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February 2012

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  With reports from Flashgirl in New Zealand on Commodore's upcoming 80th birthday party to be held in Sausalito; from Sea Level in Indonesia on the way to Thailand; from Curare in Valdivia, Chile, on a less-traveled route; from Pacific Breeze on four summer weeks in Greece; from Rascal in Southeast Asia; and an unusually large helping of Cruise Notes.

Flashgirl — Wylie 38+
Commodore and Nancy Tompkins
PNG, Micronesia, Vanuatu
(Mill Valley)

Just before the end of the year, we had a Wild Toad's ride from Vanuatu to Opua, New Zealand, running before tropical cyclone Fina. Just before setting sail, we took the time to reflect on the things we did this past year.

In addition to holding loved ones near and dear, we sailed a distance of 5,500 miles and visited 34 islands. We started the beginning of the year at Thursday Island, which is north of Cape York, the northeasternmost tip of Australia. We then sailed through the Gulf of Papua and the Coral Sea. We spent the month of January cruising PNG, then headed north across the equator to Micronesia, stopping at the remote atolls of Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro enroute to Pohnpei.

We moored Flashgirl in Pohnpei for six months, and Nancy flew home to visit her family and take care of business. She returned to the boat in mid-June, and we enjoyed Micronesia for about six weeks before heading south across the equator, which was Nancy’s fourth crossing. Our next stop was the Solomon Islands. We cleared into Honiara on Guadalcanal, and then headed east to the remote Temotu Province where we visited Utupua and Tikopia. Tikopia was a highlight for us. A small island less than two miles long and half a mile wide, it has been inhabited by Polynesians since 1200 B.C. It is still ruled by four chiefs, called arikis, and much of their culture is still intact.

After a few weeks we moved on to Vanuatu, where we spent three months. In mid-December we left Port Vila for Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand on what was a thrilling 1,200-mile sail. We saw 25-30 knots under gray skies most of the time, and the apparent wind angle was 40 to 60 the whole way. Ugh! But we covered the 1,200 miles in just seven days, so Flashgirl rocked!

We are so glad to be tucked away in port here at Opua, as the nasties that chased us most of the way — tropical cyclone Fina — finally made landfall here, although only as a tropical depression. After all the hot and muggy days in the tropics, we're enjoying the cooler weather.

— nancy and commodore 01/01/12

Readers — We'd like to remind everyone that Commodore, who has been sailing across oceans for 79 years, will be celebrating his 80th birthday on February 26 at the Presidio YC at Fort Baker (Marin Headlands). The celebration is from noon until 4 pm, and all his friends, as well those who love sailing, are invited.

Sea Level — Schionning 49
Jim and Kent Milski
Indonesia to Singapore
(Lake City, Colorado)

As the night faded into day, we counted five volcanoes in the distance off to starboard. I wondered how many places in the world it would be possible to do that. And it brought to mind the Johnny Cash song titled Ring of Fire. It burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire.

My wife Kent and I have been cruising the southern coast of Java, a 550- by 100-mile wide island with the Java Sea to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. Java has a population of 135 million, making it not only the world's most populated island, but one of the world's most densely populated regions. Sixty percent of Indonesians live on Java, and much of Indonesian history has taken place here. For example, it was the center of powerful Hindu-Buddhist empires and Islamic sultanates, the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies, and was at the center of Indonesia's campaign for independence. Java dominates Indonesian social, political and economic life.

The preferred route for cruisers heading west is the north shore of Java, as it's the shortest route to Singapore and the sailing paradises of Langkawi, Malaysia, and Phuket, Thailand. But except for the adverse current at this time of year, the south coast of Java is itself a cruisers' paradise. Parts of the southeast coast are amazingly pristine, with plenty of protected anchorages and undiscovered surf spots. And we've found the people to be extremely gregarious and helpful — although this has been the case almost most everywhere we've been. The Javanese are also very curious about our catamaran.

The Indonesian Coast Guard helped us resupply with fuel at our last stop. This is noteworthy, because while getting fuel for yachts isn't a problem along the cruiser 'milk run' on the north coast of Indonesia, including Bali, it's a different story on the less-traveled south coast. The problem is that Indonesian filling stations aren't allowed to sell fuel in jugs to just anyone. You need to be a fisherman with a permit. We hadn't planned to use as much fuel as we did, but at this time of year the wind and current are against westbound boats.

Our plan is to make our way up the west side of Sumatra — the other big Indonesian island — to visit the offshore Mentawai Islands, which are famous for great surf. Then in mid-January we will cross the Andaman Sea to Langkawai, Malaysia.

We were traveling alone at this time because of our route and because we were running a little late compared to most cruisers for a trip from Indonesia to Singapore and Malaysia. But we certainly enjoy buddy-boating when given the opportunity, as we think it's much safer and more fun.

To turn back the clock for a moment, we spent most of the last winter cruising Down Under. We sailed as far south as Tasmania, then back up the length of the east coast of Australia. By the way, the length of the east coast of Oz is about 3,000 miles! The island of Tasmania was our favorite part of Australia.

Cruisers headed to Australia need to be aware that Oz is much more expensive than the United States! That's why so many Aussies have been flying to California to buy boats. And why so many Aussies cruise Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, which are all extremely inexpensive by comparison. Australia's Gold Coast has the best yacht services, however.

