Latitude 38

Changes in Latitudes

April, 2001

With reports this month from Nepenthe in New Zealand; Tranquilo at Isla Isabella, Mexico; Shayna on cruising from Croatia to Israel; from Sea Ray on hauling out in French Polynesia; a welcome from the Shell Dock in Nicaragua; from Velella on sailing north from Z-town; from Beyond on cruising from Malaysia to the Maldives; from Pizazz on making the rough passage between Bonaire and Cartagena as easy as possible; and, Cruise Notes.

Nepenthe - Folkes 39
Tom Scott
Plain Sailing To New Zealand
(Menlo Park

With apologies to Garrison Keillor, it has been a quiet season down here in Whangarei. The number of visiting yachts has been down considerably over previous years, something that I expect is due to a combination of factors. One is a kind of rebound effect from last year's America's Cup throngs. Another may be that the new marina at Opua, Bay of Islands, is now up and running, and that both Gulf Harbor Marina near Auckland and the marina at Tauranga are both attracting cruisers that might have otherwise come to Whangarei. Some local officials suspect that the press coverage of several incidents of auto theft and vandalism may have also played a role. Another factor could be last year's Pacific Festival of the Arts in Noumea, New Caledonia. It's a lot easier to get from Noumea to Australia than it is to get from Noumea to New Zealand. Finally, the notoriously lumpy - and sometimes dangerous - November passage from the South Pacific to New Zealand may have deterred some cruisers. In any event, there are certainly fewer foreign yachts in Whangarei and New Zealand this season.

My own experience with the much-feared 1,100-mile passages from either Fiji or Tonga to New Zealand suggest that the best time to catch good weather is later than what is normally recommended. The 'official' cyclone season begins on November 1, which has everyone scurrying to New Zealand before or about that time. But I haven't seen any cyclones in New Zealand much before Christmas. In the past, I tended to leave the South Pacific islands in late October or early November - and got beat-up with some regularity. In recent years, I have delayed my departure from the islands until late November or even early December - and have enjoyed pleasant passages each time. In contrast, those who made the passages earlier in November reported some unpleasant weather on the way down.

Generally speaking, the Kiwi cruisers and others who have done several New Zealand passages concur with the advisability of a late departure. My trips may have just been cases of good luck, of course, a factor not to be neglected in generalizing about the weather from personal experience.

As a note on ancient history, I found out that celestial navigation still works! A few days after I left New Zealand for Tonga last year, my GPS died. So I had to resort to the ancient and arcane arts of our forefathers for the first time in many years. That celestial navigation still works is something that I infer from the fact that I arrived in Vava'u, Tonga, as planned, as opposed to some other place. But having so recently been reminded of all the tables and arithmetic involved, and of the great many mistakes that are possible - I made my fair share of them - I have developed a new and more passionate love for GPS. If nobody is looking, I am wont to fondle my new unit's cute, pert little buttons, and press my lips to its sexy little LCD display. But then we singlehanders are different.

P.S. Latitudes are still prized items down here in Wangarei. After I got my last copy in the mail, it wasn't more than an hour before I had people banging on the hull demanding to be put on the waiting list. If I were so inclined, I'm sure I could rent out my copy.

- tom 3/15/01

Tranquilo - Pearson Vanguard 32
Neil & Debra McQueen
Isla Isabella
(Santa Cruz)

Having had our fill of urban delights and bus rides all around Old Mazatlan, we set off south from the municipal harbor shortly after noon on a muggy Thursday. After motoring south for nearly six hours, we found a benevolent northerly breeze around sunset, and enjoyed a mellow wing-on-wing sail for about six hours. We were motoring again when the sun rose, and before long Isla Isabella appeared out of the haze like a mirage. A volcanic bird sanctuary that's less than a mile across, Isla Isabella is located about 30 miles offshore, a little more than halfway between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

We dropped the hook in the east anchorage, which is sheltered by the island and Islotes Las Monas, two guano-covered stacks. There was a large greeting party awaiting us: hundreds of blue-footed boobies, frigates, brown pelicans and great blue herons. Most hung around the rocky outcroppings where they roost, honking and squawking a welcome. Some of the frigates circled above on thermal updrafts, and pestered the innocent boobies by stealing their fish. Otherwise, we were alone.

After ensuring that the anchor was well buried in the sand - this can be a tricky anchorage - we donned our snorkel gear and swam over to the nearby islotes. We'd been delighted at the abundance and variety of fish we'd seen off Lover's Beach at Cabo San Lucas, and innocently doubted we'd find anything like it elsewhere. It's true, too, as this was nothing like snorkeling with 50 other people off a cruise ship and dodging pangas in a noisy bay just off the entrance to a busy harbor.

But Isabella provided a different breed of surprises. There was a fast-moving current that curled around a rock on the south side of Las Monas, and a huge school of yellowtail surgeonfish came with it. And soon we were feasting our sights on moorish idols, Achilles tangs, guineafowl pufferfish, Pacific boxfish, giant damselfish, and many more. Even though we were eager to return to our boat and identify what we'd seen using Gar Goodson's guide, we stayed in the water until our fingers turned pruney. Gar's slim book, which fits in any small boat's overstuffed bookshelf, is inexpensive yet comprehensive, and is packed with illustrations. We discovered that two of the last fish we'd seen were azure parrotfish and purple surgeonfish.

During our second day on the hook at Isabella, a bunch of boats with friends from the Ha-Ha filtered in: Sipapu, Indara, Chewbacca, Orient Star, Sojourner, Poco Loca and Lilia. Between boat arrivals, Neil and I dinghied around to Bahia Tiburoneros, where the booming breakers hitting the cliffs sounded like whales taking deep breaths. There is a fair sized fish camp in the southern cove, and the fishermen allowed us to tie our dinghy to one of their mooring lines after we beached the dink. We took a short walk through two banana groves to the crater lake, which was surrounded by nesting frigates. The lake was silent and still, the only sounds being an occasional cry from the frigates and the beating of their wings.

Back at the beach, we watched the fishermen - who had been longlining offshore - unload their catch of 20 or so pez martillo and hammerhead sharks. The average shark was only a couple of feet long, with the largest in the catch measuring just five feet. The fishermen made short work of removing the shark fins to one pile, the heads and tails to another, and quickly gutting them with one swipe of a dangerous-looking knife. After the cleaning was done, the fishermen threw the shark guts into the air and laughed as the frigate birds swooped down to feast on the offal.

Juan and Carlos, two marine biology students, were on hand to measure the shark catch. They told us that the larger pez martillo were all but fished out in that region. We found it ironic that the relatively harmless birds are safe at Isabella, while normally scary sharks are being massacred. Juan and Carlos are just two of the students stationed on Isabella through March to study the various species that make the island and surrounding waters home. Three to four months seemed hardly long enough to study all the local natural life.

A few mornings later, the sound of very heavy and deep breathing brought us rushing on deck to see three large whales - no more than five boatlengths from us - heading north. Checking out their dorsal fins and tails through the binoculars, I went to the Audubon Society Nature Guide to the Pacific Coast to see which kind they might be - and decided they were a family of blue whales. According to the book, this is where blues should be at that time of year. However, a few of our neighbors said they were too close to shore to be blue. Maybe. I'm just a first-time cruiser with a couple of field guides and an enthusiasm for nature that has been growing exponentially since we left home. Whatever kind of whales they were, the half hour they spent in the anchorage had all the cruisers whooping with delight.

