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February 2009

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With reports this month from Woodwind on the crowds in the British Virgin Islands; from My Way on travels to and at Bora Bora, Bali and Borneo; from Fred, Courtship's owner, on losing his cat in the Atlantic; from Verite, on taking the total cruising plunge from the fast life in D.C. to cruising the Med and crossing the Atlantic; from Souverain on doing the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers; from Zephyra on losing time and money at Puerto Madero; and Cruise Notes.

Woodwind — 34-ft Gaff Ketch
Bruce Smith and Janet Hein
Life In The Caribbean
(Gig Harbor, Washington)

Just in case the folks back home think that our cruising life here in the Caribbean is a beach . . . yesterday’s full moon brought us some bumpy weather. But it was nothing close to the chaos back home in Washington. Even the headlines here in the Caribbean read, Washington State Will Soon Slide Off The Map! Well did it?

Our friend Foxy offered my husband Bruce a big bag of fresh fish the other day, but Bruce had to decline because of a food poisoning incident we once had. So Fox, wanting to give us something, returned with a bigggggg lobsta and said, “Do’n tell me you done eat dis?!” But my husband turned it down. When I heard the story I shouted at my husband, “What were you thinking?! It was a fish, not a lobster, that tried to kill us. But it was too late, so it was another round of beans for us.

Just about every Latitude reader who has done a charter in the British Virgins has been to Foxy’s, certainly the most famous bar in the area. Wait until they hear this! In December, the Queen of England made Philicianno ‘Foxy’ Callwood a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Foxy!

Last week I set off to interview singer Eric Stone, but first I had to find him at one of the beach bars on Jost Van Dyke — and there are plenty of them. So I had to make my way down the crowded beach, past the people from the charter boats, the villa guests and the fellas from the gay cruise before I finally found him. And I thought teaching was hard.

Jost has been pleasantly busy. White Bay gets the hit in the day and Great Bay gets ‘em at night. It slowed down after New Years, but there’s still plenty of business in the BVIs — which is good.

Bruce’s job for a month this winter was working on the boat in the accompanying photo — the one behind the Lagerhead the donkey. Lagerhead is a great lawnmower, but he leaves a big calling card. Then there was the day his lead got tangled up with the table saw.

The other day I asked Bruce to "trim" my hair. He’s an artist, so I figured he could cut a straight line. Besides, it was either him or a West Indian specializing in weaves, braids, extensions and razor cuts. Well, big mistake! My hair is more wobbly than it usually is, and I’m afraid to go to sleep because Bruce is too excited about the "repair cut". He thinks he’s Gene Warez; I think he’s Bruce Scissorhands.

The thrill of this week was the 'opportunity' to lug two loads of dirty clothes to a laundromat. They had running water for once! That's big news for a laundromat in these parts.

Once this crazy weather breaks, we’re going sail our gaff-rigged ketch across the Anegada Passage to Anguilla. The place to go to there is Elvis’ Beach Bar. There are a million stories at that place.

— janet 01/12/09

Janet — Foxy, who celebrated his 60th birthday barefoot aboard Profigate on San Francisco Bay with a big spliff, an MBE? Finally, some justice in the world.

My Way — Shuttleworth 70 Cat
Don and Karen Engle
Bora Bora, Bali and Borneo

My Way has put a lot of miles under her two keels since our last update. It was a short hop from the Tuamotus and Marquesas of French Polynesia to Bora Bora, which is just north of Tahiti. With good protection, crystal clear water and lush foliage ashore, Bora Bora is a perfect location for a sailing holiday. We were joined by family and friends to share some unique underwater sights, as well as time ashore.

After all of us left, the crew took My Way on a 6,500-mile downwind passage to Bali, Indonesia. We had to get the boat out of French Polynesia to avoid the South Pacific tropical cyclone season. Bali was chosen as our next destination because it's easy to fly to, and once we'd spent a week there, it would be a relatively short sail to Borneo to see one of the world's last orangutan habitats.

For most visitors, Bali is a well-developed and affluent Third World resort destination, and it does have wonderful accommodations and great beaches. Nonetheless, we travelled inland to try to enjoy the interesting landscape, culture and wildlife. We found ourselves in Bali during the rainy season, and when it rained, it really came down! We got as wet hiking to a waterfall as we would had we stood under the waterfall. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at a Balinese outdoor food court because we always try to eat local. We have no idea what we were served, but it was delicious.

After exploring Bali, we travelled across the Java Sea toward the Kalamantan region of Borneo. It was supposed to be an easy two-day sail, but at about 3 p.m. on the first day we ran into a dense line of squalls. Even though we'd reefed the main by 50%, the first gust of wind ripped the main right off the boom! From then on we were caught in terrible conditions. The wind indicator went from 10 to 60 knots in seconds, the seas built and we took a terrific pounding. At times it rained so hard that we couldn't see five feet in front of us. None of the crew ate or slept very much for the next three days. It was the worst time I've ever had at sea.

Once at Kumai, Borneo, we tried to check in with the authorities. They had no idea what to do with us. I think Karen and Sarah were too much for the officials. We then took a small boat six hours up the Kumai River to the preserve, where we were to spend four days with the great apes. As the river narrowed, the jungle closed in. It seemed as though we were travelling into the heart of darkness. Even so, Karen took a trick at the helm of the boat. Staying in the middle of the river was harder than it looked — and very important.

The apes are not shy, so they came right down to the boat to check us out and welcome us. They seemed very sweet, but they are very strong — 15 times stronger than humans — so we had to be careful. We learned there is only one alpha male per area, and this was Big Tom's territory. He weighs 300 pounds, but despite his bulk he moved through the trees with grace and ease. Even though he was the alpha male, at times Tom was playful. We also saw him accomplish complicated tasks. After humans, these apes are now believed to be the second most intelligent creatures on the planet.
Because orangutan babies stay with their mothers for nearly seven years, almost every female had a baby on her hip. We were allowed to get close enough to check out every detail. We even got to know some of the individuals by name.