In May we made the crossing, with Northern California friend Chuck Hooper as crew, from Oz to the Louisiade Arichipelago of southeast Papua New Guinea. During this time we buddy-boated with our dear — and newly married — friends Steve and Manjula May of the Gualala-based Farrier 41 cat Endless Summer. What we all remember about the Louisiades is the outstanding fishing and diving.

Our most memorable sight in the Louisiades was that of the local proas under sail. The people of the Louisiades archipelago are true watermen. Their rough-hewn sailing canoes have a main hull and one outrigger, the latter always being kept to weather. They fly a hybrid of a lateen and lug sail, and the canoes are very fast and extremely weatherly. In order to tack, the single sail is reversed, and the helmsman moves from bow to stern. Sail is shortened by rolling it on the boom. But most of the time ballast, in the form of people or cargo, is moved from the main hull out on a platform which attaches the ama.

On several occasions when the villagers saw us coming, they jumped into their canoes to come out and sail with us. Their sails are made of anything they can get their hands on — usually plastic tarps. Fuel here is very expensive in the Louisiades, so the tradition of sail lives on from necessity. But it's a wonderful thing to see.

It was in the Louisiades that we met up with fellow cruisers Adam and Leonie, and their two young boys, on the Dutch monohull Elena. We'd crossed the Pacific with them, but hadn't seen them since New Zealand the previous year. Our arranged meeting took place in Buka, which is on the northern end of Bougainville Island. There is still plenty of political turmoil on the island, so we heard gunshots during the night. It reminded us of when we lived aboard in Vallejo. Other than trying to kill each other, the people were extremely friendly. We only hope they can resolve their differences without further bloodshed.

Our three boats — Elena, Endless Summer and Sea Level — then started our journey north and west to the outlying islands across the top of New Guinea and Irian Jaya. This route is not much traveled by yachts, so we and the natives we encountered were equally curious about each other's lifestyles. Other than our traveling companions, we didn't see another cruiser until the island of Ambon, three months after leaving Australia!

Endless Summer then headed up to Palau from the Hermit Islands, while we and Elena continued on toward Bali. Our route over the Bird's Head Peninsula took us through Raja Ampat, more specifically to the island of Kri. There we met Max Ammer (, who runs a dive resort and is a wealth of information on the whole area.

Of Dutch descent, Max came to the area 40 years ago to dive on WWII wreckage. But he fell in love with the place and never left. Max puts a lot of effort into not only protecting the area, but training the locals how to deal with us outsiders. We spent a week at his resort diving on what some experts claim is the best diversity of coral on the planet.

We and Elena spent the following month meandering down through Indonesia, where we eventually made it to Bali. Leaving our boat on a mooring, we returned to the States for two months to visit family and friends.

As anybody who has been to Indonesia can attest, the bureaucracy can be a nightmare. To get a CAIT — the cruising permit — and all other such paperwork services, we highly recommend Ruth and Nathan of in Serangan Harbor at the Bali YC. These are truly two of the most helpful and professional people we have had the good fortune to work with.

Back to the present. So much for best-laid plans. The winds that were supposed to be light and help us move to the west along the south coast of Sumatra were replaced by the northwest monsoon. We ultimately had to tuck our tail between our legs and head for Singapore. We passed right by Krakatau volcano, which is famous for exploding in 1883 with a force equivalent to 10,000 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima! At least that's what the guide book says. At the moment, we're enjoying a nice spinnaker run up through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. We should be in Singapore before long.

The cost of cruising Indonesia has been similar to the cost of cruising in Mexico, but provisioning is not as easy. Alcohol is very expensive — when you can find it. To our knowledge good wine can't be found in Indonesia. Beer is easier to come by than spirits, but it's not as cheap as in Mexico. Resupplying with fuel is much more difficult, and the bureaucratic paperwork is over the top! Just as in the bad old days of Mexico, you're expected to check in at every port of call.

Anchoring is more difficult because most anchorages have more coral and less sand on the bottom. The Indonesian surf is some of the best in the world, but most of it breaks onto coral, so it's a bit risky for an old longboarder such as myself. The diving is so fantastic, however, that it alone would justify a visit. The locals are all very friendly, but learn some Indonesian before you arrive because English speakers are rare.

Indonesia has 17,000 islands, and most have natural wonders or interesting ruins. A cruiser could easily spend numerous seasons in Indonesia, and explore a different island every season. Services for yachts are few and far between, however. We feel blessed to be able to tour such a fascinating country. Nonetheless, West Coast cruisers might be interested to know that our favorite cruising areas are still Mexico and British Columbia. We look forward to crusing both of them again sometime.

— jim and kent 01/06/12

Curare — Bowman 36
Geoff and Linda Goodall
Cruising to Southern Chile
(Vancouver, B.C.)

We started 2011 by crossing the Gulf of Panama on New Year's Eve, and spent a few days in Las Perlas islands before moving on to Panama City. What a dynamic and entertaining place! Anything seems possible, and every imaginable boat repair can be accomplished. Within a week we had our liferaft inspected, the radar/chartplotter repaired, and parts and batteries flown in from Miami, and got new charts for heading farther south. The best entertainment, of course, was watching all of the cruisers preparing for or finishing off their Canal transits, with all the tires hanging from every stanchion.

