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March 2010

Missing the pictures? See the March 2010 eBook!

 With reports this month from Location on a mind-bending singlehanded passage without an autopilot; from Last Resort, comparing Mexico and Alaska cruising; from David Addleman on buying X in Malaysia; from Invictus on non-stop cruising on less than $1,000/month; from all over the world on the weird weather this winter; from Precious Metal on the Zihua SailFest; and a generous portion of Cruise Notes.

Location — Catalina 470
J. Mills
San Blas, Mexico
(Newport Beach)

A few months ago I made a 30-hour singlehanded passage from Mazatlan to San Blas without — except for a handheld GPS — electronic navigation instruments or an autopilot. I hadn't wanted to make the passage that way, but while I was back in the States last fall, my boat was damaged by lightning in Mazatlan Marina. The strike took out all of my boat's electronic navigation equipment.

Having been haggling with my insurance company since my return to the boat in October, I installed a new knotmeter and a depthsounder — so I could at least 'see' the bottom — and headed south while the details of the settlement got worked out. My original plan was to sail down the coast in daysails of 20 to 30 miles. But after a couple of quiet days in the anchorage at Isla Piedras in Mazatlan, I talked myself into what I thought was going to be an 85-mile overnight passage to Isla Isabella. I had no idea that hallucinations would be involved.

The weather for the passage was great, with steady wind and calm seas. As wonderful as the weather was, it also proved to be a very long night. When I reached Isla Isabella 17 hours after my departure from Mazatlan, I was exhausted from the constant steering, and happy to be done with the trip. Unfortunately, the anchorages at Isabella were all full. I had no choice but to push on another 45 miles to San Blas.
Ten hours later, after being awake for nearly 36 hours, I was motoring around breakers to get into Matanchen Bay. I was also hallucinating, so I 'saw' channel lights, rocks and small islands that were not on the charts. I would have done anything to have had radar. I finally just dropped the hook in 20 feet of calm water and went to sleep.

When I awoke the next morning, none of the obstacles I'd 'seen' the night before were there. I found myself anchored at the top of the bay 50 or so feet from several sets of long fishing lines. Singlehanded sailing is tough enough. Doing it without instruments — and especially without an autopilot or windvane — was no fun at all. I don’t think I’ll repeat that anytime soon.

Matanchen Bay is a big bay — about six miles long and two miles wide — located two miles to the southeast of San Blas. It's a wonderful anchorage, with gray sandy beaches and welcoming palapas lining the shore. The village on the north shore has a number of small tiendas and restaurants, but with a very limited selection of goods. The village is somewhat famous for its banana bread, and you will find a fresh baked supply of bread, muffins and other goods displayed in glass cases in front of most of the shops. The palapas on the north end serve a variety of fresh fish and shrimp, and the beer is cheap and cold.

The only drawback to the area are the jejennes (no-see-ems), for which the bay has an international reputation. The palapa owners all burn coconut husks throughout the day to keep the no-see-ums away, and most of the time they are not a problem. But nothing keeps them away at dusk. And if the breeze dies, which it does most evenings, you need to be as far away from the shore as you can be. You also need to be behind closed hatches or screens, and covered in repellent. If you're not, you'll be eaten alive. The little nasties disappear again an hour or so after sunset, so you only have to be concerned about them for a short time.

There is still a shallow bar at the entrance to the San Blas Harbor, but it's not as treacherous as some would have you believe. I brought Location through the center of the entrance channel two hours after the high tide with about 18 inches to spare under her eight-foot keel. Once past the bar, the channel is well-marked with red and green channel markers all the way up to the Singlar Marina. I took a slip there for a couple of days to provision and prep for my next leg down to Punta Mita.

— j. 12/29/09

Last Resort — Catalina 470
Richard and Sharon Drechsler
Alaska Compared To Mexico
(Long Beach)

The difference between cruising in Alaska and cruising in Mexico is something we discuss all the time on our boat. The Alaskan experience is a stark contrast to Mexico. Both are highly seasonal, but that’s where the similarities end.

Winter sailing in Mexico could be described as Sailing 101. With few exceptions, the weather is benign, the sailing is consistently good — meaning moderate winds and calm seas — and anchoring is a cinch, usually in water no deeper than 30 feet. While the charts are horribly inaccurate, aerial photography, numerous cruising guides and online resources, GPS waypoints and radar make entry to the bays and marinas a straightforward matter — especially if attempted during daylight.

Alaska, on the other hand, requires a Ph.D in seamanship. Mariners must battle tidal fluctuations of up to 25 feet, and usually have to anchor on bottoms in deep — 60 feet is the norm — water. More than once we had to anchor in more than 120 feet of water.

As if mariners in Alaska don’t have enough to worry about with uncharted rocks, raging currents, williwaws, deadhead logs, violent storms, crab pots, big seas, and mechanical failures ­— which can quickly become life-threatening in the frigid waters — there are also cruise ships in narrow channels and icebergs and bergy bits north of 50°N. One member of the Coast Guard Auxilliary in Ketchikan told us that there are approximately 104,000 uncharted rocks in Southeast Alaska alone. If they can count them, why can't they chart them? Then there are water problems. Glacial silt plays havoc with watermakers, and potable water isn’t readily available, especially in the upper reaches of British Columbia.

The natural wonders of both Alaska and Mexico are spectacular, but hands down I'd have to give Alaska my vote for some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. As we caught our first glimpse of Alaska in '08, I was immediately reminded of a comment a friend had made shortly before we left. “Everything in Alaska is big.” What I saw as we crossed Dixon Entrance was majestic. There was a marked difference, as towering mountains, burdened by perennial fields of snow, came into view, and the steely blue water faded to an opaque gray that was deep and forbidding. Venturing off the beaten path, we quickly learned that Alaska has fiords rivaling those of Scandinavia.

