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March 2012

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  With reports from Camelot on Geary Ritchie, the Sonrisa Net's Concepcion Bay-based weatherman; from Pacific Star on a magnificent year of cruising from the Indian Ocean to London, via Rome and Paris; from Maya on making it from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean; from Pacific Breeze on cruising in Greece; from Cirque on adventures in Southern Mexico; from Angel Louise on winter in London; from Groovy on 'six on, six off'; and Cruise Notes.

Geary Ritchie, Weatherman
An Appreciation By
Tom and Lori Jeremiason

On behalf of the Mexican cruising community, we want to say 'thank you' to Geary Ritchie, a Sacramento native who for the last 17 years has provided Mexico cruisers with daily weather reports, local knowledge and general assistance — without asking anything in return. For the last four years Geary has been the primary weatherman on the Sonrisa Net, getting up at 5 a.m. to do the research. His 15- to 20-minute broadcasts have become so popular that many cruisers won't move without listening to the latest one. Ritchie's Daily Weather Reports are also available on the Sonrisa Net website in both text and as a podcast. The Sonrisa Net comes on each day on 3.968 LSB at 1445 GMT (1345 GMT Daylight time). The Sonrisa Net web pages can be found at:

A retired manager of a grocery chain, Ritchie came south 17 years ago with the Rotary Club to set up a dental clinic in Mulege. Falling in love with the area, he built a spectacular home at El Burro Cove in Bahia de Concepcion on the east side of Baja California Sur. Spectacular in the sense that it's a solar-powered energy-independent home with a composting toilet — and has a porch right on the water where cruisers and expats like to gather.

Ritchie, as he's done several times a week for years, drives 14 miles up Highway 1 to Mulege, giving cruisers the opportunity to stock up on groceries and/or use the internet cafe. Ritchie also provides free hot dogs and music for his annual Fourth of July Picnic, which brings a little bit of the US of A to Baja. Last summer the picnic attracted several hundred Mexicans, expats, and over 40 cruising boats. The picnic culminates with a huge fireworks diplay provided by . . . well, you know who!

— tom and lori 12/25/11

Pacific Star — Island Packet 35
Horst Wolff and Julia Shovein
Istanbul to London

An alumna of the '07 Ha-Ha and the '08 Puddle Jump, Pacific Star has continued on her circumnavigation, and arrived in London this past October. She has remained there for the winter.

To recap our recent adventures, we crossed the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in '10, then traveled up the Greek Islands, through the Dardanelles and across the Sea of Marmara, and then wintered in Finike, Turkey. It was while we were home in Paradise in February of '11 that we got the horrible news about the murders of the four West Coast sailors on the Davidson 58 Quest, and of the kidnapping of the seven Danes, including three children, aboard the Ing.

During this time we received frantic, fear-filled emails from those on their way to Oman. The crew of Scorpio, a Finnish sailing vessel, wrote us from the Maldives to say they had decided to turn around and return to Thailand. The crew of Margarita, a Danish cruiser, wrote that their good friends on Ing had been taken hostage, but they decided to go ahead and motorsail as rapidly as possible through the danger area and up the middle of the Red Sea. The crew of Cyan, an American boat, also decided to proceed, but said many of the vessels they left in Oman were waiting for a freighter that would transport the boats to Europe for $20,000/vessel. It was a very troubling time.

We returned to Finike in March, and were greeted by many of the cruisers who had remained there throughout the winter. We sat around the cruisers’ clubhouse amid barbecues, games, and music-making, and discussed plans, cruising routes, and visa problems for those non-EU boats such as ours traveling to Schengen Agreement countries.

In April, we made the four-day passage to Crete. We spent almost a month at Agios Nicholaos and Spinalonga, two great spots on this beautiful Greek island. There were dozens of British boats that had wintered there, and we were warmly welcomed by their crews and encouraged to participate in their organized walks and other activities. We also shared a car rental so that we could explore the whole island.

Unlike the other Greek islands, there seemed to be no expectation that we would check-in officially or even obtain a cruising permit. We took advantage of the fact that Crete feels somewhat independent of Greece to avoid our official European Union check-in. (Officially, a non-EU boat can stay in Europe for 18 months without paying the Value Added Tax of 20% of the vessel's value, but the occupants of the boat can only stay in Europe for 90 days within a six-month time period!)

We rounded the southern coast of the Peloponnese on our way from Crete to Ithaca in gale force winds that hadn't been forecast. Our autopilot couldn't handle the huge and steep seas, so we hand-steered under a double-reefed main and staysail. We had been warned about taking this notoriously windy route, as most sailors opt to use the Corinth Canal to cut through the Peloponnese. Despite the bad weather, we didn't regret our decision, as the route allowed us to marvel at the wildly rugged beauty of this seldom passed part of the Med.

Along the way we anchored in beautiful, small bays among the islands. While at the sheltered anchorages, we were constantly reminded of the stories of Odysseus and Jason and the Argonauts, as ancient names on the charts were the same as in the myths.