The highlight of last year's cruising was our 950-mile sail southwest from Panama's Las Perlas islands to the Galapagos. We kept in radio contact with five other boats, and all of us experienced the idyllic conditions of broad reaching in 15 to 20 knots of wind. We even had favorable current. So we covered the nearly 1,000 miles in seven days, most of it under spinnaker. Curare even turned in her best 24-hour run — 180 miles. The five boats arrived at the Galapagos within 20 hours of each other, and all of us agreed it had been the sail of a lifetime.

After a week at anchor off Santa Cristobal, and observing as many of Darwin's creatures as we could, we set off for Easter Island, 2,200 miles to the SSE. We again had reasonable weather on this passage, making the trip in 19 days. Although there is no secure anchorage at Easter Island, we did manage to get our dog Jessie ashore for some much needed exercise.

We made a quick trip around the mysterious island before the winds started building in the Hanga Roa anchorage. But we were too late to leave, so we ended up riding out a three-day blow with winds to 25 knots and seas in the 15-ft range. The experience was all the more thrilling because a singlehander with a partially disabled boat managed to anchor, with the assistance of the Armada, upwind of us. Later that morning one of her anchor rodes parted. Fortunately, two cruisers came to her assistance and managed to secure her with a second line and anchor.

After provisioning with fresh produce at Hanga Roa, we departed for the 2300- mile trip southeast to Valdivia, Chile. We had some contrary winds, a gale and periods of calm, so we averaged only 100 miles a day. We tried to avoid getting below 40 degrees latitude, but had to duck one weather system that took us to 42 degrees south.

Valdivia, a lovely city nine miles inland with a population of 150,000, has been a comfortable place for us and our boat, something the Spaniards figured out back in 1550 when they made it their Pacific Coast hideout. We enjoy trips into town, where we can get a four-course meal with a glass of fine Chilean wine for just $4, and salmon for $2.75 a pound. With the fresh produce from nearby, provisioning is excellent.

We arrived at the Valdivia YC in May, returned to Canada for some time, and are now at Marina Estancila near Valdivia, where I've been working on maintenance tasks for the past several weeks. As it's the austral spring heading toward summer, we're in no hurry to move on. The weather has been great and is expected to get even better, and there is so much coast to explore.

During our time in South America, we took the opportunity to do some inland travel. We visited the 12,000-ft-high altiplano of landlocked Bolivia, where the air is thin, crisp and clear. The salt flats at Uyuni are the largest in the world, and home to large flocks of pink flamingos. Lake Titicaca, at the border of Bolivia and Peru, is the largest high-altitude — 12,500 feet — lake in the world. It's the birthplace of the Aymara Indians, who were overtaken by the Inca. Transportation throughout the region was easy by car, plane, bus — and even boat.

We can't really comment on cruising in Patagonia, but will have more to report in two months. Right now the Valdivia YC, the largest in Chile, is getting ready to host the World Cup for Pirat (sic) class 5 Metre boats. Over 70 entries and 300 sailors from all over the world are expected. It looks like it's going to be fun.

— geoff 01/05/12

Pacific Breeze — Spronk 78 Cat
Guido Polko and Stefanie Ender
Four Weeks Cruising Greece

I arrived in the Greek industrial city of Thessaloniki on August 22 to meet my friends Captain Paul, from Germany, and Dada, his Bosnian wife, aboard their Spronk 78 catamaran. The plan was that I would join the former Heidelberg restaurateurs to diplomats for two weeks of cruising in the Greek Isles, at which time we'd be joined by my girlfriend Stefanie in Athens for an additional two weeks of sailing pleasure.

Scores of Spronk catamarans had been built in the Caribbean over the last 30 years, the publisher of Latitude informed me, and they all had a curious feature the designer had insisted on — heads that consisted of a toilet seat atop an open hole into the ocean! Needless to say, Pacific Breeze, which had just come out of a $1.5 million refit, and which caters to $60,000/week charter clientele, has a more sophisticaed waste disposal system.

After a wonderful welcome that included fine wine, a delicious dinner and wonderful conversation, the three of us departed the next afternoon for the Sporades. Located in the northwest Aegean about 150 miles south of Thessaloniki and about 120 miles north of Athens as the crow flies, the Sporades are among the most beautiful — and green — Greek Islands. They also feature many great places to anchor and explore. We enjoyed a lovely evening sail, although we had to keep our eyes out for fishing vessels, as Greek fishermen either don't know or don't care about showing the proper lights. We even saw some boats with pink and blue running lights.

At midnight we arrived at Nea Moudania, where Paul set double anchors. Perhaps because he's German, Paul always sets two anchors, and sometimes a stern anchor. That way he can enjoy a good night's sleep even if the wind shifts. German tradition dictates that after anchoring, everyone partakes in an Anlegerbier — which literally translates as 'pier-beer'. It's an excuse for the first beer of the day or night. We didn't break with tradition during our time in Greece, and enjoyed many a delicious Mythos beer.

We awoke to a typically beautiful August day: 87 degrees with lots of sun and blue skies — and a 20-knot meltemi. The meltemi is the dry north wind of the Aegean Sea that is caused by a combination of high pressure over the Balkans and low pressure over Turkey. Meltemis can be dangerous for sailors because they come up in clear weather, sometimes without warning, and because they can blow up to 40 knots. But this meltemi stayed around 20 knots, so with the big chute up, the long, lean cat effortlessly covered the 90 miles down to Skiathos town. We were often visited by leaping dolpins, which made the passage all the more enjoyable.