Navigation is also complicated in Alaska, and there are no margins for error. Running the Zimovia Narrows enroute to Wrangell was a new challenge for us, and we actually had to backtrack to round some of the buoys. Given the speed of the current in the narrows, a navigation error can have dire consequences.

And all the modern navigation equipment available doesn’t necessarily assure safety. Departing Craig, where we’d been held up for four days to sit out a particularly violent summer gale, we headed to Clam Cove. It was on this leg, having to pass through Tlevak Narrows, that we had our first real problem with currents. Having checked the current at the narrows on our chartplotter, I was sure our arrival at the northern entrance was well-timed to coincide with slack tide. Preoccupied with some last minute personal business before losing connectivity with the internet, I didn't doublecheck the slack tide prediction against the backup navigation system I maintain on the ship’s computer.

As we approached Tlevak Narrows, it was immediately obvious that something was terribly wrong. The red entrance buoy was hardly visible, as it strained at its moorings, barely holding station against the onrushing current of rapidly rising water. The water ahead was a boiling cauldron of dangerous eddies. Motioning Sharon to take the wheel, I bolted below and pulled up the tidal data on the computer. Much to my shock, we were heading into the full force of the spring ebb — with the outgoing current running near its maximum velocity!

To make a long story short, for the next two hours we battled to inch through the two-mile-long narrows. I often had to avoid eddies, some of which looked big enough to swallow our 47-ft boat. As I drove an erratic course of a drunkard, I watched in anguish as our speed over the bottom dropped to as low as two knots. As the speed dropped, the chances dramatically increased that I'd lose steering and our boat would be dashed against an uncharted rock or rocks at high speed. My hands cramped on the wheel and my shoulder muscles burned for an hour. Sharon didn't say a word as I battled for our survival, but the terrified look on her face said it all.

Sailing in Mexican waters during the winter presents no such problems. The occasional Norther is the biggest weather danger, and these are usually forecast well in advance, and there are plenty of places to take shelter.

Culturally, however, I'd have to give the nod to Mexico. A friend we met along the way summed up the Alaskan culture by saying: "Everyone in this state looks like they’re in the Witness Protection Program." Sharon and I laughed out loud, because we’d met a number of people who, if not running from the law, were surely running from something. During our four months in Alaska, I can remember only a few engaging conversations with locals.

In Mexico, on the other hand, there is an opportunity to study and learn the history and traditions of a rich culture that is so different from our own. And having taken fabulous trips inland, we encourage cruisers not to limit their travels to the coast.

I've been lucky to be able to travel around much of this diverse planet, and the people of Mexico are among my favorites. For the most part, they are dirt poor, and yet they would share anything they have with you in return for a smile and a gracias. Their sense of family is unrivaled in our culture.

Which cruising venue would I choose if I could only choose one? It boils down to one thing — the weather, stupid! We chose Alaska as our first major cruising destination because we wanted to get our cold-weather sailing behind us early on. In the entire summer we spent in Alaska, we only counted five — that’s right, five! — days where it was 70° or more and sunny. The norm was grey overcast and frequent rain, punctuated by frequent gales. We’ve been enjoying the Mexican winter weather since arriving in Cabo San Lucas with the '09 Ha-Ha in November. I don’t think we’ve had five nights when the temperature dropped below 70°. So the answer is simple: From now on, Last Resort will be following the sun. And a good part of our future cruising plans include Mexico — although we will be moving on to the Caribbean and the Med, too.

— dick 02/15/10

X — Santa Cruz 50
David Addleman
New Boat, New Cruising Area

I'm a two-boat owner now, having bought Red Sky, the Santa Cruz 50 that Northern Californians Steve and Carol Easterbrook had cruised from San Francisco to Malaysia via the South Pacific and Australia over the last four years. Apparently they're looking to buy a boat to cruise in the Caribbean. Red Sky had previously been named Entrophy when raced to Hawaii by Northern Californian Bartz Schneider. I still own the Cal 36 Eupsychia that I've cruised in Mexico for the last three years. I sure wish I could have closed the deal while standing at the helm of my new-to-me boat instead of while being 8,000 miles away in Northern California, as it was about as satisfying as phone sex. But the international transaction was simple, involving a hundred emails and a few phone calls.

There are probably more goofballs like me who think it reasonable to buy a slightly used cruising boat in Southeast Asia from a westbound cruiser who feels he/she has reached the end of easy cruising. Friends keep asking, "How long will it take to get your new boat back to California?" To which I reply, “Why? I’m going cruising."

The Easterbrooks certainly got the better part of downwind routing. However, I got a complete and proven cruising boat conveniently positioned in one of the world’s great cruising areas. I have no desire to cruise westward across the Indian Ocean. Nor does shipping my boat to North America on a freighter appeal to me, as it's too many dollars and too little pleasure. Besides, the islands to the east of Malaysia along the equatorial Pacific are attracting my solitude-seeking heart. From Borneo east through Micronesia and Kiribati, there are plenty of destinations to make a fine multi-year cruise. From there I may rejoin the annual Puddle Jump migration at the Marquesas, or bash through the Marshalls to Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, then slide back to Mexico on the Ha-Ha.

Actually, I have no idea what I'm going to do, as I didn't think that far ahead. My only goal is to be at sea aboard a Santa Cruz 50. Since my daughter still has a year in high school, I'll be commuter cruising every month. I'm scheduling legs with friends, expect to take new friends along the way, and hope to do some legs singlehanded. The only downside I see to this adventure are those deadly transpacific flights.

