years.

- ron & linda 1/10/04

Ron and Linda - Don't hold an anomaly in the weather against Beattie. For the last bunch of years, St. Barth has had beautiful and dry weather for Christmas and New Years. This year the weather was poor, with nearly two weeks of mostly overcast skies, gusty winds, and lots of rain. But after that it was perfection. We're sure the Keys can have similar slumps in the normally fine winter weather - or else Boot Key wouldn't be so full of boats.

Seadream - N/A
Jon Doornink
DHL Problems In Mexico
(Caleta San Juancio, Baja)

In your January 2004 issue, following a report from Richard Booker of the Winnepeg-based Mystery Cove 38 Crocodile Rock, who said he had to abandon his replacement extrusion because DHL employees in Mexico City wanted such a big bribe, you asked if anyone else has had similar problems with DHL in Mexico. We have.

When we returned home to Oregon to spend Christmas of 2002 with our family in 2002, we sent a hearing aid out for repair. When it wasn't repaired in time for our return to Mexico, we had the agency send it to Marina Palmira in La Paz via DHL, as we'd heard they were dependable. When the $2,500 hearing aid didn't arrive as scheduled, we went to the DHL agency in La Paz, who phoned the DHL agency in Guadalajara where most imports to Mexico are cleared. They told us that as this was a medical supply, we needed to offer proof it was really needed. As my wife is deaf without hearing aids, we had our hearing specialists in the States send certified information that my wife was under their care and needed the hearing aid to hear.

Guadalajara responded by telegram saying that we needed to have a Mexican doctor certify that my wife was deaf. So we went to a doctor in La Paz, who interviewed her and certified the hearing aid was absolutely necessary. He wrote a letter, which we faxed to DHL.

DHL responded by saying we needed to see the Secretary of Health in La Paz to certify that a hearing aid was legal, and that her hearing aid was an acceptable import. After spending most of a day at the Secretary of Health, we received the appropriate documents and faxed them to Guadalajara.

After we received no response, we asked the management of Marina Palmira to assist us - which they did at great length.

The next response we got from Guadalajara - we still don't know if it was DHL or Aduana - was that we needed to send them $70 U.S. to pay an agent to represent us before Customs. At this point, other cruisers at Marina Palmira told us the same thing had happened to them regarding boat replacement parts, and that it would be a bottomless money pit which would not result in our receiving our hearing aid.

So we phoned DHL in Guadalajara and told them to ship the hearing aid back to the sender in Oregon. The next day they sent a letter saying they had done so.

The hearing aid never arrived in Oregon, and to this day remains 'lost'. We then applied for the $2000 insured value when we returned to Oregon in May. DHL responded by saying that due to the Geneva Convention, their loss was limited to $150 U.S. After much faxing back and forth between our hearing aid provider and DHL, DHL agreed their Oregon agent had made a mistake in filling out forms, and finally sent us $2,000 insurance coverage.

The most disconcerting part of this nine-month episode is that my wife's hearing was severely limited while we were sailing in Mexico. And that despite jumping through many Mexican 'hoops' and paying money, we got zero results.

Our advice to cruisers in Mexico is not to use any mail service in or out of that country. Other cruisers and/or friends remain the reliable method of getting goods not obtainable in Mexico into Mexico.

- jon 1/20/04

Cruise Notes:

"John Sloboda, a much-loved cruiser from Ventura who did lots of cruising in Mexico and the South Pacific, passed away last month in the Solomon Islands," report Fred Roswold and Judy Jensen of Seattle-based Serendipity 43 Wings, currently in Papua New Guinea. "John, who had lived and cruised aboard his Ranger 31 Joliga II for 25 years, was a fine singlehander with a terrific love for the sea. For much of the '90s he lived aboard in Nuevo Vallarta, where he was a local character universally known as 'Joliga John'. Everyone, including John, loved to tell stories of his adventures at sea. He told us that he twice fell overboard while underway. In one legendary case, he was rescued many hours later by a passing cruise ship - which then chased down his boat.

