March, 2005

With reports this month from Serenity on the only very mildly improved clearing situation at Ensenada; from the Wanderer on how much Banderas Bay has changed and continues to change; from Metaphor on where to get your boat hauled and launched for $3/ft in California; from Chewbacca on Panama Canal transits; from Harmony on being the Mayor of Tenacatita Bay; and Cruise Notes.

Serenity - Whitby 42
Paul & Debi Shaimas
'One-Stop' Clearing

We arrived in Ensenada the day President Fox was in town to open the Centro Integral de Servicios, which is the one stop check-in/check-out facility for mariners. Although we did our arrival paperwork through Baja Naval - Roger Greg of Baja Naval was great, and we highly recommend him and Baja Naval itself - we opted to do our own check-out. The Centro office is next door to the Port Captain's building. Inside are five numbered windows: Migracion (Immigration), Capitania de Puerto (Port Captain), Conapesca (Fishing License), Aduana (Customs) and Banjercita (Bank). Cruisers start at Window 1 (Migracion) and then work their way around to the various windows.

We've got some tips for others who follow us: 1) Take multiple copies of everything you think they might need. For departure, we needed five copies of our despacho (leaving) crew list; a copy of our stamped and signed arribo (arrival) crew list; receipt for the payments we made for the arrival paperwork; a copy of our Temporary Import Permit; copies of our passports; originals of our passports; original visas; and a paid invoice from Baja Naval to show that we had no outstanding bills. We left with most of the paperwork; they just needed to see it.

For arrivals and departures, plan one trip to take your paperwork in in the morning, and another to receive your stamped and approved crew list in the afternoon. When they say 'one stop', it doesn't mean that you're done in one trip. If you arrive late in the day, you will need to come back the following morning to pick up the paperwork. For departures on Saturday or Sunday, you must process the departure papers on Friday. Since you must depart within 48 hours, it would appear that Monday morning departures are not possible. Fees for Migracion, Conapesca or Aduana are paid at the Banjercita window. Fees for Capitania de Puerto are paid at their window - not the Banjercita window - using Mastercard or Visa. If you only have cash or an ATM card to pay the Capitania de Puerto, you have to go to a bank in town to make the payment, then return with the receipt.

We tried to use Captain Rain's Lista de Tripulantes from the Mexico Boating Guide, but were advised that it can only be used for departures, not arrivals. As near as we can figure out, the arrival form is the same as the departure form - except it does not list subsequent destinations. In either case, the Migracion window has blank copies of the form that can be filled out on the spot.

We were disappointed to realize that the 'one check in/check out' procedure applies to each port, rather than to the entire country. But from what we have heard of the 'paperwork cha-cha' - a la Captain Rains - even this is a major improvement. Cruisers should show support for the Centro Integral de Servicios so that the program can be expanded to other ports more quickly.

- paul and debi 2/05/05

Banderas Bay Is Booming
(Banderas Bay, Mexico)

While in Puerto Vallarta last month, we took a walk along the shops that line Marina Vallarta - and were taken aback by a series of dated photographs in the window of a realty office. They showed that 15 years ago there was no Marina Vallarta, no Marina Iguana housing development with docks in the back, no Opequimar Boatyard, and only a couple of moderate-size hotels.

How things have changed. The 400-berth marina has not only been built, it's already become a little scruffy. Nonetheless, there's a waiting list for slips during the winter. And it's not just small and medium-sized boats in the marina anymore. Mr. and Mrs. Mini-Megayacht have decided to base their vessels out of the marina, too. Marina Iguana sold out years ago, and all the prices have skyrocketed. Opequimar is a bee hive of boat repair activity. And the condo-hotel development between the marina and the bay - well, let's just say that the projects are large and there are lots of them.

As for Puerto Vallarta in general, it's also been booming. The Sam's Club and Wal-Mart have been around for several years, the four-lane road to the northern part of Banderas Bay is a couple of years old now, and more hotels are being planned and built. The fact that some hotels got battered by 30-ft waves from a hurricane a few years ago has not stopped developers. The Venetian, a complex of three 31-story towers, is going to be built near the Holiday Inn. As for the cruise ship terminal next to Marina Vallarta, its capacity is being tripled.

Life in Puerto Vallarta seems to be pretty good and getting better for both locals and the growing population of ex-pats. We talked to taxi drivers and waiters at normal restaurants, and they reported that workers such as themselves are able to afford their own homes a few miles in from the water. One waiter told us that 15 years ago many children would go a week or more without any milk or meat. He said that even most of the very poor kids now get some kind of decent nourishment on a regular basis.

Rather than going downhill with time, Puerto Vallarta seems to be getting cleaner - and rapidly moving upmarket. Many of the new condos and hotels are luxury class, and there are more trendy restaurants than ever. The proof that P.V. may really have arrived is that exclusive Nikki Beach has opened up a branch. These are the folks who brought beds to the beach, and previously only had clubs in St. Tropez, Miami, and St. Barth.

When it comes to attracting visitors, Puerto Vallarta has been blessed with a terrific location, as it's the closest non-desert tropical area to the U.S. and Canada. It might come as a surprise to a lot of people, but Puerto Vallarta is closer to Chicago and most of the Midwest than are places like the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and Antigua. Indeed, it's the same distance as from New York to down island in the Caribbean. For Northern Californians, it's just a three-hour flight.

When it comes to appealing to folks who like or have to 'commuter cruise', Mexico has two distinct advantages over the Caribbean and Hawaii. Number one, the people of Mexico are incredibly friendly. They don't do Caribbean surly, and they don't have to be encouraged to live aloha.

Secondly, for those who forswear marinas and gaudy tourist restaurants, Puerto Vallarta, like the rest of Mexico, is dirt cheap compared to the Caribbean and Hawaii. Blair and Joan Grinols of Capricorn Cat told us they went to market day at a little village near Paradise Marina and paid just $10 for about 30 pounds of excellent-looking fruits and veggies. As for dining out, every cruiser in the area can suggest places - such as the fruit and veggie market behind Wal-Mart - where you can stuff yourself with delicious food for less than $5.

Puerto Vallarta, which has a population of 250,000, occupies a relatively small stretch of coast on 15-mile by 15-mile Banderas Bay - which just happens to be one of the most pleasant sailing areas of the world. As we've reported numerous times, Banderas Bay has the most consistent good sailing breeze in Mexico, with between eight and 18 knots of wind almost every day. By sunset on most days, the wind dies completely, and things become muy tranquilo. Rarely does the bay - except for the southwest tip near Cabo Corrientes, the 'Point Conception of mainland Mexico' - become any rougher than San Francisco Bay. Most of the time it's quite calm. Because the eight-mile long northern shore of Banderas Bay is shallow and well-protected from ocean swells, even monohull sailors can drop the hook virtually anywhere and spend a comfortable night - or month.