Some people have wondered at my naming my new boat X. But yes, that's her name. I’ve got some reasons for doing it, but they're not very good ones. Maybe it’s because 'X' is an old hobo symbol for “Don’t knock here, unfriendly resident.” Maybe it's because 'X' on a map indicates 'You are here', or marks where the treasure is. I really have no idea. X is just what I put on the registration form.

January update:

In the shadow of its wealthy neighbor, but better because of it, Danga Bay Marina in Johor Bahru lies just across the narrow Johor Straits from sparkling Singapore. Danga Bay is an ambitious but as yet unfinished urban development project promising all the dubious attractions of the good life. The development includes an amusement park, convention center, apartments, waterfront promenade, bandstands, restaurants — and, of course, the small marina in which I took possession of X. There’s room to anchor out in front of the marina, and a few of the 50-ft slips are available for any length stay. The price for anchoring out is nothing. Oddly enough, it also costs nothing for a slip.

The Singapore and Malacca Straits, 13 miles to the southwest, are famously busy with shipping. But because of a bridge with an 82-ft clearance along the way, and the nearby causeway to Singapore, the waters are very quiet around Danga Bay Marina. And cruisers feel safe here. A simple unlocked gate and ever-present guards keep the non-boaters off the very nice docks. There is power available for a small charge and the water is free.

The local Australian, Canadian and European cruisers seem to have the run of the place. The area is very quiet during the day, but comes alive at sunset when families and young romantics sit, stroll along the waterfront, and dine at several indoor/outdoor restaurants. The locals are friendly and helpful. And you can do just fine speaking only English, especially if you can remember what the British might have called something while they were running the place.

The marina is well-served by buses and taxis, to either downtown Johor Bahru, which is just two miles away, or the huge supermarkets that are even closer. Despite its being a lot of trouble and there being plenty of restrictions, people from Singapore flood over here to buy things at much lower cost than at home.

Needing to paint the new name on my Santa Cruz 50, I visited a nearby hardware store, which had its stock haphazardly stacked to the ceiling. A can of red enamel, two small paintbrushes, and a nice deck brush came to a total of $6. Marine items and entertainment not available near Danga Bay are certainly available in Singapore, which is about an hour’s taxi ride away. But the ride goes through Customs and Immigration for both countries, so it's not something you want to do unless you have to.

The combination of a dirt cheap marina and low-cost flights to the many popular destinations in Southeast Asia make Danga Bay a popular base for cruisers. The social life is excellent around here, so it would be easy to stay. But I came here to sail. So after one more run to the supermarket, I'm taking off for the sailing center of Langkawi, about 400 miles to the north.

— david 01/15/10

Invictus — Buchanan 36
Jeff Graveline
Cruising Cheap
(San Diego and The World)

If you find yourself on the other side of the world, in places like Langkawi, Malaysia, where the living is easy and inexpensive, you’ll meet a lot of folks with a world of cruising experience. That would include 47-year-old Jeff Graveline, who left San Diego 27 years ago.

When Graveline grew up in San Diego, he and his brothers were more into bodysurfing than sailing. Without easy access to sailing opportunities, they were pretty much limited to ‘borrowing’ Hobie Cats left on the beaches of Mission Bay. It was easy enough to do because they had their own set of Hobie Cat sails.

Joyriding Hobie Cats was one of the more sedate aspects of Graveline’s life in the late ‘70s and early ‘80. “The beach communities were awash in drugs back then,” he remembers. While he didn’t say anything about taking any of those drugs, he did mention something about having a parole officer. As if the drugs weren’t enough, Graveline had to endure a horrific family tragedy. During a heavy rainstorm, his three brothers decided to kayak the floodwaters. Graveline says they all died after being sucked down a drainage pipe.

“The deaths of my brothers and the amount of drugs in San Diego were too much for me,” Graveline says, “In ‘86, when I was in my early 20s, I just had to get out of the States. So, I started tramping around on land. I spent some time kicking around Europe, spent a year in India, and worked in Australia.”

In ‘91, Graveline thought it was time to do something different. “The natural progression from backpacking seemed to be cruising on a boat. I didn’t know shit about sailing, but I went to Florida and bought a Bristol 29 sloop for $10,000. Teaching myself how to sail involved a steep learning curve. In fact, my Scandanavian girlfriend became so frightened that she returned to Finland. But I hung with it, sailed to the Caribbean, then crossed the North Atlantic to Europe via Bermuda and the Azores. I paid $20/month to put my boat in storage at Lagos, Portugal, then hitchhiked to Finland, where I got a job on a big wooden schooner. In fact, I worked on that schooner for the next several summers.”

In ‘96, Graveline sailed down the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, hoping to make his way to Goa, India, where he had lived while backpacking. “I got into some rough weather, and my boat’s hull began to ‘oil can’. So I ended up going to the Seychelles, where I sold the boat to a guy who knew how to solve the oil canning problem. But the Bristol had done me well. After cruising her hard for five years, I sold her for $8,000 — just $2,000 less than I had paid for her. Besides, she’d helped me become a pretty competent sailor. I could do just about anything with her and her 12-hp Yanmar diesel.”

Having sold his boat, Graveline continued on to Kenya to be with his girlfriend. “She broke up with me when I got there,” he remembers glumly. “That meant I didn’t have a boat or a girlfriend.” Graveline responded by traveling around by land again, and somehow ended up in Australia with a “nice girlfriend.”

But two years without a boat was all he could take. In ‘98, he returned to Florida and made offers of $10,000 on the five best boats he saw in what he calls a “boat graveyard” on some inland waterway. Three of the offers were accepted, and he decided to go through with the purchase of Invictus, a fibergalss Buchanan 36 with a wood mast and boom.

