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April 2010

Missing the pictures? See the April 2010 eBook!

 With reports this month from Worldwind on the graciousness of a Mexican port captain; from Aita Pe'ape'a on one of the real budget cruises across the South Pacific; from Cadence on a gunfire ridden Christmas haulout in the Philippines; from Azure II on starting a second cruise, this time with two kids and two hulls; from Java on ferocious Papagayo winds at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua; and Cruise Notes.

Worldwind — Westsail 32
Jim and Julia Focha
The Generosity of Mexicans
(Stockton Sailing Club)

Many times in Latitude we've read about the friendliness and generosity of the Mexican people. But it has to experienced to really be appreciated. In two years of cruising Mexico, we didn't have a single negative experience. Nonetheless, the assistance and hospitality afforded us by Gregorio, the Port Captain at Man O’ War Cove, Mag Bay, during our Baja Bash was far beyond anything we could have imagined.

We’d left Cabo in light winds, but by the time we reached the south end of Mag Bay, it was blowing a steady 30 knots on the nose. We refueled in Man O' War Cove, then continued on to Bahia Santa Maria to wait for better weather. While at beautiful BSM, I crunched the numbers, and discovered that because of the adverse weather we'd used much more fuel than I'd expected. And there was no way that we’d have enough money to buy the fuel we’d need once we got to Turtle Bay. Yes, Julia had told me to get more money while we were in La Paz. But yes, I’m a tightwad, so I insisted that we had enough.

We checked on the Ham and SSB nets, but nobody knew if there was a bank or ATM machine in Turtle Bay. [Editor’s note: There is neither.] So we backtracked to Man O’ War Cove in order to go to the ATM in San Carlos. But once there, we were informed that somebody had "liberated” the machine and that it hadn’t been replaced.

The next morning we decided we should backtrack to Cabo and regroup. It was enough to make us cry, as we dreaded the thought of having to pound 150 miles from Cabo to Mag Bay a second time. I called Gregorio, the port captain, to see if we had to check in again. When he learned of our plight, he said it didn’t make sense for us to backtrack to Cabo. He told us that he’d come out to our boat and discuss the situation with us.

He indeed came right out, and told us that he would take us to San Carlos! Once there, we could take a bus 40 miles inland to Constitución, a large enough city to have several banks. We told him that would be fantastic, but what if our bank locked our account — as they’d done three times during our trip — and we ended up with no money at all? Gregorio said no problema, he would take us all the way to Constitución! When we asked how much it would cost, he said, nada, meaning 'nothing' — or at least 'not very much'. Normally, we would have insisted on a firm price, but how could we not trust Gregorio?

When we got to San Carlos, a city of about 6,000, Gregorio’s wife was waiting on the beach with their truck and trailer. They always haul their panga out in case there is a change in weather. We then went to their house, which is a very nice two-story home overlooking the bay. We sat in the patio and talked with his youngest son until Gregorio and his wife were ready to go. Fortunately, the road to Constitución had finally been paved, so it was a pleasant trip.

Gregorio and his wife dropped us off at the bank, where we withdrew the daily amount allowed. It wasn't as much as we would have preferred, but it was enough. The couple returned to pick us up an hour later, and drove us to a BBQ chicken place such as they have all over Mexico. Gregorio and his wife even wanted to pay for our lunch! We had to insist that we pick up the tab. Besides, it was only $12 for four people.

Once back in San Carlos, Gregorio informed us he had to go to his office until about 7 p.m. — probably because he’d spent all day taking us to Constitucion and back. This gave us a chance to explore the town until about 4:30 p.m., at which time we returned to their house. We knocked on the door to let Gregorio’s wife know that we would be waiting in the patio for him. But she insisted that we come inside, and we spent the afternoon watching Rachel Ray and the National Geographic channel in Spanish. Gregorio returned home at about 7 p.m., at which point his wife fixed us some machaca burritos.

Once back on the boat, I asked Gregorio how much we owed him. “Nada," he said. I may be a tightwad, but I’m not a cheapskate. I forced him to accept $50 U.S. The next day Gregorio was back at our boat at 7 a.m., as promised, with 30 gallons of diesel. He sold it to us for just $40 U.S. When is the last time you paid $1.33 a gallon for diesel?

To have been helped like that by not just a stranger, but a stranger who is also a Mexican official, and one who invited us into his home — that's a kindness that we'll never forget. We can’t get back to Mexico soon enough!

— jim and julia 01/15/10

Aita Pe'ape'a — CSK 33
Tristan and Mindy Nyby
Cruising on What We Had
(Los Angeles)

Since we've been out here cruising the South Pacific at only 29 years old, we can't tell you how often other cruisers tell us how "lucky" we are to be able to do it at such a young age. We don’t consider ourselves to be particularly lucky, because we simply made the decision to just happily go cruising on the modest boat that we had, and not worry about what kind of boat and gear everybody thinks is needed to cross an ocean. One day we’ll return to the States, start a family, save some money, and come back out again. Actually, we're going to do it as soon as we can, for there's no better life than waking up with coffee in the morning, smelling the mangoes, and looking at the clear blue ocean and tall green islands.