The negative for Banderas Bay is that the water doesn't have the clarity of the Caribbean, Hawaii, or even the Sea of Cortez. Visibility is best on the north shore and out by the Tres Mariettas Islands, where you can often see 10 to 25 feet. On the other hand, Banderas Bay teems with bird and sea life. It would almost be unusual, for example, not to see at least one whale on a 15-mile sail between Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita in the winter. They are everywhere. There are also plenty of dolphins, rays, and other fish, as well as a variety of birds. The place is alive.

Located at the northern end of Mexico's Gold Coast, Banderas Bay is less than 125 miles from great cruising spots such as Chamela, Careyes, Tenacatita Bay, and Barra de Navidad. But there are so many attractions within Banderas Bay itself that it's sometimes hard to leave:

- You still can't get anywhere near jungle-covered Yelapa except by boat, and this center of simple and alternative living hasn't changed at all in 30 years. Make sure you anchor well, however.

At the north end of the Bay is Punta Mita, where we like to hang out on Profligate. It's a fine anchorage that often sees 10 to 20 boats on the hook - and could easily accomodate hundreds. Starting with a Four Seasons Hotel and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that mere mortals aren't allowed to visit, the entire Punta Mita area shore has rapidly gone extremely upscale. Shoreline lots now run into the millions, and compounds sell for many times that amount. When we surfed the nearby La Launcha break two winters ago, there were no homes in the area. Now there are numerous gated estates and compounds with guards on the beach. Fortunately, Mexican law requires that the 60 feet shoreward from the high tide line always be open to the public.

Speaking of surf, Punta Mita is home to at least four good breaks, from a terrific learner's break in front of the palapa restaurants, to the very long and hot sections - though between and over rocks - at Inside El Faro. Because it's easiest to access all but one of these breaks by dinghy, sailor-surfers often get entire breaks to themselves. Punta Mita is a major surfing venue for women, many of whom aren't self-conscious about their bodies. We don't know what you ladies are thinking when you surf wearing a dental floss thong, but it sure makes the paddle out seem shorter for us guys behind you.

About eight miles to the east is La Cruz, an open roadstead that's normally the calmest part of Banderas Bay. This free anchorage is a very popular hangout with budget cruisers - although somebody really needs to do something about cleaning up the beach where the dinghies land. It's littered with everything from a smashed-up San Francisco-based trimaran to all kinds of litter.

Philo's is one of the main attractions in La Cruz - and indeed all of Banderas Bay. In 2000, Philo Hayward of Mendocino County did the Ha-Ha with his Cal 36 Cherokee Spirit, and a few months later visited and fell in love with La Cruz. He bought some property and opened up a bar, restaurant, music center, recording studio, community center, internet cafe and what have you. He's in business to make money, of course, but his greater priorities are helping out the La Cruz and cruising communities. Hayward tells us that a Mexican company is about to start transforming the little breakwater and spit into a 120-berth marina. Nobody will really believe it until they see some action, but we suspect there would be tremendous demand for the berths.

A little more than halfway between La Cruz and Puerto Vallarta is Paradise Resort and Marina - the latter being presided over by Harbormaster Dick Markie. It seems like just a couple of years ago they put in their first 13 slips. Now there are over 200, and Markie could probably fill another 100. In addition, they have a big dry storage yard. Once primarily a haven for relatively affluent cruisers, it's now become popular with ever larger motoryachts. If you want a place in Paradise Village in the winter, make your reservations early - very early.

Paradise Marina is home to the Banderas Bay Regatta, held in March, and the Vallarta YC. Commodore Jim Ketler tells us that the Vallarta YC has some 300 members and is thus the largest "real yacht club" in Mexico. (The Acapulco YC is a business rather than a traditional yacht club.) The marina and yacht club facilities are top quality and are well-maintained. There are plenty of showers and clean and functioning heads. If it's got the Paradise name on it, you can count on excellent quality.

The big difference between Paradise Marina and Marina Vallarta are their locations. Marina Vallarta is right off P.V.'s main road, is close to downtown, and is surrounded by restaurants and tall condos. If you like to be close to stores and the downtown action, that's the place to be. Marina Paradise, on the other hand, is located on a quiet lagoon on the backside of a big resort. It's a much more lovely, natural, and quiet site, but it's about 20 minutes by taxi from downtown.

With great sailing, surfing, fishing, whale-watching, and jungle trips, as well as everything from isolated anchorages to hip city life, in a very inexpensive and salubrious tropical environment, Banderas Bay has got it all. Over the past 15 years, it's become home to an ever-growing population of snowbirding and retired Americans and Canadians. In the next 15 years, we expect it will probably grow just as much, primarily along the north shore. The good thing about having a cruising boat on Banderas Bay is, that no matter how many people move in, it's still going to be a cruising paradise, with great weather, great sailing conditions, great places to anchor, and miles of isolated beaches for strolling.

The Wanderer's perfect week on Banderas Bay?

Day One - Arrive from San Francisco in afternoon, go into P.V. for the evening to walk around the city, absorb the atmosphere, and enjoy a nice meal.

Day Two - Make the 12-mile sail to Punta Mita - always upwind - and surf that afternoon. That evening enjoy a delicous but inexpensive meal on the second floor of the El Dorado restaurant - which overlooks the surf break and the anchored cruising boats.

Day Three - Surf until rubber-armed. At 2 p.m., set an asymmetrical sail for the 12-mile broad reach/downwind run to Paradise Marina. There's often nice wind, particularly at the beginning of this leg, so Profligate commonly hits the mid-teens in flat water. As soon as the boat is tied off, we drag our aching bones off to the pool for a swim and a mai-tai in the hot-tub. It doesn't matter if we don't get out of the water until 8 p.m., because the air is still plenty warm. Finally we ease on over to the little mall for either a delicious $7 Mexican dinner or the $17 all-you-can-eat churrascaria extravaganza at Brazil restaurant.

Day Four - Repeat the Day One through Day Three sequence. If there's no surf, perhaps spend a day and night exploring Yelapa or taking in a night of live music and dancing at Philo's in La Cruz. In Banderas Bay, you're never more than 12 miles away from anything.

We're of the opinion that both the sailing on Banderas Bay and the Banderas Bay experience are underappreciated by much of the world. But we think that's going to change drastically in the next five years. We weren't at all surprised to learn that J/World will be opening up a year-round facility based out of Marina Paradise starting next fall. We bet they'll do gangbusters.