On his way to Panama, his and his Aussie crew got hit by a hurricane. Jeff was washed out of the cockpit during one knockdown, and the boat suffered quite a bit of damage. After he returned to Florida, it would be a year before he could take off again.

For the last 10 years, Graveline has been sailing his modest boat all over the world — Colombia, Panama, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and countless places in between. He’s had to make money the entire time, but never found it difficult. For example, when he was based out of Cartagena, Colombia, he used to shuttle backpackers from Cartagena to Panama because there is no road. “It was good money,” he remembers. “I’d take four of them on a four-day trip, food and everything included. I’d charge them $250 each, and clear $400 in four days. That was a shitload of money for living in Colombia.”

Graveline earned money the same way in Thailand for several years, charging about $50 U.S. a day per person to go sailing. “You can live a styling life in Thailand on $100/day. I loved it! I did this in the area between Krabbe and Langkawi, Malaysia. But ever since the tsunami in ‘04, things have really gone upscale. with lots of high dollar villas having been built. Fortunately, there are still great little unspoiled islands on the west coast of Thailand. But I'm not going to advertise them."

One of the dangers of being a charter captain is falling in love with one of your passengers. Graveline so fell for a German woman that he left Thailand for the Med to be with her. After sailing halfway around the world, she broke up with him. But Graveline is philosophical about it, as her luring him to the Med meant he left Thailand two months before the Boxing Day tsunami of '04 killed tens of thousands of people. “Thanks for saving my life, bitch!” he laughs.

Surprisingly, Graveline hasn’t been completely turned off by sailing long distances in the failed pursuit of women. "I just met a gal from Alaska who was vacationing here in Langkawi with her 17-year-old daughter,” he says. “We kept dumping the daugher off at guesthouses at night so we could be alone together. I’m thinking about crashing her world in Alaska, but she’s threatening to come back to Langkawi and do the same with my world. If we do get together, she’ll be my first American woman in 20 years."

Is there any chance he might return to the United States?

“I don’t see much point in returning to the States to shake the money tree — because there isn’t much fruit left,” Graveline laughs. “Plus, the cost of living is so much lower in Southeast Asia. I used to be able to get by on $5,000 a year, everything included. But now that the dollar has become worthless, I need $6,000 a year. Of course, $10,000 would be better, and if I had $15,000 I could live an opulent life.”

Graveline says $300 a week is a lot of money if you have a boat in Malyasia or Thailand because, "the food hardly costs anything, you can anchor for free, and the immigration fees are reasonable. There are no problems with officials in Malaysia either, but in Thailand you don’t want to tangle with the police, as it will cost you money. There are lots of great islands and anchorages in this part of the world, and the sailing is good, too.”

As you might expect, Graveline is big on thrift. “I didn’t paint my boat’s bottom for five years. I had TBT — illegal in most places — on it, so that helped. But I just scrubbed and scrubbed the bottom. I finally careened my boat for $10, and put another coat of TBT on the bottom. It’s been good for a year.”

Graveline says there are no personal security issues in Malaysia or Thailand. "Everywhere in this part of the world is safer than in the U.S. Malaysia is the most cool of all, as there is almost no theft at all. I did lose an outboard off a dock six years ago in Thailand, but outboards are about the only thing that will tempt them. When I sailed through the Phillipines last year, there was even less theft than there had been 20 years ago."

Given the ease of living, Graveline says there are lots of expat cruisers who base out of Langkawi. “This time of year, from November to May, it’s actually better up in Thailand. But come June to October, when the southwest monsoon hits Thailand with winds up to 40 knots and black line squalls, most people head down here to Malaysia. The weather is always pretty nice here around Langkawi. It’s certainly better than over in Borneo, where I did finish woodwork on yachts. It was so hot that I had to lay varnish on in the evening, because if I did it during the day, it would bubble up.”

After more than 25 years of travelling by backpack and boat, what’s next for Graveline? “I’m going to keep cruising until I figure out what to do with my life,” says the 47-year-old.

— latitude 01/15/10

Weird Weather
Around The Cruising World

Every year sailors say the same thing — "the weather has been really strange this year." But this winter there seems to be some truth to such claims.

California — particularly Southern California — has gotten some unusually good soakings. And there has been an uncommon number of huge swells along the California coast. Just ask the contestants in the Mavericks Surf Contest.

Cruisers in Mexico were shocked first by several waterspouts on Banderas Bay, then by a sudden blow along much of the mainland coast with winds to 80 knots. Such occurrences are rare south of the border.

And as Steve Lannen of the San Francisco-based Beneteau 405 First Full Quiver wrote from Barra Navidad, "During our first two years of cruising in Mexico, we never saw any rain. Not a drop. This year it's been a whole different story. And along with all the rain has come lightning — which no mariner likes — and thunder. I guess El Niño has made such a difference in the weather patterns that many of the boats that were going to head south or do the Puddle Jump are thinking about waiting a year."

And while it is tropical cyclone season in the South Pacific, an unusually high number of cruising boats have been adversely affected. Most Latitude readers will recall that Wayne Meretsky's Alameda-based S&S 47 Moonduster was claimed by tropical cyclone Mick in Fiji in December.

Cyclones in Fiji aren't unusual, but they aren't that common in French Polynesia. Yet in late January, Liz Clark was spooked enough by the approach of tropical storm Nisha, with winds to 50 knots, that she had her Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell hauled out at Raiatea. "All the other boatowners were making fun of me," she writes, "but a week later they were all begging to be hauled out as tropical cyclone Oli, with winds to 115 knots, took aim at us. Swell and I survived, but I was damn glad to be on land for that. It was scary! Fortunately, none of the other boats around here were severely damaged."

