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April 2008

Missing the pictures? See our April 2008 eBook!

 With reports this month from Finisterre on doing two 360s in the Panama Canal; from Nataraja on the crocs of La Manzanilla; from Freewind on India's Andaman Islands; from Maltese Falcon on diving Costa Rica's Cocos Island; from Gallant Fox on the real 'King of San Blas'; from Moonduster on a second long solo cruise; from Pat Miller on long delays in the Panama Canal; and Cruise Notes.

Finisterre — Saintonge 44
Mike and Kay Heath
360s In The Canal Locks!
(Marina Bay, Richmond)

Our Finisterre possibly has the distinction of being the first sailing vessel to have completed two 360-degree turns inside a Panama Canal lock.

A Canal transit isn't always a piece of cake, and cruisers should be aware that, despite all their preparations with extra long lines, wrapped tires, and expert line-handlers who have already done a transit, things — and boats — can still go sideways.

As of February of this year, the ACP — aka the Panama Canal Authority — no longer allows sailboats to be tie along the wall of a lock. With boats in such a position, the boat's line-handlers and the ACP personnel along the top of the lock were fully in charge. Now the only options are being tied to a tug or another vessel, or going solo mid-Canal with lines to both sides of the Canal. During Finisterre’s transit from Panama City to Colón on February 13, we were first tied to a tug during the climb up to Gatun Lake via the Miraflores locks. Finisterre’s crew and the tug crew were great. We made it to the Colón locks on time despite the wind being on our nose. (By the way, if you don't make it in time, the ACP threatens to not return your bond.)

Once at the Colón locks, our ACP advisor instructed us to wait, so we tied to the side of the lock entrance. We and a large cargo ship then waited for Discovery, a 120-ft eco-tourism aluminum cat that we were to tie to for locking through. Discovery is not, however, conducive to having a smaller vessel tied alongside, as the fore and aft decks are small and the sides of the hulls are vertical with no walkways. Line-handing was difficult because we were required to be nested amidships of them.

We made two locks down in good order, and hoped the third and final one would be a charm. It wasn't. While in the last lock, a Discovery crewmember spaced out and let the aft line off his bollard so that it fell in the water! Because of the turbulence in the lock, Finisterre’s stern drifted toward the opposite side of the lock. We narrowly missed Discovery and the rough cement sides of the lock as we maneuvered to re-tie to Discovery by motoring forward and then trying to turn around. After doing the first 360 to get back in position, we were unable to turn around going forward. We proceeded to do the only thing possible, which was tie up facing the back of the lock! The meant that a large cargo ship was right behind us, taking up almost all the space in the lock. When the lock doors opened and we were at the level of the Caribbean Sea, we were facing backwards!

Discovery offered us a puny line and suggested that we tie it to our bow and let them whip us around as we exited the lock. No thanks! We got our lines back from Discovery, then waited mid-lock until they exited. Then, doing an emergency turn, we did another 360 turn right in front of the car carrier. We had to turn on a dime, as our 44-footer only had 60 feet of space in which to exit the lock successfullly.

We were too wound up to take photos, but we — including our advisor — all sighed with relief when we got out. Our advisor was very complimentary of the skills displayed by those on our boat, but used very salty terms to describe the crew's performance on Discovery.

Lessons learned: When tying to another vessel that isn't a tug, don't assume the line-handlers will be competent. When we come back through the Panama Canal later, our preparations will include making the extra lines available to throw up if a second attempt is needed. In addition, the line-handler assigned to the open side of the boat should stand close to the line-handler in charge, and provide support by being able to throw a second line if one is dropped — or, if needed, even take over. One of the guys who helped us with our transit did it again with his own boat a week later, and had a guy on their partner boat get their lines wrapped. The line-handler had to board his boat and cut the line to prevent it from being lifted out of the water!

We are not sure that ACP will take the reports of the advisors concerning these incidents into consideration as they plan future requirements for sailboats using the Canal. In addition, there are rumors about possible ACP restrictions on number of sailboats allowed through the Canal each day.

Besides our little mishap, the ACP authorities were a pleasure to work with. The paperwork process was unbelievably easy, and the ACP admeasurer and transit advisor assigned to get us through were a pleasure to work with. Our fee for the transit was $600, and the $850 bond was returned to us.

Finisterre continues her travels through the San Blas Islands and on to Cartagena.

— mike and kay 03/13/08

Readers — For more, but not good, news about the Panama Canal, read Pat Rains' contribution later in this section.

Nataraja — Flying Dutchman 37
Eric and Emmy Newbould
Wild Creatures of Mexico
(Brickyard Cove, Richmond)

We're having a blast as you folks back home can only imagine! Sure, the anchorages in Mexico tend to be a bit more crowded than we'd care for, but hey, we're keeping busy with shoreside activities. Thanks to a large westerly swell, the dinghy beach landings at the last couple of anchorages, including Tenacatita Bay, were challenging and not for the faint of heart. For the record, we were flawless on landings and only got splashed when going out. Most other cruisers weren't so lucky. In fact, the hotel guests at Tenacatita Bay were hanging out on the beach watching the wipe-outs just for the entertainment. The hotel television wasn't getting the NASCAR races, so watching the yachties crash was the next best thing.

We took the boat over to the La Manzanilla anchorage the next day, and made some friends and hung out with the crew of Jazz. It was such a wonderful visit that it was dark and late almost before we knew it. Going out through the surf when there is any swell is challenging enough, but doing it in the pitch black is a whole different thing. By some miracle we made it out and only got a little wet.

The next morning we returned to quaint La Manzanilla to do a little exploring. There are a number of tiendas, a butcher shop, fish shop, lots of little restaurants, and quite a few hotels and bungalows. The town square has an unusual gazebo, as the roof is shaped like a big clamshell and the columns are decorated with critters from the sea. After climbing a hill, we walked the main street as far north as we could to look for the crocs in the lagoon. When we got to the viewing area, we couldn't see any. After moving on a bit, we heard a big commotion. It was two of the big crocs going at each other. The water was all churned up, tree branches were snapping, and we were glad their was a cyclone fence between them and us. Then the fighting stopped as suddenly as it started.

We continued walking along the fence until it ended — but noticed that the lagoon didn't. In other words, there was nothing to keep the crocs in the lagoon. In fact, once we reached a palapa at the end of the lagoon, there was a massive croc lounging in the sand right next to where people were eating their lunch! With the wind now making the beach a lee shore, we headed back to the boat and the main anchorage on the other side of Tenacatita Bay.