The trail from the biologists' quarters up to the lighthouse is marked with red tape so that conscientious hikers can make the climb without overly disturbing the hundreds of nesting birds. Once we got to the top, we witnessed a mating dance between two yellow-footed boobies. We were also rewarded with a cooling seabreeze while we enjoyed the panoramic view. Downy fledglings honked quietly from the grassy nests that were their homes, and mother boobies kept a keen eye on us hikers, ready to protect their young. The boobies have a wide array of gentle calls they make, including a whistle much like the sound of air being pumped into an inflatable dinghy.

On our fourth day of snorkeling, we visited the shoal between the Las Monas. While there, we added several new species to our list - including many kinds of sea stars, and brightly speckled crabs and sea cucumbers. Neil observed a moray eel and photographed two spotted eagle rays. In fact, it only took Neil about 30 minutes to fire off an entire roll of film with our underwater camera. During a later dinghy expedition to the west side of Isabella, we were slightly intimidated by the powerful surges that bash up against the steep volcanic cliffs. Various indentations in the cliffs create blowholes and whirlpools, which suck the churning green water in before forcing it out as backwash. The blue-footed boobies nested on ledges high up on the cliff walls, honking their gentle trumpets above the sound of the waves. It was all very beautiful, but we felt muy pequeño in our eight-foot dinghy - particularly when a 10-foot manta ray abruptly splashed to the surface next to us.

We found that low tide seemed to be the best time to snorkel on the east side of the island, and that there is probably no good time to snorkel the exposed west side. Snorkeling novices looking to overcome their anxieties might find Isabela to be a fine place to conquer their fears. The easiest snorkeling can be had in the shallows, never far from the safety of one's boat anchored just a short swim away. Alternatively, anchoring the dinghy right off the shoal makes for a good sense of security just a couple of breaststrokes from the good snorkeling. The calm waters were 72 degrees when we were there in mid-December, and the air temperature usually reached the low 80s.

Sailors arriving at Isabella the first time are cautioned to tread lightly. The water is clear enough to see the bottom, so there's no excuse for fouling one's anchor on the fragile coral heads. Nonetheless, we watched more than one skipper roar into the anchorage seeming to be in a big hurry to drop his hook. What's the rush when you're cruising? If you time your arrival for daylight, it just takes a little care and patience to locate a sandy patch on which to drop your hook. And what could be more refreshing after a passage than a quick dip with the mask and fins to check that the CQR or Bruce is secure?

A week at Isabella is enough to turn anyone into a naturalist, and being there made us want to help see that she's properly preserved. Experienced cruisers told us that Isabella is as good as the Galapagos - which is surely an exaggeration - but it's a great substitute that doesn't require a long offshore passage. In fact, this snorkelers' and birdwatchers' paradise is an easy daysail from San Blas. When we head north to the Sea of Cortez in the spring, we're going to spend another week at Isabella. With a watermaker, some dry goods and propane, we could make Isabella our home base for awhile and never get bored. Best of all for budget cruisers, there's nowhere to spend any money. Nothing like preserving the cruising kitty while enjoying paradise.

We've since moved on to Punta de Mita at the northwestern tip of Banderas Bay. We've been here surfing a couple of months, having a great time. This place is full of sea and bird life, too. The nice thing about being out at Punta de Mita is there is no port captain, so you don't have to check in and out or pay expensive fees.

- neil and deborah 3/15/01

Shayna - Hylas 45.5
Larry Hirsch & Dorothy Taylor
Croatia To Israel
(San Diego)

Here's an update on the roamings of the 'oldsters' - as you so fondly refer to us. We're still alive and cruising, but left Shayna in Israel while we flew back to San Diego.

Our last report - which can be found in the March Latitude - was from Croatia at the end of the '99 season, where we'd hauled our 16-ton boat with an auto crane at Borik Marina, Zadar, Croatia. Usually they only haul and launch smaller boats with an auto crane, but after much moaning and groaning from the crane operator, the job got done. We headed south in mid-March with a freshly painted bottom. Thanks to the northeasterly boras and the southeasterly siroccos, the weather can be unsettled that early in the year, so we made several stops to let bad weather pass. In fact, we spent a week anchored behind the small island of Uvala Luka, near Korcula. It's a great anchorage with fine holding, and it gave us a chance to travel around Croatia by land.

We then made a 120-mile overnight passage due south across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi, Italy, as we needed to pick up some watermaker parts. This passage required us to dodge ferries all night long. At 0300, Dorothy counted 10 ferries within a five-mile radius! We then sailed 80 miles southeast back across the Adriatic to Corfu, Greece, on the Ionian Sea. One of the reasons we stopped there was to pick up a Pocketmail unit that had been sent to us to replace the one that had 'disappeared' in Brindisi. Unfortunately, there is high duty for such things in Greece - unless you travel a couple of hundred miles to the airport in Athens to battle the bureaucracy there. By the way, we think Pocketmail is the greatest for picking up email while on the go.

In any event, we checked in at Gouvia Marina during the busy Easter week festivities. Perhaps the most interesting event was the 'pot throwing'. Big crowds gathered in the main square to watch residents throw huge clay pots - we're not making this up - from their balconies. As scheduled, at 11:00 a.m. everyone simultaneously threw their pots to the ground from four stories up. What a crash! They do this each year as a symbol of their release from slavery. You don't want to be walking on the sidewalk when that happens.

The Greek islands in the Ionian Sea - which is the extreme northwest coast - were beautiful, had many good anchorages, and were populated by very nice people. On the other hand, the 100-mile long Sea of Corinth - which takes you almost all the way to Athens - was rather boring except for the tiny island of Trizonia. Just a few miles west of the Corinth Canal, Trizonia has a couple of small hotels and Lizzie's 'yacht club', a funky building on a hill that serves gourmet meals and overlooks the unfinished marina. The marina is well protected, and boats could tie up indefinitely for free - although there was no water or electricity. Our primary impression of the Corinth Canal - which saves some 300 miles in getting to Athens and the Aegean Sea - is that it's expensive.

The fabled Cyclades Islands of Greece are huge favorites with tourists, but we deliberately avoided the most popular ones - and as a result had a terrific time. Astapalsia and Sifnos, two of the more quiet Cyclades, were our favorites. We then continued east across the Aegean Sea to Turkey - it's only about 150 miles from Athens to Turkey - and parked Shayna at Marmaris Marina. With the boat secure, we were free to tour the fascinating inland area of Cappadocia, then travel 300 miles north by land to Istanbul, home of the glorious mosques. We also enjoyed whitewater rafting on the Dalaman River, and the great anchorage at Kekova Roads. The latter has a castle on the hill overlooking an ancient city that is now underwater.

Continuing about 300 miles to the southeast, we stopped at the former British colony of Cyprus, which is 37% under Turkish control and 63% under Greek control. From the capital of Nicosia, we took an overnight ferry to Beirut, Lebanon, and visited the most fabulous caverns we've ever seen. Beirut is in the process of reconstruction after years of a terribly destructive civil war.