Then there is the Eastern Caribbean, where the above spread photo was taken in January, and where the winter sailing conditions have been ultra mellow. Instead of the usual 18 to 25 knots of 'reinforced trades' from the northeast to the southeast, with big seas and lots of squalls, most days from Christmas through the end of February featured 5 to 12 knots of wind, pancake flat seas, and winds out of the south-southeast — or even the west! There wasn't a drop of rain or a squall in the first three weeks of February, which is unheard of. Yet there have been epic north swells for surfing. There were three exceptions to the placid, summer-like conditions this winter, and they were when large north swells closed the port at Gustavia, St. Barth on Christmas, on New Year's Eve, and then again just before Carnaval in February.
And just as we were to close Changes for this month, we got the news from many cruisers in Tonga that Neiafu had been nailed by tropical cyclone Rene. It hit in mid-February with a reported steady 90-knot winds and some gusts over 140 knots. It was a huge storm, almost 600 miles wide. The boats in Neiafu were in the eye for about 90 minutes, which gave owners time to check on lines and chafe gear. But when the wind came back, it had shifted from the east to the north. Many boats dragged. In the case of Joel Stern's Paradise Bound, she dragged for 400 meters before grabbing the bottom in 120 feet of water. Stern drove into the wind for seven hours to lessen the strain on his ground tackle.

How would you prepare your cruising boat for a tropical cyclone if she was a 33-ft cat that only weighed 6,000 pounds when loaded for cruising? That was the challenge faced by 29-year-olds Tristan and Mindy Nyby of Los Angeles, who flooded the forward parts of the hulls of their 46-year-old CSK Aita Pe'ape'a, and hung tires from the bows.

"Apparently, we had a close call with Lite 'n Up, a derelict sloop whose owner didn’t do anything to prepare for the cyclone," the couple wrote. "Kuay, which was moored next to us, wasn't as lucky, and sustained some damage to her bow. However, it isn’t a structural problem, and can be fixed.

"Most of the cruisers," the Nybys continue, "including us, opted to stay ashore for the storm. Most of the buildings and homes stood up well, although a few houses were demolished. We were lucky enough to be house and dog-sitting for a local restaurant owner, and had a safe place to stay during the storm. The house was equipped with a generator. so we played Wii and watched movies throughout the night! Living in a village has shown us firsthand the sense of community on this island. In our neighborhood, everyone is working together to help repair damage to their neighbors'
homes. The happiest group on the island is the pigs, as they'll be able to feast on fallen mangoes and breadfruit for weeks!"

The Nybys — a go-for-it couple who bought an old cat "dirt cheap" and modified her for cruising — have been having a ball crossing the Pacific on $500 a month. We'll have their fascinating story in the April issue.

As we write this, another tropical cyclone is headed toward Tonga. We wish everyone the best of luck. No matter if it swerves away or not, we can only imagine that many more boats will flee the South Pacific next tropical cyclone season to the safety of New Zealand, Australia or Micronesia.

— latitude 02/17/10

Zihua SailFest
Pamela Bendall
Smaller, But Still Successful
(Zihuatanejo, Mexico)

Never underestimate the impact that a fleet of 18 registered cruising boats can have on a community like Zihuatanejo. For not only did each and every participant have a terrific time enjoying a host of activities throughout Sail Fest week, but more importantly, 46,000 pesos — $3,500 U.S. — was raised directly by the cruising boats for the education of impoverished Mexican children. Through matching grants from various agencies, this amount will be doubled. As a result, another school will be built, and the lives of hundreds of Mexican children and their families will be enhanced forever.

Over 3,000,000 pesos — or $250,000 U.S. — have been raised during the nine-year history of SailFest, and that money has gone to the education of the children in the surrounding region. Four schools have already been constructed, and more than 1,100 young children who would otherwise not have been able to attend school were educated. It’s the most impressive project of its kind in Mexico.

The event is unique in that it’s put on by whichever cruisers happen to show up each winter. Within a week of most boats' arrival, the spirit of the event took over, and everyone began to work smoothly together. Thanks to the help of many volunteers and boatowners, Friday’s Sail Parade attracted 138 paying guests. Also popular was the Pursuit Race, with 13 boats participating and finishing in the required time ­— despite the typically light Zihua winds. Singlehander Bob Smith with his Victoria, B.C.-based custom 44 cat Pantera, finished first, followed by singlehander Bernard Slabeck on his San Francisco-based Freedom 36 Simple Pleasures, with renowned SailFest contributor and racer Pete Boyce of the Tiburon-based Sabre 42 Edelweiss III taking third. Taking honors in the cruising division were Tom and Bobbi Hoffman on the Peterson 44 Persistence and John and Barb Van Tongerson aboard their Passport 40 Naida.

In addition to the cruising events, attendance at concerts, merchandise sales, chili cook-off, bake sale and a variety of other fund raising activities all combined to make SailFest 2010 a terrific success for everyone involved — and a wonderful legacy for our Mexican children.

— pamela 02/07/10

Cruise Notes:

“I can’t believe that I’m in the process of planning my third straight summer of sailing the Med aboard my boat Geja, the San Francisco-based ‘76 Islander 36 that was posted as a distress sale in ‘Lectronic while in the Med a few years ago,” writes Andrew Vik. “I’ve logged over 3,300 miles on her in the ‘Central’ Med over the past two summers, and there is more to come. For ‘10, I’ll head south from Croatia to Montenegro, Albania (gasp!), and finally the Ionian islands of Greece before looping back to Croatia via the ‘Achilles tendon’ of Italy. Of the 20 one- and two-week legs I’ve planned so far, friends and acquaintances have filled my crew needs for 19 of them. Only once last year did I recruit unfamiliar crew, and he turned out to be a great local sailor named Andrew Wood, whom I met at Latitude’s ‘09 Crew List Party at the Golden Gate YC. So I’ll be back at the Latitude Crew List Party at the Golden Gate YC — the new ‘home’ of the America’s Cup — on March 10, again looking for young-ish, independent traveler types, in case my usual crewmates can’t join.”