But the next morning we decided to make the three-hour walk back to Tenacatita. At one point, we had to climb over a rocky point instead of just walking along the beach. I was taking some photos by myself when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a tarantula! I never seen one in the wild, so I poked at it a bit. By this time the trail was covered in vines and prickly bushes and seemed pretty creepy. I had visions of boa constrictors and big spiders dropping on my head.

We eventually found a road that lead into town, but it did so by way of the crocs who weren't contained by the cyclone fence. One of the giant beasts was relaxing in the sand where the road ended — with a big fish between his giant teeth. We had to walk by this wonder and skirt the water — where other crocs might have been lurking — to get into town. It was a frightening couple of minutes, but we didn't lose any limbs. Realizing just how big those crocs are, I decided I wouldn't be doing any more 'jungle rides' in our little inflatable boat.

Once in town, we stopped at a little palapa for some lunch and ordered the special — chili rellenos stuffed with shrimp and cheese, served in a tomato broth. They were the best chile rellenos ever! When it came time to start our walk back, we had to run the gauntlet of crocs again. This time there were two of the big guys snoozing on the beach by the palapas.

After we made it safely past the crocs, something else caught my eye. It looked to be a dead sea snake — until we poked it and it moved. We felt bad for him, so Rich carefully picked him up by the tail, walked to the surf, and tossed him in. The little bugger washed back in to shore. So Eric picked him up and threw him out to a flat spot. Fortunately, he didn't wash back in again. Some kids later told us that black and yellow sea snakes, like the one we'd fiddled with, were the most venomous.

Continuing on, we spotted two more crocs lounging in the mud flat behind the hotel! Boy, was I glad that I hadn't explored that arm of the mangroves in our inflatable kayak!
The next couple of days were comparatively uneventful — except for when Eric got in the water to clean the bottom of the boat. He kept freaking out, thinking there were big crocs lurking just out of sight.

Ultimately, we moved on to Melaque at Bahia de Navidad. Most cruisers anchor in the lagoon, but being nonconformists, we anchored off Melaque itself. Granted, it was so rolly that we had to set a stern anchor, but on the other hand there were only four of us there and 65 boats anchored in the lagoon.

There is great shopping in Melaque — and that's a good thing, because all we had left in the refrigerator was one steak and a yellowed bunch of broccoli. We would have done some shopping in La Manzanilla, but we were low on pesos and there wasn't an ATM in town. We love shopping in Mexican towns and villages on Saturdays as it's a total immersion into the culture. You've got all the locals selling the wonderful produce, you belly up to the carnicero (butcher) counter for your meet, visit the pollo lady for your chicken, and the smell of guava permeates the air. It's wonderful!

— emmy 03/15/08

Freewind — Gulfstar 50
Frank and Janice Balmer
Cruising The Andaman Islands

We're presently cruising the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago of approximately 300 islands that are part of the Union Territory of India. Together, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands form the peaks of a vast submerged mountain range that extends almost 600 miles between Myanmar (Burma) and Sumatra, and separate the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea.

As we cruise this area, we look back fondly on our experience in the '03 Ha-Ha, which was not only fun, but also a great introduction to cruising. We still run into a few Ha-Ha folks now and then, but there aren't many in this part of the world. About 55 Ha-Ha'ers left Mexico for the South Pacific when we did. About 25 or so continued on to New Zealand, but only three or four have continued on to Indonesia, Thailand, and beyond. We still sail a lot with Jack and Daphne Garrett of the Clovis-based Cascade 36 Resolute, which also did the '03 Ha-Ha.

Anyway, we left Langkawi, Malaysia, on January 1 for Phuket, Thailand, where we had both our alternators — the working one and the spare — rebuilt, and did some provisioning at our 'last' Western style supermarket before heading across the Indian Ocean. We left Phuket on January 24 with Jack and Daphne's Resolute on a passage to Port Blair, South Andaman Island. After motoring the first day we picked up steady winds of 15 knots aft of the beam, and it seemed as though it would be an uneventful passage.

Well, Resolute fouled their prop with the rope from a fishing trap on the first day out, which prevented them from using their engine. This meant they had to sail, even when the wind dropped to just a couple of knots a few days later. As such, they fell behind us. But shortly after the wind died and we started our engine, the belt broke. Frank put on a new belt — but it broke, too!

While all this was happening, Jack was able to dive on Resolute's prop and remove the line, meaning they could motor again. Floundering in very light winds, we managed to cover a mere 30 miles in 24 hours. So when Jack and Daphne caught up with us, they offered to tow us the last 30 miles to Port Blair. Not wanting to average one knot for yet another full day, we accepted. Once we got to Port Blair, we were able to briefly run our engine without damaging it in order to properly set our anchor.

Having done that, we hoisted our quarantine flag and waited for the officials to come and check us in. Coast Guard, Customs, and Immigration came in rapid succession. They were all very officious, with the shuffling and stamping of papers — and even took pictures of us and the inside of our boat. Nonetheless, we considered ourselves quite fortunate that we were able to get checked in on the day of our arrival. Other cruisers who arrived in the following days were confined to their boats for as long as four days until all the officials completed the check-in process! The cruisers maintained their 'cool' and polite attitudes, of course, as they were at the mercy of the remnants of India's English-style bureaucracy.

The following morning we checked in with Harbor Control to present our cruising itinerary for the Andaman Islands, and were told that we would need to check in with them via SSB radio each morning. We've never had to do that before.

Before setting out, Frank discovered why our engine belts were breaking — the water pump on the engine had frozen up. So he replaced it with our spare, and things worked fine again. Meanwhile, the outboard for our dinghy conked out, so we mounted our spare — which hadn't been used in four years. It didn't run very smoothly, so we ordered a new Yamaha from the dealer in town. It arrived two days later by air freight from Calcutta. We were lucky to have been in a city of 100,000 when we had these problems, as, thanks to Ravi, our knowledgeable cab driver, we were able to find a good mechanic, a good outboard dealer, belts for the water pump, and other gear.

With all of our repairs behind us, we did some sightseeing. We visited the Cellular Jail National Memorial, which was built by the British over a period of 18 years from 1890, and has been preserved as a shrine to India’s freedom fighters. The remnants of torture devices give an impression of the kind of 'hell on earth' the prisoners had to endure at the hands of the "English barbarians."

Once we set sail, our first stop was Corbyn’s Cove, also on South Andaman Island. It was an extremely rolly anchorage — so rolly that it woke us up several times during the night. The next morning we motored to Havelock Island, where we anchored off the jetty leading to the main village. We took a tuk-tuk tour of the island, and noted the numerous resorts with palm thatched huts and tents for accommodation. We felt a little '70s deja-vu, what with all the pot smoking, men in long skirts, hippie types with dreadlocks, and backpackers.