Given that Banderas Bay is so close to California and such a great place for folks to learn to sail, surf, and cruise, we've always wondered why nobody ever did any such four to seven-day adventure charters. Since nobody has ever seemed interested, Doña de Mallorca is in the process of getting Profligate legal to do just that on a limited basis starting in December.

- latitude 02/20/05

Metaphor - Hallberg-Rassy 31
Phil Ackerman
In Praise Of The Central Coast
(Morro Bay)

In the past Latitude has mentioned they hardly ever hear from sailors on the Central Coast of California - so I thought I'd change that. After having my new-to-me Hallberg-Rassy 31 Monsun shipped from Chicago to Port San Luis, and working every day for nine weeks on her in the boatyard, I finally launched her. (No, Marty, I'm not on drugs, I just loved working on my new boat.) My sail up to Morro Bay went well, and we even had three large gray whales greet us about three miles south of Morro Rock.

The point of my writing is that I can't say enough good things about my nine weeks at the Port San Luis Boatyard. It's a relatively small and quiet yard with only room for about 20 boats. But I bet that it's probably the least expensive and most user-friendly do-it-yourself yard in California. Owners Marty and Del, along with employees Bob and Billy, were very helpful and free with good advice. Although there was a waiting list to get into the yard, Marty was kind enough to work my boat into the schedule because she needed some essential repairs before she could go back into the water. Marty is the one who runs the Travel-Lift and who manages the small chandlery. What he doesn't have on hand, he can get with a day's notice.

I couldn't believe my good luck with the weather. I worked in a T-shirt - and some days a tank top - from November 15 until January 23! One of the nice things about Port San Luis is that when you need a break from working on your boat, you can walk out on the pier and enjoy some delicious Mexican food at Pete's Pierside Cafe. Ummm good.

The only downside with Port San Luis is that you must haul or launch on a high tide, and there can't be a south swell running. Fortunately, this didn't affect my timing, as I finished my work between the wild weather systems that had been showing up from the southwest all winter.

Anyway, thanks guys, it was a wonderful boatyard experience.

- phil 02/08/05

Chewbacca - Crowther 33 Cat
The Winship Family
Panama Canal Transit

With another winter cruising season nearing an end, many cruisers in Mexico will be headed to and through the Panama Canal. We have some insights.

Many cruisers think the Canal is more complicated than it really is. In reality, it's quite simple. If you're going from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side - which, oddly enough, means you'll be going from the southeast to the northwest - gravity-fed water from Lake Chagres lifts your boat a total of 84 feet in a series of three chambers in two locks that are less than a mile apart. Once at the higher elevation, you motor 45 miles across Panama, including the Continental Divide, to a series of three chambers in two locks on the Caribbean side. There you are lowered 84 feet back down to sea level, completing your transit. That's right, except for brief locking on each side, most of a Panama Canal transit consists of motoring across Gaillard Cut and Lake Chagres - the latter of which looks a lot like the Delta.

The devil can be in the details, of course, so like many other cruisers, we did our first transit as line-handlers on someone else's boat. Once you're familiar with the procedures, you're more confident transiting with your own boat. Our first trip was aboard Jim and Kate Bondoux's Northern California-based triple-deck Cheoy Lee 60 motorsailer Lionesse. Although Lionesse didn't need line-handlers, having hired four professionals, when Kate found out it was our 25th wedding anniversary, she invited us aboard as guests. Kate is a fireball of fun, and was well known in Mexico for whipping through anchorages and breaking down the stupid barrier that sometimes exists between 'stink-pots' and 'blow-boats'.

There's a lot of paperwork involved with a Canal transit, and there are several options for getting it taken care of. There are expensive ship's agents, such as Pete Stevens or Tina McBride, who charge a minimum of $500. There are less expensive ship's agents such as Enrique Plummer, who charges only $200. There is also a group of well-versed taxi drivers who will guide you through the process for less then $50 - their cab fees included. Or you can do it yourself.

Jim and Kate opted to use the services of ship's agent Pete Stevens, who admits he's been around "forever". Because Lionesse is so big, she was assigned a Canal Pilot to guide her through the Canal as opposed to a mere Advisor (pilot-in-training), which is all that is required on smaller boats. The transit itself went smoothly, and we learned a lot by watching. When it looked like we would be late in arriving on the Colon side of the Canal, we called the Panama Canal YC for a slip. Although the yacht club docks were full, Stevens, having anticipated our need, had somehow managed to wrangle a slip for us. So when we arrived, I fired up the BBQ on Lionesse's 'patio' while Kate chose the correct wine to go with the pork loin medallions. What a memorable day!

For our second trip through the Canal, we wanted to be actual line-handlers rather than just observers. Luckily for us, a catamaran about the size of our 33-footer was in need of a couple of line-handlers. It turned out they'd used Enrique Plummer, the lower-priced ship's agent, to do their paperwork. He provided all the Canal paperwork, immigration check-in, check-out, visas, and international zarpes for just $200. It was a total turn-key operation for a yacht coming to Panama, transiting the Canal, and exiting the country. The owner of the cat never had to leave his boat to get all the paperwork done and fees paid. When I asked Plummer if he considered himself to be the agent for small cruising yachts only, he showed me some paperwork he was doing for a 200-foot megayacht, and other paperwork for a 26-foot sailboat. He insisted that both boats would get the same attention and service from him.

We'd actually met Plummer a week earlier when we needed to get our frazzled Compaq laptop fixed. Not only a maritime agent, Plummer considers himself an expert on knowing where to get things taken care of in Panama at an American pace. So instead of shipping our laptop to the 'black hole' that is the Compaq service center back in the United States, he scooted us in the back door of the Compaq service center in Panama. A day later our laptop was not only fixed, but had an upgraded operating system! Plummer, having worked in the Atlantic City hospitality industry in the States, knows what Americans expect in terms of service - and provides it.

Indeed, in just a short amount of time, Plummer had earned a reputation among cruisers as a guy who could 'get things done' - but also as a genuine friend. After we did our second transit, we saw Plummer at the Balboa YC, where he asked if we had chosen an agent for our own Canal transit. We explained that we were on a limited budget, and since we had some free time, wanted to see if we could do it ourselves. We were prepared to get the cold shoulder because we weren't going to use his services - but needn't have. Plummer sat down with us and outlined all the steps we would need to go through - and warned of what pitfalls to watch out for!