After returning to our boat, we set out on the 250-mile passage to Israel. Our intention was to head for Haifa, but as a result of fast reaching conditions, we would have had to negotiate the channel in the middle of the night. So we pressed on to Hertzalia, which is north of Tel Aviv. The Israeli Navy contacted us 20 miles out and monitored our progress until we tied up at Hertzalia. We were then boarded by Security, Police, and Customs. They were very polite and spoke good English, but asked a lot of questions. There was lots of construction and noise in the marina, but the staff was friendly and helpful. It's sort of like a smaller Marina del Rey with prices to match - which is nonetheless still cheap by Med standards.

It was a big disappointment to have sailed past Haifa, as we wanted to tie up with our previous Shayna, a Hunter, which is now homeported there. An Israeli had bought her in Florida and had her shipped across the Atlantic and Med on a freighter. We knew she was at Haifa because whenever we met Israeli cruisers they would tell us about the 'other' Shayna. We did get to see her, however, when we took a train trip to Haifa - which, incidentally, is a great city with terrific museums and fabulous gardens surrounding the Bahai Temple.

After a while, we drifted down to Ashdod Marina, south of Tel Aviv, and continued to tour inland. Israel was really exciting. After viewing all the relics of history in the Med, while in Israel we found ourselves in the middle of history being made! By chance, we stood atop the Tower of David Museum in Old Jerusalem with our video camera on September 28, the day violence erupted between the Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount. We have video of all the ambulances and police cars - sirens blaring - rushing to the scene. Many gunshots could be heard.

Despite all the unrest, we felt comfortable leaving Shayna in Ashdod Marina for the winter. Ashdod is about 20 miles from Gaza, and while the helicopters flew overhead to help quell the violence in Gaza, when we were elsewhere in the country it was difficult to believe there was a conflict going on. We were fortunate that we'd already toured the Galilee area before the violence erupted. The Negev Desert and Dead Sea are also fascinating areas, and as long as you don't drive through the Palestinian territories, you won't have any problems.

The best thing about Ashdod Marina is their promotional rate of just $3/day for an unlimited amount of time. They do have utilities, but the shoreside facilities with showers and hot water are still in a temporary prefab building. The security at Ashdod is like that for Air Force One, and we needed picture passes to get in and out of the chain link fence enclosure for our trips to the nearby town. The marina is brightly illuminated from dusk to dawn, and is patrolled by armed guards day and night. The 250-berth marina - which has water as clear as that of any harbor in the Med - is still pretty empty because of all the violence a short distance away. But it won't be empty long, as Ashdod is a boomtown. It has a very busy modern commercial harbor, the new civic and cultural centers are almost complete, and there are great plans to surround the marina with hotels and shops. Ashdod has a population of about 150,000, many of whom are recently from Russia. Hebrew and Russian are the primary languages, but we managed to get by with English.

It remains a mystery to us why we see so few American boats in the Med. A few circumnavigators drift through, but we haven't seen a dozen American boats in going on three years. Sure, the Caribbean is soft and easy, and we want to go back, but there is simply no way to experience the magic of the Med by 'virtual reality' or whatever the latest hi-tech method is. You need to come here and actually 'walk the walk, talk the talk, and press the flesh.' And if you're careful, it's not any more expensive than most places. Lastly, the war talk is all television hype, as we've never felt endangered. Above all, we miss Croatia and her islands.

Our plans for right now? First a quickie trip to Vegas to revisit the chapel on the Strip where we two 70-year-olds got hitched two years ago. We'll head back to Israel before this sees print. If there aren't any bullet holes in our hull, we'll start heading west with stops at Tunisia, Malta and wherever - with the usual disclaimers for wind, weather, mechanical, and crew breakdowns. We may cross the Atlantic at the end of this year, but we might also spend another year in the Med.

- larry & dorothy 1/15/01

Sea Ray - Hydra 46
John Yeamans & Candace Paris
Notes on Raiatea

The western group of the Society Islands is known as the Leeward Islands, and in the heart of the Leewards is Raiatea - which shares the same barrier reef as Tahaa. Raiatea is ground zero for charter boat operations in French Polynesia because it's an easy morning sail to Bora Bora and not that far from Huahine.

Uturoa, the main town on Raiatea, is undergoing urban renewal - Polynesian style. The old waterfront haunts are gone, and a new cruise ship dock and shopping mall highlight the harbor developments. The good part for cruisers is that there is a small boat harbor next to the cruise ship terminal, and it's got a new Shell fuel station that fronts on 200+ feet of new wharf. This is the best fueling facility in the Society Islands, as there is normally very little surge and boats that draw up to 10 feet can be accomodated. Potable water is available from a spigot down the wharf behind the Shell station, so bring your hose and fill your tanks.

After fueling, courteous cruisers move their boats down the wharf so others can fuel while he/she goes to town to provision. As long as space is available - which is most of the time - boats can be left at the wharf all day. It's only 100 yards to Champion Market for provisioning, although there's a locally owned market around the corner that has an even better selection. This combination makes the wharf at Uturoa an excellent place to fuel and provision while visiting the Leeward Isles, or when departing French Polynesia altogether.

Given its central location and the charter boat bases, it should come as no surprise that Raiatea has excellent yacht service facilities. There are two main outfits, and they are located right next to each other. Raiatea Carenage is the older of the two facilities, and is owned by The Moorings charter company. This operation uses a 25-ton Travelift to move boats in and out of the water. We were going to use their facilities, but couldn't without having to disassemble the large radar tower we have near the transom. So we hauled next door at Chantier Naval des Iles Sous le Vent, which uses a marine railway rather than a Travelift. Using the rail eliminated our radar tower problem. Jacques, who runs the yard with the rail, is friendly, relaxed and efficient - which eased our traditional haulout jitters. We had them paint the bottom, replace the zincs, and do a general inspection. The work went quickly and efficiently.

Raiatea Marine, a sister company to Chantier Naval, is a very well stocked chandlery located next to the boatyard. If they don't have what you need, Ariel will find it and get it to the island. Jacques' mom, Jacquelyne, handles customer service and speaks excellent English. Overall, it's a very thorough and pleasing combination. Look them up on the Web at or . Already in the neighborhood? Call them on Channel 72.

With our haulout done, we're heading north to Palmyra via the Cook Islands.

- john and candace 12/15/01

Shell Fuel Dock
Dr. David Raymond May
San Juan del Sur

Please allow me to introduce myself, and let me attempt to enlighten your readers as to the current situation here on the Pacific side of southern Nicaragua. I am the operator of the Shell Fuel Dock here in San Juan del Sur, and currently we have wondrous loads of good health and hospitality - not only in terms of the local populace, but, more directly, in terms of the sailing and surrounding tropical waters. Everything is very mellow here, with all amenities such as found in the United States. In addition, it's just 17 kilometers to Lake Nicaragua, which is home to several active volcanos and unique species such as the world's only freshwater sharks. Nicaragua is truly an underrated gem in terms of natural beauty and resources. As such, if your readers who cruise this way choose to drop their hook in Nicaragua, they shouldn't tell anybody, because I don't want our secret to get out and perhaps be corrupted by prejudices of economy. Nevertheless, we have a big anchorage, a large yard with two heavy cranes for lifting, and inexpensive port fees.