"Before heading across the Pacific in 2000," Fred and Judy continue, "John had some serious medical problems in Mexico - including a collapsed lung, which required emergency evacuation to the States. Another time his diabetes- damaged circulatory system was so bad that he was scheduled to have both his legs amputated. We never expected him to live, let alone leave Mexico, yet he later recovered, with both legs still attached, to sail across the Pacific. John loved his drink, so it wasn't surprising that when we bumped into him in Fiji, he'd become a fixture at the yacht club bar in Savu Savu. He had since sailed through the rest of the Pacific to Australia, and from there out to the Solomons. When he fell ill this last time, he never recovered. He was hospitalized in Gizo, in the Solomon Islands, suffering from a severe foot infection, gangrene in his leg, and diabetic complications. He was then transported to the Navy Hospital in Guam where, after a month of intensive care, he passed away on December 18. John was 71. We'll miss him."

"Ever since a snake boarded Hawkeye, Linda has been closing up the boat every night with screens - which pisses me off because it is so warm," writes John Kelley of the Seattle-based Sirena 38. "It happened after we watched a movie in the cockpit. As I reached up to hang the anchor light off the backstay, I discovered a five-foot-long snake curled up on the rear solar panel - on the open cabin hatch above where we sleep. It must have been watching the movie with us! I grabbed a broom and swept it off its perch. Last seen, it was swimming away, head held high. Linda, who hates snakes with a passion - which is quite irrational, since sharks don't bother her at all - freaked out. I assured her that in 10 years of cruising, I have never had a snake onboard, but it didn't do much good. I hope it never happens again, or I'll be singlehanding once again."

"We are first-time cruisers in Mexico, currently in Mazatlan, who are looking to go as far south as we and our boat can go," report Dennis and Judy Long of the Chula Vista-based 50-ft marconi schooner Emerada. "We're not going to do the Sea of Cortez this year, as we feel that this is our time to 'go the distance', and that the Sea will still be close to home when we return someday. Our ultimate plan is to reach the Eastern Caribbean by 2005. We did bareboat charters there in '95 and '97, and loved St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Bequia, St. Lucia, and all the islands in between. The weather coming down out of the Sea of Cortez has been unsettled so far, with some strong northers. Then we had a strong southerly wind that came up the coast, with tropical storms-force winds at sea, and lots of rain from P.V. up to Mazatlan. So most of us have stayed in port. Cruisers in Tenacatita Bay might have had it even worse, as there were reports of winds in excess of 50 knots, with some cruisers heading into Barra de Navidad for protection. So far Don Anderson of Summer Passage has been right on the money with his forecasts. But right now it's gorgeous, with 15 knots of wind from the north, so it looks like this is the week to go. We plan to be around P.V. to Tenacatita until February, Barra and Melaque for St. Patrick's Day in March, Zihua to Huatulco in March and April, then head down to Costa Rica and Panama in May and June."

"A recent letter suggesting cruisers bypass La Paz this year due to the supposed lasting effects of hurricane Marty reminds me of Mark Twain saying "the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated". So reports Jack Swords of the Marina de La Paz-based La Paloma. "This is our fifth year at Marina de la Paz, the mood is upbeat and things are moving forward. Lumber is being delivered, docks are reconstructed, pilings are being driven, and boaters are arriving and departing as usual. I see about 35 slips with electricity and water, with more to be added soon. The anchorage is vast and there is quite a bit of open space. Furthermore, there's a brand new malecon. It's true, there are still some billboards down around town, but it's hard to find other signs of Marty. As for the health scares, we've been here a month and haven't heard of anyone with dengue - let alone seen a mosquito. There are, however, a few common colds going around. The offshore islands are green, and the diving and fishing have been excellent. And the locals, of course, are as friendly as ever. Over the Christmas holidays, there were lights all about. It was 82° in La Paz on Christmas day with just four knots of wind. We've been all over the mainland, but this city on the Baja peninsula is special and should not be missed."