We sailed across the Ionian Sea from Ithaca to Santa Maria di Leuca, which is the tip of the heel of the boot of Italy. We had never eaten such delicious food as we then enjoyed in the Puglia region of Italy. But the first thing that we noticed was that as Greece had been more expensive than Turkey, Italy was more expensive than Greece. Although Italian marinas were not nearly as good as those in Turkey, the prices were really high, ranging from 40 euros — about $52/night — in Puglia, to 240 euros — about $320/night — on the island of Capri near Naples. Fortunately, we met many cruisers in Italy who gladly gave us advice about anchorages and less expensive but harder-to-find marinas.

While in Rocella Ionica, we met an Australian couple and an American couple who had been in the Mediterranean for years — eight and four, respectively — and they shared advice about where to go, how to obtain the Constitudo (an Italian cruising permit that most ports want nothing to do with, but if you don't have one and go to Elba, you get fined $300), and how to avoid the VAT. You accomplish the latter by leaving the EU every 18 months for a few weeks. We also learned how to avoid visa problems, which is by keeping a low profile and being nice to everyone.

We rounded the southern tip of Italy and moved up the Messina Strait, passing Scylla and Charybdis on our way up the west coast. In Bagnara Calabra we were welcomed in New York-accented English by the marina worker. Everyone in this small town has relatives in New York, and as Americans, we were given every courtesy and kindness — and a hefty marina discount! Onward to the fireworks of Stromboli, the 200 steps of Tropea, and the fantastic Amalfi Coast, where we noticed that our sailboat with a San Francisco hailing port became part of the spiel of the tour guides.

While on the coast near Rome, we stayed in the Fiumicino Canal at the Constellation Nautica Marina. This was amid the fishing vessels of this working town. There were 26 cruising boats rafted up three abreast, all willing to do so because it was a much less expensive option. Just outside the marina gate was the bus stop for the quick bus ride to the Rome metro. We stayed a month — the total cost for berthing was just $320 — and explored Rome each day.

While at the workingman's marina, we made some wonderful friends. During dinner one night aboard the Irish boat Safari, we met an Italian cruiser who was a conductor — of a symphony, not a train. He had sold his Rome apartment to live on his boat. "I told my agent that from then on I will only perform in cities where I can arrive by sea." He says he gets some funny looks leaving his boat in his tuxedo to go to work.

Making our way north, we spent more than a week in Elba, a gorgeous island with numerous picturesque anchorages. Napoleon escaped this beautiful place after a short time in exile. From here we sailed to La Grazie, Tuscany, where we took a short train ride to do the most drop-dead gorgeous coastal hike in the world — the Cinque Terre National Park Walk.

We left La Grazie for San Remo on an overnight passage that should have been uneventful. However the Med can be obstinately quiet with no wind or the opposite with very high, steep, choppy seas. When the seas get big, they often get confused because of a combination of wind direction, current and various land masses.

The mistral had been blowing down the Rhone Delta for three weeks at 20–30 knots, but according to the forecast, it had pretty much blown out. Visitors waiting for us in San Remo contributed to our poor decision to leave a day earlier than we should have, as the waves were still quite big and we had to go to weather. I broke my arm when I was thrown across the salon. Horst thought our trip was over at this point, and was trying to figure out how to get me home and sell the boat. He notified the Italian Coast Guard, and they came out to guide us into San Remo, where an ambulance was waiting. I got great care at the Italian hospital, and ended up with a restraining brace on my arm and shoulder for six weeks, but didn't have to have surgery. Then I was good to go again.

Our next stop was Port St. Louis, France, where we had our mast unstepped because our air draft was not to exceed 6.5 feet. Our bubble-wrapped mast was shipped north by truck to Rouen, while we motored 1,000 miles through the French canals. Our Island Packet needs five feet of water, and there was just enough depth in the canals. We bought bikes so we could get around when we arrived at a new village each afternoon. We would usually find a dock or town quay, or sometimes just drive stakes into the shore to tie up for the night. One village had a barbecue in our honor the evening we arrived because we were the first U.S. vessel to have ever stopped there!

The French people were especially welcoming to us Americans, and we couldn’t get over how friendly they were to us. The countryside was gorgeous, with castles and cathedrals dotting the landscape, and picturesque villages tucked into the countryside. A true fairyland.

We worked hard going through the locks, passing through as many as 28 in one day! It was exhausting. When we finally arrived at Arsenal Marina in the center of Paris, we had 10 relaxing days to just play tourist. When we got to Rouen, we passed through the final lock to enter the tidal Seine. The mast was restepped, as we now had adequate bridge clearance, and we headed at 10 knots down to Honfleur at the confluence of the Seine and the English Channel. Taking advantage of the huge outgoing tide was a lot of fun. From beautiful Honfleur, we explored the Normandy beaches, visiting the American cemetery where acres of white crosses indicate where so many young soldiers are buried.

Our crossing of the English Channel was quick and uneventful. We were right on schedule to arrive at our final winter destination of London by the middle of October, thus avoiding any winter storms. We arrived in Ramsgate to have our lines received by two old English friends — thanks Google! — that I hadn't seen in 39 years. They brought a bottle of Champagne and fluted crystal glasses to celebrate our arrival. We had arrived on an island where sailors are truly appreciated.