- david 1/10/01

Velella - Wylie 31
Garth Wilcox & Wendy Hinman
Zihuatanejo Northward

We've been meandering north from Z-town since early February to meet up with guests. Even though the days are getting longer, it's about the same warm temperature during the day, but the nights are a little cooler. The amount of daylight in the tropics came as something of a surprise to us. When it's warm, we folks from the Pacific Northwest assume that it's going to be light out until about 10 pm. But when we got to Mexico in November, the temperature was warm, but the sun went down before 6 pm. We had to keep reminding ourselves how early the sun went down so as not to arrive in ports after dark.

After being in the same place for seven weeks, we were afraid that our boat had become permanently attached to the bottom. So we let out a little more chain a few days before our departure so the sand could help clean some of the growth off the chain. And shortly after leaving Z-town, we stopped at a great swimming spot where we were able to thoroughly clean the bottom. It was a good thing we did, because the 'nerf balls' and green slime on the bottom had robbed us of most of our boatspeed. We're not very happy with the bottom paint that we applied only last May. We'd like to scrub the bottom every week, but can't because we're afraid we're going to scrub it all off. While cleaning the bottom, my hands found all the barnacles that we'd missed, and I got cut up pretty good. So now Neosporin is my friend!

We saw some amazing sea life on our way north, including a number of huge turtles floating on the surface. They were like sitting ducks, and we almost ran them over. We also had humpback whales breaching only about 30 yards from our boat. Fortunately it was a large pod that liked to keep jumping, so I had time to get the camera and take several good action shots. We even saw a couple of very poisonous yellow-bellied sea snakes, but not where we wanted to swim.

When you pull into an anchorage, you expect to stay the whole night, but we had two exceptions. One night we were awoken by a nice southerly, and not wanting to miss a fair wind, got up and went sailing north. It was great. But after stopping at another lovely anchorage, we ended up rolling our guts out. We'd have left earlier, but we'd blown a fan belt while anchoring, so didn't have time to change our minds until after we realized how bad it was. By the time we got the replacement belt installed, night had fallen and a departure became a little risky. We left at first light.

We sailed right past Bahia de Navidad - where we would be meeting friends the following week - so we could explore some places to the north before we ran out of time. Tenacatita Bay was one of our stops. We snuck into the all-inclusive five-star Punta Sereno holistic resort to spend the day at the pool. We must have looked as though we belonged, because some other yachties got booted out. We spent another day with some other cruisers and their dinghies making the jungle tour through the mangrove swamp. It was spectacular! The swamp ends quite a ways away, just a short distance from another part of the bay. When we got to the end, we made the short walk to some beach palapas to drink beer and enjoy the local speciality - snapper and shrimp coated with white sauce, wrapped in bacon, deep fried to a crispy brown, then smothered in almond sauce. Delicious! We also did a little snorkeling.

At the very beginning of the jungle ride, there's a charming French restaurant with the awkward name of Restaurant Frances Paris Tropical. It occupies the structure that was built for the set of the movie McHale's Navy. The restaurant has become something of a center for the yachting community, as you can sit at tables on the verandah and enjoy lunch while watching yachties try to land their dinghies in the surf. The food is reasonably priced and delicious, and you can also hang out and play checkers or chess. The restaurant served a Valentine's Day feast, and nearly all the yachties participated. The restaurant also takes orders for supplies from town and sells them at cost. We filled up some jugs with water from the tap behind the restaurant, but this was one time we should have bought the bottled stuff. It wasn't fit for drinking!

We made another short romp north to Chamela Bay. The uninhabited - by people, anyway - islands were home to a huge population of fascinating yellow-footed booby birds. We also loved hiking around the deserted islands, playing in the tide pools, and snorkeling among the rocks. We stayed as long as we could before having to dash back to Melaque to pick up our guests.

- garth & wendy 2/15/01

Garth & Wendy - Folks in Mexico tell us that the Punta Serena holistic retreat was suddenly shut down last month so the owners of the land can build a gaudy hotel on the bay. We were also told that the owners of the popular Restaurant Frances Paris Tropical were given 24 hours to vacate. We're not sure about the resort, but the restaurant supposedly was allowed to stay open. Tenacatita Bay has a long history of property disputes.

By the way, if anyone is reading this while on the hook in Tenacatita Bay, visualize this sequence. 1) The water rapidly gets sucked out of the bay to the point where spots normally 15 feet underwater are completely dry. 2) A short time later, the water comes back in as far as 12 feet higher than the normal high water mark. It sounds impossible, but that's exactly what happened during the 8.0 earthquake that hit the coast of Mexico back in '95. In fact, USC has some great photographs of of the sequence on one of their websites.

Beyond - Custom 65
John & Ingrid Traylor
Malaysia To Oman
(Alta, Wyoming)

Our last newsletter was written in November of '99 from Port Klang, Malaysia. Since then we have crossed another ocean, three seas, and a canal. We're now in Ashkelon, Israel, and would like to report on what happened during those last 8,200 miles.
From Port Klang, we headed northwest for the Malaysian island of Langkawi. We daysailed up the busy Malacca Strait, dodging ships and trying to anchor each afternoon well before dark. Each day - with the temperature at 85° and the humidity 85% - the towering cumulus clouds built into thunderstorms. We kept our fingers crossed that our mast would not attract lightning. One night was memorable for the brilliant flashes of lightning overhead and ear-splitting thunder. It lasted for well over an hour, but all our electronics were still working the next morning.

The beautiful island of Langkawi lies about 30 miles offshore of the border of Malaysia and Thailand. We sailed into the Fyord anchorage and dropped our hook in 20 feet of clear water just 100 yards from shore. Thick jungle covered the hills that rose to the sky on both sides, and monkeys chattered in the trees as brightly-colored parakeets fluttered about. Our good friends Richard and Jessica were anchored with their ketch Papagayo just a short distance away. "This is a gold-star anchorage," we wrote in our log, "perhaps the most scenic since Ambryn Island, Vanuatu."

A few days later we sailed on to the 'Kuah Town' anchorage. Langkawi has lots of attractions, not the least of which is the duty-free port at Kuah. The place is reputed to be the "last best chance" to stock up on duty-free goods before heading across the Indian Ocean. So stock up we did! Ingrid even managed to find a "U.S. grown" turkey for Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving with Papagayo anchored at Phi Phi Don Island, Thailand. This is yet another island of incredible beauty - but it's also very commercial. Just 30 miles east of the huge tourist center at Phuket, hordes of day-trippers come over on 'long tail' water taxis to see the famous white sand beaches and turquoise water. The water taxis packed with tourists crisscross the anchorage, leaving salt spray rooster tails in their wake. The long-tail drivers delight in seeing how close they can come to anchored yachts. Since they're not required to have mufflers, these taxis announce their approach with a terrible racket. We nonetheless stayed for three days.