Perhaps the luckiest thing is that Tristan comes from a sailing family. His parents, Kirk and Ines, sailed around the world from ’71-’73 aboard Silmaril, their 44-ft CSK catamaran. Twenty years later, they took Tristan and his two sisters on a South Pacific cruise aboard Pilot, their Long Beach-based 58-ft schooner.

Not having a lot of money for a cruising boat, five years ago Tristan and I were lucky enough to find a 33-ft flushdeck CSK 33 cat for an amazingly low price. She'd been professionally built in Venice by the CSK crew — Rudy Choy, Warren Seaman, Alfred Kumalae — way back in '64. Our plan was to fix her up for cruising, so we spent the next year building a cabin, putting in two heads, re-glassing the deck, redesigning the rudders, sanding, painting, and doing the dreaded varnishing. Tristan and I both work in the film industry — he in production and I in international film publicity. His job allowed him to set his own schedule, so I must confess that he did most of the actual work on the boat. I provided the moral support and pizza delivery.

Years ago we set our departure date for January of '09, and saved as much money as we could before we left. In order to save money, we stuck with what we thought were the essential cruising items — a tiller autopilot, a small fridge/freezer for beer and burgers, a GPS, and some surfboards. Thanks to our parents' being generous with presents at Christmas, we also have an EPIRB and a satphone. The items we don't have that are commonly found on cruising boats are things like radar, SSB radio, a watermaker and a big refrigeration system.

We're also on a small budget. We have $500 a month to cover all our expenses, including food, customs fees and repairs.

We departed Long Beach on January 11 of '09 — at exactly the same time and place that Tristan's parents started their third cruise, which was their second with Pilot. We spent the next three months sailing down the coast of Mexico, getting as far south as Barra de Navidad. On April 2nd, our two boats set sail for the Marquesas.

Given the significant difference in size and sailing qualities of the two boats, we figured we'd be out of VHF radio range in just a few days. Well, we were wrong. The winds were light, so our little 6,000-lb — when fully loaded — cat took off during the day. But when the wind dropped at night, Tristan's parents could fire up their engine and catch up with us. At certain wind angles and wind speeds, we sailed along together at just about the same speed. This happened again and again for 15 days. At this point, we decided it would be a feat in itself to stay together for the duration, so we modified our speeds a little to stick together. Our two boats arrived in Nuku Hiva after 21 days. I think we both could have made the trip more quickly if we hadn't regulated our speed to stay with each other, but having somebody to talk with over the VHF every day made the trip more entertaining.

Our Aita Pe'ape'a sailed well, and despite her diminutive size, handled the wind and seas with ease. During one squall with winds to 50 knots, we comfortably sailed down swells at seven knots.

Our most significant problem came up just three days out of Nuku Hiva. It was blowing about 25 knots, with nine-foot seas at five-second intervals on the beam. Even though it was very sloppy, our little cat was doing great, sailing at a steady nine knots with bursts to 12 knots under jib alone. But as she slid down one wave, the stress on the port rudder became too great, and the rudder broke in half. We hailed Tristan's parents in case the other rudder broke. Considering that the bottom half of the rudder is blue and the huge seas were blue, it was miraculous that we were able to turn around, spot the rudder, and recover it. With Pilot staying behind us just in case — which was a huge comfort — we continued on to Nuku Hiva at about five knots using just a scrap of headsail to reduce pressure on the rudder.

Our 46-year-old cat suffered a few other problems on the crossing. A rib in the starboard aft hull broke, and the continual pounding of the waves during a beam reach caused a hairline crack in our starboard wingbridge/hull joint. Both were easily fixed and have been reinforced. (Since then, we’ve fared well with no major repairs needed — even though our cat rode out tropical cyclone Rene's 100+ knots of wind at Neiafu, Tonga in February. We stayed ashore.)

While Tristan's parents had sailed Pilot back to Long Beach in August, we continued on to the Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga. We had our best 24-hour run — 218 miles — sailing alone between Bora Bora and Aitutaki. Normally, we average between 150 and 175 miles a day. After the cyclone season we plan to sail to Fiji, where we’ll spend a few months before moving on to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We hope to sell our cat in New Caledonia or Australia, then fly home and start saving for our next boat and trip!

We don't want anyone to give anyone the illusion that you can cruise in luxury on such a small cat. For example, we have no standing headroom inside the boat, and have to crawl around to get from the cabin to the bunk in the starboard hull and to the heads on either side. During passages, one person lies in the bunk while the other sits on the seat in the cabin. And it can get hot and cramped. But we think it's all worth it in the end, and once we get to port, we have plenty of deck space to spread out on. Although Aita Pe'ape'a wasn't meant to be a bluewater boat, she's certainly held up well so far. To us, it just proves that you can cruise on just about any type of boat.

For those who are wondering, Aita Pe'ape'a is Tahitian for 'no problem.'