Specifically, he told us we would first need to have the required lines (four of them, each 120 feet long) for the Admeasurer to see. Since we didn't have any that met the specification, he arranged to have the four lines delivered to our boat the morning before the Admeasurer showed up. He also advised us where to get the all-important extra fenders - tires wrapped in plastic - for free, saving us another $30 or so.

Based on Plummer's advice, the next day we called the Admeasurer's Office to schedule an Admeasurer to visit our boat. I began the conversation in my halting 'Spanglish' - and was surprised to hear the secretary reply in perfect English. We were told that our Admeasurer would arrive the next day between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. - a tighter time span than the cable companies give back home. The Admeasurer came aboard Chewbacca at 10 a.m., armed with a tape measure and a small pile of forms. After checking our requisite four lines and fenders, he then measured the length and width of Chewbacca - right down to the nearest inch! Even though every boat less than 50 feet pays the same price - $500 - and width doesn't matter, the Canal Commission wants to know if your boat can be squeezed into the same lock as a 920-foot ship.

We then got to work on the forms, which had questions about our boat's draft, motor type, cruising speed, gross tonnage, bow thrusters, and so forth. Luckily, most of the forms dealt with types of cargo, frozen meat, and contagious diseases - so the Admeasurer put a big 'X' through them and moved on. The only strange thing is that when he saw Rascal, our pet squirrel, he listed him as 'crew'! After he reviewed all the forms, I signed in about a dozen places, freeing the Canal Commission of any liability should they happen to crush our little home in one of their locks. After less than 30 minutes, the Admeasurer was on his way.

After he left, we had to take the forms to the bank to pay our transit fees. Citibank is the only bank that will accept the payment for the ACP (Panama Canal Authority), and you can pay in cash or with a Visa credit card. It was a 40-minute walk, allowing for an ice cream stop, or a $2 cab ride to the bank. After 6 p.m. on the day you pay, you can call the ACP scheduling office and request a date for transit. Once again my Spanglish was answered in English, and we were set to transit on the following Monday, five days hence.

So far everything was going well, but we had yet to tackle the Maritime Office, which checks the cruising permits; the port captain, which issues the exit zarpes; and finally Immigration, which puts exit stamps on all the passports. To avoid the Saturday overtime fees, we decided to head out on Friday morning to knock out this last bit of paperwork. I knew roughly where these offices were clumped together on the Pacific side, a few miles away near Pier 18. But the warren of poorly-marked offices intimidated me. A couple of cruisers walked their paperwork through with no problems by exploring their way through the buildings. Some less-adventurous cruisers had used 'Taxi Tony' to shepherd them through the Canal transit paper mill, so when I saw his cab parked outside the Balboa YC, I thought it was providence signalling me. For $8 an hour, Tony takes you to the offices, performs the initial introductions, and then fades away until you are done with your business. Then he reappears to guide you to the next office. I would have been hard-pressed to find these offices on my own - even if I'd been set on the doorstep of the buildings.

First, we had to stop at Banco National (yes, another bank) near Pier 18 to buy our $4 stamps for the Maritime Office. Luckily, we had used a cab, because the bank recently moved to a newer location, and that would have added another mile to my tired feet. 'Taxi Tony' took my $4 and headed straight for the Jubilado, which is the line for the retired people, saving me a half hour wait in a line that went out the door. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting pretty in the air-conditioned Maritime Office.

The two ladies asked when we were transiting the canal. "Monday," we said, grinning like kids at our first day at school. They shook their heads in disappointment. "You have to come back on Saturday, because you can't check out until 48 hours before your transit time," they said. Under the smiles I knew they forgot to add, "And by the way, it will be $20 extra for our overtime tomorrow." With the cab clock running, we did the last bit of our provisioning, and still made it back to the boat in an hour.

We returned with 'Taxi Tony' the next morning, and were greeted by the same ladies who took our $4 in bank stamps, $4.20 in cash (correct change only, please), and our $20 bonus for doing business on Saturday. From there we took our newly stamped forms next door to the port captain's office. The sign on the door read, "Be back in two hours".

While we were stewing on what to do, we met yet another ship's agent, Tina McBride, who was handling the paperwork for several "small yachts", as she put it, the smallest being a 50-foot Amel. When I asked her what she charged, she said a minimum of $500. I gave out a low whistle. Turning to 'Taxi Tony', she replied, "Well, you get what you pay for."

Well, so far we were into the process for one hour and 15 minutes, and at $8 an hour, I felt we were doing pretty good with 'Taxi Tony' - even with the $20 in overtime charges. We asked Tony to take us to the mall where we could get something to eat to kill a couple of hours. He let us out at the shopping plaza and stopped the clock, saying he would pick us up in 90 minutes. The kids spread through the food court, and after a Pizza Hut thick-crust combo pizza and a Dairy Queen M&M Blizzard - we were, after all, in Panama City - we were back at the port captain's office for our international zarpe, and then over to the next building for our passports to be exit-stamped. In a half hour we were done! We had 15 minutes of time left with Tony, so on the way back to the boat he took us on a quick tour around the old Canal Zone buildings and officers' quarters. Tony jokingly told us that he used to be a boxer, so for $8 an hour we not only got an 'agent' and tour guide, but a bodyguard, too!

I asked Tony if there were other taxi drivers who could take cruisers through the canal paperwork, and he instantly rattled off a half dozen names. "But," he added, "I think Taxi Tony is the best." When asked if he had ever considered becoming a maritime agent, he said that becoming a registered maritime agent carries tremendous responsibilities and financial outlay that he was not prepared for. He enjoys taking cruisers through the steps of the paperwork jungle and letting them get intimately involved in the process.

When we transited on Monday, you couldn't see our normal waterline, for not only were we sporting 10 heavy tires hanging from our stanchions, but also 90 pounds of rented rope, provisions and fuel for the coming months in the San Blas Islands - as well as 10 people! April's parents Bill and Betty Rogers from Redding had joined us for the Canal adventure, and our niece Carrie from New York had come down for the transit and some time in the San Blas Islands. In addition, we had Tom and Carmen from Crow's Nest to help handle the lines. With the addition of Francisco, our wonderful Canal Advisor, and the four in our immediate family, it came to a total of 10 people.

The pilot boat delivered Francisco at 9 a.m., and we were through the first set of locks by noon. We motored through the impressive Gaillard Cut, and by dinnertime we were moored safely in Lake Gatun. After a toast of champagne, Francisco left us, promising to return the next day to complete our transit.