Our next stop was Chalong Bay on Phuket Island. Phuket has daily jet service from all over the world, so the island is ringed with many luxury hotels and resorts. We found Phuket town to be a great place to shop, as you can find anything if you look long enough. And if it can't be found, some locals will make it for you. The basics of life cost about 25% of what they do in North America or Europe, which is probably one reason you see so many 'ex-pats' here. "Dirty old men with young girls," is how Ingrid describes them. We discovered that we could rent a motorcycle for an entire day with unlimited mileage for just $4 U.S. After I promised Ingrid that I wouldn't deposit her in a ditch - something that happened once in Baja - we set off to explore Phuket. We had so much fun that we did it several more times the next month.

Long before January 1, we decided that we'd celebrate the New Year at Patong Beach, Phuket. Celebrating the New Year there is becoming something of a tradition for yachties about to set off across the Indian Ocean. By mid-afternoon on the 31st there were over 100 cruising boats! The fireworks began shortly after sundown and continued until well past midnight. The Thai people add a special touch: brightly colored hot air balloons that are lifted aloft by open kerosene flames. We watched dozens climb into the warm night sky, carried westward on the northeast monsoon wind.

On January 7, we took off in the same direction as the balloons. Powered by the monsoon winds, we left the green Thai coastline behind. Two days later, our log read: "Andaman Sea, 7 degrees 48 minutes north, 95 degrees 24 minutes east. What a lovely evening! The star-filled sky arches overhead, with the Southern Cross to port and the Big Dipper to starboard. A gentle northwest monsoon breeze pushes Beyond westward at eight knots across the Bay of Bengal."

Three nights later, however, the log tells an entirely different story. "It's a black night. A constant succession of rain squalls clutters the radar screen. The wind is up and down, zero to 25 knots." And so it went for the next seven days: lots of rain squalls, plenty of wind, the sails up and down countless times.

As we took Sri Lanka and India well to starboard, we listened to the haunting Indian melodies over the AM radio. Nine days and 1,700 miles out of Thailand, we sailed into the turquoise waters at Ulegam Atoll, Maldive Islands. There was only one other yacht at anchor, the small sloop Polonaise, which was flying the American flag. Soon the officials came out to welcome us. They were friendly and told us that we were only the second yacht of the season to arrive. The other boat was the first. So we're leading the pack! But what a pleasure it was for us to get a full night's rest, with no wake up calls to reef or alter course for an approaching ship. We both slept 11 hours!

This tiny atoll lies at the northern end of the Maldives, about 400 miles southwest of India. It reminded us of the atolls in Polynesia, with sparkling clear water, white sand beaches and friendly islanders. The people are Muslim, although the women do not cover their faces. Each morning, young women tidy the neat village, sweeping the sand streets with palm fonds. Almost at the very moment we arrived, the monsoon breeze fell away and soon the waters of the lagoon became mirror smooth. The tradewind clouds floating overhead were reflected perfectly on the water's surface. Thirty-six feet down and next to our anchor, we could see a fish. Then a huge ray slowly cruised past, his wings slowly moving up and down. It was an idyllic time at an idyllic place.
[To be continued next month.]

- john & ingrid 3/15/01

Pizazz - Beneteau/Moorings 500
Randy & Lourae Kenoffel
Bonaire to Cartagena
(San Francisco)
[Continued from the March Changes.]

When you are ready to move on to civilization, it's only about 15 miles away. Take the cut between the mainland and Aguja Island - go between the jagged tip at the south of the island and the exposed rocks in the middle, between the mainland and the island. It's 45 feet deep at 11.18.46N, 074.11.60W. The current and waves from the east may seem scary, but once you get to the middle and then to the west of the cut, it should be flat calm. Continue south along the coast past Santa Marta - it's all right to go between Morro Grande and El Morro Chico - to Rodadero (which appears as 'Gaira' on charts). You'll suddenly see tall buildings, condos and beaches - almost a mini version of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Anchor at 11.12.I0N, 074.13.75W, in 35 feet of water, or go closer to the swim buoys in 20 feet.

There are good restaurants along the beach, and an Olympia Supermarket for fresh supplies. Sometimes the Port Captain will come by and limit your stay, but otherwise there are no problems. This is a resort area for Colombians. The agent here will want $100 U.S. to clear Customs/Immigration - but you still have to pay $60 to an agent in Cartagena to do it again or just to get your zarpe later. So save your money and buy some meals ashore. You'll be glad to see civilization again as you prepare for the dreaded Rio Magdelena further down the coast.

Rodadero is an easy place to enter or depart in the dark. It's a good thing, because you may want to leave at '0 dark 30' to cross the Rio Magdelena - which is about 40 miles away and one of the most dangerous places on the passage - before midday. The wind is the strongest in the middle of the day, and kicks up the sea and current against the outgoing flow of this major river off Baranquilla. It's the worst on the eastern side of the rivermouth. It's safe to stay close to shore - we were only about two miles out - but it's a little less rough further out. Once you reach the Rio Magdelena, watch out for logs, lily pods and other major debris - and keep watching for another 10 miles to the west. The water from the Rio Magdelena is muddy and ugly.

There's a good rest stop near Punta Hermosa, which the charts don't show well at all. But we've been there and here's how to do it. Go to 10.56.50N, 075.02.35W, then at 090º to 10.56.38N, 075.02.30W, where it's 30 feet deep. Finally, steer 060º to 10.56.74N, 075.01.73W, where it's 12 feet deep. You can anchor farther north behind the reef lagoon if you want, but you're out of the swell almost as soon as you reach the south edge of the reef. Enjoy the calm. Some local fishermen might drive by, but we've never had any stop.

At this point you're only 50 miles - another easy daysail - from your destination of Cartagena. Leave the Punta Hermosa anchorage at daybreak and go WSW towards Zamba Bank - it's safe to go over the bank. Then head toward Punta Canoas, then the Boca Grande entrance to Cartagena. Use waypoint 10.23.45N, 075.34.47W, which will put you in 20 feet of water for the last several miles. Once you spot the entrance buoys, stay to the right of center for a depth of 11 feet. Stay out a ways from hotel beaches towards the Madonna and Child monument, follow the red-right-returning buoys on either side, and you'll soon see Club Nautico and anchored boats. If you don't like the 11 foot deep entrance, go on the Boca Chica entrance and follow the channel markers. There are more buoys than show on the charts, but the basic bearings are the same. Don't anchor near Boca Chica entrance because you'll be robbed. You cut about two hours off your trip if you use the Boca Grande entrance.

Enjoy Cartagena! After all, you made it - and without the three to four days of often rough downwind sailing. That's the kind of stuff that can lead to broken poles or booms, and strained nerves. You made the difficult passage at your leisure, saw some nice areas along the coast, and met some friendly people - all because you took the coastal route.

Cartagena is an historic city with a fabulous history. The Old City is particularly nice at night, and the taxis are cheap enough for getting around. It's also possible to haul your boat or get almost any kind of work done. But don't stay too long, as the anchorage is 'hot', meaning that stuff grows on boat bottoms very quickly. And remember, the fantastic San Blas Islands of Panama are only 200 more miles to the west. Once there, you can daysail in protected clear waters to your heart's content. But that's another story. Or, you could also turn around and take the 'coastal route' back to the ABC Islands. Now that you know the stops, it's easy to do the 'impossible'. Pizazz did!