— mindy 02/10/10

Cadence — Apache 30 Cat
Frank Ohlinger
A Xmas Story — With Gunfire
(Half Moon Bay)

The garbage dump across the river from the Cebu YC on Cebu Island in the Philippines caught fire the week before Christmas. Methane-fueled fires can be tenacious, and this one was expected to burn for some time. On the bright side, the pall and loom of the fire at night added to the festive air of the city during the holiday week — if it didn't flash you back to the fall of Saigon in '75. What it certainly did not do was subdue the excessive use of fireworks that Filipinos employ for celebrating. The blasting went on all night, every night.

Mind you, these fireworks are not of the lightweight Blackcat firecrackers category as used in suburban backyards in the United States over the Fourth of July. For when the holidays were over, the Mayor of Cebu was proud to announce that only 242 people had to be hospitalized in the greater metropolitan area as a result of fireworks injuries. The newspapers attributed some of this success to the nationwide program to tape up the muzzle of the duty weapon of every policeman in the country. For added security, every police chief had to initial the tape on every gun. The Filipinos do not have a lot of material wealth, but they love to celebrate holidays.

But the view of the city from the foredeck of Cadence at night wasn’t what brought me here. And the rumors that I preferred to spend the holidays in a strip club are unfounded. My actual reason for this visit was a small right-of-way argument Cadence and I had lost with a coral head in Palau in October. The blue moon of the last week of December had perfect tides to dry Cadence out in order to effect a permanent repair. So that — and a slew of other chores, stores and neglected maintenance — set the stage for my 700-mile odyssey to Cebu City.

I put Cadence on the ramp at the gritty, slimy, stagnant boatyard in Port Carmen. It's not the most pleasant place to work, but it was convenient enough for a quick and simple job. Working around saltwater with power tools always bothers me. And yet there I was, using 220-volt power from an electrical cord lying in the puddles and slime. I tried to be careful to ground my power tool, and to wear rubber boots and latex gloves. But then I noticed two Filipino workers wading out barefoot, one with a grinder and the other holding the two-conductor wire out of the sea. "Where is OSHA when you really need them?" I thought to myself.

Careful as I was, one afternoon I forgot to coil up the power cord. The tide came up nearly two meters that night, and while wading back to my cat after a few late-night beers, I noticed a tingling in my legs. As I reached the boarding ladder, my left leg started shaking uncontrollably. I retreated up the ramp in haste, and from the safety of dry land, I reeled in the cord from the water. It sparked and hissed until I found the tree the circuit breaker box was hanging from. Luckily no one got hurt, and the only damage was to the plug. The next morning the boatyard dogs were scavenging all the dead fish. When the workers showed up, I hesitated to tell any of the locals what happened. Between dynamiting and cyaniding, the fish populations here just don’t need another way for locals to make them disappear faster.

There’s a nipa hut in the boatyard that sells ice cold beer, and happy hour there is popular with the cruising crowd. One late afternoon I found a dusty copy of a Lonely Planet guidebook to the Philippines. After reading it, I learned that Danoa, the next town over, is the center of the gun-making industry in the Philippines. I did a little research, and found out that gunsmithing here is a cottage industry dating back over a hundred years. Every neighborhood has a shop or two, and young apprentices are expected to hand-make a fully operational Colt 45 automatic, model 1911A, before they graduate.

When the U.S. took possession of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, they inherited an insurrection by the Moro tribesmen. These Muslim warriors had the bad habit of cranking themselves up on hashish before battle, and then had the worse manners of continuing to charge into the line after being shot with a .38 caliber revolver, the standard military sidearm of the time. As a result, the call went out for a new sidearm. The chief requirement was that it not only stop a running man, but knock him backwards, too. The Colt 45 model 1911A was adopted, and models of it arrived in the Philippines shortly thereafter. It was, and perhaps still is, the epitome of the gunsmith’s craft, and everyone wanted one. Danoa was just outside the front lines at the time, and thus an industry was born.

I mentioned this to the bartender, a young transvestite named JonJon. "Sure," he said, pulling a .45 out of his purse. "I can get you one for about $50, and a really good one for about $100." I handled the gun and checked it out. The checkering on the grip was perfect, the engraving and rifling looked authentic. But I did notice — buyer beware — that one of the safeties didn’t work. Someone else produced a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber revolver, and if I was interested, another offered to bring out his Irwin MkII machine gun. The word is that you can order anything from an AK-47 to a bazooka here. And the industry is fond of experimenting with new designs. When a Smith & Wesson agent came to Danoa back in the '80s, one of the local gunsmiths proudly brought out his newest innovation — a pistol modified to chamber a Girard M1 round. The agent didn’t stick around to see if it worked.

Although I’m comfortable with guns, I’ve rarely carried one aboard my boat. But with the worldwide increase in piracy, I had to reconsider the question. I paid a visit to a local gun shop the next day. In a grimy, dirt-floored shack, a young man was hand-fitting the barrel of an Irwin Mk II machine gun. If I'd been interested, I could have had it for $300 — no questions and no paperwork. I went home to ponder the situation.