On the last day we stopped at a village along the river. Looking inland, we could see that a lot of rain forest had been cleared for planting rice — which is why there is so little orangutan habitat left. The housing in this area of Borneo was simple, but everyone seemed well fed. People in the village were as interested in us as we were in them. Almost everyone had a smile for us.

After a short stay in Thailand, we hope to take My Way to the Mediterranean. That means she'll have to go past the worst pirate area in the world, so Karen has been taking gun training. She's a great shot. There’s something attractive about a beautiful woman with a big gun.

— don 01/08/09

Courtship — Venezia 42 Catamaran
Fred Tassigny, Jacques Lescureux
Disabled By A Whale
(St. Barth, French West Indies)

Fred Tassigny and his crew Jacques Lescureaux couldn't believe their eyes. It was rough, it was nearly dark, they were "in the middle of nowhere" 350 miles south of Bermuda — and the huge bow bulb on the 600-ft Turkish ship Gulser Ana was about to T-bone them! On purpose. You bet they were scared. Seconds after the ship slammed into the 42-ft cat — the second hull-crushing she'd received in eight hours — the ship's massive anchor snagged the cat's mast, bringing the spar and rigging down around Fred and Jacques.

At the time, Fred, a 63-year-old retired civil engineer and contractor was sailing home to St. Barth, the island in the French West Indies where he had lived from '90 to '02. After that, he and his wife Sophy had cruised their Moody 39 Suzu all over the Pacific for six years, eventually selling their sloop in New Caledonia. Upon returning to France, they began to search for a catamaran, one they could buy inexpensively because of the strength of the euro and the weakness of the dollar. The search led to Fred buying a '94 Venezia 42 Courtship for $200,000 in Annapolis.

On November 11, after preparing the cat and sailing across the Chesapeake Bay, Fred and his friend Jacques departed Norfolk, Virginia, on the 1,500-mile passage to St. Barth. Because of the time of year, Fred wouldn't be able to buy insurance for the boat until he was farther south. So he left uncovered.

The trip went well until 8:30 a.m. on the morning of November 18, when they were sailing at about seven knots in moderately strong winds and seas.

"We were having breakfast," Fred remembers, "when all of the sudden we felt this soft shock on what seemed to be the bottom of the aft port side of the cat. When we looked back, we saw a huge amount of blood in the water and a wounded whale. His wound was about one foot by three feet. It didn't look like a gash, but rather an overcooked sausage having exploded out of its casing. I was sure he wasn't going to live long."

Fred's theory is that the whale was coming up from sounding, but didn't realize that Courtship was there until the last second. Fred thinks the whale tried to avoid the cat, but didn't quite make it.

The damage to Courtship was as fatal as it had been to the whale. "The whale's impact bent the port rudder shaft 90 degrees, driving the rudder through the bottom of the aft compartment of the port hull as though it was a giant knife. It had also shoved the saildrive right up through the bottom of the boat and into the engine compartment. Water started pouring in."

The Venezia's are, unfortunately in this case, built with a tube for the steering that goes from one engine compartment to the other. With all the water in the port engine compartment, the boat started to settle to aft with a port list. Once that compartment was full, water started flowing through the steering tube to the starboard engine compartment, flooding that one also. The boat leveled out transom down, which permitted some of the larger seas to break into the cockpit. Since the dual rudders are moved by a single system, the boat couldn't be pointed into the wind. The little bilge pumps were no match for the ingress of water, so Fred and Jacques tried bailing with buckets — and everything else they could think of — but to no avail.

Three hours after Courtship was hit and had become completely disabled, Fred, 63, decided there was no way they could save his uninsured cat. When his mayday call over the VHF went unanswered, he set off his EPIRB. It's a bit ironic, because he'd always been skeptical of EPIRBs. He wasn't going to take one until retired ocean sailor Tom Knoedler offered him his for a few bucks. Fortunately, Fred took a few minutes to reregister the device over the Internet.

An hour later, a Norfolk-based Coast Guard plane flew overhead and asked if they had an emergency. When told their cat was disabled, Coast Guard arranged for the Turkish ship Gulser Ana to divert to save the two Frenchman. Less than four hours after setting off the EPIRB, Fred and Jacques watched as the Turkish ship, on its way from Tampa to the Black Sea with a load of scrap metal, come into view.

It's not easy for a 600-foot ship, which has to keep moving to have steerage, to sidle up to a 43-ft sailboat in an attempt to remove crew. The ship's captain, whom Fred describes as "fantastic," made three runs at it. None of them was close enough for Fred and Jacques to get off. It was then getting dark, and if the captain wasn't successful on his fourth attempt, the two sailors could be in mortal danger. While there was communication between the ship and the sailboat, it wasn't very good, so Fred and Jacques had no idea what the captain had in mind for his last attempt.

Knowing that failure wasn't an option, the captain decided he would simply T-bone the sailboat as slowly as he could. Fred and Jacques weren't aware of this plan, which is why they there surprised to see the ship's bulb — "you can't believe how massive it was!" — coming right at them.

After the ship smashed into the sailboat and ripped her mast off, the sailboat slid down the side of the ship in her lee — just as the captain had planned. This gave Fred and Jacques the chance to grab the ladder that had been lowered and scramble aboard.
"I was crying like a child," Fred remembers. "All I was able to escape with was my papers, my Mac computer and a special ukelele I'd bought from an old man in the South Pacific. I left my whole life in that cat. The ship's captain was a wonderful man, and asked me if I wanted to try and retrieve more stuff. And one of the crew, who happened to be a sailor, volunteered to go for me. But there just wasn't enough valuable stuff.