"A total of 111 cruisers shared Christmas dinner at Marina Mazatlan Cruiser Potluck," report Annette Montgomery, Robert Caltabiano, and Mona the wonder dog of the Santa Cruz based Endeavour 37 Jake. "It was a perfect Mexican day, with not a cloud in the crystal blue sky. Just $3/person paid for the turkeys and ham, and cruisers brought all the trimmings. Total Yacht Services provided the wine while, in addition to providing the tables, chairs, and tents, Pacifico sold the beer. Susie of Cabaret organized a group of 12 cruisers to set up, serve, and clean up. Rina on Spirit of Sydney was in charge of the gift exchange, so everyone received a present. Accompanied by Barry of Jaala on guitar, we sang Christmas carols. It was a magical evening enjoying the company of our 'cruising family'."

"My son left his sailboat on the hard at Marina Seca near San Carlos, Mexico, last year," writes Phil Ackerman of San Luis Obispo. "I want to go down and use her for a few months, and maybe even do the Baja Bash back up the coast to the Bay Area with her. My question is what do I need in terms of paperwork to avoid any problems with my having his boat? All the boat paperwork currently onboard reflects that he's the owner. Do I just need a notarized letter from him stating that I have permission to use the boat, or do we have to make some actual changes to the title?"

It's no problem, Phil. Have your son write a letter authorizing you to move the boat anywhere in Mexico as well as back up to the United States. To make it look as official as possible, do it on letterhead and include all the pertinent facts - the boat's CF or documentation numbers, your son's telephone number and email address, and a photocopy of both your passports. We've sometimes scrawled a two-line handwritten letter for this purpose, but port captains appreciate something a little more professional.

"Please don't hold it against me," writes Patrick X of Las Vegas, "but I just took a cruise to Acapulco aboard the cruise ship Mercury. The strangest thing happened on Christmas Eve while between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo - the ship stopped for a sailboat! The vessel in question was the Atlantis out of Honolulu, with four Brits aboard. There apparently had been a break in their fuel line. Not knowing what to do, they declared an emergency! The crew of the Mercury stopped and gave them some fuel. But nobody would give us additional details."

"We're writing to say we received great service at Marina Seca in San Carlos, Mexico," writes Derek Pritchard, who owns the Whidbey Island, Washington-based 37-ft sloop Nokomis of the Orient, and Dick Ryan of the Anacortes, Washington-based 50-ft motoryacht Kimtah. "Both our boats were dry stored through the summer of '03, and the security was excellent. This winter we both had substantial work done by the yard, including complex glass work, skeg repair, sand blasting, keel fairing, the installation of new stabilizers, painting, and general fitting out. Between us we have more than 80 years' boating experience, and have hauled in ports all over the world, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom. We place Marina Seca high on our list. Jesus Salas, Luis, and their staff delivered first class professional service, with courtesy, humor, and charm. The dry storage, which is separate from the work yard, is excellent, with concrete pads and substantial metal posts that make the facility as hurricane-proof as possible. They slip yachts of all sizes efficiently, safely, and with care. On top of the excellent service, the prices are low compared to the U.S. and U.K. If we wanted to be critical, we would suggest a neutering program for the myriad of dogs in the yard!

"We just hauled our boat and left her on the hard in Auckland," report John Neal and Amanda Swan-Neal of the Seattle-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. "It's hard to believe, but 2003 was our 14th year of expeditions! We enjoyed the best sailing since we did the South Pacific way back in '74, as there was plenty of consistent wind. In fact, we logged the fewest engine miles ever. And we only had one tropical squall at sea in 10,000 miles. According to he harbormasters in Tahiti and Rarotonga, the number of North American boats was down about 35% last season. On the other hand, the number of Aussie and Kiwi boats was way up in Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. We had some amazing adventures in Vanuatu, which we think has got to be the neatest place for cruisers who don't mind roughing it a little."