The situation being, first, that there's the issue of declaring a gun to officials or trying to hide it on a boat. If a gun is declared, many countries require the police to impound it. That obviously negates any benefit of having one, not to mention the major hassle of recovering it when you check out. OK, so the gun would have to be aboard clandestinely, yet carried in such a way that it was easily available when needed. How would that work? For one thing, you can’t simply pack a gun away and expect it to be reliable. In a saltwater environment, keeping a gun cleaned and oiled would be a recurring chore.

When would I actually need a gun? Several scenarios come to my mind. The most obvious is waking up and finding an intruder on deck, or worse, in the cabin. Is he a desperate robber armed with a machete, or simply a fellow yachtie too drunk to find the boat he came in on? What do you do? If you have a weapon, can you get to it quickly before the intruder can respond? If you can, do you yell and threaten to shoot, or just shoot? I’ve been told by several who know, that once a gun is pulled, you must be ready to use it. And in such circumstances, events have a way of spiraling out of control. Someone told me the gun will almost “use itself.” Then you are faced with dealing with a wounded person on your boat or worse, disposing of a body. Realistically, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. And few foreign courts will look kindly on a rich yachtie offing a local — regardless of how despicable a thug the latter might have been.

In any event, a handgun of some kind would be the weapon of choice. But what about the argument that a flare gun might be just as effective? Or a couple of flare guns? Or a non-lethal device like a taser? Until the trigger is pulled, the situation is the same. Afterward, you have either avoided a big mistake you’d regret for the rest of your life, or you are faced with an even more desperate criminal fighting for his life. I'm not sure which would be better.

Another scenario might be the small boat standing off with a nest full of bad guys armed with AK-47s. A shotgun might make an effective defense, but it turns out the shotgun is the one firearm they can’t make in Danoa. The problem is that a barrel can’t be milled locally, and has to be purchased from a manufacturer. The price and paperwork then become a problem.

Then I remembered yachtie Tristan Jones’s suggestion to carry a box of dynamite. If you toss a stick in the direction of the bad guys, close enough is — for once — good enough. Wacky as it sounds, dynamite is readily available in the Philippines, is low maintenance, and I don’t think any official has ever asked if I carried explosives.

But I’m not convinced that any of these scenarios is probable enough for me to start packing heat. There are certainly enough other hazards on the open sea to deal with. For instance, on this trip we encountered twice as many FADs — fish attracting devices — as we saw on previous passages. A FAD is a 12-15 foot long steel cylinder, 3-5 feet in diameter, that is moored in deep water. The mooring line attracts benthic and pelagic life, which in turn attracts bigger fish, and so on up to top of the food chain, which are the super-charged predatory tuna. The FADs provide a micro-niche in the ocean that in some ways is a benign type of fish farming.

The FADs we passed were moored by 2-inch diameter polypropylene, some in 18,000 feet of water! Yes, three or four miles of line! This is a significant investment in equipment and ship time. Nonetheless, only about half of them were lit. And some of these were in well-trafficked shipping lanes. Commercial ships can probably shrug off a FAD strike, and large props can easily shred polypropylene. But in this part of Micronesia, there have already been two reports of serious collisions involving cruising boats and FADs. I, for one, am amazed at the callousness and negligence displayed by anyone who would install, for whatever reason, such a hazard to other mariners. I feel it rises to the level of criminal negligence. It may be a one-man crusade but I suggest that all unlit FADs should be taken out or sunk whereever they are encountered. Hmm, perhaps I do have a reason to carry a gun after all.

— frank 02/01/10

Azure II — Leopard 47 Cat
The Pimentel Family
Caribbean and Med

Two years ago, Jane Pimentel wrote the following to us: "My son RJ just turned 10, and we were looking at his baby book. He read the 10-year-old Changes in Latitude article about how my husband Rodney and I cruised across the South Pacific from '96-'98 aboard our Jeanneau 36 Azure, and how he, RJ, had been born in Whangarei, New Zealand. When he saw his baby cruising picture, he got so excited. The three of us terminated our cruise when RJ was 10 months old, but we vowed we'd go cruising again. Well, after another son, Leo, and a few jobs, a house, and so forth, it's almost time! We figure we'll start in the Caribbean in about 18 months."

If nothing else, the Pimentels — he's a civil engineer and she worked for Apple — are punctual. For last August they bought a Leopard 47 catamaran they christened Azure II in St. Lucia, and after having her on the hard for three months, started cruising the islands of the Eastern Caribbean in December. We crossed paths with the family a couple of times in St. Barth in February, we on our Leopard 45 cat, they on their slightly longer and fancier Leopard 47. At the time, they were hosting close friends from Alameda, Steve and Clare Waterloo, and the couple's children Connor, 10, and Teagan, 8. The Pimentels and Waterloos both own Cal 40s — Azure and Shaman, respectively — and have regularly competed against each other in everything from races to Hawaii to last year's Cal 40 one-design class in the Rolex Big Boat Series at the St. Francis YC.