Now for the first time in our travels, we had to negotiate 24-foot tides and the incredible currents that go with them. We made our way up the Thames Estuary, riding the tide past the Thames Barrier, and arrived at St. Katherine Docks in good time. As we locked into St. Katherine Basin right next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London another great, challenging and adventurous sailing season came to an end.

— julia 02/04/12

Maya — LaFitte 44
Rick Meyerhoff
Panama to the Eastern Caribbean

From Mexico to Martinique! I did the '09 Ha-Ha, cruised as far south as Zihua, then left my boat in Paradise Marina for the summer of '10. That fall I cruised down to Acapulco for New Year's Eve, then continued on to Panama. After transiting the Canal, I left Maya on the hard at Shelter Bay Marina for the rest of '11. That left me with the real work — figuring out how to make it 1,100 miles upwind and upcurrent to the Virgins/Eastern Caribbean before the 'Christmas Trades' — which are much stronger than normal trades — kicked in.

In doing my research, I found that there really is not much written about how to get from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean, which, because it's upwind, actually becomes more like 1,500 or more miles through the water. I decided that I would use weather router Bob Cook of Ocean-Pro Weather Services for the first leg, 480 miles from Panama to Jamaica. I was primarily interested in making sure that I wouldn't be surprised by a late-season hurricane. It was Cook who informed me that in addition to the wind and the waves on the nose almost all the way to Jamaica, I would also have to contend with three different currents.

We departed Colon on November 1 in calm conditions, and headed east to get the easting needed to counter the current that would push us west. We ended up getting so close to Cartagena in decent weather that I decided it would be a shame not to visit the oldest walled city in the Western Hemisphere. Making the 250-mile transit from Panama to Cartagena is usually not that difficult, and it wasn't in our case either.

Finding a nice weather window, we then set sail from Cartagena to Kingston, and covered the 470 miles in 4.5 days of fairly benign conditions. It turned out that Kingston, which is fairly lively despite being mostly industrial, wasn't as dangerous as the mainstream press makes it out to be. As in most places, you just have to stay out of the bad areas.

From Kingston we sailed over to Port Antonio, where I found the Jamaica I was looking for. What a beautiful, quaint place, and what very friendly people! I felt as though I was finally realizing my dream of being able to enjoy the flavor of the tropical Caribbean. And having made it to Jamaica, I had made my northing, too, as I was then at the same latitude — 18 degrees — as St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgins. St. Thomas, unfortunately, was still 650 more miles to the east.

After waiting for another good weather window, we made the 150-mile crossing of the southern part of the Windward Passage, making landfall at Île de Vache, Haiti. Having reached Hispaniola, we stayed in the lee and made our way to Cape Beata, which is halfway across the 360-mile width of the island. Rounding Cape Beata, we were finally in the Dominican Republic part of Hispaniola, and headed for Santa Domingo. As there was really no place to anchor, we stayed in Boca Chica at the lovely marina built by Frank Virgintino. Frank is also the author of many fine sailing guides to the Caribbean, which we were able to download from the net — for free!

Having waited for another weather window, we crossed the 80-mile-wide Mona Passage to Puerto Rico, where we spent Christmas at Bahia Salinas, halfway across the bottom of 100-mile-wide Puerto Rico, waiting out inclement weather. When there was yet another weather window, we made the 80-mile crossing of the Vieques Channel to St. Thomas, arriving on December 27. Whew! It had been a long way.

Although we had the wind and waves on the nose almost the entire trip, thanks to patiently waiting for weather windows, we had a fairly benign trip on what can be a wicked passage. True, it sometimes blew 20 to 25 knots, but as we managed to wait out these uncomfortable periods in port, it wasn't too bad. When it comes to crossing the Caribbean west to east, discretion really is the better part of valor.

We’ve since cruised through the Virgin Islands, then continued over to St. Martin and St. Barth. While in St. Martin, I was saddened by the sight of the late Mike Harker's Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 49 Wanderlust III being for sale. Mike had been an inspiration to me.

We also saw the Wanderer's Leopard 45 cat 'ti Profligate, which was being chartered by a wonderful group of folks. What a nice boat! The charterers had no idea who the Wanderer is, but they sure were enjoying their charter experience. They were part of a group who had chartered four cats, and who were cruising the Virgins as a big group.

We are now on our way 'down island' to Grenada, which I hope will become my base for cruising the Caribbean for the next several years. Currently we're in Nevis, so there's a chance we might cross paths with the Wanderer as he sails from Martinique to St. Barth with his Olson 30 La Gamelle. It would be great to give him a fond "yoo hoo" in the spirit of Bob Klein, an old and dear friend whose Peterson Two Tonner Leading Lady was the subject of many recent letters in Latitude.

— rick 02/04/12

Readers — Rick also did the '04 Ha-Ha with his Westsail 32 Maya. Having found himself without crew after the first leg, he was naturally dejected, and we thought he might give up cruising almost before he started. We're pleased to see that he persevered and is now having such a great time.

Pacific Breeze — Spronk 78 cat
Stefanie Ender and Guido Polko
Cruising Greece with Friends

[Continued from last month's report on last summer's cruise in Greece.]