To prove that much of what happens in our lives is luck, the very same day Fred's uninsured cat had to be left disabled at sea, a good friend of his won a million euro lottery.

Immediately after being rescued, Fred got on the phone to let his wife Sophy know what had happened. She received the phone call during happy hour at the Le Select Bar, so the shocking news spread like wildfire among friends. Fred and Jacques spent the next 11 days on the ship, where they were treated wonderfully. They were finally taken off by a pilot boat at Cueta, the small Spanish enclave surrounded by Morocco just inside the Straits of Gibraltar.

When Fred finally returned to St. Barth, he was $200,000 poorer. Fortunately, he and Sophy had many kind friends on the island happy to lend a hand, and a sympathetic local bank willing to give him a loan so that he could acquire another boat. So, he and Sophy are now the owners of Tres Palmeras, a lovely Beneteau Oceanis 40, and living in the anchorage off Gustavia. Usually the couple spend their summers at a little place they have on Mallorca, but not this year. It looks like they'll get a job managing a sumptuous villa, which will help them earn money toward their goal — finally getting a catamaran.

"No, I haven't given up on my dream," says Fred. "For when you finally give up dreams and making your dreams become reality, you might as well pull the trigger on the gun pointed to your head. "I'm an old sailor, which like the whale is an endangered species," he laughs, "but I'm lucky to be alive and to be able to enjoy life among my friends."

— latitude 01/13/09

Verite — Catana 50
Ted Halstead and Veronique Bardach
The Total Plunge
(Washington, D.C.)

Ted Halstead, an American who grew up in Belgium before graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth, is a quietly persuasive guy. When he was 25, he got enough people to donate money so he could found Redefining Progress, an environmental think tank based in San Francisco. Figuring he’d gotten a little ahead of himself, he then picked up a masters degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. But before he even graduated, he convinced newsman Bill Moyers to put up $200,000 so he could found the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit public policy think thank of which he was president from its inception in '99 until '07. During that time he appeared on all the political talk shows, wrote articles for all the major English-speaking publications and along with Michael Lind coauthored The Radical Center, The Future of American Politics.

But that was probably all child’s play compared to his next conquest — wooing his now wife Veronique. Although she grew up on the Spanish island of Mallorca, she's French by birth, and having become an American lawyer, now heads a venture capital company. 'Formidable' is the word that probably describes her best.

“When Ted and I first went out, I told him that I would never marry and that I would never sail,” says the beautiful, intelligent and athletic Veronique. Yet when we met the couple, they’d just completed an 18-day doublehanded passage from the Canary Islands to St. Barth, and they'd been married for nearly two years. It's was further proof of Ted's persuasive powers.

And it’s not as though they were experienced sailors before they flew to France last summer to take delivery of their $1.5 million Catana 52 cat. “We were total beginners," admits Ted. “Before buying our boat, I’d taken a week of sailing lessons and chartered twice in the Virgin Islands. After I met Veronique, we did two more charters. But prior to taking delivery of our boat, we'd never flown a spinnaker and I had no idea what an impeller is. Even after we’d been sailing around the Med for awhile, Veronique was still asking what the boom was and the proper term was for the left side of the boat."

So what caused them to abandon — or at least take a hiatus from — their careers? Part of it is that Ted has the adventure gene. When he was 19, he took off a year from Dartmouth to travel around Central America by car. “The adult version of that seemed to be doing something along those lines with a boat,” he says. “Despite being a passionate kite sailor, Veronique was dead set against it. But she does have a wild side, so I managed to convince her.”

“He can be very charming,” said Veronique wryly, still smarting from their 18-day crossing.

Their lives in Washington, D.C. helped persuade her to give sailing a try. “We were both workaholics," says Ted, "just working all the time — and in a very competitive environment. So when we turned 40 and got married, we decided there had to be more to life.”

“He’s relentless,” chimes in Veronique, with overtones of both admiration and disgust that he was able to talk her into buying what she describes as "the world's most expensive kitchen."

Like all good -aholics, neither Ted nor Veronique has been able to get the working monkey off his/her backs. The prime evidence is that they have five communications systems on their boat to make sure they are never out of touch with the world.

“Our most sophisticated system is our Thrane & Thrane BGAN, which can provide us with broadband voice and data anywhere in the world," says Ted. "That means we were able to download the New York Times and other publications wherever we were — including the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was expensive to buy and it's expensive to use, so we only use it when our other communication options aren't available. Something fantastic that’s available all over Europe but not is the States is the Ericson W25, which is a high speed voice and data wireless gateway. You buy a SIM card for it for between 30 and 50 euros, and it turns the little Ericson box into an onboard wifi base. We were able to use it almost everywhere we went in Europe, which gave us broadband for 30 to 60 euros a month. Our fourth option was our Iridium satphone, while the fifth was our Blackberries, which worked almost everywhere in the world for an international roaming fee of about $60 U.S. a month."

Remarkably, the couple say they have no problem switching mental gears from play to work — even while sailing. "The only difficult thing," says Veronique, "was when the people we talk with on the phone realized we were on our boat in the Med, they assumed that we were living the lazy life sipping martinis while watching sunsets. People weren't at all sympathetic when we told them that we spent half our time working, half our time doing maintenance on the boat, and half the time sailing, kiteboarding, hiking and pursuing other hobbies. The 'three halves' were always competing for their fair share of the time."

“It’s true that various communications systems and commitments to work keep us anchored to our past," Ted admits, "but we have to because we're not trust fund kids. Both of us were lucky to get out of school without much debt, but even as the head of a nonprofit you don't make much money. So we've only had enough to buy this boat and to live the lifestyle for a couple of years; we're certainly not retiring forever. Fortunately, I got lucky with a land investment, and I'm running the development of some oceanfront property in Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua. That helps out."