Jane claims it was an article we wrote in the February '07 issue that triggered their interest in starting a second cruise — this time a two-year adventure in the Caribbean and the Med — and their interest in cats. "You wrote that you'd taken a mortgage on your house in order to buy a cat to put into a yacht management program in the Caribbean, which would allow you to use the boat in the Caribbean six weeks a year. And you suggested that others might want to take a mortgage out on their house, buy a boat to go cruising, and have the tenants make the mortgage payments. Well, that's what we've done, and it's been working out fine so far.

Rodney got the family's first taste of catamaran sailing by volunteering to help Blair Grinoles, the builder and then-owner of Capricorn Cat, sail his 46-footer from Tarawa to Fiji several years ago. Thanks to being light, simple, and having generous sail area and daggerboards, Cap Cat is very much a performance cruising cat. The racer in Rodney figured it would be cool to have that kind of boat for the second cruise. But what the head of the family didn't like in Cap Cat is that both of the daggerboards had to be rebuilt, as did one rudder, and she has a relatively small cockpit and salon. So the family started looking at Catanas, and, with the Waterloos, chartered two Lagoon 440s in the British Virgins. After these experiences, doing a lot of looking around, and talking with people on the Leopard 45/47 owners' website, they decided to go with a Leopard 47. "It simply offered us the biggest bang for the buck," says Rodney.

The Pimentels bought a 47 that had originally been part of the Moorings Crewed Charterboat fleet, so she had some of the extras that many of the other 45s and even most 47s don't have. For example, speakers beneath the bow deck seats, an extra fridge, a bigger chart table, and a better seating arrangement at the salon table. After the cat came out of The Moorings program, she was bought by a couple who used her to do crewed charters out of St. Lucia. Two years of that were all the couple could take, so the Pimentels picked her up for an attractive price.

In most respects, the Leopard 47s are the same as the Leopard 45s, but with a two-foot sugar scoop. A two-foot scoop, by the way, that some say makes a surprising amount of difference in cat's performance and in the reduction of pitching. Almost all the 47s also came with a generator and air-conditioning, which, depending on one's point of view, is a good or a bad thing. The only time the Pimentels have wanted to use the air-con was just before hitting the sack during the humidity of last August. "It was really nice to have back then," says Jane, "but we haven't used it since."

Having never owned a boat with so many systems — even before he added all the new stuff — Rodney's had a bit of a shock at how much work is involved. Some of the stuff is just normal maintenance on things like the generator — the cat has three times as many diesel engines as does their Cal 40 — and a watermaker. Others have been boat age-related. Replacing all the hoses on the four toilets, for example, which were suffering from hardening and narrowing of the 'arteries', as it were. And replacing the brushes on the windlass motor. In addition, the new Tri Data and Chartplotter have given him problems. Then there was the work involved installing new stuff, such as the SSB radio, solar panels, and a washing machine.

"A brand new boat would have been much more expensive, but it would have afforded me more time to sail and to relax," says Rodney. "If people can afford it, I recommend that they buy a new boat!"

"That's not always the solution," Steve cautions. "I know people who have had lots of problems with brand new boats, too."

This isn't to say the family isn't delighted with the cat. "I love all the room we have inside and out," says Jane. "Cruising on the Cal 40 is like tent camping, while cruising on this boat is like RV camping. I also love the fact that things don't come crashing down to the sole all the time as they do on monohulls."

"I actually prefer the motion of a monohull to a catamaran's," says Rodney. "But I'm looking forward to doing a lot more sailing on this cat. We had a great sail from St. Barth to St. Martin to pick up the Waterloos, and we had a great sail back to St. Barth with them."

We didn't even bother asking RJ and Leo if they liked the playground-size boat, because there are so many different places to go, play and even be alone. While the Waterloos were aboard, both couples had their own cabins with head en suite, and the three boys had their own 'Lord of the Flies' cabin with a head and locker room smell en suite. You don't find that on most 47-foot monohulls.

Jane says she's surprised that neither of her boys has complained about being on the boat. "It's unusual, because they usually find something to complain about," she says with a laugh. "In fact, I've been the only one who has missed a few of the things from back home. But I think the boys are going to have a hard time when we're done cruising, because after they do a couple of hours of schooling in the morning, they get to do things like swim with turtles, go hiking, and have all kinds of other adventures. It's also interesting that they don't seem to miss television. If we're at some bar, they might watch some sporting thing on French television, but otherwise they just don't seem to care. They do have iPod Touches they can play with, but we limit them to one hour of screen time per day.

"That's from 5 to 6 p.m.," laughes Steve, "which coincides with our happy hour. So everybody is happy then."

The kids are being home schooled using the Calvert system. "It's really hard to know how they are doing," Jane admits. "I guess we'll find out when the trip is over. I hope they are learning by leaps and bounds. I do know they are getting a completely different education than if we were back in Alameda."

The Pimentels will continue cruising the Caribbean until about May, at which time Rodney and various friends — he's the much-liked outgoing commodore of the Encinal YC in Alameda — will sail the cat across the Atlantic. Jane and the boys will join the boat in the Azores for the last leg to . . . well, the destination keeps changing. "We're thinking we'll make landfall in Portugal," says Jane, "and by the end of summer will have made it as far east as Spain's Balearic Islands. We hoped to see more of the Med, but there's just not enough time . . . unless we spend a second summer there."