The next day we all went swimming in the freshwater lake and cleaned the bottom of the boat. Francisco arrived early and pointed to a freighter up-anchoring and preparing to enter the locks. "We go with him. Hurry everyone out of the water!" In five minutes we were all aboard and free from the mooring, heading for the last chambers leading to the Caribbean. The down-locking went smoothly, and by 3 p.m. we were snugly side-tied at the Panama Canal Yacht Club, in search of a cold drink and a shower. We'd done it!

Why use a ship's agent for the paperwork? The goal of all maritime agents is to take all the stress out of the paperwork mill, and to complete the process in a quick, professional manner. If you're short of time or just hate dealing with bureaucracy - in a foreign language, no less - you may want an agent. One cruiser was charged the regular $600 for transit fees, and the $850 deposit fees, but when he admitted to the Admeasurer that he couldn't maintain the newly-required eight knots, he was charged an additional $450 for a two-day transit. Plus $50 for a mooring in Lake Gatun. Plus $200 in extra pilot boat fees! None of the other boats were charged that, even when they did a two-day transit. A simple phone call had Enrique Plummer down at the ACP (Panama Canal Authority) offices explaining the situation. Those charges were magically reversed.

The agent also acts as your representative in case you have an accident or delay in the Canal that needs attention. A breakdown in the Canal can lead to a $400/hour tow from a tug, not to speak of the money it would cost if you held up a Canal lock for even one minute. When our engine on Chewbacca conked out just as we were getting ready to pull out of a lock, we had to hand the ropes back to the tug that we were side tied to while I bent down and turned the ignition key. For 10 seconds of handing the ropes back, the tug wanted to charge us $300! Although we had no agent to represent us, luckily for us we had fed our Advisor pretty well, and he disputed the charges in a heated flurry of Spanish. We motored into the next lock without incident. The pilot or advisor determines if your transit is free of delays or damage to the Canal and authorizes release of your deposit at the completion of your transit.

An agent is essentially responsible for your boat during the transit, and a good agent keeps track of your progress through the Canal. When I asked Enrique Plummer how I could notify him when we were through the Canal so I could arrange to get his lines back to him, he said that he would know where I was at any time in transit, and he would probably know before I knew at what time I would be scheduled to be exiting the last locks heading for Colon. Canal rules, regulations, and fees always seem to be changing, and the agents keep up on those changing phone numbers, moving offices, and banks. They know the office personnel and how to avoid those overtime charges - even on the weekends. If you need professional line-handlers ($65 per day), agents have their favorites. And they rent lines - $80 for the set - and tires to use for fenders.

Do you really get what you pay for with an agent? Two cruising boats we met up with at the Flamenco Marina complained bitterly about using a "high-priced agent" and not receiving all their paperwork - including their exit zarpes. Their agent basically got them through the Canal and then dropped the ball. Although they both felt they would never transit the Canal without using an agent, they both wished they would have used the "not-so-expensive guy" and gotten much more service.

We were content to run the paperwork on our own - assisted by Taxi Tony' and tutored by Enrique Plummer - because we had the time, a shoestring budget, and the masochistic desire to experience all the steps. Because the only constant in Central America is change, we would suggest that anyone contemplating using an agent, or doing the paperwork on their own, talk with some cruisers preparing to go through the Canal and find out how they fared. Chewbacca is currently heading for the historic harbor of Portobello, and from there will head to the San Blas Islands for the summer months.

- the winship family

Readers - Latitude boats have been through the Canal four times. The first was Big O about 10 years ago, and we did the paperwork ourselves with our Spanish-speaking Basque captain. It took a little time but it was easy. When we went back the other way two years later, we used Tina McBride. She was expensive, but did a great job. Profligate went through the Canal for the first time in December of last year. We used Pete Stevens, who was equally expensive but did an equally fine job.

Profligate came through the Canal a second time in May of last year, we used a taxi driver named Ellington to help us with the paperwork. We had some special issues, and Ellington went the extra mile for us, twice taking us into the nerve center of the Canal operations to speak on our behalf. As far as we're concerned, he and his fellow taxi driver 'Dracula' did a bang up job for our group of 11. Not only that, we really liked the guy and he made the process fun. We'd use him again in a second - especically because we can think of lots of ways to spend the $450 we'd save over the more expensive agents.

We didn't meet Enrique Plummer until we had transited, but we were impressed. His business plan is to do as good or better a job as the others, but at only 40% of the price. You have to like that attitude. Plummer claims he get can get cruisers help with engines, sails, electronics - pretty much everything - at the kind of speed Americans expect. From what we've heard, he's been living up to his promises.

Harmony - Islander Freeport 40
Robert Gleser
The Mayor of Tenacatita

Since January there have been between 30 and 50 boats here in five-mile by five-mile Tenacatita Bay, which is about 130 miles south of Puerto Vallarta and 21 miles north of Barra de Navidad on Mexico's Gold Coast. This is one of the first warm anchorages after passages from the north, and has become a place where people stop to collect themselves and make future cruising plans. Because the primary anchorage behind Punta Chubasco is around a sharp corner from the Pacific swells, the water on the bay tends to be smooth. Not having to worry about their boats, people get comfortable playing volleyball, being part of the swim team, socializing, and commuting to the village of La Manzanilla across the bay or down to Barra de Navidad. The water is warm enough for swimming, and the air temperature is usually in the 80s.

Something like 10 to 15 years ago - we can't seem to come up with an exact date - the folks on Black Swan began the saga of the 'Mayor of Tenacatita Bay'. When they left, Don of the Truckee-based Islander 36 Windward Luv - with his wife Lena as the Mujere Primera - assumed the mayoral duties for about seven years. When Don decided to stay in Mazatlan three years ago, the search was begun for a new mayor. Even though I tried to interest other people on several occasions, it soon became apparent that I had been chosen. This has been my third year as mayor, and a politician could only dream of a constituency such as mine - people living their dreams and enjoying life to the fullest in one of the most enjoyable anchorages in Mexico.

To the east of the anchorage is a rocky bluff. To the north is a long, white, unspoiled sandy beach - except for a palapa at the McHale's Navy site at the entrance to the 'jungle ride' through the mangroves, and the Blue Bay Hotel at the far corner.

Friday is the Mayor's Night Out, and it seems that more boats congregate in the anchorage on that day. We have a big dinghy raft-up in the calmest water. Despite all the dinghies, one 10-lb anchor seems to hold everyone. Everyone brings hor d'oeuvres, and books and videos are traded. As the mayor, I have each member introduce themselves, tell about their old life, their future plans, and any funny stories they might have. It's often quite hilarious.

Last week we asked the women of the fleet what changes they'd gone through or have had to continue to go through for the cruising lifestyle. These extraordinary women spoke from their hearts, which made it both very interesting and entertaining. Since the next weekend is going to be Virginia's and my 34th wedding anniversary, we're going to ask each couple how they met and fell in love. If it's anything like last year, it promises to be a real love fest.