My boyfriend Guido and the crew of Pacific Breeze picked me up at somewhat quiet Porto Rafti and took me out to the couple's giant catamaran. The sight of Pacific Breeze on the hook never ceases to impress me. Once aboard, the four of us watched the sunset while I enjoyed my first Mythos beer of the season. Then I alone took a dip in the refreshing water, as the others prefer Caribbean water temps. After my swim, the four of us were content to sit on deck and watch the stars come out, sip our Greek wine, and chat the night away — just as we'd done the summer before in the Dodecanese. It made it easy for me to understand why Paul and Dada had given up their successful restaurant in Germany to return to the sea.

I love the sounds of Greece, and have noticed that every island seems to have a different one. At Porto Rafti, the sound was the low, thick melody of millions of crickets that provided the sound track for the evening. It was a much more welcome 'music' than what I would later hear emanating from various discos.

I was awakened my first morning aboard by the sound of water lapping against the hull, the sight of the sun pouring through the cabin hatches, and the hum of the city awakening. It was another gorgeous day in Greece. Shortly after noon we departed for Kea, an island in the northern Cyclades where many wealthy Athenians maintain vacation homes. With the wind gusting to 30 knots and a good swell running, we hit a top speed of 18 knots and covered the 24 miles very quickly. We then had dinner aboard, featuring Dada's fabulous Greek salad and chicken souvlaki.

Sifnos, a six-hour trip east, was our next stop. Despite the strong winds, we flew the giant spinnaker. What an awesome new experience for me! But the wind suddenly died, as meltemis often do. So instead of motoring to Sifnos and arriving at night, we decided to anchor at Ormos Apokreiosis, a peaceful bay on the west side of rugged, dry Kythnos. Anchoring was somewhat tricky, as the bottom — as is the case in many places in Greece and Turkey — was covered in seagrass. Bottoms covered with sea grass are notorious for poor holding. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I jumped in with a mask and snorkel to find some real sand. Two anchors later, we were set and secure. The evening routine then began again, with me swimming in the calm waters followed by eating, talking, and enjoying the quiet night under the moon and stars. I couldn't hear any crickets, but the goats on the hillside made their presence known.

I could go on about the other stops we made — Siphos, Ios, Paros, Mykonos — but one wasn't that much different from or better than the others, at least in terms of what I was looking for. For me, the pleasure was all about contentment, not wild excitement.

Paros was one of the few places where we actually got off the boat and did a little exploring on land. After an interesting car ride on the narrow Greek roads — shared with large buses, motorbikes, and bravely driven automobiles — we arrived at the very traditional yet charming Greek fishing village of Naoussa. It's a place that has become very popular with Greeks and foreign travelers alike. I was glad to have arrived on a Sunday, as the village was less crowded than normal, but all the many cafes that lined the bay were still open. We got to watch the fishermen do their work, hanging fresh octopus and mackerel to dry in the sun, and to tend to their boats. We meandered through the streets of town, which were designed narrow to provide much appreciated shade during the hot days of summer. While I liked Naoussa and being among travellers, I preferred being on the cat, as it was cooler and more relaxing.

Dining out during our cruise was, of course, always a pleasure. I love Greek food and the unique smells of the way they prepare lamb, other meats and fish. Cats apparently like it, too, as there would always be a few moving skittishly from one table to the next hoping to fill out their thin bodies. I also like the Greek tradition of customers walking into the kitchen to select what fish they want for dinner.

Another thing I loved was not being hounded by email. What a pleasure that was!

Our last night aboard Pacific Breeze is always a bit of a sad one. Guido's four weeks and my two weeks seemed to pass so quickly. But at least we had the memories and something even better to look forward to — another cruise on the big cat next year in Greece.

— stefanie 12/15/11

Cirque — Beneteau First 42s7
Louis Kruk and Laura Willerton
Beyond Mexico
(San Francisco Bay)

Five years ago, we intended to cruise Mexico for a couple of months. Plans change, and this is our fifth winter season aboard Cirque in the tropics. After saying goodbye to our many good cruising friends in Mexico, we've continued south to El Salvador. On our way south, we stopped at the cruiser favorites of Las Hadas, Zihua, Acapulco, Huatulco and the new marina at Puerto Chiapas. While they still hadn't gotten the water and electricity hooked up, it's a great new facility, and Enrique, the harbormaster, couldn't have been more helpful.

Using Puerto Chiapas — previously known as Puerto Madero — as a base, we took a land trip to several colonial towns in the mountains. After becoming accustomed to tropical temperatures at sea level, we found the temperatures at 7,000 feet to be on the chilly side. Nonetheless, it made for an enlightening and picturesque trip.

Every photo tells a story, so I picked seven — at the right — to share with you. Clockwise from the lower right:

1) While on our way to Zihua, I landed a 42-inch bull dorado. Notice me wearing what Laura calls my "official Cabela's fishing ensemble".

2) While in Acapulco, we enjoyed a 'tourist day', stopping to see the cliff divers at La Quebrada and the ancient Fort Fuerte de Santiago. Laura appreciated how buff the divers were.

3) This church is located in the mountain village of San Juan Chamula, and dates back to the 1500s. It was built as a Catholic church, but over time the locals reverted back to their original beliefs. After this, the pews were removed and replaced with straw for sitting on. Most of the Catholic icons are gone, and instead of priests, there are shamans outfitted in colorful garb, chanting and sacrificing chickens.