Since the Pimentels took our advice once, maybe they'll take it again. After having gone to all the effort and expense of buying a boat and sailing her to the Med, it would be almost tragic to spend just one summer there and not even get to cruise France, Italy, Croatia, Greece or Turkey. We speak from personal experience.

— latitude 38 02/20/10

Java — Crowther 48 Cat
Evan Dill
Super Papagayos
(Santa Barbara)

Although my report is late on what supposedly were the strongest Papagayo winds to hit Nicaragua's San Juan del Sur — aka Wind Hell — in 30 years, I suppose it's better late than never.

The wind blew steadily in the 80-knot range for three days, with gusts to 100 knots. In fact, three large cruise ships that normally would have stopped at San Juan del Sur simply kept going because there was no way they could safely anchor and disgorge their mobs. One ship’s captain reported readings of 95 knots while passing by.

Unfortunately, my cat Java was resting at anchor in San Juan del Sur after a challenging sail up from Costa Rica in Papagayos, when the super strong winds hit, and I was back in the States for the holidays. Luckily, I had aboard a local boat-sitter who knew lots of other locals he could call on for help — because he would need help. Every boat that was anchored dragged, and two pangas were blown out to sea, never to been seen again. The Nica Lady, a large but disabled fishing trawler ghosted out to sea, barely missing my cat on her way over the horizon. The only boats that didn’t drag were tied to the local concrete moorings.

After Java dragged anchor out of the bay, she was rescued by a fishing boat that had been hired to retrieve her. She was reanchored and stable, I’m told, until her position was crossed by the Canadian sailboat Aquarian, which was being towed back in from five miles out to sea. She was dragging a 400-lb anchor the navy had put aboard, and unfortunately came so close that it tripped Java’s anchor chain. As she was helplessly heading out to sea once again, Java’s anchor chain providentially wrapped around a ship mooring buoy, which was her last chance.

My crew figured Java was secure at last. Alas, two hours later, apparently on orders of the port captain, Aquarian was put on the same buoy as Java. You can imagine how my 9-ton cat fared being slammed by a 30-ton ferro-cement schooner for over 24 knots in the very strong winds. Despite the best efforts of the crews on the two boats, Java’s new paint job — just completed in Ecuador — got pretty dinged up, and her solid portside handrail was wasted. Fortunately, she was sturdily built, so there was no structural damage.

After returning to San Juan del Sur and encountering daily 25-30 knot winds,
I skedaddled out of there to the north, to lovely — and quiet — Bahia del Sol Marina in El Salvador. For what it’s worth, we didn’t see the end of the Papagayos until we were 150 miles north of San Juan del Sur and had already crossed the Gulf of Fonseca, which marks the borders of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. The lesson we learned was don’t sail to southern Nicaragua during the December to February Papagayo season — unless you’ve got a storm anchor and don’t mind sailing less than a mile offshore in 30 to 40-knot winds. Because when it blows, it really sucks!

— evan 03/15/10

Readers — Papagayos are caused by surges of cool, dry air from North America. Such air is denser than the normal tropical air mass in the region. A strong pressure gradient is established, inducing the wind, which gets an added Venturi effect from being funneled through the mountain gaps between the Caribbean and Pacific. Papagayos can blow any time of year, but they are most common in the winter. Since they blow offshore, boats heading south to Panama have sometimes ended up hundreds of miles off the coast, and have had a very difficult time making it back to the coast, which slants to the southeast.

Cruise Notes:

“Here’s the update on my 440-mile passage from Pittwater, New South Wales, to Mooloolaba, Queensland, in Australia that I did with ‘Commodore’ Tompkins aboard his Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl,” writes Paul Slivka, who sailed his trimaran from San Francisco to Australia decades ago and never returned. “We covered the distance in 63 hours, averaging around 7 knots. But that’s deceptive, as a lot of it was against 2 to 4 knots of coastal current. There were warnings of strong winds when we left, but there were four of us, and the wind was from aft of the beam. When we crossed the Queensland border last night, we sailed into a gale warnings and saw up to 37 knots of wind with 10- to 12-ft seas. For the last 150 miles we shortened down to a double-reefed main only. Flashgirl is a very unusual cruising boat in that she has rod rigging, triple spreaders, a 9-foot draft on a high-aspect bulb keel, one ton of water ballast on each side, tiller steering, and an open aft cockpit. With the weather ballast tank full, she can carry full sail in over 20 knots on a reach — but she will be wet and it will be like sleeping in a washing machine. I offered to do the passage for the privilege of sailing with the maestro Commodore, and to prove to myself that I am still up to it at 65 years of age. The trip was successful on both counts. Having gone to sea for more than 75 years, Commodore is the supreme seaman. And at age 78, and the survivor of a heart attack many years ago, he’s much fitter than I am. Pumping Flashgirl’s tiller while surfing at 10 to 14 knots in big seas was very demanding physically, but I did it. And I have the sore arm and shoulder muscles to prove it. As soon as I arrived home, I checked the weather and noticed that cyclone Ulua had formed near the southern Solomon Islands. As I write this a night later, she’s been upgraded to a Category 5 storm and is at 115 knots and still building near the center. She should be off the mid-Queensland coast by Wednesday, and will cause major damage if she continues to strengthen. I hope Commodore doesn’t have any worries, because the Mooloolah River isn’t the best place to be with your boat during a tropical cyclone, and there is nowhere to hide with a boat that draws nine feet. The likelihood of a direct hit on Flashgirl is slim, but if anyone could handle it well, it’s Commodore.”