“We launched Flamingo, our beautiful 48-ft Knysna catamaran, on February 2, rigged her the next morning, then sailed her out through the notorious Knysna Heads for sea trials that afternoon!” write an enthusiastic Tim and Susan Mahoney of Marin County. “We are back in the marina, where workers are finishing the trim and — now that the boat is in the water and the rig tuned — installing the doors. We are also fine tuning all of the systems, provisioning, and getting ready to leave for Cape Town the last week of February. We hope to set sail for the Caribbean in the first week of March. Despite the long-distance building process, it has been a successful experience, and we are very happy with the results. If anyone is interested, we’d be happy to share some of the safeguards we put into place during the process to ensure a positive outcome.”

As we understand it, the “safeguards” refer to being protected in the event you fly halfway around the world to pick up your new boat and discover that she’s behind a padlocked gate. Anyway, we’re thrilled for the Mahoneys. As for their trip across the Atlantic, friends like David Wegman of the St. John-based Block Island schooner Afrigan Queen suggest they stop at St. Helena and play a ‘round’ of golf at the one-hole course up on the hill near Napoleon’s old digs. And, he highly recommends using Rosalind as 'the looper'. She was 92-years-old when she toted the two-club bag for Wegman’s friends all day back in the late '90s, so if she's still alive, she’ll still know the course better than anyone.

"We left San Francisco Bay in ‘03 and did the ‘03 Ha-Ha,” write Glenys Taylor and Henry Mellegers of the San Francisco-based Cal 46 Dreamcatcher. "We then crossed the Pacific, and for the last three years have been happily ensconced in our new home of Singapore. We keep our boat at Keppel Bay Marina, and therefore had a box seat when California, the entry in the Clipper Round the World Race, came in.”
The organizers of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) report that interest in the 25th edition of their November rally from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia has already attracted 150 paid entries. Among them is one boat that also did the inaugural event — the Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow. She’s now owned by George Backhus of Sausalito/Auckland, who is now in the 16th year of his circumnavigation.

The Don Quixote Girls — Jaime, 14; Mera, 11; and Aeron, 9 — who befriended and entertained so many cruisers on the Ha-Ha and in Mexico over the last two years, are going to be Puddle Jumping the easy way, on an Airbus 770,” writes their mother Toast Conger of the Seattle-based Lagoon 380 Don Quixote.

“After cruising from Vancouver to Zihua, running the nets for months along the Riviera, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and playing with cruisers of all ages and styles, not to mention dancing on the roof of Profligate during Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, I didn't think Dean and my daughters would settle easily back into the ‘real world’ of the States. So while we ran our cruising kitty down to fumes, we decided to sell our cat and look for a lifestyle and location where we can work, but still let the girls explore the world. As a result, we’re packing everything into suitcases and moving to New Zealand. But as Jaime says, our family isn’t done with sailing. 'Almost all the schools in Auckland have sailing clubs,' she notes. 'Did you know that Auckland is known as the City of Sails?,' Mera adds. Daddy Dean is also enthusiastic about our family’s cruising future. 'While we loved our Lagoon 380, after sailing on Jim and Kent Milski’s Colorado-based Schionning 49 cat Sea Level, and Steve May’s Gualala-based Corsair 41 cat Endless Summer a few times, we know we’re ready for a higher performance cruising cat.' Aeron wants all her cruising friends to know that she’s going to have a car in Auckland, and that she’s ready to take Puddle Jumpers when they arrive. That is if the nine-year-old can get a license and see over the steering wheel!”

"Other than the unexpected little glitches in things like billing, I have to say we've been absolutely amazed at the internet coverage we've gotten from our TelCel Aircard and Wilson amplifier," report Richard and Sharon Drechsler of the Long Beach-based Catalina 470 Last Resort. "Other than a stretch from Manzanillo to Caleta de Campos, where we had intermittent service, we've been able to get internet access everywhere along the coast of mainland Mexico. We keep checking, but sure enough, there is a complete network of cell towers in place. As for the billing problem, when I tried to renew our service for another month, I was told that I needed to pay 100 pesos to activate it — even though I still had 2,300 pesos in my account from having prepaid for seven months. Anyway, it was quickly straightened out when I visited the TelCel office in Manzanillo."

“The following is part of an email I received from a German woman who has been singlehanding the Caribbean for the last 18 years,” writes Jerry Blakeslee, who, after long stints of selling boats for Bay Island Yachts in Alameda and St. Martin, is now cruising the Caribbean aboard his NAB Islomania:

Barmina came back into the water after a three-month overhaul in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. We had three wonderful days at Punta Sal, and a sunny week at Utila. On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting inside the new hard dinghy we’d built in Puerto Cortez, and I was screwing in the last screw to get the new dinghy ready for her maiden voyage. That’s when I saw a speedboat, with two 250-hp outboards screaming, moving extremely fast along the shore. Suddenly, the boat made a little evasive maneuver to avoid something. But at such a high rate of speed, it threw everybody off the boat. The speedboat continued at full speed in a big circle, and I thought it might hit me and my dinghy. As it got closer, I knew I’d have to jump into the water to survive, so I jumped. The unmanned speedboat sliced my dinghy in half, then rose up and hit my boat’s cockpit and dodger, slid up on the deck, cut through the shrouds, and broke the mast in two pieces. After coming to a halt, it slid backward into the water. That was three days ago, and we’re still busy securing our boat. We dove on the mast and secured the stay. Maybe we’ll be able to lift it in a few days. The mast is broken two meters above the deck, but it’s still straight. The smash-up would have been something you’d laugh at in a James Bond movie, but it’s been a real nightmare. In fact, I’m not laughing at all, as I’m going to have to work hard for at least a year to get Barmina back to being a sailboat and my home again.”