In addition to not knowing much about sailing before buying their boat, the dynamic couple didn't know anything about boats. As Ted explains, "After we went to the Paris Boat Show and ordered our boat, we assumed that all we'd have to do was pick her up from the factory in Canet, add fuel and oil, and enjoy ourselves."

"Canet should be renamed Hell," interjects Veronique, "because it blows 360 days a year, and is a blue collar town with no decent restaurants. We spent a month there waiting for our boat to be done."

And even when it was done, it wasn't really done. "We ran into problem after problem," says Ted. "There was an error with the spreaders, so they had to be replaced. The problems with the saildrives was so unremitting that Volvo finally had to recall them all. The anti-fouling didn't work and had to be redone, and all the Raymarine Electronics except for the autopilot had to be replaced. To be fair, most of the problems were with boat systems and not the boat, and Catana fixed all of them for free."

Ironically, the fact that there were so many problems might have saved the couple's butts. The anticipated two weeks of time necessary to do the repairs at the factory turned into four weeks, and that meant they weren't at Andraix, Mallorca, as planned on November 2. That was a good thing, because Andraix was swept by 120 mph winds that destroyed over 100 boats and ruined much of the just-completed infrastructure at the beautiful little town.

Despite the steep learning curve and problems, don't get the idea the couple didn't have lots of good adventures and fun. They loved sailing Spain's Balearic Islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, although the latter is where they managed to bend the shank of an anchor in 45-knot winds. They enjoyed their stops at Tunisia, Italy and Croatia before making their way through Greece's Corinth Canal.

"We really enjoyed Greece," says Veronique. "Heaven to us is a white sand beach, great people, plus good kiteboarding conditions, and Greece had it all. But rather than the more popular spots such as Mykonos and Santorini, we really liked the quieter places like Naxos, which is really pretty, and Paros. We'd walk up to the villages on the hills and meet wonderful locals. The farmers would take us in and give us fruit and goat butter, and people would take us to things like breadcooking ceremonies. It was all very friendly and personal. We loved it — it's been the highlight of our travels to date."

"We also loved the whole cruising community, which was unbelievably generous," says Ted. "They took us novices under their wing so many times. For example, the first time we dragged anchor, some other cruising skippers came over to help us out. And when we had to do a minor repair to the hull, other cruisers showed us how to apply gel coat. When we had to repaint our bottom, eight cruisers came to the yard and helped us from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a stop for wine and cheese. Time and time again we were wowed by the unselfish generosity of cruisers. It was really something after the cutthroat world of Washington, D.C."

The couple wanted to continue to Turkey, but ran out of time. In fact, they ran so short of time that Ted had to attend a business meeting and leave Veronique — still very much the novice — to sail Verite from Crete to France. It might not have been so bad had she more experienced crew than her 72-year-old mother and a distant relative who had assumed Ted was going to be along.

"It was the best idea ever," says Ted, who no doubt enthusiastically sees the bright side of every dark situation. "Veronique had no choice but to take charge for those two weeks, so she grabbed the bull by the horns — and learned a lot in the process. You see, she normally drives the boat in port, but doesn't do the lines or trim the sails. But on the sail from Crete to France, she had to do it all."

Veronique doesn't exactly agree with Ted's evaluation. "It was very hard," she declares. "I hated Ted for making me do it.

Perhaps sensing he was in danger of having to sleep in a single bunk for a week or more, Ted rallied. "You should have seen the meal that Veronique prepared for us on Christmas Eve. It was worthy of the best restaurants in the world." When Veronique gives him a withering look, Ted pours it on: "Veronique cooks like the French, has the passion of a Latin, and as a lawyer and a entrepreneur she is as American as can be."

"Isn't he sweet?" Veronique counters with that familiar look of admiration and disgust.

The closest the couple had to a big disaster was motoring up a channel in Montenegro. "We were naked because we like to sail that way," says Ted. "We were both inside, and because of the layout of the salon, there are some obstructions in the view forward. And we weren't aware that fast ferries charge back and forth across the channel at high speed. By the time I saw one, we were just feet from slamming into it. As I ran to the helm, which is way out on top of the hull, I could clearly see the alarmed expressions on the passengers on the ferry — who were grabbing the rails in fear. I turned off the autopilot and threw our boat into reverse, and just managed to avoid the collision. I remember yelling to Veronique, "Clothes, clothes — bring me some clothes! We later learned that these ferry captains get their kicks by coming as close to other boats as possible."

Croatia is a current cruising hot spot, but the Halsteads had mixed feelings about it. "The Croatians love Americans and feel a lot of gratitude for what we did for them, and that was great," says Ted.

"But while they are very welcoming and nice, we found them to be a little cold," adds Veronique. "They are very Eastern Bloc in that they don't come across as being that happy and there is no music in the streets."

"On the other hand," continues Ted, "Croatia is what I imagine what sailing is the South Pacific must be like, with lots of completely isolated places. And the Adriatic Sea was so clean, with fjords everywhere. In addition, Croatia has alpine trees on the hills, which made for great hiking, and there was no trash anywhere. The less known places were very reasonably priced, but we had to pay $60/night at Dubrovnik."

The Med can be extremely expensive, but Veronique found the quality and prices of food to be reasonable if you knew where to shop. And given her European upbringing, she knew just where to look. "There are great farmers' markets everywhere in Europe, and if you look for fresh local foods, they are reasonably priced."

The Halsteads cruised with Ria, their mixed breed dog. However, we're forbidden to disclose any further information on their pet, or to explain why he ended up travelling to Europe first class with Veronique — while Ted went coach. But apparently there are limits to Ted's persuasive powers.