The landscape was lush, with thick forest and white sand beaches bordering the turquoise waters that washed over the coral reefs. The houses in the main village were mainly tumble-down shanties with no plumbing, but further out in the forest the people had cleared trees to grow gardens and keep a few chickens, goats and pigs. What we didn't see here was the desperate poverty we'd seen on our previous land trip to India. On South Andaman Island, the people had enough land to sustain themselves, and it made a huge difference.

We motored on to our next destination, North Button Island, which is heavily forested but uninhabited. The horseshoe bay provided excellent protection, and the white sand beach had long fallen logs on it that provided us with some shade. After our hike around the island, we returned to our dinghy to find it high and dry! The tide had gone out much further than we had anticipated, so we had to wait a few hours for the tide to come in with the six inches of water we needed to float our dinghy.

The next day we motored to Number 7 Beach on Havelock Island, so named because the white sand stretches for seven miles. We found a sandy spot to anchor in between the coral heads, and cooled off with a swim in the clear waters. The surf was quite heavy, however, and we made a dinghy landing reminiscent of those we had to make when we cruised Mexico. Ashore there was a large eco-tourist resort with beehive shaped huts in the forest. We had dinner at one of the numerous food stalls, then made our way to the beach for our surf departure on an outgoing wave. We had to move fast, but made it thanks to Frank and Jack really working the oars.

After we return to Port Blair to check out, arrange for fuel, and do some reprovisioning, we'll take off for Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It should be about a six-day passage. There is some continuing political strife in Sri Lanka with the Tamil Tigers, but we'll check in at Galle on the southern end of the island to avoid the trouble, most of which has been taking place in the north. Cruisers in front of us have been very impressed with the beauty and culture of Sri Lanka, and it also breaks up our passage to Cochin in southern India.

— janice and frank 02/11/08

Maltese Falcon — 289-ft Dyna Rig
Tom Perkins
Cocos Island Fishery Patrol

Shortly after the middle of February, we finished four of the most incredible days of diving ever. The eight or so species of sharks in the Cocos were in full abundance, the water clear, and the temperature perfect. The accompanying photo shows a typical 8-ft hammerhead shark, a type we swam with by the hundreds.

Cocos Island is a diver's paradise, and the island itself is beautiful. It's said to be the world's largest uninhabited island, and there are only park rangers camping ashore with a young marine biologist — who joined us for some of our dives.

The rangers told us their 'patrol boat', a 12-ft outboard powered skiff, was out of commission with motor troubles, and accordingly the fishing boats of several nations were poaching well within the 12-mile prohibited zone. When we departed for the Galapagos after dark, we immediately encountered seven boats fishing illegally just three miles offshore. In the darkness they interpreted our radar footprint — which must be awesome with our high carbon masts and reflective carbon yards — as probably that of a warship, and pulled nets and headed for legal waters on our approach. We chased them for a couple of hours in radio silence, but with our powerful searchlight scanning, and saw them over the legal border. They'll be back, of course, but it was fun helping to protect the fishery, even if for only a few hours.

— tom 02/20/08

Gallant Fox — Malo 39
Gary Barnett, Marianne Fox
Who is The King of San Blas?

During the winter of '06, which was our last rainy season in Seattle, we often read about San Blas, Mexico, in the pages of Latitude. Several letters — some positive, some negative — discussed the activities of a longtime ex-pat there named Norm Goldie. Back then, San Blas might as well have been on the back side of the moon for what we knew about it.

We left Seattle in January of '07, wintered in Sidney, B.C., and rounded Cape Scott, the tip of Vancouver Island, on my 52nd birthday in early July. We spent a month traveling down the coast, enjoying time in Newport, Eureka, Monterey and Oxnard. We highly recommend this combination of overnight jumps, day-sailing, and inshore sightseeing. Many fellow cruisers who bombed straight down the coast 100 miles offshore with no stops were slammed by high winds and big seas in September. But travelling like we did, 25 miles offshore in 'Foggust', resulted in a relatively pleasant light wind trip.

We spent October waiting out the last of hurricane season at Marina Coral in Ensenada — a great town we really enjoyed. We took a tour of the wineries at nearby Guadalupe Valley, 30 miles north of Ensenada, and bought four cases of wine. We left Ensenada on November 1, and spent 21 days moving down the Pacific coast of Baja, doing a combination of overnight downwind sails and day-hops between anchorages. We often anchored alone off isolated fishing camps, indentations in the coast, or at dusty Baja towns. It was a trip not to be missed. We reached Mazatlan by Thanksgiving, and enjoyed the festivities at Marina Mazatlan while berthed at El Cid. We found Mazatlan to be an enchanting town. During our stay we attended three events at the historic Angela Peralta Theatre, watched the Venados (the local baseball team) on television, and hung around the historical Centro district buying shrimp from the shrimp ladies. This town grabs you and will not let go, as it's a great combination of an authentic Mexican City and a 'Gringo Gulch'.

It wasn't until February 2 that we finally found ourselves at the aforementioned San Blas. As we pulled into Matanchen Bay, a few miles south of San Blas, at 4 p.m., we heard a voice on the radio. It was Norm Goldie, the self-proclaimed 'Voice of San Blas'. "Are there any new boats here? Let's have check-ins, I'm here to help you," he broadcast. Norm came on twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., offering help and advice.
From Norm, we learned how to enter the San Blas estuary; how to keep our possessions safe; that he hung out with Lee Marvin in the '70s; that he’d had a heart operation; and which repairs we should get from whom in San Blas. He also arranged tours to orphanages, waterfalls, and the jungle. Norm turned out to be a full service travel agent, taxi dispatcher, tour guide, fishing guru, and a veritable encyclopedia of local knowledge. He hangs out in the plaza every night — after which he says he stays up all night coordinating search and rescues. In the morning, he gives out his map — with cake and coffee — to any and all cruisers who stop by his house. Norm clearly thinks that he's the King of San Blas, and tries to control access to all who enter his domain.

All this was a revelation, as we'd read so much about him in Latitude, and now here he was. To be honest, he was a bit overwhelming. And he didn't always provide accurate information. For instance, he advised everyone that they had to go to the port captain's office in person in order to check in. Well, Marianne is fluent in Spanish, so she called the port captain on the radio to confirm Norm's information. The port captain said he was happy to check boats in and out over the radio. When we told Norm about this, he said the regulations must have changed the day before!