As for my port barrel projects, they included the appointment of David on Tumbleweed as Commissioner of Vegetables. He arranged a weekly delivery of produce and supplies to Tenacatita Beach by Maria from Barra de Navidad. Deliveries were also arranged with the French baker. Croissants anyone? Oh, the mayor's work is never done.

Next year the dharma will have to be passed along, however, because Virginia and I are planning on cruising Central America after spending the spring in the Sea of Cortez.

- mayor gelser 02/05/05

Cruise Notes:

We want to thank Paul and Debi Shaiman of the Whitby 42 Serenity - who wrote the first Changes this month - for their report on the new 'one-stop' clearing window at Ensenada. But we have to disagree with their conclusion that all cruisers should support the new system. The problem is that it's not a major improvement, but rather a minor change to the same old clearing rubbish. Last fall President Fox promised - in writing - that by this year cruisers would only have to check into Mexico and out of Mexico. There wouldn't be any more 'domestic' clearing. That promise has not been kept, and we're not very happy about it because the domestic clearing is a big bunch of baloney. Cruising boats in Mexico are not like commercial ships, they're like RVs. And folks with RVs don't have to jump through hoops while forking over piles of money each time they arrive at a new town. The rules for foreign boats in Mexico ought to be like the rules for foreign boats in the United States - you pay a small annual fee and that's basically the end of it.

The result of the continuing nonsense - and the fact that port captains in places such as Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan are making cruisers use a ship's agent, at least one of whom has been charging outrageous fees for his anybody-could-do-it services - is that more cruisers than ever will do all they can to avoid the waste of time and money. The legal way to avoid it is check into Mexico once, clear to the most distant port, then hang out where there aren't any port captains. Another option - one that we don't recommend but one that is growing in popularity - is to check into Mexico to get some papers, then just not check in anymore after that. Cruisers who do this could be in big trouble if they get caught, but in most places the chances of getting caught are slim.

Tere Grossman of San Carlos Marina, who is also the President of the Mexican Marina Owners' Association, also noted the establishment of the 'one window' in Ensenada. As for the possibility of the eliminating domestic clearing, she says that legislation is stuck in Congress. "There's other bad news," she writes. "On January 1, the government started charging $50 for the Temporary Import Permits that used to be free."

Grossman had been under the impression that no port captain on the Pacific Coast of Mexico was requiring cruisers to use ship's agents. We informed her that she was mistaken, because the port captains in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta have been doing just that. (Curiously, a ship's agent is not required at Nuevo Vallarta or La Cruz, both of which are less than 10 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Nor do people have to use an agent in San Blas, where one had been required for years. "We kicked that guy out," the port captain reportedly told one group of cruisers.)

Grossman happened to be in Mexico City when she got our message about the required use of agents in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, and promised to take the matter up with the Director of Port Captains the following day. We'll have a report in 'Lectronic Latitude when we hear back from her.

Earlier we mentioned that some ship's agents were charging outrageous sums for the simple task of clearing a boat in and out. Larry and Tammy Seminutin of the Vernon, Canada-based Corbin 39 Semicrazed have a good example. They stopped at Marina Mazatlan for two nights, where they were told that the port captain required they use a ship's agent. The couple say that the agent's fees alone came to $35 U.S. for checking in, and $40 for checking out the next day! The couple thought the marina's slip fees were reasonable, but were so steamed about having to use the expensive agent that they've changed their plan to leave their boat at Marina Mazatlan for the summer.

"After cruising down with the Ha-Ha, we've been having a great time," write Rob and Linda Jones of the Whidby Island, Washington-based Gemini 3000 cat Cat'n About. "But we're still wondering about a possible change in clearing procedures. We've been in Tenacatita Bay - which doesn't have a port captain - for two weeks. But this morning it was announced over the net that the port captain in Barra de Navidad - 21 miles away - now wants boats in Tenacatita Bay to check in at Barra! More money spent on officialdom means less money being spent on fish tacos and cervezas. However, the alternative is being cold in Washington, so we'll just deal with it."

A second alternative is to pretend that you don't listen to the net. Requiring captains to make a 40-mile round trip to check-in is, we think, tourist abuse.

We grouse about the clearing procedures in Mexico because they are an expensive waste of time that restricts the ability of tourists to move freely. Nonetheless, Mexico remains a terrific place to cruise, the people are wonderful, and the dollar still goes a long way - except with some ship's agents.

Last month we reported that a man from Colorado was killed in some kind of small boat accident one night in Cabo San Lucas Bay. We haven't learned any more about that incident, but we did hear about another tourist getting killed on the water. Ha-Ha vets Len and Norma Brownlow of the Channel Islands-based Olson 40 Hangover report that a land-based tourist was run over and killed by a small outboard-powered Mexican boat in Zihuatanejo in January. "The guy was swimming out to an anchored boat and they ran right over him," says Len. "Although their outboard kicked up and the victim came up screaming, they kept right on going! Finally there were so many people yelling at them that they turned back. It took a long time to get the victim to shore and in an ambulance, and he died before reaching the hospital.

As if that weren't enough, Jack Carson and Monica Guildersleeve of the British Columbia-based custom 44 Bella Via - much more on them next month - told us that two couples taking their dinghy to shore at La Cruz on Banderas Bay were overtaken by a panga that drove right into the back of their dinghy! The two men in the back of the dinghy jumped overboard to avoid being hit. The two women in front weren't hurt only because the panga came to a stop just short of them. The incident happened at night - despite the fact that the folks in the dinghy were waving a light. The gist of this story was confirmed by Philo in La Cruz. Nobody was able to remember any individual or boat names.

Needless to say, it's important to dinghy and swim defensively at all times in Mexico, where safety standards are rarely observed. At night, show a very bright flashlight. But even that might not be enough. Too many Mexicans drive cars and operate dinghies while smashed.

Speaking of Philo, for the last four summers he's been cruising his Cal 36 Cherokee Spirit across the Pacific. He characterized it as the "last great adventure for the average person" - but noted that the sailing conditions were a little rougher than he, his crew, and his autopilot had expected. Once he got to New Caledonia and learned how much trouble it was going to be to bring a boat into Australia - proof of insurance, proof of medical insurance, having the boat fumigated - he put the boat on the block in Noumea. Much to his surprise, she and several other boats sold almost immediately. His for more than the asking price to a French couple who were going to have to pay 38% import duty. With the euro so strong, we suppose that the French - at least the ones who have jobs - can now do stuff like that. For the immediate future, Hayward is going to concentrate on his business and wonderful community projects in La Cruz. Someday down the road, he might get a little bigger boat.