Despite the huge size of the cat, Paul and I basically did all the sailing. The genoas are on electric furlers controlled from the cockpit, and even the daggerboards can be raised or lowered from the cockpit. The only hard part is having to let one running backstay off and put the other one on when gybing or tacking. We flew an asymmetrical chute on a roller furler without using a pole.

When we arrived in the late afternoon, Skiathos town appeared to be a pleasant, sleepy little place. The terror started at 11 p.m., as that's when the loud — and I mean really loud! — music erupted at a couple of the clubs. The music was so loud that earplugs offered no relief. We were honestly audio-tortured until the music stopped at 5 a.m. Our advice is to never spend a night on a boat anywhere near Skiathos town — or any of the others where music is allowed to blast like that until dawn.

After such a dreadful night, we wanted to leave at first light. Alas, we couldn't get our primary anchor — a huge aluminum Fortress fluke model — off the bottom. We tried everything to bring her up, but to no avail. Not wanting to spend another God-awful night at Skiathos town, not wanting to lose the primary anchor, and not being able to reach the anchor by free-diving, Paul tracked down a diver.

Theo, like all the Greeks we met, was friendly and helpful. And he immediately found the problem. Our anchor chain, not our anchor, was trapped beneath a huge old anchor, and there was no way we could get it back up without additional help. Paul decided that we had no choice but to cut the anchor free of the chain. We were able to get the anchor and the anchor end of the chain up onto the boat, at which time I used a power grinder to cut the chain off at the anchor. You should have seen the sparks fly! We had to leave 330 feet of high-quality German chain on the bottom, but Theo promised he'd get it up later and contact us. He was true to his word, so after stops at a few other places, we returned to Skiathos to pick up the chain. Theo's bill of $500 wasn't cheap, but it was less expensive than having to buy replacement chain.

Free once again, we took off toward Skopelos in 30 knots of wind and swells to 15 feet. These were the kind of conditions that Pacific Breeze loves, and we hit speeds of up to 18 knots. It was a far cry from what our Ericson 27 back in Sausalito would have done in the same conditions. (By the end of our trip, Stefanie and I would go over to the dark side of sailing. Our next boat, especially for cruising, will be a catamaran.)

Boats in Skopelos moor Med style, which means you put your stern into the wind by setting the anchor, then backing up to the quay. I expected that the strong winds would make it difficult for the 78- by 35-foot cat, but Pacific Breeze didn't have any 'prop walk' to complicate the matter. We enjoyed a lovely day in town and a nice dinner at a local's place in the old town.

After enjoying some other spots, we needed to get to Athens quickly in order to pick up Stefanie, who was flying in from Sausalito. We decided we'd take the 120-mile channel between the Greek mainland and the big island of Evia. Boats headed north into meltemis often use this channel rather than the open Aegean, as it's more sheltered. But even if you were headed south, as we were, the scenery in the channel is more beautiful. You can always count on the wind blowing out of the north in the summer. Well, almost always, as we had wind out of the southwest, meaning on the nose.

We had a nice sail, but we had to Med-moor for the night at the little town of Atalani, where there were nothing but small restaurants for locals. We enjoyed our dinner, but were surprised by the cost of the fish. They charge by the kilo in Greece, and it's always in the range of 60 to 80 euros, which means it was $30 to $50 a pound!

The most interesting feature of the channel is the 'sliding bridge' at Chalcis at the southern end. The sliding bridge — similar to the one in Barcelona — retracts the roadway from over the narrows and allows boats to pass. The current is very strong in the narrows and is said to reverse itself every six hours. Legend has it that philosopher Aristotle became so frustrated with his inability to understand the currents that he threw himself off one of the ancient bridges in frustration. If the story is true, he's lucky to have survived, because many others have drowned doing the same thing.

The bridge is only open for about one hour at about midnight, and this is something of an event. Because we were on such a big cat, people assumed that we were VIPs, so we were the focus of much attention and waving. It happened many other places, too.

The next day we picked up Stefanie and brought her to the boat at somewhat quiet Porto Rafti. She'll take up the story of the last two weeks of our adventure in the next edition of Latitude.

— guido 10/15/11

Rascal — Hallberg-Rassy 53
Henry Mellegers, Glenys Henry
Malaysia's Raja Muda Regatta

What's the best way for cruising yachts to make part of the passage north up the Malacca Strait in mid-November to begin the cruising season in northwestern Peninsular Malayasia and Thailand? We nominate the Raja Muda Regatta, which is organized by the Royal Selangor YC of Malaysia, and takes the fleet from Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur) up to the big cruising center of Langkawi via the islands of Pangkor and Penang.

Our nomination is based on the experience we recently had crewing aboard Gavin and Carol Welman's Langkawi-based Rascal for a 10-day, 300-mile sail. It included six races, three of them passage races of 90, 60 and 55 miles, and three 25-mile day races held in Penang and Langkawi harbors.

And guess what? We won our class, taking every race except for the one we'd gotten mixed up with a lay day. Our crew consisted of Gavin the skipper, Carol the Admiral, an old British Navy guy named Tony, and the two of us. The average age of our crew was 63, and we had more than 180 years and 250,000 miles of sailing experience. There's something to be said for us old farts with grey hair!