Anyway, we were sitting in Matanchen Bay when we heard a hail on the radio. A cruiser was coming in with a finger half cut off, and needed medical care. We advised him that we would alert Ismael, who runs the Ramada Matanchen beachside restaurant, to arrange getting the victim to a doctor. We'd met Ismael the day before, and learned that he watches dinghies that are parked in front of his restaurant, will arrange to have your laundry done, and lets you use his shower facilities. Ismael wasn't there when we went ashore with the medical issue, but a family member said that she would arrange for a taxi to meet the cruiser. As it turned out, Ismael was there when the cruiser arrived, and he not only took the cruiser to the hospital in his own car, he waited to bring him back to the beach after he received treatment.

When Norm got on the radio the following morning, he acknowledged Ismael’s contribution — but he wasn't about to vacate his throne. Norm, who has been in San Blas for something like 30 years, said he'd heard of Ismael, but didn't know him! By this time we'd been around San Blas long enough to know who we think the real King of San Blas is — and that's Ismael, the cruiser's true friend.

Ismael is also a great cook. Here's the recipe for his specialty, wood grilled snapper: Find a mangrove tree, cut it down, and age the wood for one year. Build a stone BBQ with a steel grate, and burn a bunch of this hardwood down to coals. Reverse butterfly a two-kilogram snapper — it causes the fish to open like an accordion — bones on one side, two open filets side-by-side. Score the filets with a cross hatch, then rub in a mixture of melted butter, Worchestershire sauce and Huichol salsa picante — no other hot sauce will do as this one is made out of chile cascabel. Smoke over the open coals for about 30 minutes, then serve with shredded lettuce, rice, and lots of tortillas. It's truly a meal fit for a king!

— gary and marianne 03/15/08

Gary and Marianne — That's classic Norm Goldie. Over the decades some cruisers have found him to be pleasant and helpful, while others have found him to be intrusive and overbearing.

Moonduster — S&S 47
Wayne Meretsky
The Second Cruise

I arrived in San Diego early on the evening of February 1, just after the Police Dock closed. Since there was no real alternative, I tied up to the Customs dock, walked to the office, banged on the door, and, taking note of a sign that said that under no conditions should one take an empty slip unless assigned during office hours, walked back to the boat. I cooked up a great big mess of pasta, had dinner, and slipped into bed around 10 p.m. — only to be awakened by some abrupt pounding on the boat and a stern declaration of police presence. It was just midnight.

The police informed me that I couldn’t stay and, in the same breath really, that there was nowhere I could legally go. I pointed out that these rules made my choice, of staying right where I was, as good as any other. The two outstanding Defenders of the Peace looked at one another trying, I think, not to smirk. After a bit of jawing, they decided that they could go to the office and see if any of the dozen or so vacant slips might be available for the evening. After a few disclaimers about this being completely against the rules, they suggested that I could use any of the empty slips. I thanked them profusely and fired up the motor, being sure to turn on the running lights because we wouldn’t want to break any laws on the 100-foot voyage to the slip, would we? Maneuvering in tight quarters is never easy on a single screw sailboat, and it doesn’t get easier in the dark, while yawning, with drizzle and a cross breeze. I picked an empty slip that was easy to get into, tied up the boat, shut down and stole back into bed.

The ritual of signing up for a slip the next morning was painless, and the attendant shrugged in response to my explanation of why I’d taken a slip as if it were completely normal. Go figure.

Knowing that I'd previously done a cruise, the Changes editor asked me for details. Here goes:

My first real cruise was '97-'98, which wasn't a Ha-Ha year for me. I sailed south to Cabo, La Paz, Mazatlan, Banderas Bay and then headed west from Manzanillo to Hilo, Hawaii, and then on to Honolulu.  From Honolulu, I sailed north to Sitka, then south down the Inside Passage of Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. I finally came out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and sailed south to San Francisco. I covered a total of 10,000 miles in a few days shy of one year. While I had friends join me for short periods, I did all of the passages alone. The longest two were 20 days from Manzanillo to Hawaii, and 18 days from Hawaii to Sitka. Both times I averaged 165 miles a day.
My trip to Hawaii was fairly uneventful — except coming within a quarter of a mile of being run down by a container ship. I'd sailed north toward a low pressure trough in search of wind, forgetting that the rain would prevent me from using my radar's guard zone. In the ensuing rain, the radar alarm went off constantly, therefore making it useless. I finally overslept my alarm clock, woke up in a dead start, and look out — and up! — saw both the red and green running lights of the ship, as well as her white range lights aligned.

My passage to Alaska is the highlight of my sailing career to date. I had a great three-day beat out of Honolulu under blade and single-reefed main. Then, within just a few hours, the wind clocked aft and I set the 3/4-ounce chute. I carried it for nearly 12 days straight. On the 'night' before my landfall, the sunrise turned into sunset without the sky ever getting dark. With the blade back up, I charged right into Sitka's inner harbor, dropping the sails no more than 100 yards from the dock.

I don't have the typical cruising boat, to a large extent because she's wood. She's an S&S 47 that was launched at Cross Haven Boatyard in Ireland. Denis Doyle, her first owner, raced her extensively, including in the '73 and '75 Admiral's Cups as a member of the Irish team. At the time, the Admiral's Cup was the most prestigious offshore race event in the world. I bought Moonduster in '92 — despite rigger Glenn Hansen's warning: "She's a great looking boat, but you'll have to replace every single thing on her." He was right, but she's been a fun boat to own, and because of her I've met many sailors from the British Isles who have fond memories of their times aboard her. A sistership, Love & War, was lofted from her same lines in Australia. She turned out to be one of only two boats to have won the Sydney-Hobart three times — including last year. The other was the legendary 39-ft Freya in the mid-'60s.

Moonduster is, at the moment, rather heavy — probably near 40,000 pounds. I'm carrying more provisions than I did before in an attempt to offset the high prices in French Polynesia. I'm also sailing with 12 bags of sails — #1, #2, #3, staysail, storm jib, main, backup main, storm-tri, plus one 1/2-oz chute, two 3/4s and a 1.5. This is a lot more than most boats carry, and frankly, is kind of stupid. After all, I can't change headsails while underway and therefore plan to use my #2 for almost the entire trip. The #1 and #3 are along just for buoy racing, should those opportunities arise. I arrived too late to get crew for the recent Banderas Bay Regatta, but it's those sorts of low-key events I hope to find as I go.