Having finished a long 18-day passage only the day before we spoke to them, that was naturally in the forefront of their minds. Crossing the Atlantic is a major undertaking for any crew — to say nothing of a couple of ocean virgins. Had they considered taking crew? "We went back and forth on that idea," says Ted. "Some folks said we'd need it, some said we wouldn't. In the end, we decided to go without. For us, it was the right decision."

As it was, in an eight-month period they went from not knowing anything about sailing or boats to successfully doublehanding the Atlantic in robust conditions. "It was a challenge, but a lot of fun," says Ted. After being given a look by Veronique, he amended his description. "Veronique learned that she doesn't love ocean passages, but she was a real trooper. I, on the other hand, had a blast! It was all about freedom, self-discovery and adventure. How cool of a honeymoon!"

"Usually honeymoons cater to the desires of the new wife," Veronique reminded Ted. "My husband sweet-talked me into this."

Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn had nothing on this passionate couple.

— latitude 01/02/09

Souverain — H-R 53
Phil Stolp and Crew
The '08 ARC
(Marin Yacht Club)

I had the good fortune to crew aboard Phil Stolp’s Marin Yacht Club-based H-R 53 Souverain during the November-December Atlantic Rally for Cruisers '08 from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. I feel very much indebted to the captain for the experience, as do my two crewmates, Yancee Knowles and Dennis Hammer.

After a vigorous week of provisioning and outfitting in the accommodating environs of Las Palmas, the fleet of some 225 vessels set out on November 22 in two starts separated by just 15 minutes. The sight of Oyster 80s sparring with Beneteau 32s, all in a mad dash for the start, gave a new definition to the term 'deductible'. We had an excellent view of the ruckus, as we started upwind of the reaching fleet on a true DDW course with twin headsails.

We would use this twin-headsail configuration for nearly 75% of the 2,885-mile passage. The self-furling forestay was equipped with two tracks, allowing us to fly the genoa at the same time as the jib. This setup offered three advantages: First, with the boom acting as a whisker pole to the genoa and prevented forward to a bow cleat, there was no threat of accidental jibes. Second, when squalls approached, it was an easy task for one person to shorten both foresails on the single furler. Lastly, when our course happened to be directly downwind, the two foresails allow you to maintain DDW. The disadvantage, however, was a less comfortable ride, as the swell never truly aligned with the wind. We had quartering seas for most of the 19 days.

By sunset on the first day, we found ourselves alone within our six-mile horizon, the bulk of the fleet having been forced ESE due to their spinnaker sets. A SSB network had been prearranged, which we reported to daily with our position and engine hours. Boats with the capability could also report their information via email directly to the race organizers. The positions were then posted on a website so that interested parties could follow along as each vessel inched across the Atlantic.

Unqualified kudos are due to the World Cruising Club for the job they did organizing and managing the event. The splendor of our departure, which it seemed the entire population of Las Palmas had come out to witness, was only outdone by the warmth of our welcome upon landing in St. Lucia.

Predominantly light trades and rigid airline schedules forced our captain to engage the 'underwater spinnaker' — crewman Hammer’s term — more than he would have otherwise preferred. Still, by the 19th day out, we had caught more fish than we could eat, gotten more tan than is dermatologically advised, heard each others’ jokes four times and somehow became better sailors and friends despite ourselves.

The Halberg-Rassy performed as billed — sturdy and comfortable, accommodating the crew of four quite spaciously. A tepid freezer and a reluctant water pump were the only technical difficulties encountered.

I would recommend the ARC to any yacht leaving the Med for the West Indies. The competition and camaraderie enliven what would otherwise be a long, lonely run. On behalf of the crew, thanks again to Capt. Phil Stolp for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. Hail Souverain; long may she reign.

— jason 01/15/09

Zephyra — Morgan Out-Island 41
Russ and Debbie Noorda
Waste of Time and Money
(Lake Tahoe)

We understand that we're guests in Mexico and should not complain about following the rules. Since doing the '07 Ha-Ha, we've found officials in Mexico to be easy to get along with, and have had no problems checking in and out, and following other procedures. That said, we want southbound boats to know what they could be getting themselves into at Puerto Madero, which is on the southeast side of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, just 20 miles or so from the Guatemalan border.

We arrived at Puerto Madero at 9 a.m. wanting to get fuel as it's about half the price of what can be found in El Salvador. The cruising guides said we could sleep at Puerto Madero without a hassle after crossing the Tehuantepec. But as soon as we reached the channel, the port captain called us on the radio and told us that even if we were only getting fuel, we'd have to check in and out again. It didn't matter to him that we'd already checked out of Mexico. He then gave us instructions we couldn't understand about where we should anchor. Suddenly there was a 'Thump!', and we'd hit bottom — even though the depthsounder beneath our galley was reading 18.6 feet! A two-knot current was pushing us against the hidden shoal in the channel. The port captain kept shouting directions at us until we got him to understand that we were stuck. He said he would send the Navy to pull us off — and to do our "inspection." By the time the Navy arrived, we were heeled over so far there was no way for them to pull us off, so they just did the inspection. The 'they' was an officer, seven guys with M-16s and a drug dog. None of them spoke English.

By the time the officer boarded Zephyra to fill out the paperwork, we were heeled over 30 degrees and the leeward port light was underwater! He asked if they could bring the drug dog aboard, even though the dog was clearly not a happy puppy about the prospect of getting on a boat that was so far from level. After they left, the Navy boat came back with another officer to fill out more stuff on the forms. After the Navy left the second time, we were floating, so we fired up the engine and asked the port captain if we could get fuel. He said the fuel dock was open until 6 p.m., but that he was closing up in 45 minutes. That meant we had to inflate our packed-away dinghy to row to shore with all the paperwork they might want. Once at the port captain's office, we signed their papers, paid our fee — and were told that after we got fuel, we'd need to go to the API office, which they said was a short cab ride from the fuel dock. Then before we left Puerto Madera, we'd need to be re-inspected by the Navy and return to the port captain's office!