We met Rascal at the Royal Selangor YC in Port Klang after a long and convoluted trip from our Cal 3-46 Dream Catcher in Singapore. We had a lot of fun in Port Klang — the regatta organizers see to that at every stop — but were disturbed by the staggering amount of plastic and other garbage that flows down the river. There were islands of it, and it was not attractive.

The first race was an overnighter to the funky seaside town of Pangkor. After some nice sailing, the wind died. Boats are allowed to use their engines in the Raja Muda, but pay a steep penalty for doing so. Our skipper elected to gut it out. It was a smart decision, as the wind returned and we kicked butt.

We loved Pangkor. Although it's the center of the sardine fishing industry, it nonetheless has a pretty anchorage flanked by wooded hills. After a delicious lunch, we took a walk through the fishing boat harbor. There we saw women sitting cross-legged, sorting the millions of sardines by hand — and one cat who had his choice of more sardines than he could eat in a lifetime. After they are air-dried, sardines are called ikan bilis, and are a key ingredient in many Malay dishes. Anyway, the party and prize-giving were great, and a bit of rain made life less dangerous for the fire eaters.

The second day was the second passage race, this one to the 60-mile-distant island of Penang. After a delay due to light winds, we sailed hard through the night until 3 a.m., and once again took our class. Trying to find the flashing lights of the finish line against the brightly illuminated city of Penang was a challenge, as was motoring two hours upriver past countless hazards to reach the new Straits Quay Marina.

I had last visited Penang in the early '70s, and my goodness was I shocked at the changes! It now has a population of 1.5 million and countless high-rise condos and office buildings, all against a backdrop of big hills. Penang is a melting pot of Chinese, Indians and Malays, so it presents a diverse architectural face of Burmese temples, decrepit shop-houses, grand colonial homes, and flashy condos. The venue for the second race prize-giving was the amazingly ornate Chinese temple that is the clan house for the Khoo Clan.

When the start of the next race was postponed, Admiral Carol, a black belt foodie, got out the smoked salmon, wine and cheeses, and made an elegant lunch with a fabulous salad. We had some spinnaker misadventures when the race finally started, and with the wind gusting to 27 knots, it was good we got it down and kept it down. During the more anxious hours in the middle of the night, Carol, who was standing in the cockpit, was struck by a fish! After a rip-roaring sail, we crossed the Langkawi finish line at 11 p.m,, victorious again. It was late, but not too late for some French champagne and a late dinner onboard.

While setting off for town the next day for lunch, someone asked why we weren't headed to the starting line. Somehow we got confused about the lay day! We managed to get a great start, but at the wrong time. Fortunately, the headstay on the boat of our main competition failed, leaving us still in the hunt for regatta honors.

We kicked butt in the final race to win our class. By this time we were wearing, but it didn't stop us from partying at the Royal Langkawi YC for the final prize-giving shindig.

We had a leisurely breakfast after the regatta, then took the boat back to her homeport at Telaga Harbour, which Gavin claims is the prettiest marina in the world.

Winning our class was a substantial thrill. As Henry and I have now done five Phang Na regattas in Thailand, one King's Cup also in Thailand, and one Raja Muda in Malaysia, we're now thinking of entering our Cal 46 Dream Catcher in the Raja Muda next year. Anyone want to crew?

By the way, my overview of cruising in Southeast Asia, which was slated for this issue of Latitude, will appear in the March issue. If cruising an inexpensive area with many rich cultures appeals to you, be sure to check it out.

— glenys 12/19/11

Cruise Notes:

Having read Guido Polko's Changes this month about fish costing $60 to $100 a pound in restaurants during his cruise in Greece last summer, we couldn't help comparing it with the cost of food in the La Cruz - Punta Mita area of Mexico. Yesterday a friend bought a fresh snapper to feed four from the pescadors at Punta Mita. It cost $2, or 50 cents a serving. We just got back from Sayulita, where we enjoyed a large breakfast mole taco and a chicharrón taco from a taco cart run by a couple of sweet older mujeres. The total came to $1.50, including all the garnishes and secret sauces. On Wednesdays and Fridays you can get mouth-watering shrimp, octopus. marlin, and fish tostadas for about $1.20 each, plus ice cold Coronas for about $1.20 each, at the Marina Riviera Nayarit YC in La Cruz. The setting beneath the gigantic palapa is spectacular, with wonderful views of the marina, the bay and the jungle-covered hills. At the Red Chair Tacos or Tacos on the Street, also in La Cruz, you can get tacos with all the trimmings — plus have a great chat fest with other cruisers — for about $1 a taco. Three bucks and you're stuffed. And there's no corkage fee when you bring your own wine — which you'll want to do. The special breakfast at Octopus' Garden in La Cruz that includes coffee, orange juice, eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and bread is less than $6, and you get to enjoy it in a garden setting reminiscent of Mallorca. And on Saturday mornings, you get terrific live music, too. Many other places offer breakfast specials for under $3. Other favorites are the fabulous Como No?, and Casa de Pinter in Punta Mita. The list of wonderful places to eat inexpensively goes on and on. Just ask any cruiser.

On too tight a budget to splurge so extravagantly on dining out? Or want to make sure you get plenty of veggies in your diet? We recently swung by a local bodega — they're on every other corner — and picked up two tomatoes, a big avocado, two zucchini, and two cucumbers for less than $1.70. As we recall, that's just a tad less than it all would have cost at a Whole Foods in the States. If we'd picked up half a cabbage for less than 50 cents, we could have made a big salad or, after adding lentils, a killer soup. Booze and food in fancy tourist restaurants naturally shatter a cruiser's budget, but the less expensive places usually seem to be more fun and often have better tasting food. Thirsty? Corona and other beers sell for less than $1 a bottle when bought by the case and even in some restaurants.