My current focus is getting to New Zealand via a slightly modified Milk Run that favors islands a bit off the beaten path. But I don't really know what that means, as I haven't looked at the charts or cruising guides much. But I have nearly 1500 miles to get across the ITCZ before any of that really matters, which gives me more than a week to sort it all out.

From New Zealand, I'm seriously thinking about sailing east across the northern edge of the Southern Ocean to Tierra del Fuego, and then north up the canals of Chile, which is what they call their inside passage. Sometimes that trip sounds fantastic, but other times it sounds like too much while solo on a 35-year-old boat. Regardless, beyond all that, I'm committed to being uncommitted.

I'm not looking for crew, but have found that the most amazing people fall into my lap with regularity. That said, I built Moonduster's interior based on an old cruising adage, the origin of which I can't recall. But it holds that the ideal cruising boat seats twelve for cocktails, six for dinner, and sleeps but two. Moonduster is a one-cabin boat, which makes crewed passages fairly intimate affairs and, as a result, either delightful or awkward — or awkwardly delightful.

Having done my first long solo passage at age 38, and now starting my second at age 48, it's clearer than ever to me that the time to go is always now. Don't wait. Life is short.

— wayne 03/19/08

Panama Canal Backed Up
Pat Miller Rains

As of the middle of March, Pete Stevens and Tina McBride, two veteran ship's agents in Panama, report that yacht transits are presently backed up about four weeks — even for vessels that were scheduled to transit sooner! The agents also said that all the marinas on both ends of the Canal are packed to the gills with cruisers waiting to transit.

Stevens said that the ACP — Panama Canal Authority — is allowing only six yachts per day — three from the Pacific side and three from the Caribbean side — to start their transits, and that they must anchor in Lake Gatun for the night, finishing their transit the next day. At this time of year, the Canal previously allowed about 15 to 20 boats through the each day. Speaking on March 12, McBride told me that if you were already there with your boat, had your boat admeasured, and had paid all your fees, the earliest you might be able to transit was April 8.

While the ACP raised the transit rates by 7% on March 1, the backup problem started a week later when the pilots refused to work overtime. As such, there are even more ships — 104 — than yachts waiting to transit. Naturally, ships get priority.

Stevens and McBride said the best plan for cruisers is to get to Panama, have the boat admeasured, pay your fees, then go cruising nearby for the next few weeks, always staying in touch with the ACP about your transit date. They both said the scheduling is going to get worse, so owners and crew should not book any nonrefundable flights to or from Panama.

— pat 03/12/08

Cruise Notes:

"I sailed from Mazatlan back to my home port of Valdez, Alaska, via the offshore route," reports Paul May of the 32-ft Vancouver pilothouse Accomplice. "It took me 44 days, and I covered 4,400 miles, all under sail, making the big offshore loop from Mazatlan to Port Townsend, Washington. I did this solo from mid-June to the end of July of last year. It was quite an easy trip the entire way, with no bashing. The average windspeed was about 12 knots, and only blew harder than 20 a handful of times. I faced 30 knots once — my last day before pulling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was sunny nearly all the way. I recommend the route. By the way, I've never missed an issue of Latitude since the beginning, so I've renewed my subscription."

A 44-day solo passage without an engine — wonderful! Few sailors have made such a long passage. A tip of the Latitude hat to you — and all the other sailors who have made a similar passage but never bothered to tell anyone. Anybody else out there ever completed the offshore route from Mexico back to San Francisco or points north?

More — or at least better — berths for Banderas Bay? Emilio Oyarzábal García and the folks at Nuevo Vallarta Marina, which is directly across the channel from Paradise Marina, have announced that they will be putting in 230 slips for boats 22 to 130 feet in a luxurious waterfront setting. These are much-needed berths on Banderas Bay, but one can't help but wonder what's going to happen to the boats, many of them in very poor condition, that are currently scattered among the existing dilapidated docks. Oyarzábal advises that the first of the new slips should be ready for occupancy by the summer, with the remaining one sometime during the next winter season.

Just for fun, here's Latitude's thumbnail reviews of the other three marinas on Banderas Bay:

Marina Vallarta, where the high season rate for a 44-footer has been $1,100 a month, is totally urban, surrounded by restaurants and businesses, and just minutes from the recently expanded airport. There's a hubbub of activity everywhere, and it can get still and hot in the afternoon, but it's ultra convenient to the airport, Wal-Mart, Costco and relatively close to the delights of downtown Puerto Vallarta. There are no depth problems, but the marina is showing its age and really needs to kick up the maintenance a bit.

Marina Paradise, where the high season rate for a 44-footer has been $998 a month — taxes and other fees included — is in the midst of a very clean but somewhat isolated and strictly tourist resort environment. Graziano, the larger-than-life owner who epitomizes workaholicism, makes sure all his many facilities are well-built and very well maintained. It's a busy but structured environment, with harbormaster Dick Markie in charge. There are plenty of restaurants and stores, but no fuel dock, and for better or worse, it's Resortico, not Mexico. For instance, it's miles to the nearest taco cart. The marina's biggest drawback is that deep draft vessels often can't get in or out at medium to low water.

Marina Nayarit Riviera, where the high season rate for a 44-footer has just been raised to $1,229 a month, taxes included, has a background of jungle mountains and is at the edge of the wonderful and authentic Mexican town of La Cruz. Once the marina and all the nearby condos are completed, there will be more of an upstairs-downstairs feel, but right now it's a relatively isolated and small town — featuring cruiser favorites such as Anna Banana's, Philo's, and several fine restaurants — that's kept all its wonderful ambience. All the marina docks and facilities are new, of course, but there is still quite a bit of construction going on. The entrance is still being dredged, which is a good thing, because a number of boats have hit bottom hard.

In other words, there are currently three entirely different marinas within a 10-mile stretch of the bay, each with very different ambience, each right on the edge of the bay known for fine sailing. Given the demand for slips — and lower prices — more berths at a new and improved Nuevo Vallarta Marina would be much appreciated.