There are, of course, a few important things to remember: 1) Be realistic by not setting a schedule that you can't keep. 2) Wait for the right weather windows. This coast - mostly between Aruba and Baranquilla - is considered to be the roughest in the Caribbean and one of the top five roughest passages in the world that cruisers regularly make. 3) Be sure that you and your boat are prepared for possible heavy air downwind sailing in big seas. 4) Tack when going downwind, as it's easier on the rig and helps prevent accidental jibes, broken booms and poles. It's usually faster, too. 5) It's nice to sail with a big moon. 6) If the weather is good, there's no law that says you have to stop at all the anchorages we listed.

Since the trip east from Panama, the San Blas Islands and Cartagena to Bonaire is upwind, it's harder to find suitable weather. The best months are usually when the seasons are changing - April and May, or October and November. Wait for a good weather window rather than trying to bash through it. It's particularly hard to find a good window from mid-December through the middle of March, when the reinforced trades blow across the Caribbean Sea.

Since we first wrote this article in May 1999, we know of about two dozen boats that have gone west using this route. There were probably more we didn't know about. Last winter there were about 10 boats in Trinidad that had come east from Cartagena because they had this information. It's October as we write this, and in a couple of weeks we'll be heading back to Aruba.
People often ask about safety with regard to pirates and smugglers. We haven't seen any or had any problems. It may be comforting to do this route with a buddyboat, but we've done it two times without and didn't feel the need along what we're calling 'The Unknown Coast'.

- randy & lourae 10/15/99

Readers - The passage along the coast of Colombia has a well-deserved reputation for being very difficult, particularly when heading east into the wind, seas and current. Twice Big O left Cartagena for Aruba and was turned back by 45 knot winds and 15 foot seas. She eventually made it to the Eastern Caribbean by way of Jamaica, Hispanola and Puerto Rico. Steve and Linda Dashew were also forced to hove-to after leaving Cartagena with their 79-foot Beowulf, and described the passage as being worse than bashing north along the Central Coast of California. And if you read February's Latitude, you know that John and Amanda Neal had such a rough passage trying to sail Mahina Tiare III direct from Panama to the British Virgins, that they also had to bail and go by way of Hispanola.

But as Randy and Lourae have pointed out in this issue and the last, there are strategies to make the eastbound trip less difficult and dangerous. This is extremely important and valuable information for anyone who will be trying to get from the Canal to anywhere in the Caribbean or even Florida and the East Coast of the United States. And because things have changed radically for the better along the Colombian coast, their information supersedes what is found in most cruising guides and by dated word of mouth.

Shortly after we published the first installment, Randy and Lourae sent us a massive amount of additional detailed information that would be very helpful for anyone heading east from the Canal. We're still trying to figure out how to present it all - perhaps on
'Lectronic Latitude - but will do so as soon as possible. As we said before, we think this is very important information.

Cruise Notes:

"No more talk about La Paz port fees will be allowed on the La Paz Cruisers' Net, this according to the Port Captain through Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz," writes J. Hughes of La Paz - although not the fellow by the same name who runs a charter service there. "Recently the boaters have filed petitions regarding the effect of the new fees on cruisers in Mexico. And various discussions have been happening on the VHF. This sharing of information has apparently frustrated certain jefes who are used to having control of adverse opinion. Mexico is supposed to be coming out of the age of dictatorship, but it's not going to happen overnight. It's hard to say what other controls will be put into effect along with this. President Fox has surrounded himself with professionals who do understand economics. Perhaps that aspect may even 'trickle down' someday."

It wouldn't surprise Latitude if one of these days the Port Captain in La Paz declared that all foreign yachts are from then on prohibited from anchoring in La Paz Bay. And that some of the fools down there would start scratching their heads really, really hard trying to figure out why. Has it ever occurred to some of you that Americans in Mexico are guests in a foreign country? That we drop our hooks in La Paz - and anywhere in Mexico - at the pleasure of the Mexican government? That they have every right to charge whatever fees they want and/or kick all your whiny asses out tomorrow. And they don't need a reason why, but given all the slanderous misinformation regularly disseminated by inactive cruisers in La Paz - see this month's Sightings for a couple of whoppers - they'd have enough of an excuse. And don't try to pass this off as a free speech issue, because it's really an ungrateful, pain-in-the-ass houseguests who are rapidly wearing out their welcome issue. As we see it, there's a small but vocal group of inactive cruisers in La Paz that epitomize the concept of "ugly Americans," and whose mindless behavior could ultimately jeopardize the warm welcome that Mexico has traditionally extended to American cruisers. On behalf of those of us who love cruising in Mexico, would it be too much to ask you folks to get your facts straight, think before you speak, and make the effort to understand the Mexican culture?

"My husband and cruising partner Don passed away peacefully just before Christmas, surrounded by family and friends in our little flat by the sea north of Auckland," reports Sally Branch of the Westsail 43 Dharma. "New Zealand is beautiful and the Kiwis are warm and caring. I've not been able to get my hands on a Latitude for months! I heard there was a report by Ted and Shari Alcorn of Mystique, who are in Mexico, about Don suddenly being diagnosed with terminal cancer. I've not been able to reach them by email, and want them to know that they and other friends can . My heartfelt thanks to the Alcorns and many others who generously sent cards, letters, money and email from all over. My cruising days are over for now, and our beloved Westsail 43, Dharma - currently in New Zealand - must be sold." (In fact, there's a Classy Classified for her in the April issue of Latitude.) "Nonetheless, the kindness of all the cruisers and boaters that have touched our lives will always be with me.

"We spent the last two years in Alaska, Canada - including the outside of Vancouver Island - and down the coast," write Bill and Lisa Brown of the Sacramento and Bellingham-based 44-ft cutter Vite. "We arrived in La Paz on November 22, then continued on to Santa Rosalia - a great town - then back to La Paz and over to Mazatlan - where we are now. Our advice? Plan your port stops, because the new fees are 214 pesos - over $20 - for boats checking in and out. Nonetheless, the cruising life is good here in Mexico. We're also looking forward to Costa Rica and the islands of Panama before heading through the Ditch in September."

Some folks think that the expensive port fees are designed specifically to gouge gringo cruisers. Tell that to the Mexican shrimpers, who have had to pay them, too. They are pissed! Our intuition - and it's nothing more than that - is that the port fees business will be much improved by the winter cruising season.

"We sincerely wish to thank Latitude and the Baja Ha-Ha group for the $420 which will be used to purchase clothing for the needy," write Capt Norm Goldie and his wife Janet from San Blas, Mexico. "We plan to purchase the clothing from the five or six used stores here in San Blas, which sell new or near new shoes and clothes. Buying from these shops will make the money go a lot further. It was also our pleasure to meet Gordon and Kaysea of the Westsail 32 Snow Leopard, who were honored by the task of delivering the money to us in San Blas. Janet and I will keep all receipts of purchases, and will then ask some cruisers to help distribute the clothing. We have already sent a large amount of things to a Huichol Center via Anna Marie and Ray of the sailing vessel Kate, and a dear Canadian woman named Sheila. Our thanks, love, respect and gratitude to all involved."