We purchased our fuel, re-anchored our boat by the fuel dock, rowed to shore, and found someone to exchange dollars for pesos as dollars wouldn't be accepted. We waited so long for a cab that a local businessman felt sorry for us and gave us a ride! We paid another little fee at API and were given some paperwork for the port captain. Since there were no cabs around, we started walking back to the fuel dock. But it was getting dark, and we soon realized that we didn't know the way. We finally found a cab and got back to Zephyra just before dark. At that point there was nothing for us to do but relax and spend the night on the hook.

We called the port captain the next morning to arrange to be inspected by the navy again. Once again, eight men carrying weapons and a drug dog came out to inspect our boat and fill out more paperwork. After completing the inspection, they told us to go to the port captain’s office, so we re-anchored in front of the office, rowed to shore, and paid the port captain another visit. He told us we were free to leave. We raised the dinghy, secured it to the deck, and motored out of Puerto Madera at about noon on Wednesday. This little episode cost us approximately $30 and 26 hours of our time. So we're warning all southbound boats that have checked out of Mexico not to stop at Puerto Madero.

— russ and debbie 12/24/08

Cruise Notes:

We're not sure what kind of boat Kevin Stewart has or where he is from, but he was on Bonaire in December when he took the accompanying photo of the sailboat engulfed in flames. "The owners weren't aboard when the fire started, and they returned to see flames pouring out of the interior of their boat. I was told they had no insurance. If that's correct, they lost everything, as the boat — still aflame — was towed to deeper water and allowed to sink. It made me wonder about my boat. I now look at all the electrical stuff on my boat with great suspicion. By the way, Bonaire is still a beautiful island, and compared to Aruba and Curacao — the other two 'ABC Islands' — is positively heaven."

No matter if it's a ship, a powerboat or a sailboat, or if it's at sea or at a dock, a burning vessel is a terrifying thing because it's so hard to extinguish the flames. The fear of fire is probably the greatest reason we carry a liferaft. So be careful out there — and make sure your crew knows how to shut off the power sources to prevent shorts from becoming fires.

We only intermittently hear from longtime cruisers Fred Roswold and Judy Jensen of the Seattle-based Serendipity 43 Wings. Some readers may remember theirs as one of the many boats caught in nearly three weeks of extremely stormy conditions between Tonga/Fiji and New Zealand in November of '99. It was so bad that four cruisers lost their lives, four boats were lost and many others badly damaged. Fred and Judy on Wings came through in about as good a shape as anyone. Anyway, we recently received an electronic Christmas card from the couple in Bangkok, and had to ask them if the rumors about their working again were true.

"We are working again because we have this need to eat," Fred responded. "Seriously, we need to have this one last job — famous last words — in order to retire for good. Judy has an audio transcription business she runs from home, which is a condo in downtown Bangkok, while I'm working at IBM on a big banking project. We've been here 2.5 years and this is my second Bangkok job. We kept Wings at Raffles Marina in Singapore for over a year, and we'd fly down twice a month from Bangkok to go sailing. But we've kept the boat in Phuket since a year ago November. We travel to her with about the same frequency to go sailing. Phuket is great! We’ve been doing some racing there — although we did more in Singapore — as well as local cruising and boat projects. We raced the King’s Cup in '06 and won our class convincingly, sailed the Phang Nga Bay Regatta in '07 and got second — and are planning to compete even harder in that one again in January. We’ve got new sails, a good crew and we've taken about 3,000 pounds off the boat. Wings will be the lightest she's been since '86 for this race. We're also working hard to lower the rating — it's a process of continuous improvement. We like our condo in Bangkok and our life in Thailand, as the weather is good, the food is spicy, the prices are reasonable and the living is easy. We’d rather be touring Europe or something instead of working, but since we have to work, we’re glad we have these jobs. And Thailand is a good place to work. Our intention is to work until the end of next July, then cruise Malaysia for a few months before heading west again. I want to get to Europe."

For those not familiar with the Serendipity 43s, they are flush deck Peterson-designed racing boats with running backstays that kicked ass in the early 80s. We're impressed that Fred and Judy have cruised such a boat for so long.

If you think alcohol has a big affect on men's lives, think of the effect women have. Having finished his 11-month solo circumnavigation earlier this year, Manhattan Beach's Mike Harker showed up at St. Barth on New Year's aboard his Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3 with some big news — after a lifetime of abstention, he's taken up drinking. In moderation, of course. "I had two young German nurses sailing with me, and they prescribed a glass of wine three times a week for my health. So I obliged them. But just one glass, and just three to five times a week. My sailing plans are to be at the Heineken Regatta in St. Martin in March, then spend all of April in Antigua. Since I've already done a westaround circumnavigation, I'll then take off on an eastaround circumnavigation. That means Croatia next summer and Thailand next New Year's. If any young nurses are looking to crew, they should contact me."

"Interested in another comparison between medical care in Mexico and California?" writes Jim Prevo of the La Cruz-based Hunter 34.5 Meridiano. "I had a sore on my nose that wouldn't heal. A doctor anchored nearby said he thought it might be skin cancer, so I went to see Dr. Eduardo Cervantes, a dermatologist here in Puerto Vallarta. He said he couldn't be sure it wasn't cancer without doing some tests. Since I needed to go back to the U.S. to renew my visa, I decided to visit a clinic in Nogales. The doctor at the clinic told me the only dermatologist for Nogales comes from Tucson and only once a month. Not only that, but he probably wouldn't be able to see me for four months or more! I figured that the thing on my nose would be twice as big by then, so I returned to Puerto Vallarta and the dermatologist I had originally seen. He saw me right away, and quickly called in a plastic surgeon. Twenty minutes later they ushered me into an ultramodern room, where they spent 15 minutes removing the sore from my nose. They took a few extra seconds to snip off a skin tag from my eyelid. It's been over a month now, and everything has healed nicely."