4) On our way south, we stopped at the little fishing village of Papanoa, where we were glad to see that our old friend Frank Brink, at 86 years of age, is still in good health. A 15-year resident of the village, he's the only gringo in town. We first met him three years ago and found him to be delightful.

5) We've seen countless dolphins over the years, but until I took this shot, never a Risso's dolphin. The Rissos' are the largest of the species and huge compared to the others. They have a bulbous head but a nearly imperceptible beak.

6) In order to leave Mexico, we needed to get an international zarpe. The process included a lot of paperwork, payments to various agencies — and a visit by a drug sniffing dog. This guy wasn't going to find anything of interest on Cirque.

7) Street vendors are always colorful. These were at 7,000 feet, where the thin air made the colors seem even more vivid.

What I really couldn't photograph well were the yellow-bellied sea snakes. When I first saw the snakes, I wasn't sure I could believe my eyes. But then we came across dozens of them several miles farther out at sea. Doing a little research, we learned that the yellow-bellied is the most prevalent sea snake in the world, and as befits a member of the cobra family, has a highly neurotoxic venom. Fortunately, they live their lives at sea and spend 90% of the time beneath the surface.

The next several months should find us continuing on to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We intend to transit the Canal in April, then find a marina on the Caribbean where we can leave Cirque for the summer months.

Having decided that we really like cruising, after all these years we finally invested in a dodger. They're actually a pretty good idea for the tropics.

— louis 02/04/12

Angel Louise — Catalac 41 Cat
Ed and Sue Kelly
London, England
(Des Moines, Iowa)

Sue and I are down to just 98 days left at St. Katherine's Dock here in London. We don't want the time to end, as we're greatly enjoying ourselves. We've found the winter climate here to be like that of Seattle, as they have fewer than 50 hours of sunshine in a typical January. But the moderating influence of the maritime climate and the Gulf Stream somewhat make up for the lack of sunshine.

Our biggest problem has been preparing for a feared week-long freezing stretch. We've never had our boat in Iowa, so she's not set up for such cold temps. Our cat's engine compartments and the three lazarettes at the back of the cockpit have no heat or way to be winterized, so we resorted to purchasing five tube-style 1-ft- and 2-ft-long greenhouse heaters to provide gentle heat under all the pipes aft.

As much as we've enjoyed London, we've resolved to spend next winter in warmer Turkey. Native Iowans who once had what it took to deal with temps of 20 degrees below zero and 10-day stretches of below freezing, we turned into warm weather wimps after cruising in the Caribbean. So we have cranked up Angel Louise's Sig Marine 170 diesel-fired fireplace to keep us toasty during the London winter.

We've also decided that we'll go to Turkey the hard way, meaning the way Charlemagne — aka King of the Franks (768) and Emperor of the Romans (800) — dreamed of doing a millennium ago. That means we'll drop Angel Louise's mast, engage her twin 38-hp diesels, and head across the English Channel to Holland. From the Netherlands, we'll navigate the Rhine from the Atlantic side, up to where it joins the Main River. Then we'll proceed through the canal between the Main and the Danube River — to an altitude of 1,200 feet! — before passing Vienna, Budapest and through the 10 Eastern European countries through which the Danube flows. By the time we reach the Strait of Bosporus that divides Asia and Europe, we'll have completed a 2,000-mile passage to and through the Black Sea.

But solving the problems of cold have been less an issue than solving bureaucratic issues of the European Union countries. Their Schengen Treaty provides for effortless passage by the E.U. citizens without passports, but it limits non-E.U. members to just three months every six months inside the E.U. There is, however, some provision for a three-month extension before the first three months are up. The United Kingdom and Norway have been refuges from Schengen ­— as have the Channel Islands, which don't have the 20% VAT either. Foreign mariners can keep their boats in E.U. countries for 18 months before VAT is applied.

None of this would be so bad had not Turkey suddenly decided to only allow foreign boats to stay three months out of any six-month period. So there's no more popping over to Greece to restart the clock. We'll have to see how this all shakes out, but it sure wouldn't be good for marinas or coastal tourism in Turkey.

— ed 01/12/12

Groovy — Hunter 44
Mark and Emily Fagan
(Always On The Move)

There was a lot of on-the-water action in Acapulco on January 15. We had just dropped the hook at Isla Roqueta, one of the islands in the bay, after a 13-hour sail down from Papanoa, and were finishing our bean burritos when a fleet of large sailboats came racing up the channel. What a fantastic sight it was, with Acapulco's famous Honolulu-like beachfront high-rises in the background, and the banana boats, jet skis and recreational boaters weaving in and out of the race course. When the leader, Vincitore, got a little close to Patches — they're both TP 52s — as they tacked, my husband Mark said, "They're gonna hit!"

"Nah," I responded, "that would never happen."

Then crunch! The next thing we saw, the Vincitore crew had doused the jib and were driving the boat back to her berth. But anchored just off the beach, we had perfect 'front row seats' as the rest of the fleet soared by, spinnakers flying. What a great afternoon!