It's not often that we get an ad from a business in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so we hope that a lot of your noticed the 1/8th page ad for Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services of Horta, Azores, that appeared in the March issue. Duncan Sweet, the owner, explains how he ended up on that beautiful island:

"My first visit to Horta - and later Europe - was in '79 aboard the CT-54 Ereni while enroute to Greece. I was the last man to sign on for the crossing, so I was usually stuck onboard doing varnish, cleaning, anchor watching and such during the stops. While at Horta, I kept peering up at the windmills on the hill north of the harbor, vowing that I would return one day and spend time getting to know the man who was running them. Well, I did come back with my wife in '88, bought an old stone ruin in the countryside, and the windmill man and I are now very good friends! Not too much has changed here in the Azores, although we get a few more tourists. Thanks to Jimmy Cornell and GPS, last year we had 1,200 yachts pass through. Nonetheless, the locals still use the wind to grind the corn, old men still tend the fields by hand and with pack animals, the crater on Faial is still a wonder of nature, Pico is still Europe's most amazing mountain, and life is good."

"I made it around Cape Agulas, South Africa, about 10 days ago in light winds and smooth seas," reports Robert Case of the San Diego-based Endurance 37 Suntrekka. "I'm getting my sails refreshed and an errant autopilot fixed, and will then head on to St. Helena, some 1,800 miles, and then Trinidad & Tobago, another 3,600 miles. While here, I ran into Northern California senior Dave Clark at the Royal Cape YC. His boat Molly Milar sank a little while ago in a storm, and his beloved dog Mickey was lost during the rescue. But it's good to see that Robert is all right. He told me that he found another boat and is determined to finish his 'oldest circumnavigator' adventure - if he can raise the money."

"Most folks doing the Puddle Jump this spring will be leaving from Puerto Vallarta, but we're going to be heading out from La Paz," report Marc and Teri Mendeson of the San Francisco-based Davidson 52 ketch Tauranga. "Clay Collins, our good friend from Bethel Island, will be coming along as crew for the first leg. We plan to go all the way to New Zealand, but will ultimately spend about three years in Polynesia. It's going to be very hard to say good-bye to all the wonderful friends we've made in Mexico."

"My wife Doreen and I are currently on our boat in Langkawi, Malaysia," writes Michel Ferguson of the Vancouver-based St. Leger. "We built our boat in Canada in '82, and have been out sailing for 10 years now. We still have much of the original equipment, unfortunately some replacement parts are getting harder to find as companies go out of business and/or discontinue products. For example, we have an Asimow Engineering MARS-1, which is a combination running/anchor/strobe masthead light that still works well. Alas, the lenses are badly crazed. We would love to replace with another model, but to do so would require a difficult rewiring job. If anybody can help, we can be reached .

"After leaving Santa Cruz in '94, we ended up in southwest Florida for a couple of years," reports Dave and Gayle Pond, and children Shannon and Laurn of the New Orleans-based Brown 37 trimaran Phaedrus. "We then continued on here to New Orleans and moved ashore. Phaedrus is tied up in the bayou behind our house, but she still floats. If our new plan works, we'll move back west this summer and sail Phaedrus to the Sea of Cortez next year. If anybody asks, we haven't been hiding."

"I'm writing in response to the March letter asking about getting a boat painted in Mexico," writes John Pedersen and his dog Lucy of the Seattle-based Hardin 45 Freyja. "I wanted to paint my boat before leaving Seattle, but after all my preparations I didn't have enough money left. So I did the '99 Ha-Ha and am now in my second year of cruising Mexico. While in Puerto Vallarta, I inquired about having the hull and cabin of my 20-year old boat painted. David - his named is pronounced 'Dah-veed' - Barra was the most recommended. He said he normally used Imron, but preferred Sterling LP if I could get it shipped down. His quote for prepping and painting the hull and cabin was $2,800. I agreed, so I ordered the Sterling - and getting it delivered is a story for another time. In any event, I had my boat hauled at the Opequimar Boatyard, where David and his crew spent two weeks preparing my boat for painting. During this time, I decided to also have them do the pedestal, davits, a bottom job, and paint the boat name. The work was completed beyond my expectations for a cost of $3,300. When the haulout and laydays were added in, it came to a total of $6,000 - or about 25% of what it would have cost me in Seattle. As Ernie and Emily Menendez said about the paint job their boat got in La Paz, the quality of work and attention to detail was excellent. I salute David Barra and his crew."

Let's see if we understand you correctly. You're saying that if a guy in Seattle has $24,000 and a 45-foot boat that he wants painted, he basically has two options: 1) He can have his boat painted in Seattle for $24,000. Or, he can 2) Sail his boat to Mexico; cruise extravagantly for the winter season; fly over to and wander around the French and Italian Rivieras for a couple of weeks while David paints his boat; and have the boat shipped back to Seattle - all for the same $24,000. That's what we'd call a very tough decision.

"I saw the report in 'Lectronic Latitude about the squall that hit Tenacatita Bay, Mexico, in early March," writes David Kramer of Jolly Mon. "Readers might be interested in this account by Terry on Secret 'o Life:"

"While the weather last year was almost always perfect and this year has been mostly fair, we have had a few storms move through. By monitoring the weather in Southern California, we can somewhat predict when we'll have a change. While in Tenacatita Bay last week, however, we had an unpredicted storm of a magnitude I'd never experienced. Thursday, March 1, brought heavy cloud cover, a falling barometer, and strong southeast winds - which are rare here. It was still cloudy on Friday morning with strong winds out of the southeast, and there was the smell of rain. By noon several rain squalls had come through, and the 40 or so boats in the normally quiet anchorage were having to deal with two-foot chop. Everyone stayed aboard and inside, monitoring their VHF radios. About 2:30 p.m., someone got on the radio and announced, 'Hold on everyone, here it comes!' Looking outside, we could see the next major squall moving in from the southeast - but this one had heavy rain and lots of lightning. Bolts were coming down within only a couple of miles of the anchorage. It was raining so hard that I could only see the boats closest to me. At one point it cleared a little and I saw a bolt of lightning make a direct hit on Center Rock, which was only a third of a mile away. Several other bolts hit close to shore. The heavy rain continued for about an hour, and there was lightning most of the time. There was very little wind, however, so the boats were lying in all directions. About 4:30 p.m., the clouds began to dissipate. A brisk northwest wind came up and set all the boats laying in the same direction. About this time, several skippers got on the radio to report that at least two masts had taken direct hits, and a couple of other boats reported that neighbors had lost some or all of their electronics. Fortunately, Secret O' Life sustained nothing more than a much needed fresh water rinse of every exposed surface. By Saturday and Sunday, Tenacatita Bay looked like paradise again, with clear blue skies and the normal 10-15 knot afternoon breeze. The locals say they hardly ever get such squalls in the winter, but that thunderstorms and lightning are typical of summer storms. Personally, I can go awhile before I need to see another."

The Wanderer has lived in the Bay Area his entire life, so we never knew what a squall was until we had a boat in the Caribbean. And we had no concept of what a real lightning storm was until we did some sailing around Panama. We've since made our peace with squalls, particularly as they give the boat a much-needed rinse. We can't say the same for genuine thunderstorms, which still scare the bejeesus out of us. Our basic response is to unhook all the electronics, wrap the handheld GPS in foil and toss it in the oven, and attach battery cables from the upper shrouds to the water. Finally, we avoid standing between the mast and the engine - and whimper prayers to the affect that we'll really be good from then on if we just don't get killed.