“It’s the Caribbean, so I don’t know if the woman will get any money from the people who caused the damage or owned the boat,” says Blakeslee. “Strangely enough, I was also hit while in my dinghy by a similar boat, but at Placencia, Belize. The boat that hit me still had people aboard, and they didn’t stop, so I never found out who they were.”

“I’ve enjoyed Latitude for more years than I recall,” writes Tim Leachman of the Eagle Roost Marina in Golfito, Costa Rica. “I think it was the magazine that gave me, in ‘89, the lead to buy Caribbee, a ‘70 Islander 34. My mate Katie and I sailed her south from Santa Barbara around Christmas of ‘91, and spent two years in Mexico. I met the publisher of Latitude in Zihua in ‘93, after he offered a free beer to anyone who would meet him on the beach and offer a critique of his dinghy-outboard combination. It was a good thing that I arrived first, because he ran out of beer in a hurry. Latitude’s Ocean 71 Big O was anchored near us in front of Playa Ropa, and we made friends with the Casey and the rest of the crew. Big O later showed up at the Jungle Club in Costa Rica when we were in the area, but you left too soon for us to reciprocate on the beer. Anyway, 15 years ago, Katie and I started Land and Sea, a small cruiser’s club with moorings next to the old Eagle Roost Marina, and have been lucky to meet sailors from all over the world. As the publisher no doubt remembers, back then Golfito had a very well-deserved reputation for dinghies being stolen and officials being corrupt. Remember ‘Rambo’ from Immigration? We are still a generation behind Mexico when it comes to helpful officials, but things are mostly getting better. And there hasn’t been a dinghy stolen in years. In fact, the reason I’m writing is to happily report that John from the Frenchy boat L’or de Tempts got his dinghy back after losing it while towing it to Jiminez in the dark. A fisherman found it, towed it back to Golfito, and notified the Coast Guard that he’d found it. All around Golfito there are more services, and the stores have more of what sailors need, so I encourage cruisers to visit us.”

Thanks for the tour down good-memory lane! Sure we remember Rambo, who no doubt belongs in the Latitude’s Hall of Shame. We’re glad things are looking up in the Golfito area, and would love to get some reports from cruisers.

God knows we make plenty of mistakes, so we try not to be critical of other publications, but Peter Swanson’s story about the Sea of Cortez in the February ‘10 issue of Yachting magazine had some ridiculously out-of-date information. For example, “Ultimately the government plans to spend $1.9 billion to develop 27 marinas on both the peninsula and mainland sides of the gulf, spaced like rungs on a ladder, and never more than 100 miles apart.” While the overall ‘Nautical Stairway’ concept was DOA, funding was cut off at the end of the Vincente Fox administration way back in ‘06, leaving 11 Fonatur/Singlar marinas in place. They’ve long been up for sale. Swanson also mentions the proposed ‘land bridge’ for trucking boats from Bahia de Los Angeles and Santa Rosalita, a plan that went by the wayside even before the Nautical Stairway did.

From time to time we’ve reported on medical costs in Mexico. Thanks to a painful left thumb, we’ve now got similar information on medical costs in St. Barth, French West Indies — which would usually come in last in any competition for the least expensive island in the Caribbean. The consultation with the emergency room doctor at DuBruyn Hôpital — the French leave out the ‘s’ in hospital — before and after the X-rays came to just under 25 euros — or about $34 U.S. The X-rays — using snazzy three-year-old equipment — came to about 23 euros — or about $30 U.S. So the total hospital bill — there were no additional fees — for this foreigner came to 47 euros or about $63 U.S. Care to guess what it would have cost in the U.S.? We were also prescribed some “really good” pain pills. Twenty of them at the local pharmacy came to just under $5 U.S. — or about the price of one Viagra on many U.S. health insurance plans.

We’ve never understood why there hasn’t been more term chartering on Banderas Bay, Mexico, as it is so much closer to the west coast than is the Caribbean, and it has so much going for it. For example, the air and water are warm on Banderas Bay, the afternoon breezes are reliable but die to nothing at night, and it’s always flatwater sailing. Further, there are great destinations — Punta Mita, La Cruz, P.V. itself, the Tres Marietas Islands and Yelapa — and non-sailing activities such as hiking in the jungle, surfing, diving and hitting P.V. at night. What’s it take to charter legally? According to one boatowner who is pursuing chartering as a way to keep cruising, you need: 1) FM3 status from Immigration in order to be the captain of your own boat; 2) A Contracto de Fletamento, which proves that a local resort is your sponsor; 3) A Contracto de Deposito with the Federal Tax Authority to set up a business; and 4) Operating permits from the local port captains, the Mexican Navy, and the Department of Tourism. Somehow we think this might be a lot more time-consuming and expensive than it might seem at first glance, but we’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

“Having had a great time at Zihua SailFest, I’ll soon be heading farther south,” writes Pamela Bendall of the Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46 Precious Metal. “My plan is to go to the Galapagos and then Peru,” advises the vet of the ‘08 Ha-Ha. “I’ll be taking crew on ocean passages, but otherwise singlehanding. My plan is to sail westward around the world over the next four years and write a book about my experiences. This dream started five years ago when I turned 50, went through a divorce, and 'got the boat' in the settlement."