Acapulco is one beautiful place. Its three-mile by three-mile tropical bay is a little smaller than that of cruiser favorite Tenacatita Bay, 500 miles to the north. But unlike Tenacatita Bay, Acapulco is a major tourist center, and also has a port and a naval base. In addition, it's warmer, rimmed by taller jungle mountains, and has two million people living in the immediate area. Acapulco exploded from a village of 4,000 in the '40s to a huge city in the '60s as a result of becoming popular with Hollywood types and international travelers. Acapulco's popularity with the international set has declined in recent decades, but it has become more popular with Mexican tourists. Part of the reason is that it's only 190 miles from Mexico City's 20 million residents. The Acapulco area, including some malls and the nightclub area, have sporadically been the scene of some horrific narco-on-narco violence. But according to United Kingdom government travel advisories, only two foreign tourists were killed by gunfire last year.

We want to thank Latitude for reporting on crime in Mexico, as you always seem to cover the info in terrific detail and with lots of common sense. We've felt very safe down here, and love the Mexican people. But last year some cruising friends accidentally ended up scarily close to crossfire in Acapulco, and other friends had their outboard stolen off the back of their dinghy — which was on the davits! — while in Mantenchen Bay. That was spooky, because our boat and another boat were nearby. So there are pockets of problems, even in the coastal areas.

People often wonder how people get to cruise, so we'll share our story. Mark, now 58, was a customer service engineer for Xerox for 26 years, and I, now 52, was a software engineer for 10 years and the co-owner of an IT consulting firm for another 10 years. I left the corporate world in '01, and Mark in '05, and we simplified our lives. Mark then ran a boutique bicycle shop out of our garage, and I was a personal trainer for five years. It was during that time that we learned to live on very little.

In May of '07 we decided to embark on a life of adventure travel. So we rented out our Arizona house and moved into a travel trailer. For 2.5 years we crisscrossed the United States. In January of '10, we decided to take to the sea, so we purchased a Hunter 44 and headed to Mexico. Our goal is to spend six months cruising in our motor home and six months cruising on our boat: the old 'six and six' that is so popular with so many cruisers.

There are so many ways to cruise Mexico, and we were surprised that so many people do it on budgets that are so much larger than ours. Most cruisers in Mexico spend a lot of time in marinas, probably because they are used to cruising that way from sailing the West Coast, where anchorages tend to be rolly. Having come from New England and Caribbean sailing backgrounds, we never budgeted for marina stays. In fact, it wasn't until a month ago that we made our first real stay in a marina while cruising. Because anchorages in Mexico are often rolly and shore access can be difficult, we'd advise cruisers to budget for spending 50% of the time in marinas. This is very different from Maine and totally unlike the Caribbean.

For those looking for a specific number on our basic cost of cruising in Mexico, we'd say we probably spend $750 to $900 a month on living expenses. That includes fuel, food and laundry, which is about all we spend money on in Mexico. For further details, I'd direct people to our website at

— emily 01/10/12

Readers — Mark and Emily's Mexico Tips #1 and #2, which can be found on their website, are the best we've ever read. If you're headed to Mexico for the first time, they will answer a million questions. That said, we don't think Mexican anchorages are any more rolly than those in the Caribbean, and know that many people spend entire seasons in Mexico without spending more than a couple of days in marinas.

Cruise Notes:

"We've been hauled out at the Singlar yard in San Blas, Mexico, for the last month and have loved it," report Dave and Leiann Scee of the Port Townsend-based Cascade 42 Chrysalis II. "Despite gringo local Norm Goldie ranting over the VHF that San Blas is unsafe at night, we and our friends haven't found that to be the case. In fact, we enjoy ice cream in the central plaza almost every night, then walk the dark streets back to the boatyard, and haven't had any trouble. Norm also tells everyone that they can't get into the San Blas estuary without his help. Nonsense! Using our GPS, we made it in three hours after high tide, and never saw less than eight feet of water. Things may change after the summer rains or hurricanes, but we found entering to be easy. The best way to enjoy San Blas is to start by turning off your VHF so Norm can't get into your life, cross the bar, then tie up at the marina. If you need to haul, we think San Blas offers what may be the best bang for the buck on the Pacific Coast, as they charge only $1/ft/day, and they let you do all your own work. They're great folks, too. San Blas is wonderful old Old Mexico, so please don't let Norm or anyone else drive you away."

A number of folks in this year's cruising class tell us that the always controversial Norm Goldie has been bad-mouthing his hometown, and without justification. True, a few outboards have been stolen, but we haven't had any reports of hostility toward cruisers, most of whom have told us they loved San Blas.

"I checked into Ensenada on February 10, and not only was there no mention of the supposed new visa policy, nobody had even heard of it," reports Eric Sorensen of the Half Moon Bay-based Ericson 29 Nanu. "In fact, it was my easiest check-in to Mexico ever, taking only 45 minutes from start to finish. I'm a little behind the crowd this year, but I'm sure there will still be plenty of sun and surf."

Arnaldo Dallera of the Sausalito-based Silverton 40 Aldalisa reports that he also cleared in at Ensenada on a cruise from San Franciso to La Paz, and it was a "walk in the park." Using an agent, the paperwork was completed in less than two hours — oddly enough, more than an hour longer than it took Sorensen to do it himself. "The new law does not affect cruisers," Dallera was told.