"We were a small boat on a big ocean, and should have waited until March or April when there is less wind." That's the conclusion of Hank Grandin, after he, his wife Mary, and Roy Sluis of Sausalito sailed their Scanmar 33 Tinsley Light from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgins to West Palm Beach, Florida. You might remember that the Grandins spent 21 summers cruising northern Europe with an Olson 30 and the Scanmar 33. Their seven-week trip from the Virgins to Florida took them to Culebra, Vieques - which Hank had shelled from a battleship when he was 18 years old - many places on Puerto Rico, Luperon in the Dominican Republic, the Turks & Caicos, Georgetown in the Exumas, and Nassau and Grand Bahama in the Bahamas. While at Grand Bahama, just 52 miles from West Palm, they had to stop for five days waiting out the weather."

"We left Florida in 1981 and completed our first circumnavigation in '99," report Rodney and Robin Hilton, who "aren't sure" what their hailing port is. "While in San Diego earning money for the cruising kitty, we came across our current boat, Sea Song, a Formosa 41 ketch. Currently, we're the only liveaboards anchored off Hilton Head Island, South Carolina."

"The best kept cruising secret in Costa Rica?" Dwight and Fran Fisher of the Fisher 30 pilothouse ketch We Three ask rhetorically. "We think it's the Punta Leone Resort on the southeastern coast of the Golfo de Nicoya. The anchorage is roomy and fairly well protected, and so far our dinghy landings on the beach have been uneventful. The resort is not only very friendly to cruisers who patronize the restaurant and/or bars, but it has everything: two pools, a miniature golf course, three upscale restaurants, hot dog and pizza stands, bars, a small grocery store with ice, a children's play area, and free nature walks led by knowledgable guides. During an early morning walk, we spotted white-faced monkeys, toucans and lots of other more common birds. Out in the anchorage, we're entertained by a small group of rays. If you're in the Gulf of Nicoya, it's too good to be missed." The Fishers are headed for the Panama Canal.

"We had a bit of a surprise with the way the Panama Canal authority processes the Visa card payments for Canal transits," report Joe and Lisa Gerardin of the Ojai-based Baba 30 Net Result. "Citibank, which has an office conveniently located close to the Balboa YC, not only handles the transactions, but they even have a specific line for transit payments. The pleasant woman there explained that she does not fill out the charge slip until the transit is complete. So no $850 deposit was needed at that time. She said the amount would be filled out upon completion of the transit. That's all very good, but when we checked our account several days later, we were surprised to see that a $500 cash advance had been posted, along with a $15 service fee. As you are paying a bank rather than the Canal for the transit fee, it's processed as a cash advance, not a normal Visa charge. So heads up. Our transit was during the third week of January."

"We bought Bravado, our Elliot 46 cruiser-racer, in New Zealand where the price was a pleasant surprise," write Charles and Robin Breed of Alameda. Even though she's got a pilothouse, she weighs less than 20,000 pounds. After buying Bravado, we went cruising all over the North Island. It's beautiful, and we've got photographs to prove it. We're now in the Bay of Islands, but will soon be sailing to Auckland so we can have the boat shipped back to the Bay Area in March. This fall we'll take off again on the Ha-Ha. Our two small children - Catherine, 7, and Alexander, 5 - have been with us. All our stock is underwater, so the boat has been our best investment. Who would have known?"

"My boat is on the hard undergoing gelcoat failure repair at Tin Can Bay, Queensland, Australia," reports Douglas Walling of the Monterey-based 28 foot Bristol Channel Cutter Calliste. "Other repairs include a main cabin rebuild that's needed as a result of an unfortunate mishap upon arrival at Oz. All else is well, and I'm really glad to be able to have the work done here. It's also fun to watch and feed Scary and Mystique, the local dolphins who come to play at the launch ramp. By the way, after all this time I'm finally reachable .

"Hello from Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, way up at 7°N and way out at 171°E," write Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni of the Vancouver, B.C. based Spencer 51 Feel Free. "Our passage from Honolulu to Majuro was mostly boisterous to rough - which isn't surprising since we left in mid January, the height of the season for the northeast trades. The pass into the lagoon was a little confusing, as some of the markers are missing - and more importantly because it's green right returning, not red right returning as in the U.S. There are about 15 cruising boats here, either at anchor or on moorings - which, by the way, only cost $1 U.S. a day. You can get just about anything you need in Majuro at prices comparable to those in Hawaii. There are laundromats, and even a movie theater and bowling alley. Water can sometimes be scarce, especially during the dry months of January and February. So far we've been lucky, as Mother Nature has bestowed us with bountiful rainwater for catchment. There's a 50-ton crane available, and so far four yachts have been pulled this season. It's $300 for in and out, $10 a lay day, and $2 day per electricity. The Republic is comprised of 29 atolls. If you want to go exploring, you need to get permission from the authorities in Majuro. Each atoll has its own price, but most are about $25 to visit. The money is paid to the chief on the atoll itself. There are also some lovely motus within Majuro Atoll, just a few miles from town. They are great if you just want to get away from the hustle and bustle. The snorkeling is fine and the beachcombing is good. Tom and I plan on spending a couple of months visiting a couple of the atolls before moving on to either Fiji or Vanuatu."

"I'm hoping you folks can help guide me to a source on the net were I may track down the Joshua 40 Sundowner - like Bernard Moitessier's old Joshua - which is on a circumnavigation," writes Christopher Alain Turner. "I was aboard her last spring in Nelson, South Island, New Zealand. She'd just been purchased by some folks from the U.K and I'm not sure if they continued westabout or eastabout. Can anbody help?"

"On January 10, we got caught on a lee shore at Bahia Colnett," report Mike and Christy Halvorsen of Sea Goose, a 50-ft ferro sailboat based out of Sacramento. "In the end, we just had to let the anchor and chain go in order to escape. Having learned the hard way, we're wiser now. After leaving our rode and anchor, we had a 18-hour passage back to Ensenada so we could make repairs. When we arrived at 0230, we found the port had been closed for two days because of bad weather. In any event, we're now staying at Juanitos, and have been getting great treatment from Luis and his staff. When the weather improves, we'll be headed south again."

"We left Z-town on February 18, after 15 months of great cruising in Mexico, and it was sad to say adios to our friends," report Matthew Mason and Debra Stearns of the Salt Lake City based Tayana 37 Aeventyr. "We're now about 410 miles from the Galapagos and having nice sailing out here on the big blue. My friend Pat McGill will be joining us in the Galapagos next week with his 10-year-old son Christopher. Captain's Orders will have the young swab send a 'Dear Mom' letter each day via Sail Mail. We hope everyone has good winds for the Banderas Bay Regatta.

We have a big favor to ask all of you who are returning to your cruising boats or visiting folks out cruising. People 'out there' - be it New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Z-town, Banderas Bay, Panama, Cartagena, Cuba, the Eastern Caribbean, Greece, Turkey and all over the Med - are dying to see recent copies of Latitude. Unfortunately, there is no way we can afford to ship the thick and heavy magazines to those distant lands. Which is why we're asking you to tuck four or five copies in your duffel bag before you head out. We can assure you, you'll be welcomed with open arms and offers of free drinks. Thank you.

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