The International Community Foundation did a survey of 840 U.S. retirees over the age of 50 living in the coastal areas of Mexico, and came up with some interesting findings. Among them, more than half the retirees are under age 65; two-thirds have a college degree; most still have strong ties with the U.S. and consider it their primary country of residence; and 42% said the recent economic recession had no impact on their lives. Lucky them. Perhaps here’s the reason for it. Nearly half of the respondents reported being able to “live comfortably” on less than $1,000 a month. That’s about half to one-third of what they would need for a similar lifestyle in California. And get this: Despite all the publicity about narco violence in Mexico, only 7% of the respondents voiced concerns about their safety and personal security. Small surprise then that more than one million Americans live in Mexico.

"We had great times cruising the South Pacific last year,” report Allan and Rina Alexopulous of the Volcano, CA-based Hunter 466 Follow You Follow Me. “We’ve got some good stories, too, including the one about the loss of our rudder off the coast of New Zealand. But it’s also good to be back in the northern hemisphere. We put our boat on a Dockwise ship in New Zealand, and she’s slated to arrive in Ensenada on Saturday. Having heard the ship encountered 55-knot winds and huge seas near the Cook Islands, we hope our boat is still in one piece. We heard that at least one boat suffered significant damage — all the stanchions got ripped off the port side of the boat — apparently from a poor shrink-wrapping job. In any event, we’ll be heading right down to La Paz for Sea of Cortez Sailing Week."

"We’re all fine here in Pago Pago, American Samoa," reports Kirk of the McGeorge family on the U.S. Virgin Islands-based Hylas 47 Gallivanter. "In fact, we've settled right in for hurricane season — we have jobs, joined the local yacht club, are taking ukulele lessons and bought a pick-up truck. I even pulled an old BMW motorcycle from the tsunami rubble to tinker with. Most cruisers ride out the South Pacific tropical cyclone season in New Zealand. For this reason, there are only 10 yachts here in Pago Pago, and only six of them have people aboard. There are several reasons we decided to stay here, among them the fact that Pago Pago is considered the safest cyclone hole in the South Pacific. Other considerations are that it's so easy to find work, and medical and dental care are practically free."

"I'm currently employed by the government as marine operations manager for the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, and therefore am in charge of maintenance and operations of their fleet of broken boats," continues McGeorge. "This includes their new SAFE boat, which is just like the ones used for patrolling every port in the United States. Cath and Stuart quit school — first grade drop-outs! — in favor of returning to our onboard Calvert curriculum. We believe it’s better than the 'best school on the island', which is where Cath was teaching and Stuart was a student. This also means they don't have to make a two-hour commute each day. It just wasn't our style. But Cath has landed her own weekend radio show at a nearby FM station, and Arrrr Boy is even getting some air time as well! Since we now have positive cash flow and the U.S. Postal Service is so effective down here, we purchased a new wheel from Edson and a 'like new' cruising spinnaker from Bacon. Both should add a new level of fun once we get moving again. I closed the deal on the sail in Annapolis on a Tuesday, and it was on our boat in Samoa on Saturday! Jah Rastafari! God bless America! We do like it here in Pago Pago, and my employer is offering me a house and a car — if I commit to staying two years. It’s mighty tempting, but after nearly two years of gallivanting freely across the South Pacific from the Caribbean, I’m suddenly feeling anchored in one spot with nowhere to go. And I don't especially like it. So we shall see."

A lot of people think that it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to become a Customs or Immigration official in most of the islands in the Caribbean. But that’s simply not true. Based on our experience on the Dutch side of St. Martin, the government human resources department obviously scours the island to find the most inherently arrogant, unhelpful, and hostile racists to be candidates for the positions. Then the candidates surely must undergo years of intense training to learn things such as how to dawdle playing with their four-inch long fingernails, how to look right through people standing in front of them who need to get their forms processed, and how to give unclear and contradictory instructions in how to fill out intentionally incomprehensible forms — and how to then get angry when such instructions aren’t understood. After all this training, these folks intern at the Immigration booths at the Queen Juliana Airport, where they can fine tune their misanthrophic skills and learn how to lazily scratch their bottoms in order to make weary arriving passengers wait as long as possible — hopefully long enough to miss all connecting flights. Only after years of treating arriving visitors like shit, making many of them vow to never return, do they graduate to the maritime Customs and Immigration office across the channel from the St. Martin YC. Over the last 25 years we’ve not spent a small fortune at St. Martin because of this cadre of petty tyrants whose greatest joy in life apparently comes from making the lives of others as miserable as their own. No wonder so many mariners either don’t check in at all or take their boats and money to the French side of the island.