John and Amanda will be giving their Offshore Cruising Seminar in San Francisco over the March 20-21 weekend, and it will be the last year that Nigel Calder, author of fine books on marine diesel maintenance, general boat maintenance, and a cruising guide to Cuba, will be teaching with them. Calder and his wife Terri are taking off on an extended cruise to Europe next year. For info on the seminar, visit www.mahina.com.

We suspect that one reason the number of North American boats was way down in French Polynesia last year is the atrocious way French Polynesian officials have treated American cruisers in recent years. Word about things like that gets around quickly in cruising circles, and West Coast sailors have plenty of cruising options - Alaska, Central America, South America, and the Western and Eastern Caribbean. In some places, such as Central America, the cost of cruising is dramatically less than in French Polynesia, it's not necessary to make long ocean passages, and the visas aren't restricted to such short periods of time. We don't have exact numbers, but our gut feeling is that a growing number of West Coast cruisers are opting to cruise elsewhere than French Polynesia. And that's a shame.

"After five years, the Pacific Northwest has lost its luster," writes someone whose named we've lost. "It's too cold, you almost can't ever swim, but above all there is no wind. I need help as to where to sail for the 12 weeks off we have in the summer. Where can I find a combination of warm weather, reliable wind, good diving, and some place to leave the boat on the hard until we return the following year?"

In order of preference, we'd advise the Caribbean, closely followed by French Polynesia and Fiji, with Hawaii a somewhat distant third. The most enjoyable sailing in the Caribbean is in late spring and early summer because the seas are calmer. In addition, there's always good wind, the diving is terrific, and they've got all the facilities you could want. Lastly, it's off season so it's not crowded. The northern hemisphere summer is prime time for sailing in the South Pacific from French Polynesia to Fiji, and there are several places you could leave your boat after the northern hemisphere summer is over. Caution: in the Caribbean, you would be subject to hurricanes while you were on your boat, while in the South Pacific, your boat would be subject to tropical cyclones while you were back home. Hawaii has wind and warm water, but it doesn't have very many cruising attractions. We left Mexico off the list because it doesn't have the consistent wind you're looking for in the summer.

"I didn't make it to St. Barth in the French West indies for the New Year's Eve Regatta," confesses Rex Conn of the Annapolis-based 55-ft trimaran Alacrity. "The cradle broke at the yard when they were launching my boat at the end of October, and she was holded. By the time she was repaired, it was too late for me to do the Caribbean 1500, so I took her down to Charleston, where she is now. I'll be heading down to Florida soon to do the Lauderdale to Key West Race, then do the SORC in Miami in February, then sail to St. Maarten for the Heineken in March. As of the middle of December, the Heinie reported the multihull entries included a 55-ft Chris White cat, a 47-ft Kelsell multihull, and my 50-ft tri. Will Profligate be there?"

Sorry to hear about the damage to your boat, Rex. Profligate will be at the Heineken, as will John Haste's San Diego-based Perry 52 cat Little Wing. By the way, if anyone is interested in a 'shared expenses' berth on Profligate for the Heinie, preceeded by some great cruising at St. Barth, there may still be a couple of slots open. The Heinie, along with Antigua Sailing Week, are by far the two biggest and wildest regattas in the Caribbean, and two of the most fun in the world. The Heinie is only three races, so it's less grueling. We 'fill in' the extra time with a short cruise to St. Barth before the racing starts. Can you imagine three days of near-perfect cruising, followed by three days of near-perfect racing conditions? If you're interested in the Heinie on Profligate, or the BVI Spring festival in the BVIs at the end of March, check out their respective Web sites, then for further information.

Speaking of John Haste of Little Wing, we spent some time with him at St. Barth at the beginning of the new year, when the weather was unusually unsettled. He told us how he'd been robbed while motoring his boat in Cartagena, Colombia - a city he loves - at dusk by three guys with a homemade shotgun, a popular weapon in that part of the world. "I was alone, and they put my ladyfriend's blouse over my head to blindfold me, then tied me up with Spectra line. Spectra is too stiff to effectively tie anyone up, so while I could have gotten loose, I waited so I wouldn't get shot. Once the robbery was over, I called the harbor patrol, and they came charging out with a boat and lots of guns. Thanks to some informants, we spotted the thieves, but they escaped up a sewage drain where it was impossible to follow them by boat. It's a long and complicated story but, thanks to informers, the secret police, and me paying 'rewards', I was able to get some of my stolen electronics and other stuff back."