Open wide. Wider please! We've often written about how pleased cruisers have generally been with the quality and low cost of medical and dental care in Mexico, but recently we received a bad report. It came from Bruce Balan of the Cross 46 Migration — now in French Polynesia — who, along with his girlfriend Alene Rice, visited a dentist very popular with cruisers in Puerto Vallarta. For the life of us, we can't find Balan's email or we'd report the dentist's name. Anyway, after examining Rice, the dentist told her that more than 10 of her fillings were cracked and needed to be replaced. Wanting a second opinion, Rice visited her dentist back in the States, who maintained her fillings were just fine. We suppose it might have been a judgment call, but we'll let you digest that information your own way.

In our annual 'you don't know how bad weather can get' item from Alaska, Rick and Jen Fleischman of the Catalina 50 Bob sent the accompanying photo from the lodge they are watching again this winter at Warm Springs Bay. "The snow started on Christmas evening, and has pretty much been coming down ever since. We've had nine feet in just a few days, so we've been busy snow-blowing and shoveling every day. But the sun actually came all the way above the mountains today, which meant that for the first time in months Jen was able to see both the top and bottom of it."
To each his own, of course, but how anybody could spend a winter in Alaska is beyond us.

"Our boat summered at Puerto Amistad in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, while we visited family and taught sailing at Ipswich, Massachusetts for 10 weeks," report Chris and Heather Stockard of the Juneau-based Saga 43 Legacy. "At the beginning of December, we sailed to Panama's Las Perlas Islands. Sailors passing through the area should not miss this lovely archipelago! We're now at Panama City and will spend a few months in Panamanian waters until the wind dies down and we can head for Tampa. Legacy will be dry stored there while we return to Massachusetts to teach kids to sail again this summer. P.S. Thanks for the nice plug for Heather’s Cruising Cook's Guide to Mexico in the December 19 'Lectronic."

"Wanting to see more of Costa Rica before crossing to the South Pacific in February, I sailed down from Honduras and had such strong winds off the Cocos headland that I shortened down to a mizzen-sized sail," reports Glenn Tieman of the Southern California-based authentic South Pacific catamaran Manu Rere. "After only one week in Cocos improving sails and doing some painting, I continued on to southern Costa Rica. My first day of sailing out of Cocos was excellent. We flew around the western corner, a multitude of islands, and then down the coast. I figured that I would be halfway to Bahia Ballena by dawn, so I was surprised the next morning when I looked at the GPS and saw how little progress I'd made. Just to have a look, I sailed slowly inshore near a prominent hotel. When heading back offshore that night, I saw that the current made a startling wake as it flowed past a fishing buoy a couple of miles offshore. Even though the water was rather deep there, I anchored to wait for enough wind to progress against the current. During the next two days I anchored in the calms, then raised the anchor — good upper body exercise — and sailed when a sailable breeze came up. I repeated this cycle several times each day and night. At dawn on the third day I was stunned to find myself once again anchored off that same darn hotel! The way I see it, this kind of challenge is the way the sailing sport plays out. In order to minimize the effects of the current, I sailed only about a hundred meters outside the surf. I made Bahia Ballena the following day. This is a nice place with a tiny fishing village, some tourism and a store. Day and night I hear the roars of the howler monkeys in the jungle. Yesterday I sat on the banks of a river under a troop of monkeys gamboling in the tangle of lianas above. Iguanas are as common as squirrels in California, and a snake dropped out of a tree next to me while I hiked. There were fish in the river, but I didn't see any cichlids. I plan to sail to Drakes Bay, spend January in Golfito, then head to the South Pacific."

If case anyone has forgotten, Tieman previously spent 10 years sailing a homebuilt 26-ft cat from California to Southeast Asia, living on $1 to $3 a day. Like his current cat, which he built for $14,000, his previous cat had no engine.

"My boat is back home from the Ha-Ha after a quick trip to La Paz and a long delay in Mag Bay waiting for parts for Nirvana, our friend's boat," reports Holly Scott of the Newport Beach-based Cal 40 Mahalo. "Nirvana is about two weeks behind us, but finally in motion again. While waiting out a blow in Ensenada, we came across a new cruising couple, Ken and Lori Embrey aboard the Catalina 30 Esprit. They are great folks — and great musicians. If anyone crosses paths with them, they should check out their music."

"There was quite a New Year's fireworks show in Zihua for those of us anchored off La Ropa Beach," report Barritt Neal and Renee Blaul of the San Diego-based Peterson 44 Serendipity. "In fact, it looked like Apocalypse Now with the big time fireworks exploding directly overhead for half an hour, showering us with debris. My sister and husband were aboard, but none of us had been right in the middle of a fireworks show before. The firing tubes, about eight inches in diameter, were still on the beach the next morning, and we discovered that they couldn't have been pointed any more accurately at Serendipity. We later took our boat to Ixtapa Marina because of some fridge problems. I was BBQ-ing while tied up there, and looked off the stern to see a dinner guest come cruising by . . . all eight or nine feet of him/her! It was a bit unnerving, to say the least, as you don't expect to see a croc so close. By the way, please include Serendipity among the boats planning to participate in the Revived Sea of Cortez Sailing Week out of La Paz on April 1. It sounds like the kind of fun we don't want to miss!"