Some ill will has developed between cruisers anchored out at La Cruz and the new Nayarit Riviera Marina. The marina was great about opening up several months early, providing much needed slips for cruisers as early as November. Those anchored out were allowed to pay $3 a day to tie up their dinghies. By early March, the dinghy tie-up fee had been raised to $10 per time, not per day, one of the highest rates we've ever heard of. While cruisers could still land their dinghies just outside the marina breakwater, they felt that the marina management was trying to coerce them into taking slips — something many of them couldn't afford to do even if they wanted to. As such, a number of cruisers banded together and have been distributing the following protest:
"Free the cruisers! La Cruz de Huanacaxtle has been a favorite destination for hundreds of boats each winter for decades. The residents of the village have welcomed these generations of cruisers with smiles, good food and shopping, authentic Mexican culture and lively entertainment. La Cruz has the best anchorage in Bahia de Banderas, and for many years the old breakwater provided easy and free access to the town and its businesses. But this has suddenly changed. The owners of the Nayarit Riviera Marina are using their waterfront monopoly in an attempt to force cruisers out of the anchorage and into their expensive marina. Why is the marina working so hard to keep cruisers out? Why do they want to close the anchorage? The residents of La Cruz appreciate the considerable business generated by cruisers, but the marina is making it difficult for cruisers to continue to patronize their businesses and services. We're asking all cruisers to spread the word to other cruisers and local businesses that the marina is causing these problems. We need to band together to get the marina to change their harmful policies. Please help us get the word out."

When we were in La Cruz in early March, there were 64 boats in the anchorage, the highest number in many years. We're hoping that something can be worked out between the marina and the cruisers, because it would be in the best interests of both — as well as the good people and merchants of funky little La Cruz. On the other hand, it would also be in the best interests of cruisers to do better job of keeping the entrance to the marina open. It was very dangerous when we tried to enter one night, as many of the boats showed no lights while on the hook. In addition, the marina needs to set out more channel markers.

There have been rumors circulating on Mexico's coconut telegraph that Rick Carpenter, owner of Rick's Bar in Zihua, who has been a great friend of cruisers and the Zihua SailFest, has been kicked out of Mexico. That's not true. Here's what we believe to be the real scoop from a reliable source on the scene:

"For the tenth year in a row, Rick came down to Mexico and applied for his working visa. But when the Immigration field inspector routinely visited his bar, he found Rick personally serving drinks and collecting money — a no-no because Rick's visa is as a restaurant consultant. He's not allowed to do any hands-on work. So they canceled his application for a visa renewal. Regulations required Rick to fly out of the country — he doesn't even have to leave the San Diego Airport before flying back — before returning on a six-month tourist visa, at which point he can apply for a new working visa. It's admittedly an expensive and bureaucratic hassle, but ultimately not a great crisis. The situation is actually more common than one might suspect. Folks tend to forget that Mexico is the home team, and that we gotta play by their game rules."

It's unclear to us how much local business politics might have influenced the actions of the Immigration folks. Thanks to Rick's understanding of cruiser needs, he's grown a successful business, and that may have created business envy.

"In January of '99, we wrote in to report that we'd sailed from the very top of Mag Bay, at Boca de Las Animas, to the bottom, at Punta Santa Maria, a distance of 120 miles, aboard our 30-ft Catalac catamaran Spindrift," write Ron and Linda Caywood. "We subsequently spent three years in the Sea of Cortez, and to our knowledge were the first cruisers to go north from Mazatlan to Altata in order to get a better angle for crossing the Sea of Cortez to La Paz. In the spring of '02, we trucked our cat to Tucson and Houston, then spent four years in Marathon, Florida, and the Bahamas. We think Georgetown in the Exumas is as good as the Eastern Caribbean — but without the 25-knot winds. We spent this past winter at South Padre Island, in Texas, and are now on our way to Mobile Bay, Alabama, where we will go up the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Great Lakes. Ever since we got Verizon Wireless, we now read the e-book version of Latitude. In the last issue, we saw a Changes from our friends Bob Steadman and Kaye Nottbusch of the Cascade 36 Bettie. We first met them in Marathon's Boot Key Harbor. At the time, Bob had just finished working on a James Bond movie, and we went to see it with him because we're Bond fans and because we wanted to see his name in the credits. If they could contact us at our , we'd love to hear from them."

You folks have certainly got your money's worth with your 9-meter Catalac catamaran! But a lot of readers will probably wonder how you can say that you travelled 120 miles from one end of Mag Bay to the other — when it's only 40 miles long. These folks should crank up Google maps for a good satellite view of the 'inland passage' that starts far north of Mag Bay proper and runs south. We're not sure if all that you're referring to would be considered to be Mag Bay proper, but we get the idea. In fact, we've always wanted to do the last part of the second leg of the Ha-Ha via the inland route you're talking about, but have never had the guts to risk the bar at Las Animas. We wonder how many cruisers have?

Nobody is believing it until they see it, but David and Kim Wegesend of the Paradise Marina-based Catana 42 Maluhia claim they are, after eight years, finally going to move on. The original excuse for staying in one place for so long is that their son needed to finish middle and high school. But he's moved on, so that excuse doesn't cut it anymore. But with David and a local crew having been seen working hard on the cat, who knows, maybe they really will be moving on soon.

"We're here at San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, and saw the 289-ft Maltese Falcon drop her anchor the other day," report Bruce Balan and Alene Rice of the Northern and Southern California-based Cross 46 tri Migration. "We then went into an internet cafe and read owner Tom Perkin's posting about Costa Rica's Cocos Island. He's right about the diving, as it was the best Alene and I have ever experienced. However, he was wrong when he wrote that "Cocos is the world's largest uninhabited island." Anyone who has cruised the Sea of Cortez knows that there are of number of larger ones there alone. As for the Galapagos, checking in and getting zarpes is a bit of a mess, but the islands themselves are awesome. We plan to spend about a month here before heading on to Easter Island."

If Migration is being allowed to spend a month in the Galapagos, the good news must be that Ecuadorian officials haven't cracked down too hard on cruisers. There had been talk about restricting visitor access to the fabled islands. As for the claim that Costa Rica's Cocos Island is the world's largest uninhabited island, it's somehow attained the status of the nautical version of an urban legend. We don't know who is trying to push it, but the World Island Information website says it's nonsense, that there are at least 50 uninhabited islands that are larger.

Can you hear me now . . . out here in the middle of the Pacific? Anyone care to guess how many Iridium satphones are in use in the world? As of the end of '07, the company says the number was 234,000, up 34% from the year before. One of them was parsimonious Francis Joyon, who used an Iridium phone to get his weather routing info while sailing around the world in just 57.5 days aboard his 97-ft trimaran IDEC. Joyon didn't want more complicated communications stuff because he's a 'green' sailor and didn't want to have to carry fossil fuel and a gen set to power the more complicated equipment. We don't know how many Iridiums are owned by mariners, but they've become more popular because they provide relatively low-cost voice communication to and from anywhere in the world. The sound quality isn't always the best, but, unlike Globalstar phones, Iridiums almost always work. And compared to AT&T, which seems to think nothing of charging unsuspecting cell phone users hundreds of dollars for relatively short phone calls home from Mexico, Iridium is at least straightforward about their charges. Hint of the year — if you're going to Mexico, don't even dream of using an AT&T cellphone without first checking to make sure you won't get completely worked over.