That was far from the end of the Haste's problems, which had started last summer in Nicaragua when lightning knocked out many of his boat's electronic components. As he neared Grenada, his aging Gatorback main delaminated rapidly into total uselessness. So he eventually sailed to Barbados, where his old friend Andy runs the big Doyle loft, one of the largest in the Caribbean. When we told Haste that nobody in their right mind sails to Barbados, which is about 150 miles upwind and upcurrent of all the other Eastern Caribbean islands, he said, "That's what they told me when I got there!" Little Wing arrived in Barbados with bashed-up port transom steps, thanks to them getting caught beneath the fixed dock in Grenada when an extended squall came through with 40 knots. Haste was back in the States at the time. After a rather windy and wet holiday in St. Barth, Haste continued on to St. Maarten, from where he sent the following email:

"I'm over in St. Maarten putting Little Wing back together after all the problems I had getting her here from Mexico. This is a great island for yacht repairs, as everything is duty free, with lots of stock discounted an additional 10% if you pay in cash. After your suggestion that we compete in the Heineken Regatta, and after learning that former TransAtlantic record- holder Luc Poupon will be racing with you, we've been looking into picking up some ace French multihull crew also. Apparently there is a lot of such talent around, but the locals tell me to only take one, as they can never agree on tactics and we'll have sailed to the next island/country before they'll agree on when we should gybe!"

Devan Mullin, a frequent crewmember on Profligate and the Newport Beach owner of a Florida-based Shannon 38, reports that he's chartered a monohull from Sunsail so he and friends can race in the Heinie. "Since we've got the boat from March 1 to March 8, and the races are on March 5, 6, and 7, we thought we might try to buzz over to St. Barths for a couple of days. How far is it and what should we know?"

It's only 12 miles from the Sunsail base at Oyster Pond in St. Maarten to St. Barth, Devan. What you need to know is that you'd be out of your mind not to cruise over there for a few days before the start of the Heineken. We'll see you there.

"Sick of the cold and gray of winter?" asks R.G. Rienks. "Need something tropical to look forward to before summer arrives? You need to go south, where T-shirts and shorts are the normal wear day and night, where are air and water are warm, and where the sailing is delightful. What you need to do is arrange to attend the 12th Annual Banderas Bay Regatta, March 25-28 in Banderas Bay. There will be mingling in the morning, not too serious cruiser-only racing in the afternoons, and wonderful parties in the evening at Paradise Resort and Marina. There will be special discount rates on both rooms and slips for all participants. For more information on the event, visit www.banderasbayregatta.com. For more information on rooms and/or slips, Paradise Village, or from the States, dial 011-52-322-226-6728."

One of the biggest regrets of going to the Caribbean this winter is that for the first time in about six years, we and Profligate won't be participating in the Banderas Bay Regatta. It's a wonderful racing-with-friends event, on an easy course, in near ideal conditions, with one of the greatest base facilities in the sailing world. It doesn't matter that you're not a racer or that your boat is loaded down with cruising gear, you should enter your boat in this free event. If nothing else, as much as anything, it's the Cruiser Social of the season, as everyone gets dressed up for the awards ceremony. Don't miss it.