We hope you read the article earlier in this issue about the terrific Zihua SailFest charity created and run by cruisers. While Zihua SailFest may suddenly have grown to be the biggest cruiser charity in Mexico, it's certainly not the only one. Here's a partial list of some others, some of which are regular events, some of which are held from time to time:

November, Turtle Bay - Last year's Ha-Ha fleet raised $1,500 for the clinic in Turtle Bay after the doctor there helped save the life of participant Phil Hendrix.

December, La Paz - Subasta, put on by the Club Cruceros, is one of the oldest and largest cruiser charities in Mexico. There is also the Fundacion Para Los Niños de La Paz.

December, Paradise Marina, Nuevo Vallarta - The Vallarta YC sponsors a Chili Cook-Off each year, and last year raised $3,500. The Vallarta YC also co-sponsors a Santa's Toy Box, which last year made sure that some 800 children got at least one toy.

March, Punta Mita, Banderas Bay - The Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Cup, a fun sail from Punta Mita to Paradise Marina, is being revived this year. The money goes to various educational causes around Banderas Bay. (Ha-Ha Honcho Lauren Spindler has decided to donate $500 in the name of Ha-Ha participants to this charity each year. She had already done the same thing with the Zihua SailFest.)

May, Puerto Escondido - Hidden Harbor YC has hosted the Loreto Fest for many years and used the considerable proceeds to fund numerous charitable causes in the nearby communities. We're certain there are other cruiser charity events in Mexico that we're either not aware of or have forgotten. We should also mention that Philo's in La Cruz has several terrific ongoing programs to benefit various segments of the resident and cruiser communities in La Cruz.

"I was recently in Beirut, Lebanon," writes Kelvin Meeks of the Seattle-based Islander 32 Renaissance, "Across the street from the InterContinental Phoenicia Hotel was a small but well-protected harbor that is home to the St. Georges YC. The weather was rainy and pleasant - no problem for a Seattle resident such as myself - and although my business schedule didn't allow me the luxury of getting out on the water for a sail, seeing the beauty of the Med planted a seed of desire for me to sail on it someday. From such small beginnings are adventures born, right?"

Right - but we'd think twice about a sailing adventure that took us to Beirut. The once-beautiful waterfront city went to hell - and still looks like hell - thanks to the 15-year civil war that claimed 150,000 lives before it ended in 1991. Since then, however, it's been just one political assassination after the next - many of them believed to be the doing of Syria. However, after last week's assasination of billionaire and former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in a fury. Now that there has been some resemblence of democratic elections in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq, many Lebanese are demanding the same thing. We're not going to hold our breath. Nor are we planning any cruises to Lebanon in the near future.

It's hard to decide who has done a worse job: the State of Hawaii with the Ala Wai Not Harbor in Honolulu, or the various entities that have been trying to put something together at Puerto Escondido in the Sea of Cortez. We've been visiting the Ala Wai since 1978, and from the looks of things, nobody has done a lick of maintenance since. It's pathetic. A few months ago, it was announced that they wouldn't even be able to host this year's TransPac fleet on TransPac Row. The latest news is that even more slips will have to be taken out of commission. If the State of Hawaii was an individual or corporation, they'd probably be sued for being slumlords.

Things haven't been that different down in Puerto Escondido, which was a popular cruiser haven even back in 1977 when we first visited. Back then we attended a meeting hosted by Fonatur, the Mexican tourism development agency, in which all kinds of grand plans were unveiled for the natural harbor. A French company invested many millions, a little bit of work was done, and then all the money disappeared. A few years later somebody put in a number of substandard docks, a few of which lasted a season or two. All through these problems cruisers continued to anchor happily in Puerto Escondido, many of them for years at a time. That all changed in October, when Singlar - which is no relation to the U.S. phone company - acquired the anchoring and mooring rights to the classic hurricane hole. They brought in fuel tanks, installed a large mooring field - and announced they would charge startlingly high fees.

Long time sailor Tim Schaaf of the Hunter 33 Casual Water and the Moorings 4500 cat Jet Stream inspected the moorings before they were installed. In an exclusive report to Latitude, he noted that some parts of the mooring system seemed fine, but others seemed inadequate. And as we all know, a mooring system is only as strong as its weakest link.

Several folks who passed through Puerto Escondido on their way south from San Carlos tell us that the once-crowded Inner Harbor at Puerto Escondido was only home to three or four boats. There were about 30 boats - far more than usual - in the Waiting Room a short distance away. These folks were only having to pay the local port authority about $1/day - which is reasonable. As for the Singlar's moorings, Schaaf's doubts about their adequacy proved well-founded. We're told that at least three of the moorings have failed and that the cruising community no longer trusts them. Anyone using a mooring ball must sign a release absolving Singlar of any liability.

The lack of boats in Puerto Escondido has hurt businesses in Puerto Escodido and the nearby town of Loreto. Some - such as Driftwood Internet - have gone out of business altogether. Cruisers are very unhappy with Singlar, and so are the local businesses. A once-thriving cruising community has all but been destroyed. The big event of the year in Puerto Escondido has always been Loreto Fest, which has traditionally raised lots of money for local charities. With most of the boats having left for greener pastures, and many others having written Puerto Escondido off their intineraries, nobody is sure what to expect for this year's Fest on April 28 through May 1. Folks from the sponsoring Hidden Port YC have worked out a special Loreto Fest deal with Singlar. No matter what size the boat, the cost for anchoring or taking a mooring for seven days will be $55 - which is still $49 more than anchoring in the Waiting Room, and $55 more than anchoring most everywhere else in Mexico.

More recently, we've been told that Singlar has reduced their regular monthly rate down to $168 a month for a 40-ft boat. To understand what's been wrong with the Ala Wai, and what's now wrong with Puerto Escondido, you only have to realize that Singlar wants to charge more for a 40-ft boat to anchor in the middle of nowhere than the Ala Wai charges for a 40-ft slip in a marina with a waiting list a mile long.

In Puerto Escondido, everybody refers to each other by their first name and their boat name. We've cruised enough to understand that nobody ever knows anybody's last name, but as publishers it drives us nuts. Nonetheless, this report from Connie Sunlover was too compelling to ignore.