Thirty-one boats from 12 countries — including eight from the United States — departed St. Lucia on January 8 on the 15-month, 26,000-mile World ARC Circumnavigation, hosted by World Cruising Ltd. Eight other boats, five of them in Panama, are expected to join the fleet for at least part of the adventure. Ted Bainbridge and Bernard O'Hanlon's Australia-based Beneteau Oceanis 393 Glamorous Galah is the smallest boat in the fleet, while Sappire II, John O'Connor's U.S.-based Discovery 67, is the largest. The fleet includes five catamarans, three of which started in St. Lucia, the smallest being Steve Spracher's U.S.-based Lagoon 380 Southern Cross; the largest is Phil May's France-based Catana 52 Fantasia. The event is a combination of organized stages and 'free cruising'. Entry fee for the entire event, which includes Canal fees and Galapagos permits, runs from $18 to $19.5k. If anyone would like to join the event in progress, they can do so in Australia for between $10.5 and $11.25k. In recognition of the ongoing troubles in the Arabian Sea, the fleet will go around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope and up the South Atlantic to Rio for Carnival and to the St. Lucia finish rather than via the Red Sea, the Med and the North Atlantic.

Government mischief all over the cruising world? You bet. Let's start in French Polynesia, where authorities are beginning to make spot checks to make sure all arriving cruisers have — health insurance?! Mai oui! Apparently it's an old legal requirement they've dusted off to promote tourism — just kidding — and are starting to enforce. Admittedly, it's understandable that a lightly-populated tourist area doesn't necessarily want to pick up big medical bills for visitors. If you can't prove you have health insurance, you're subject to being forced to leave or denied entry to French Polynesia. But we haven't heard of anyone who has gotten the boot so far. A santé!

Although we're not endorsing it, one of the better health insurance options might be to get coverage from Divers Alert Network (DAN), a highly-regarded non-profit organization established long ago to provide limited-duration health and medevac insurance for divers travelling to the far reaches of the globe. Rates are said to be reasonable.

And down in San Diego, there's been a big hubbub about Mexico supposedly now requiring visitors by sea, and even those coming within 24 miles of shore, to obtain visas in advance. There's a lot of confusion about the new law, and it's beginning to look as though it's only intended for folks on the commercial fishing boats. As Bob Hoyt of Mag Bay Outfitters told Latitude, the visa fees are not unreasonable, as U.S. fishermen cross into Mexican waters to take lots of fish. Only time will tell how this all plays out for cruisers.

Then there's Italy. Having pissed away their treasury and gone into unsustainable deep debt — sort of like the Golden State — the Italian government has come up with an 'austerity measure' that is more accurately a big new tax on Italian and foreign yachts. A tax we suspect is going to drive the beautiful but beleaguered country even further into the fiscal hole. According the British Cruising Association, starting on May 1 — just before the beginning of the high season— all yachts in Italy will be subject to a new daily tax. It comes to $312/month for 37- to 42-footers, $390 a month for 43 to 53-footers, and over $1,260 a month for 58-footers. It's unclear if Italian legislators realize that boats, particularly foreign boats, can simply throw off their docklines and leave Italy and Italian taxes in their wake. After all, as wonderful — and expensive — as places such as Portofino, Capri and Sardinia are, it's only a short distance to the wonderful cruising attractions in France, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Malta and Tunisia, where either there aren't any such taxes/fees, and/or they aren't anywhere near as high as Italy's. And, we might add, where there aren't any chickenshit captains fleeing cruise ships after holing them on reefs.

Who would get hurt, for example, if Profligate was in Italy on May 1? Not us, because we'd take our catamaran and the $1,260 a month we would have had to pay in tax to a less punitive country. No, the ones who are going to get hurt are the Italians who are no longer going to have jobs in the boatyards, chandleries, waterfront bars and restaurants, and travel industries. Which means the Italian treasury takes a hit, too.

In years past, Dockwise Yacht Transport has been a popular — albeit pricey — way for cruisers to get their boats from Mexico to British Columbia in the late spring. Dockwise is no longer offering that service. Be advised that in any event, yacht shipping schedules are not something that can be guaranteed.

We had hoped to put our Olson 30 La Gamelle aboard a Yacht Path ship from Port Everglades to the U.S. Virgins in mid-January. Alas, it turns out that Yacht Path won't have a ship to the Virgins until at least March, which screws up our plans and is going to cost us some bucks. Had we known, we could have just as easily gotten La Gamelle on their December ship. We nonetheless appreciate the problems shipping companies have with loads and schedules, and just want potential customers to be forewarned.

Like all great adventures, the La Gamelle one is having all kinds of unexpected twists. It's now very likely that the boat will be shipped to Martinique on Dockwise, after which we'll singlehand her to St. Barth via Dominica, the Saints, Guadaloupe and Antigua. That's 220 miles of close- to beam-reaching in the Caribbean trades, which might be a whole lot better than 120 miles of beating into the trades from St. Thomas to St. Barth. It could be fun.