"I heard of your illustrious publication while hitching a ride on a yacht from Colombia to Puerto Vallarta," writes Al Humphreys. "The owners were as enthusiastic about Latitude as they were their respective tipples. Dale from Seattle liked gin, while Ed from L.A. preferred rum. Anyway, I'm hoping that you can help me. Some 2.5 years ago, I left England to ride a bicycle around the world, raising funds and awareness for Hope and Homes for Children. I have now ridden 25,000 miles through 42 countries, and will shortly be entering the U.S. where I will ride up the West Coast to Alaska. Unfortunately for 'round the world cyclists, most of the world is covered with water. To try and retain as much purity of my circumnavigation, I am attempting to use windpower when I'm not pedaling. I managed to get from Africa to South America aboard the ex-Whitbread yacht Maiden in the Cape Town to Rio race, and have now skirted around the Darien Gap of Colombia and the Panama Canal aboard Hannah Rose, a Tartan 37. This is where I hope you might be able to help. After Alaska, I somehow need to get from the American coast to either Asia or Australia. I know this may be tricky, so I was hoping that you can promote my journey through your magazine. People can see what I'm attempting to do at www.roundtheworldbybike.com. And they can reach me ."

We're delighted to help out, Al. If you can ride back down to the 'Lower 48 from Alaska, you shouldn't have any trouble getting on a boat to Australia - especially now that you have transAtlantic experience. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if somebody doesn't contact you as a result of this posting. The way you're probably going to have to do it, is to get rides on a boat(s) to Mexico, then go across from there in March or April, arriving in Australia in November of that same year. You have to go with the seasons, which means you'll have to be patient. It sounds like fun, so don't forget to write.

"There's an interesting New Year's Eve custom they have here in Ecuador," reports Bob Willmann of the Islander 37 Viva. "In addition to wearing something yellow - which everybody does for reasons nobody was able to explain - they burn an effigy of someone or something that brought them bad luck in the previous year. For the occasion, Bahia, which is where I am, swells to triple the normal population, as people come into town from all the farms and rural areas. They are dressed in everything from swimsuits to shorts and T-shirts, to party dresses and spiked heels. I saw a crude farm truck pull into town carrying 40 people, all bug-eyed, scrubbed clean, and excited about the big day and night. People who can afford it build or buy effigies of soccer players that let them down, store owners who cheated them, or political figures that, well, did what political figures do all the time. As such, President Luis of Ecuador and President Bush of the United States were both represented. At midnight, the effigies were set on fire on the streets and sidewalks amid much yelling and cheering. It's all done in good fun, quite soberly - hardly anybody drinks - with lots of fireworks, laughing, and hugging. Shortly after midnight, the town looks like a riot zone, with big crowds and large fires everywhere. The following morning, the ground looks as though it's covered with the ash from an erupting volcano! I'm told we were lucky this year that the winds had some south in them, so most of the ashes landed somewhere other than on our boats. I hope whoever and whatever bothered Latitude readers last year is burned and forgotten."

In order to 'save herself' back in 1989, Pat Henry, formerly of Santa Cruz but more recently of Puerto Vallarta, started a solo sail aboard her Southern Cross 31 Southern Cross that ended with her becoming the first American women to sail around the world singlehanded. On the way, she supported herself by selling her artwork. She's now launched a sailing program called Coming About, which is for women only, and during which there will be no yelling. The classes will be held on Banderas Bay, which is about as perfect an environment as you could want for such an event. For further information, .

Are people from the West Coast going cat crazy? Sometimes it seems like it. When we were in St. Barth, we met twice as many Left Coasters on catamarans as on monohulls. The last family we met, and only for minutes as they were just raising anchor, were the Naisielles - Olaf, Jenny, and youngsters Oliver and Julia - aboard the Oakland-based Moorings 45 Two Good. With Olaf having decided that he'd given enough of his life to corporate American, the family have just sold their home near the Claremont Hotel and with the kids not yet in junior high, they decided this, if ever, was the time for a family cruise. So they flew down to the British Virgins, bought a cat coming out of The Moorings charter program, and plan to cruise for at least a couple of years. How do the kids like it? According to the family's website, they've already made more friends in the Caribbean than they had back in Oakland. In fact, the kids like cruising so much that when they need a little discipline, the parents threaten to sell the boat and return to Northern California.

Happy cruising you - but don't forget to email a report and a high res photo!

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