While at Langkawi YC in Malaysia, we came across a 19-year-old, 50-ft Alex Simonis-designed catamaran, Planet Surf, which had a large and complicated aluminum structure behind the main traveller. When we asked the Kiwi skipper what it was, he said it was a surfboard rack for when he and his Asian wife and young child did surf charters among the Mentawai Islands off the coast of West Sumatra. “It holds 25 surfboards,” he laughed. The only thing we saw on the docks of the yacht club that was funnier than that was a bunch of chain in a . . . suitcase!

For better or worse, we've run out of room in this issue for reviews of the controversial Norm Goldie of San Blas. About the nicest one came from Mark and Gail Strong of the Pollock Pines-based Dallimore 40 cutter Mangareva: "We met Norm a month ago after another cruiser had already assisted us and our boat — temporarily without an engine — into the estuary. We asked Norm where we could find a diesel mechanic. He wasn’t able to come up with one, so we found one through the Singlar Marina, and passed the information to him. He was very appreciative. Our only other encounter was when we dropped off some school supplies at his house. We didn’t donate any cash to any of his charities, although it was hinted that it would have been the proper thing to do. We think Norm is ‘getting the message.’ Although he is a bit overbearing and loves to talk on the radio, we think he’s a nice guy who just needs to be ignored when he gets out of line. Norm does have a lot of knowledge to share with cruisers, and seems to be well thought of among the local population. We would hate to see the crusing community cut off from that source of knowledge and/or avoid San Blas because of the situation.”

We appreciate your opinion — but you can’t help but wonder how current Goldie’s local knowledge is when he doesn’t even know there’s a diesel mechanic at the marina in tiny San Blas. In any event, a group of cruisers who had gotten completely fed up with Goldie, particularly when he became vindictive, have put together a free Cruiser's Guide to San Blas. It's comprehensive in that it lists 49 spots of interest to cruisers, and is said to have the most current information. While all of the credit for compiling the guide goes to the cruisers, who don't seem very interested in getting credit for it, you can download it at

We'll have more reader reports on the controversial figure in San Blas in the next issue, but in the meantime we have this advice. If you want to use his information and/or contribute to his 'charities', no problem. If you don't feel like doing either, that should be no problem either. But if Goldie tries to intimidate you into not helping others, ignore him. Remember, no matter what he tries to claim or imply, he has no official standing in the Mexican government. If he becomes vindictive, both the port captain's office in San Blas and the Governor's Office of Nayarit ask that you file an official complaint. Do it by going to: Once a comment is left, you will receive an email back. You must click on the blue link provided to prove your message is not spam. Your complaint can be in English, because the governor of Nayarit and the aides who would read your complaint are fluent in English. Tourism is extremely important to Mexico, so officials want to be aware of anyone who may be damaging to it.

On a more lighthearted subject, if you’re cruising the Caribbean and are wondering what week would be best to visit St. Barth, we recommend that you schedule it for Carnaval week. And if you do, dress over-the-top for the event instead of showing up in civilian clothes like someone off a cruise ship. We did Carnaval on the island again this year, and had a fine time. In addition to all the normal Carnaval fun, what makes it so unusual on St. Barth is that you get a total of about 5,000 white and West Indian locals, ‘metropoles’ from France, Americans and others; you also get stone broke people and billionaries; and you also get lots of drinking and ganja smoking. But what you never have are any bad vibes or fights, even though there's never a gendarme in sight. Where else does that happen?

In the French Islands only, the night after Fat Tuesday they celebrate the burning of Vaval — who is an only slightly disguised effigy of a plantation owner. At the end of the night, he gets burned at the stake to the sound of pounding drums before a large crowd at Shell Beach. As we understand it, the lighting of the pallets is run by the local fire department. Inexplicably, they bungle it every year, seemingly having no idea how to light a bonfire. Every time they make the same mistake of trying to light the highest pallet on the leeward side of wood pile. How they don't know they need to start on the bottom of the windward side is beyond us. Anyway, one of the incendiary crew became so frustrated this year, that he grabbed a two-gallon jug of accelerant, and foolishly shook it over the struggling flames. In a matter of seconds, the clothes on the front of his body were in flames and he tumbled onto the sand. Instead of rolling in the sand, as everyone knows you should if you’re on fire, he got up and tried to run. Fortunately, he was put back down in the sand by the crowd, and the flames quickly extinguished. Vaval eventually went up in a glorious conflagration to the sound of cheers and pounding drums. If didn't hurt the atmosphere a bit that some girls swam topless in the nearby surf. Yeah, you shoulda been there.

It will be March by the time you read this, but if you think the cruising season is over in Mexico, you couldn't be more wrong. March 16-20 will be the 18th annual Banderas Bay Regatta put on by the Vallarta YC at the Paradise Village Resort and Marina. This is 'cruiser racing' in ideal conditions with big discounts on berthing, so we highly recommend it. About 30 boats participate. April 1-6 is the super casual Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, which is for cruisers who really love to sail. It starts and ends in La Paz, but most of the time is spent at Caleta Partida and Isla San Francisco. About 30 boats participate. The Club Cruceros de La Paz holds its La Paz Bay Fest, April 8-11, which is heavy on social events with one day of sailing near the end. Hundreds of people attend. And then there's the big daddy of organized events in the Sea, the Hidden Port YC's always popular Loreto Fest from April 30-May 2. You'll see hundreds of folks at this fundraiser. And after all these events, there's spring and early summer cruising in the Sea of Cortez. Many folks who have gone around the world have said that the Sea was as good — in its own way — as anywhere they went.

But no matter where you cruise or on what, we'd love to hear from you and publish your photos. Direct them to . Happy sailing!

Missing the pictures? See the March 2010 eBook!


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