Want more proof that Mexico is a cruising bargain? A month ago Gabriela Verdon of the Australia-based Catalina 42 Larrakin went to the market in downtown Puerto Vallarta where the restaurants shop, and bought what she reckoned was two weeks' worth of fresh fruit and veggies, with a bunch of seafood thrown in. More specifically, she got a couple of pounds of swordfish, five Pismo clams, 13 limes, seven tomatoes, five carrots, four avocados, four bananas, four cucumbers, three apples, three pears, a pineapple, a bunch of broccoli, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic, sprouts, lettuce and other greens, string beans, and whatever else you see in the photo on the previous page — all for $32. It was good quality stuff, too. Can't do that at Whole Foods or any other store in the States. Or in the Caribbean. Or in the South Pacific. Or in Europe. You can, however, do it in parts of Southeast Asia.

"We couldn't agree more with Latitude's evaluation that the Sea of Cortez is one of the great cruising grounds of the world," writes Paul Martson of the Ventura-based Corsair 31 trimaran Sally Lightfoot. "We — meaning myself and my San Francisco-based crew Jared Brockway and Genevieve Peterson — are just back from a five-day weekend on Sally, which is currently 'springing' out of Puerto Escondido. We circumnavigated Isla Carmen, and saw lots of jumping rays, a couple of whales, and even some Sally Lightfoot crabs, from which my boat got her name. The crabs and my tri share the same characteristics of being wide, light and swift."

Not all Bashes are bad. "I just received a video of my husband Stephen and his two crew aboard our Santa Barbara-based Catalina 42 MoonShyne taking advantage of favorable winds to sail up the coast of Baja at speeds up to 8.5 knots," reports Bente Millard. "Crewing for Stephen are two friends he made in La Cruz. One is Hans, a world traveller from the Netherlands by way of New Zealand aboard a wooden boat he built himself. The other is Kenny, aka Santa Claus, of the Hunter 44 Sangria, who usually has a parrot on his shoulder. The trio left La Cruz at midnight on January 30th, made stops in Cabo, Mag Bay and Turtle Bay, and are now en route to Ensenada with a still-perfect weather window. We're going to party like it's 1999 here at the Santa Barbara YC when MoonShyne pulls into her empty and lonely slip. On the other hand, we can't wait to go cruising again."

Giddyup! "My husband Bill and his 20-year-old son Keene had never ridden horses until we got to Stone Island, Mexico, near Mazatlan," reports ShantiAna Bartlett of the San Francisco-based Columbia 39 ShantiAna. "I wanted to take my guys somewhere easy for their first ride, and figured that Stone Island, with miles of white sandy beach lined by coconut palms, would be the perfect place. The horses were a little rough around the edges, and the 'saddles' were made of fiberglass with no padding whatsoever! So I suggested my guys wear pants with underwear instead of their swimsuits in order to protect 'their guys'. But did my guys listen? Of course not.
"The horses loved to trot," ShantiAna continues, "which for the boys to become men was really painful. I told them they needed to kick their horses harder to make them gallop, which would be easier on the guys' cojones. Well, when they did that, the horses took off on a dead run! Fortunately, both guys managed to stay aboard, and from time to time our guide — 'The Marlboro Man' because of the ever present cigarette in his mouth — would cut them off to get them to stop. After we got five miles down the beach, our time was up. Horses love to head back to the barn, of course, so they took off on a dead run again. My cowboy hat flew off, Keene's stirrup flew off, and Bill's saddle and Bill got completely sideways on the horse before he made a miraculous recovery. Bill didn't hang onto the reins when he got off his horse to fix the 'saddle', which was a mistake, because the horse took off for home without him. I almost peed in my pants watching Bill in pursuit of the horse. "Sheeeet happens", said the Marlboro Man in a Mexican drawl. Bill had to ride back with me on my little pony. For a mere 300 pesos — about $25 bucks — horse riding at Stone Island is a 'must do' — at least for those with the cojones to handle it. But if you're carrying a saddle on your boat, you might want to bring it."

"We're finishing up this issue of Changes from our spring office aboard 'ti Profligate anchored off St. Barth. We'll have a lot more on the Caribbean in the next issue, but we wanted to mention that we got to the island just in time for the party that 86-year-old Marius Stakleborough, owner of the notorious Le Select Bar for over 60 years, threw for the 68th birthday of Jim Green of Martha's Vineyard. Among many other things, Green, a major figure in the outlandish partying history of old St. Barth, did a stint married to a famous actress, knocked off 40 bottles of champagne with buddy Jimmy Buffet one night at Autour du Rocher to celebrate one of their 40th birthdays, married a Swedish babe 20 years his junior who was cooking burgers at Le Select, and started one circumnavigation with just $150. Despite his age, everything about Green is big and strong — right down to his teeth. For instance, you could slip some gravel in with his morning flakes, and he'd grind it up with those big teeth, digest it, crap it out, and be none the wiser. But that's the kind of guy it takes to do what he's done.