"After doing the Ha-Ha, we headed south to Panama, transited the Canal, and finally reached Majahual, Quintana Roo, Mexico, on December 26," reports Gary Burgin of the Oregon-based Marples 55 cat Crystal Blue Persuasion. "It took us a little longer than anticipated. Given that Profligate made it from Cabo to the Canal in 11 days in '03, I was hoping to make it to Panama in 8 to 10 days. We couldn't, but our time wasn't too bad. Once we got through the Canal, we made it from Colon to Majahual in just 96 hours. Majahual is a fishing village with a cruise ship pier on the so-called 'Mayan Coast' of Mexico. My goal is to use the cat for day charters."

Folks using Profligate's time of 11 days from Cabo to the Panama Canal as a point of reference are asking for disappointment, as the crew of Doña de Mallorca, Wayne Meretsky, Paul Biery, Mike Highfield, Steve Arehart and Sarah Terry charged pedal-to-the-metal the entire way. The fuel stops were very brief: 45 minutes at Barra, six hours at Acapulco, and three hours at Puesto del Sol, Nicaragua. As a result, Profligate averaged 8.3 knots for the 2,200-odd miles. Despite having to haul at Vacamonte, Panama to replace both saildrives, and then take time to transit the Canal, and make stops at Cartagena and Aruba, the crew managed to reach Antigua by December 6, having covered the 3,402 miles from Cabo in just 29 days. It was quite an achievement for the crew — and the cat's little 56-hp Yanmar diesels. But it's not something we'd recommend others try to duplicate.

"Hello, from Isla San Benedicto, one of Mexico's Revillagigedo Islands, which are about 250 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, and are often included in lists of the 'World's Top Ten Dive Sites'," write Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House. "We've been diving with the manta rays and hammerhead sharks, and have seen the giant mantas on about half of the dives we've done. This is diving heaven, as there are also about seven species of pelagic sharks endemic to the islands. We've taken fabulous video and still photographs, but there is no way for us to share them until we get back to the mainland. Volcanic in origin, the Revillagigedos consist of Isla San Benedicto, which most recently erupted in '52, as well as Socorro, Roca Partida and Isla Clarion. They are often referred to as the 'Mexican Galapagos.' Socorro is the largest of these islands and has a Mexican Navy base located on the southwest corner. The Navy’s primary purpose is to patrol and enforce the 'no take zone' for commercial fishing vessels. The zone extends to 12 miles around each island. There are no services at any of the islands, so mariners have to assume that they are truly offshore and need to be self-sufficient.

"Readers may remember when officials didn't want private vessels to visit the Revillagegdos," the Stolnitzes continue, "but they've been encouraging it since '06. That's because they want all the eyes possible at the islands to watch for illegal fishing. Permits are required to visit the islands. As of January, about 12 private vessel permits had been requested and issued this year, and about an equal number of permits for commercial vessels. There is no charge for the permits, but getting one is a little complicated and takes a little bit of time. First, you must gather the originals — not copies — of your vessel documentation, insurance, the passports of all members of the crew and their visas. All these must be presented to Sr. Carlos Eduardo Narro Flores, who for the last three years has been the Director del Area Protección de Flora y Fauna de Cabo San Lucas Reserva de la Biosfera Archipeilagos de Revillagigedos. You'll also have to give him a letter, preferably in Spanish, explaining why you want to visit the islands. You should include the dates you would like to visit them. Because of the vagaries of boats, crews, provisioning and weather, we suggest you give yourself a wide margin of error. We picked a five-week window. In addition, each individual must have a Mexican National Park 'passport', which is about $25 U.S. a year per person, and can be obtained by asking at most marinas in Mexico. These 'passports' are good for all Mexican National Parks, including the Copper Canyon, Turtle Bay, the islands in the Sea of Cortez, and elsewhere, so they are a good value.

"Sr. Narro Flores will make two copies of all your documents, give you a receipt that he has received these copies, and then send the copies to the CONANP office in La Paz for "review." Approximately two weeks later, he will issue the permits in Cabo San Lucas, and if you're not there, use DHL — currently at their expense — to mail you the permits at an address you will provide. You may also apply for the permits at the CONANP office in La Paz, but if you do, they need to send all your original documents mentioned above to the office in Cabo San Lucas. Most people will not choose this option, but it can be done that way. The Cabo San Lucas office then returns your originals to La Paz, where the permits are issued.

"Sr. Narro Flores speaks excellent English and was most encouraging and helpful. You will have a pleasant experience when meeting him. He can be found at Calle El Pescado/Camino Viejo a San Jose, Building D, second floor, Col. El Medano, Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S. You can or . Or, you can call him at 624-172-0210 or 624-172-0219. His personal cell phone is 624-147-9104."

The Stolnitizes report they've been joined at the Revillagigedos by Chuck Houlihan and Linda Edeiken of the San Diego-based Allied 39 Jacaranda.

"Hello to everyone from Hawaii, " write Greg King, Jen and Coco Sanders, and Ducky the dog — the 'Coco-Nuts' aboard the Long Beach-based 65-ft schooner Cocokai. "We'll be here for a couple of more month making upgrades to the schooner before heading south again. We just wanted to wish everyone the best for the new year."

There are still three big cruisers events remaining in Mexico this winter: The 'nothing serious' Banderas Bay Regatta for cruisers only, which is based out of Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. The dates are March 17-21. There is no entry fee. The second event is the revived Sea of Cortez Sailing Week out of La Paz starting on April 1. There is no fee for this event either. Both of the first two events are for cruisers who really love to sail. Finally, there's Loreto Fest, from April 30th to May 3rd. Although this fund-raiser at Puerto Escondido is more about music than sailing, many cruisers attend. There is no entry fee.

If you are lucky enough to be out cruising these days — on any ocean — we'd love to hear from you. So drop us an email and a couple of your best high res photos.

Missing the pictures? See the February 2009 eBook!


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