By the way, a special Latitude thanks to Seattle-based Gerald Dudley of Dudley Yacht Transport, who really came through for us in a pinch after another trucking company failed to honor their commitments and at the last minute tried to jack the price by 33%. Two days later they were calling back begging for the business. Gerald, by the way, told us he's getting his 70-ft sled, the old TransPac-winning Drumbeat, ready for a South Pacific cruise. He'll have some karma going with him.

A group of North American cruisers enjoying New Year's fireworks over London's Big Ben? It sounds crazy, but it's true.

"Latitude has fueled our cruising dreams from way back when we lived in Des Moines, and the publisher's commentary on all things has guided us well over the years," report Ed and Sue Kelly of the Catalac 36 cat Angel Louise. "As planned, we're berthed for the winter at St. Katherine Dock, which is next to historic Tower Bridge in London. We actually have a contingent of 10 North American cruising boats in the marina. We're loving our great 'after retirement retirement' cruising life."

"I had a wonderful solo sail from Majuro in the Marshall Islands to Fiji's Savusavu, with brief stops at Kiribati and Tuvalu," reports Jim Coggin of the Richmond-based Schumacher 40 Auspice. "Three key factors made it a highly enjoyable experience for me. First, having a well-found, high-performance boat. Even utilizing a conservative sail plan — i.e. “reef early and reef often" — she rarely sailed at less than six knots no matter the point of sail. As measured by noon-to-noon positions, with the wind forward of the beam the entire trip, Auspice averaged just over seven knots. The second factor is being well rested. I'm not the kind of guy who enjoys a passage trying to get by on 20-minute snippets of sleep, and don't think I'd make good decisions if I were sleep deprived if the shit hit the fan. So I rely heavily on AIS, radar, the radar detector, the radar reflector, and VHF to be additional eyes and ears. I try to sleep solidly during the day so I can be alert most of the night. My biggest worry isn't big ships, but rather the smaller vessels with nobody standing watch. There's nothing that can be done about semi-submerged containers. I just have to trust my luck. But I carry an EPIRB, life raft and satphone just in case.

"The last key," Coggin continues, "is having the patience to wait for the best weather window. Being on a schedule, real or imagined, has induced many a mariner to leave port too soon and then have to pay the price. Knock on wood, my wife Kim and I have been lucky in all our passages in the South Pacific. We recently did the feared 1,100-mile Fiji to New Zealand passage. We enjoyed 15 knots on the beam for the first five days, but then the breeze built to a bit of a gale for the last 36 hours. Not bad. While I enjoy good company aboard, I also find it delightful to have the boat all to myself for a time. After all, it means I don't have to defend my sail trim, I can cook whatever I want whenever I want, and can pee over the side and fart when I damn well please. While I hope that my wife Kim and I can share many more offshore miles, I will always look forward to chances to sail solo in the tropics."

ShantiAna Bartlett of the San Francisco-based Columbia 38 ShantiAna, is the latest to tell us about the new marina in Topolobampo, which is 200 miles north of Mazatlan. "It's a small marina affiliated with Marina Palmira in La Paz. There was only one other sailboat in the marina when we were there, and maybe 10 small fishing boats. The staff is wonderful and the security great. We checked in with the port captain eight days after arriving — oops! — by calling him on the phone. He came down, looked at our crew list, and that was it. No fees, no copies, no nada. There is fuel close to the marina, but no pump-out station. They told us to just pump our waste into the marina. What?

"Bill and I came to Topolobampo to do the train trip to Copper Canyon, which is seven times bigger than our Grand Canyon," continues Bartlett. "Mexico's only passenger train actually starts in Los Mochis and ends 14 hours and countless mountains later in Chihuahua. Thanks to the 126 bridges, 87 tunnels, and a 360-degree loop of an entire mountain, it only took 100 years to complete. As you can imagine, the scenery is spectacular! We continued on to the town of Creel, which is at 7,800 feet. Every home, store, hotel room and restaurant has a fire burning to keep people warm. Our room was nice and clean, had lots of hot water for showers, and cost just $18. A great vacation from the boat."

After Jenny Halidman and Randy Ramirez aboard the Stockton-based Mariah 31 Mystic reported using just 12 gallons of fuel during their nine-month crossing of the Pacific to New Zealand, we asked ocean advocate Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell about her use of fossil fuels.

"The Tuamotus are perfect for wind and solar power," she responded, "as no mountains block the trades or attract cloud cover. So in the last six months, I only had to use one gallon of gas to run my little Honda generator to supplement my electrical supply for daily needs such as lights, the reefer, the computer and music. During that same period I used less than eight gallons of diesel for Swell's main engine. As I'm not in a hurry, I can always wait for a favorable wind direction before I set sail for a new destination. I used the most fuel — 12 gallons of gas — for my dinghy outboard. While I row my dinghy most of the time, sometimes a girl just has to get to the waves quickly! But I say 'green hats' off to Jenny and Randy for their truly green cruising."

"We and friends Mark McClellan and Anne MacDonald of the McCall, Idaho-based Deerfoot 50 Blue Rodeo just returned from a great evening at the Oasis Hotel here in Santiago Bay," report Roger and Diana Frizzelle of the Alameda/Mexico-based Catalina 470 Di's Dream. As always, the service was fabulous. The real reason we're writing is to let everyone know that Diego, the Oasis manager, is now providing dinghy service to and from the hotel for only 20 pesos — about $1.50 — to sailors who hail him on Channel 23. This is great news for cruisers who want to go to shore at Santiago, but don't want to go to the trouble of launching their dinghy. Contact Diego on 23 for all the specials they have during the week. P.S. It's mid-January and the water temperature is a lovely 80 degrees.