One day Nate Benjamin — designer, builder and restorer extraordinaire of wood boats — spent a few minutes gazing at Green's Tango II lying at anchor. "What you've got there," he finally said to Jim, "isn't even an overnighter, she's' a daysailer." Green laughed and said, "Maybe so, but I've sailed her around the world three times." Mind you, at 47-ft, Tango II is a little longer version of Hank Easom's sometimes submarine-like Yucca, but with a very small house. And Tango II was buried in Norway before she was launched to keep the Nazis from getting their hands on her. When asked by a non-sailing guest about the longest passage on his circumnavigations, Green said that it was the 3,000 miles from the Galapagos to French Polynesia. "But on my second and third trips around, I bypassed French Polynesia and sailed 5,000 miles to Suva, which took me 40 days the first time and 37 days the second time." Why not stop at French Polynesia? "The gendarmes had caught me smoking a little herb the first time, and told me they put my name on a list and that I better never come back."

Green has a billion stories. "I met this great old guy in Saipan who had lost an arm to a shark at age 15. Not only that, he was going to college in Japan when World War II broke out and had to stick it out for the duration. Anyway, he became very successful and built a big house near the ocean. But instead of living in the fancy house, he lived in a little shack on the water. He liked it better. Before I left, he asked me what he could give me for a gift. I told him I wanted a giant clam shell. So he walked down to the end of the dock and dove into the water. A little while later this old one-armed guy came back with a clamshell about two feet across. We cooked it, ate the meat, and now that shell is on my front porch in the Vineyard."

It's been to everyone's benefit that Green has mellowed a bit over the years, but he still gets miffed at things like the Social Security Administration. "I don't have a problem with my regular Social Security check, but shouldn't a 68-year-old guy get a little extra for having a two-year-old daughter?"

"Panama, the Galapagos, the Marquesas, Fiji, New Zealand — here I come!" writes young Rachel Edwards, formerly of Portola Valley and Santa Barbara, but more recently a graduate of Bates College in Maine. "My friend Bradley Farrand, who my boyfriend Jeremy and I lived and sailed with in Keri Keri, New Zealand, needs help delivering his Beneteau 50 back home, so I found a way to get back on the water." A family friend of Latitude and frequent crew aboard Profligate, Rachel cruised the Pacific for five years with her family aboard their Marquesas 53 Harmony starting at age seven. Fun-loving, smart, fit, and poised, Rachel could be a poster girl for the benefits of cruising during one's youth.

Before we left Mexico, we had dinner at the La Cruz home of Jack and Muriel Taylor. We can't remember the last time we'd eaten with a 91-year-old who lived in a four-story place with no elevator. But Jack is an unusual guy, an engineering graduate of the University of Michigan who went on to a full life of building boats and houses and delivering boats. He built four boats he named after birds — the 28-ft Teal, the 28-ft cat ketch Murre, the 50-ft ferro-ketch Skua he sailed to New Zealand and back over a period of four years, and Blue Bird, a 28-ft folding tri he wants to sail to Hawaii. Over a career mostly on the East Coast, Taylor got to know and often worked for sailing greats such as Ted Turner, Ted Hood, the Gougeon Brothers and many others.

"We were doing the Miami to Ochos Rios Race ages ago," Jack remembers, "when the boat I was racing on was passed by Ted Turner's 'Cal 40 killer' Vamp. It was blowing hard, and though it's probably been 50 years, I'll never forget the steely-eyed look of the man at the helm of Vamp. I later learned he was 'Commodore something'.

"Commodore Tompkins?"

"Yes, I think that was his name. A real steely-eyed helmsman he was. Anyway, this was so long ago that after the race Turner walked around the dock trying to scrounge up people to help him deliver the boat back to Miami. He 'sold' it as a pleasant trip in the sunny Caribbean, and managed to enlist his wife of the time, a Jamaican boy who slept all the way, a doctor and wife who had absolutely no idea what they were getting into, and me. Ted was real happy when I offered to stand in for him on some of the middle-of-the-night watches."

Speaking of Commodore 'Steely Eyes' Tompkins of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl, which is currently in New Zealand, he just celebrated his 80th birthday at the Presidio YC. Congratulations! But remember, Commodore, you're still a kid compared to Taylor.

There will be no Sea of Cortez Sailing Week this spring. The usual suspects who organize the event have other commitments.

But make no mistake, the huge cruiser gathering that is Loreto Fest will be held May 4-6 as scheduled in Puerto Escondido. New Hidden Port YC Commodore Rachel Jameson of IWeld reports that there's a great new cooperative spirit in Puerto Escondido after all of last year's 'troubles', and the relations with the latest Singlar Marina manager have been getting better all the time. Loreto Fest is a giant mash of games, music, seminars, food and much more, all to raise funds to support deserving local charities, mostly schools. A couple of friends who attended last year were skeptical, but despite the unusually windy weather, came away raving about the event.

The early May Loreto Fest dates mean that the waters of the Sea will have warmed up after the winter cold. Bueno! Besides, a 'season in Mexico' without a couple of months in the Sea of Cortez is really only half a season. Don't miss the Sea, and don't miss Loreto Fest.

If you're cruising, we'd love to hear from you. Just a couple of short paragraphs with 'who, what, where and why' are all that's needed. But to really score points, include a couple of high res photos of yourself. Thanks. Gracias. Merci.

Missing the pictures? See the March 2012 eBook!


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