We want to acknowledge that we've gotten a number of letters from cruisers, both in the Pacific and the Caribbean, lamenting the death of Jim Forquer of the Newport Beach-based Catana 52 cat Legato. Forquer, who we ourselves had only really gotten to know during December's Banderas Bay Blast, was our kind of guy. He was smart, but knew how to have a hell of a lot of fun while still being completely responsible. For more details on his tragic death, see this month's Sightings.

How would you like to get into the marina business in Mexico? "A Spanish language newspaper in Puerto Vallarta recently ran a story that says the Singlar Escalera Nautica facilities owned by Fonatur have been put up for sale," write Dave and Merry Wallace of the Redwood City-based Amel Maramu Air Ops. "As for us, we're having a great time. We made Z-Fest, but not the Banderas Bay Regatta. We'll soon be headed off to the Sea of Cortez, as we want to get an early start on spring over there."

Connie Sunlover at Puerto Escondido, Baja, home to one of the most underutilized of Singlar's 11 facilities, reports that Singlar was originally asking $18 million U.S. for the Puerto Escondido facility alone. "Now Singlar says they want to sell all 11 marinas as a package," she reports, "but we don't know the price." Trust us, if you have to ask the price, you won't be able to afford them.

Speaking of Puerto Escondido, Connie reports that all the repair work has been done on the moorings. What's that mean? "For the moorings for boats 40 feet and under, it's 1/2-inch chain from the block to the water's surface, then a 3/4-inch rope from the swivel to the boat. For the moorings for 41 to 90-ft boats, it's 3/4-inch chain and a one-inch line from the swivel to the boat. Seven moorings, for unusually large and heavy boats, will have 7/8-inch chain from the block to the surface, then one-inch from the swivel to the boat. For a typical cruising boats, which these days is 45 feet, a mooring would be $82/week."

This price still seems ridiculously high to us for Puerto Escondido, which would explain the lack of takers. But it's their business. And who knows, maybe Singlar will offer specials for the 12th Annual Loreto Fest which will be held May 1-4. As always, there will be music, music, and more music, as well as a silent auction, seminars, games, workshops, and other stuff. The money generated by Loreto Fest goes for education projects for the children in the area.

How is life in the Puerto Escondido area? "There's a feeling in the air among the people who have been here for the past 10 years," says Connie, "that the community is starting to come back together, particularly after the big slump of the last two years. The hotel and restaurant at Tripui are under new management, which is trying to rebuild their reputation with the community. They have wi-fi at a good price, and are adding more services. And there's much more going on."

"I'm anchored in La Cruz, and am no longer a virgin, having just done my first singlehanded overnight passage," reports Glenn Twitchell of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 38 Beach Access. "It was a 100-mile trip from Chamela to La Cruz that I completed in 18 hours. It was nice to have some buddyboats around since the weather window we expected didn't open, and we had as much as 25 knots on the nose. Since it was a first for me, I was diligent in preparing the boat for sea. Still, I had one of the lines that keeps the dinghy from swinging chafe through, and found a hatch that I never open undogged, which got water in and on my technical library. I'm hanging around here for a couple of days, then heading up to Mazatlan to pick up Brad, my first visitor from home. We'll cross over to the Baja side, then stick around for Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. I've never raced Beach Access because she's my home, she's heavy, and I can't imagine that she would be competitive. Yet it could be fun, and I do have a gennaker that I've only flown twice. In any event, it will be nice to see everyone again. I was hit very hard by the death of Jim Forquer of the Catana 52 Legato as a result of his fall at Barra de Navidad. We'd had lunch poolside at the Grand Hotel the day before his death, and had discussed how we were going through similar changes in our lives. I was leaving Barra the next morning when the news came."

"After keeping our Pearson 365 ketch Third Day at Marina Palmira in La Paz since the '07 Ha-Ha, it's now time to make the nearly 1,179-mile trip back to her mooring in Port San Luis," reports Rich Boren. "With the trip about to begin, I’ve been sleeping with Capt. Jim Elfers’ The Baja Bash II under my pillow, trying to get ready. Unlike the Ha-Ha, the return trip promises to hold more 'excitement', since we'll be heading into the prevailing wind and swell. Once we leave Cabo, it will be 750 miles of close-hauled sailing or motorsailing, as we make our way to San Diego. In addition to the boat's 50-gallon fuel tank, we're planning on carrying another 50 gallons of fuel on deck. That should allow us to make Turtle Bay for a refill before the tanks run dry. At typical cruising speeds in normal conditions, our Westerbeke 40 hp burns 0.5-0.6 gals/hr of fuel while making 5.5-6.5 knots. But since we'll be going into the wind and sea, I'm calculating burning 0.75 gals/hr at four knots, giving us a motorsailing range of diesel for 133 hours, or 5.5 days, or 532 miles. I'll be having a crew of five and Third Day has an autopilot, so we shouldn't have to steer the entire way as we did coming south."

So what does Boren plan to do when he gets back to Port San Luis? "We will begin the final phase of preparation for our big cruise. We plan to move aboard Third Day for good on Independence Day, then sail south on October 27 as part of the '08 Ha-Ha fleet. But this time we'll keep sailing south with our two kids."

The folks in Monterey report they may have a limited number of monthly or seasonal moorings available for boats in the 25 to 50-ft range this season. "This is a good alternative for those with lighter budgets who might want to sail out of here for the summer," they suggested. For details, contact Scott at (831) 646-3950.

"I held the record for the biggest dorado caught aboard our boat," reports Heather Corsaro of the Monterey-based Cal 36 Eupsychia, "until David managed to catch the big one in the accompanying photo. That baby was 52 inches long and weighed 22 pounds. The dorado we usually catch feed the two of us and the cat, but with this one could have fed an entire family."

"The report in 'Lectronic about Mike and Kay Heath doing two 360s inside a lock of the Panama Canal with their Saintonge 44 Finisterre brought back fond memories from '94 of our own 360 with Monakewago, our British Columbia-based Coast 34, in the last lock leading down to Colón," writes John Bavin. "We were rafted to a tug along with William Walden's Monterey-based Baba 40 Ventana, for going through the locks. I didn't realize that there was a current because of the fresh water mixing with the salt water at the end of the last lock. But after we cast off and the tug pulled ahead in the lock, Ventana pulled ahead to raft up with them again. Unfortunately, the tug crew was only able to secure their bowline, with the result that Ventana swung sideways in the lock up against the gates — and almost T-boned the lock wall with their bowsprit! My advisor stopped the advance of the ship behind us, and I did a 180 so as to motor into the current. When all was well with the tug, I did another 180, and this time made damn sure that the tug crew picked up my stern line! All the cruising we'd done in the crazy currents of British Columbia prepped us for this one, because my wife Brenda didn't make a peep. This all happened just after we'd spent a great month at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club."