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," is Mark Twain's famous quip about the City by the Bay. The Vallarta Coast variation is, "The worst winter day on Banderas Bay is better than the best summer day on the coast of even Southern California." The latter is only true, of course, if you like highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s, uncrowded surfing in the morning without a wetsuit, tropical flat water pleasure sailing in the afternoon, spectacular sunsets at dusk, delicious $6 dinners, and maybe a little nookie before you crash. No wonder so many cruising couples proudly say, "We're Mexicans now!"

When we write things like the above, some people think we're trying to slam California. We're not. California does have some great things to offer. Nor are we trying to oversell Mexico, which does have its share of problems. We're just trying to cite some of the reasons so many cruisers love Mexico.

By the way, the Nayarit Riviera towns of San Pancho, Higuera Blanca, La Cruz, and Sayulita — the latter two big favorites with cruisers — have all been designated 'magical places' by the federal government and are therefore now getting major infrastructure makeovers. That means new plazas, new central district streets free of parked cars, utility wires underground, and general beautification. The only puzzling thing is why they're doing it at the height of the tourist season.

As for the 'bad' of Mexico, 67-year-old Robin Wood of Vancouver was shot and killed during a robbery at fellow Canadian Arvid Chalmer's house in Melaque on January 3. According to Chalmers, Wood was shot when he began battling for a suitcase the robbers had taken. Jorge Luis Murillo Torres and Ernesto Manuel Esparza Leon, two 18-year-olds with a history of violent crimes, have been arrested. Wood was not a sailor, but we mention this crime because Melaque, a very popular winter destination for Canadians, shares the same bay with the cruising center of Bahia Navidad.

Even closer to most cruisers was a late-evening incident in early January when a non-sailing Canadian friend of ours and his wife — they asked not to be identified — left Philo's Music Studio and Bar in La Cruz, went around the corner, and got into their super-duper new double-cab pick-up. As the man was getting into the driver's seat, he was assaulted by four Mexicans, one of whom struck him in the head with a gun. The man's wife ran back to Philo's and got the 20 patrons still there to help. By the time they reached the scene of the crime, her husband had managed to fight the assailants off, but was bleeding from the head, and the thieves were high-tailing it down the road in the couple's truck. Philo told Latitude that it was the first time in the 11 years he's been in La Cruz that something like that had happened. He notes that fancy new trucks, which are worth as much as $65,000, are extremely popular targets for thieves in Mexico. Particularly trucks with out-of-country license plates.

In less violent but nonetheless still unpleasant news, two dinghies were stolen from cruising boats anchored in Matanchen Bay just south of San Blas. One of them was from Rob and Kai Sanderson's Ingrid 38 Vellavella. "The dinghy and outboard were cabled and locked to the boat," reports Rob. "The thieves cut the lock sometime during the night while we were aboard. It was one of the few nights we hadn't shipped the engine. It's a huge bummer because dinghies are hard to come by and very expensive in Mexico. For the record, it was a '91 Achilles 8-ft RIB with oars and a '92 8-hp, 2-cycle Johnson. Despite our loss, we want all cruisers to know that we found San Blas to be a wonderful place with great people. We highly recommend a stop — just ship your outboard!"

The San Blas estuary and nearby Matanchen Bay seem to have become a hotbed of thefts from cruising boats in the last eight months. For what it's worth, Norm Goldie has told cruisers that five outboards were stolen from cruisers last year.

From Cuba, with love. "It pleases me to invite Latitude 38 readers to join us at the Hemingway International YC of Cuba in celebrating our 20th anniversary," writes our old friend Commodore Jose Esrich. "The many activities — sailing in Optimists, Lasers, Hobie Cats, as well as fun races for cruising boats, kayaks and canoes — will start in April and run through May. Among the many activities will be a sail on April 27 from Marina Hemingway to Havana's Morro Castle, a commemoration of the Tampa to Havana Race that took place in 1930." Yes, you can take your boat to Cuba, because politically the Obama Administration can't do anything about it.

"The fish management plan for Espiritu Santo, the beautiful island just outside of La Paz, is being changed to allow the full use of gill nets up to the shoreline," report the dismayed Chuck Houlihan and Linda Edeiken of the Puerto Vallarta-based Allied 39 Jacaranda. "This change will kill all the reef fish and also affect the sea lion population. Unlike most other places in Mexico where there is a law but no enforcement, La Paz Bay is patrolled and illegal-fishing laws are enforced. But the new plan could scuttle those efforts. We urge all readers to take just a few minutes to go to, make a few clicks, and express their feelings. It doesn't matter that the original deadline has passed."

In good news, Robert Gelser, 'the Mayor of Tenacatita Bay', and his wife Virginia, of the Alameda-based Freeport 41 Harmony, report all is well at Tenacatita, which has a great amount of sea life. And, Myron and Marina Eisenzimmer of the San Geronimo-based Swan 44 Mykonos report the Mayor of Chemala says the little village survived hurricane Jova with very little damage.

Here's to hoping that your cruising season is going great, and that '12 will be your best year ever.

Missing the pictures? See the February 2012 eBook!


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