"Elvin Sunlover agreed to help Doug Backstreet take his new boat 50 miles up the Sea to her new home at Concepcion Bay. Doug had been told the boat was full of diesel, but it wasn't. They brought an extra five gallons of fuel along, but that was only good enough to get them close to Concepcion Bay. So they set the main and jib. There was only two knots of wind, and the sea was relatively calm, but two halyards broke, so they had to pull the pins and cut the other two halyards. [We're not sure what she means by this - editor.] After cutting the sail, they were able to save the boom, but the mast fell into the sea. Beam to the small seas, with everything hanging over the side, the motion began to rip the bowsprit and the railing. By now it was a matter of saving the boat and keeping the two crew from getting hurt. Without any fuel and without being able to set any sail, Elvin and Doug just bobbed around. They had a radio, but the antenna was on the top of the mast, which was in the sea. This went on for two days before they set off flares that were seen by a navy helicopter. A navy ship came to their aid. After making sure the boat was seaworthy, they gave them enough diesel to make it to Concepcion Bay. In any event, for three days I had no idea where they were. Needless to say, I didn't leave the palapa or the radio during that time."

"It's hard to believe, but this will be our 16th year of offshore sail training," write John Neal and Amanda-Swan Neal of the Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. "We think last season was our best ever, as in 14,000 miles we only put 100 hours on the engine - the least of any season to date. Mahina Tiare is now on the hard in New Zealand, and we fly back in mid-April to replace the rigging - which now has 85,000 ocean miles. Then we'll get the boat ready for another bout of the Roaring Forties, followed by a blast up to Rurutu in the Australs. Later on in the season we'll sail up to Alaska and then back down to Victoria. It will only be the second time we've had our baby home in eight years!"

Another milestone for John is that this will be his 23rd year of weekend Offshore Cruising Seminars. Over the years, he's given 119 of them, having taught - with various experts, such as Amanda - 7,800 students. Realizing that they perhaps still don't know everything despite their combined 412,000 ocean miles, their seminars will also feature Nigel Calder, noted author of Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual and other books, and Lee Chesneau, Senior Marine Meteorologist of the Marina Prediction Center in Washington, D.C. For information on the seminar in Seattle on March 12 & 13, and in San Francisco on March 19 & 20, visit or call 800-875-0852.

"On February 7, several Baja Ha-Ha vets - from different years - and other cruisers docked and anchored at Barra de Navidad to share food and stories," reports Marlene Verdery, who is co-captain of the Sausalito-based Pearson 362 Jellybean with her husband Roy. "The highlight of the event was a concert performed by some members of the Picard family on the Monterey-based Kelley Peterson 46 Kanaloa, who have been cruising Mexico's Gold Coast following last fall's Ha-Ha. Doug and Kumi Picard performed several songs, including some composed by Kumi. Daughter Michele, 8, entertained the crowd with Japanese dancing routines to mom and dad's music. Toward the end of the concert, Marc, 6, pleased the crowd by replacing his mother at the piano. His beautiful playing overwhelmed the crowd - and even brought some to tears.

Calling Dave, Amy, Jessica, and Cody Sherman of Northern California, who circumnavigated aboard Rubaiyat in the '90s. Matt Knight and Suzanne Hobbs of Noel, who you cruised the South Pacific and Indian Oceans with, would like to get in touch. You knew them when they had youngsters Harriet and Jemima, although they now have two more children. The family now lives on South Week Farm, Chumleigh, Devon, United Kingdom, but Matt and Suzanne have developed "an urge to return to the tradewinds and tropical reefs before the little ones fly the nest". So they are looking for a new cruising boat and think that old cruising buddies such as yourselves might be able to help them find the right boat. They can be reached by .

Looking at this month's Classy Classifieds, we notice that Richard Booker and Grace Spencer of Winnepeg, Canada, who built the Mystery Cove 38 catamaran Crocodile Rock, and who did the 2000 Ha-Ha, have put their boat up for sale. They sailed that little cat a long way, including down to Panama, up to the East Coast, and then made a 17-day passage to the Eastern Caribbean. They were nice enough to put us up for a night in English Harbor, Antigua, while waiting for Profligate to arrive, and have subsequently sailed back to Panama. In other words, that little cat has a lot of successful ocean miles. Why are they selling? "We're planning to stay in Panama and build up our sails and rigging business. If things work out, we'll build another boat designed specifically for the tropics."

We know this is late, but it's important. According to Jerry and Joni Reid of the Newport, Oregon-based Lotus, last Christmas Day in Mag Bay, 13 cruising boats from three countries celebrated Christmas with a potluck dinner. After dinner and between songs played by cruising musicians, a special award was formally presented to Bob and Dianna Denny of the Port Townsend-based cutter White Swan "for their actions on Christmas Eve when near-gale force winds caused two boats to drag anchor."

"Here's the latest take on San Diego from me, which has changed quite a bit from my last visit in 2000," write Terry Bingham and Tammy Woodmansee of the Eagle Harbor, Washington-based Union 36 Secret O' Life. "There are new Police Docks, of course, with showers! But they've really cut back on the available anchorage for cruisers. When I arrived I stopped at the Police Dock to pump-out and to get a permit for the A-9 anchorage, something I never had a problem with in the past because that anchorage is reserved for boats from outside of the county. But the unfriendly young lady ensconced behind the bulletproof glass in the Harbor Office simply told me there were no permits available. She said they had reduced the size of the anchorage to less than 20 boats. She had no idea when a permit would be available, but said to check back "because you never know".

"With the San Diego weather turning sour once again," Terry and Tammy continue, "I asked again about a slip at the docks. After ascertaining that our boat was in fact present on the pump-out dock, she assigned us a vacant slip where we spent the next eight days at $10/day for the first five days and $20 after that. There is a 10-day limit in any 40-day period. We were happy for the slip, as the wind blew 30-35 knots from the south, and the area received another five inches of rain. When the weather turned 'normal' again, we asked for and received a permit to anchor in La Playa for the weekend and - actually got an extra day due to the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday.

"As for the other anchorages in the San Diego area, Glorietta Bay, Mission Bay and La Playa are still designated as 72-hour anchorages," the couple continue, "but current Harbor Police policy will only allow three of these 72-hour permits to be issued in any 30-day period. This makes obsolete the previous option of hopping from anchorage to anchorage, with a few odd days thrown in at the docks or A-9. Now it seems like the only full-time anchorage is A-8, which is way down near Chula Vista - where I would not feel safe leaving my boat unattended. The marinas are packed, of course, so even expensive transient slips are hard to find."

Even with some 500 boats in storage at Marina Seca, the lack of slips in California is getting to be a worse problem all the time. 'Use it or lose it' is, we think, the best solution.

Lucky enough to be out cruising? Then don't forget to write, making sure to include a few high res photos.

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