"I had a similar incident in the Panama Canal in the mid-'90s aboard the Jongert 80 Scarena," writes Paul Dines of San Francisco. "I was the navigator when were locking up on the Balboa side. We had risen to the top of the first lock when our pilot blew his whistle, indicating the line-handlers ashore could move their ends forward to the next set of bollards. When those lines were loose, the captain put the boat in ahead slow. But in a distance equal to the length of the boat, she veered sharply to starboard, leaving us 90 degrees to the walls. It was pretty scary! We were able to stop our forward way with the motor, but we needed our shore lines re-secured in order to re-cue and proceed. We always assumed it was the result of residual turbulence combined with a salinity/density issue."

The Heath's report about their incident is, of course, one of this month's Changes. There are two things we'd like to add to it and the two other reports above. First, based on our experience and that of others, we don't have supreme confidence in the attentiveness of the crews on other boats — or the guys on the Canal tugs or the Canal line-handlers on shore. As far as we're concerned, all their actions need to be monitored closely. Secondly, it's our understanding that the worst current of any lock is in the last one before being let out into the Pacific. If you're not careful to limit the speed of your boat, she'll be pushed toward the forward gates. And if you give your boat some reverse, you have to make sure the sometimes lackadaisical Canal line-handlers on shore are paying attention so your boat doesn't slide up against the lock's vertical cement walls. We don't think Canal transits are inherently dangerous — as long as everyone is as alert as they should be. Unfortunately, that's not a given.

Thomas Todd of San Diego-based Hunter 54 Topaz seemed to have a thing for danger. For example, he once jumped from the deck of Profligate — which has nearly seven feet of freeboard — to a cement dock. Broke his heel, too. As you can see in the accompanying photo, he's been up to danger at other times, too.

"The photo was taken on Gary and Leslie Brant's Glendale-based C&C 36 Lysistrada during a trip from the Chesapeake Bay up to and around Newfoundland," writes Todd. "Gary left Ventura in the mid-'80s on a cruise, and after the first time around, just kept going! He also works as the chief engineer on the 130-ft yacht Dione Star that's cruising the world, but when he's off, he and Leslie take off for the Caribbean, the Arctic Circle, or who knows where? Anyway, I joined them for a trip from the Cheasapeake to the small island of St. Pierre, which took about 10 days. We spent a couple of days fog bound, during which time we sampled the French breads and wines, and explored St. Pierre. We later headed up a long inlet that had a large waterfall at the end of a fork. We anchored at the base of the waterfall and explored some more. The tides are pretty big up there, so when we tried to leave, the bar between the waterfall pool and open water had become too shallow to cross. We were trapped. As the largest of the three aboard, I was 'elected' to go out to the end of the boom. During my first attempt, I fell off the sail-covered boom — but managed to keep from falling into the water. That was a good thing, because the water is so cold there can be ice. We then rigged the chair off the end of the boom, which heeled the boat far enough over so we could power over the bar."

We're not sure why Tom waited four years to send us the photo, but if you've got a similarly good sailing shot, there's no need to let it age so long before sending an to Richard.

The folks at the Puerto Lucia YC in Ecuador have good news for cruisers. To paraphrase their news release, after some temporary setbacks with officials over the last six months, they are pleased to announce that: 1) Cruisers can now arrrive in Ecuador without having to use an expensive ship's agent, 2) They can stay a maximum of eight months, and 3) Fuel is available at no higher than international prices. However, 48 hours prior to arrival, all yachts must send an , with a copy to the marina. The email needs to include the following information: 1) Vessel's name, call sign, and flag. 2) Port, date, and time of departure from the last port. 3) The vessel's ETA for their port of destination or yacht club. 4) The lat/long and time and date when the message was sent. 5) A waypoint with the lat/long and time and date. It's also important to include the vessel's name, length, beam, draft, gross tonnage, net tonnage, date of construction, nationality, port of registry, and documentation or registration number. As soon as a yacht coming to Puerto Lucia YC gets within radio range, the captain must report directly to Puerto Lucia YC on VHF 19 between 0800 and 1800. Normally, the yacht will be told to proceed to the marina and either dock at the reception pontoon or anchor a short distance from the marina lighthouse on the starboard side past the entrance. If the arrival is after working hours, the captain must anchor outside the entrance buoy for early clearance the following morning.

The other good news is agents are no longer required for clearing out, either. The yacht club, with assistance from the captain, will prepare all arrival and depature documents, and arrange for authorities to come aboard for clearance and free pratique, as well as all the documention for clearance. Except in special cases, crew will no longer be required to go to the Immigration office to get their passports stamped. Free 90-day visas are granted on the spot, and may be extended. While yachts are currently allowed to only stay for eight months and nine days, the yacht club is working with Customs to extend the legal period to 10 years! They expect to get it, too.

The Puerto Lucia YC is a private club located at La Libertad. The marina is part of the private club, so cruisers only have access to a bar and the La Gaviota restaurant. The rest of the facilities, including the swimming pool, are off-limits unless other arrangements are made. For example, for $150 U.S. a month or $5/day — except for weekends and holidays — cruisers will be able to use of the laundry, a complete gym, the main bar and restaurant, showers, and get free wifi, ice and so forth. However, weekend and holiday use will be excluded. For more information, visit All in all, it sounds as though both the country of Ecuador and the Puerto Lucia YC are really rolling out the red carpets for cruisers — and just at the time of year that cruisers will be arriving. Well done!

"At least one boat has broached in the breakers on approach to the estuary entrance to beautiful and popular Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua," reports Patricia Miller, author of the Boating Guide to Mexico and other guides. "Apparently the marina's sea buoy has either moved or a new shoal has developed, obstructing the formerly safe path in that the marina had been recommending. The good news is that the marina is happy to provide free pilot service to guide boats in to their facilities. They can be reached on VHF 16 when within range, at which point boats need to wait outside. It's exactly the same drill as for Barillas Marina and Bahia del Sol in El Salvador, where they send out a very reliable panga pilot to guide boats across the bar.

Missing the pictures? See our April 2008 eBook!


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