While the customs and immigration folks at Tortola in the British Virgins aren’t as bad, there are many problems there, too. For example, when one woman recently tried to check in from another country, two officials repeatedly yelled conflicting instructions at her regarding which window she needed to go to next, and yet another pretended not to notice she was spraying bug spray in her face. Fortunately, the woman was rescued by yet another official, this time a kind, friendly and humorous gentleman who was as out of place as Al Gore at a Tea Party convention. As they say, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, so why do so many islands in the Caribbean permit all their officials to make such bad ones for them, resulting in untold lost revenue and jobs?

"I've been running non-stop from Mexico to Monterey to Malaysia," writes David Addleman of Monterey, who owns the Cal 36 Eupsychia and X, the Santa Cruz 50 he recently purchased in Malaysia. "I finally read all the way thru the March issue while literally watching the paint dry on the bottom of X here at the Raffles Boatyard in Singapore. So far it seems like a first-class operation — with prices to go with it. I singlehanded Eupsychia from La Cruz to Monterey in 13 days and nights. It was so tough leaving the cruiser social scene in La Cruz that I implemented the technique the publisher of Latitude calls 'the Newport Ditch' — which is just suddenly disappearing. If anybody's feelings were hurt, I know they'll get over it soon. And I'll be back someday. Singlehanding Eupsychia home involved a moderately rough trip, but was nonetheless a great experience. Surprisingly, I had the worst weather of the trip right out of Banderas Bay. It was the windy stuff right on the nose that allowed the Puerto Vallarta Race fleet to finish in record time. But thanks to some unusual westerlies, I even managed to do some sailing up the coast of both Baja and California. It was espcially nice to be able to sail after the cutlass bearing went clunk-clunk off Big Sur."

"Once back here in Malaysia," Addleman continues, "I singlehanded X the 12 miles from Danga Bay to the asphalt of Raffles Boatyard in Singapore. It was a nice daysail. I'm wrestling with the social-acceptance question of singlehanding these trips when friends want to come along. Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell once gave me the following advice: 'Do what you want. Take only passengers you know will enhance the trip. Sometimes the most experienced sailors are the worst to have as crew. It's often better to find novices who are willing and able to learn.' But what do I know, I'm a singlehander now!

"I've been going through thru X again trying to find another 1,000 pounds to unload. It's not too tough. I'm eating through all the odd cans of food left by the Easterbrooks by adding spicy curry sauces to everything, digging thru the buckets of spare chain, sorting out the countless shackles, and getting rid of cleaning fluids completely foreign to the single-guy lifestyle. Plus, I figure that if I give the less interesting items to fellow travelers now, karma will return them later when needed. Or not, and a new adventure will begin. Out goes the garlic press! Cheers to all!"

Speaking of Liz Clark, she had an interesting experience recently with singer, writer, and barefoot mogul Jimmy Buffett. We'll let Liz explain:

"Thanks to my family, I probably know the lyrics to as many Jimmy Buffett songs as Jimmy does. So when there was a rumor he was going to be playing at the Bora Bora YC on my friend Jessica's birthday, we weren't going to miss it. Since the French aren't really big fans of his, I assumed that Jimmy just liked playing for small groups of people in faraway places. After all, he was donating all the profits for the event to building a playground for the local kids. Once the show started, Jessica and I surprised the locals by knowing all the lyrics and singing wholeheartedly with him. I couldn't believe that I was standing just 15 feet from 'The Man', as the last time I'd seen him was with a million others at a concert in Irvine where I almost got trampled by Parrotheads. But it got even more unreal, as when it came time to sing Cheeseburger in Paradise, Jimmy said he'd need some backup singers from the audience. By that time Jessica and I had liquid courage pumping through our veins, so the next thing we knew, we were on stage singing with him! Me, on stage, singing with Jimmy Buffett. He was floored that we didn't miss a word.

"After the fabulous show," Liz continues, "I walked over to a private side room guarded by an extraordinarily tall and stern looking black man. 'Hello, sir,' I stammered, 'I just wanted to make sure everything was okay with the band.' Then there was a voice from inside the room. 'Let her in.' It was Jimmy. I walked into the cool, air-conditioned room, where eight men had been standing around chatting. As I stepped into the room, they fell silent and stared at me. 'Well, come in, then,' said Jimmy, 'and have a seat.' Slightly speechless, I answered everybody's questions about my boat and having sailed to the South Pacific. I told Jimmy that his lyrics were part of what created my dream to sail around the world, and I thanked him for all the joy that his music had brought my family over the years. He was humbly flattered and turned the conversation back to me before going back outside to sign some autographs.

"But it got even more unreal. After a surf the next day, Teiva and Jess told me it wasn't very busy at the Bora Bora YC, so they wouldn't need me to work. Just then, Jimmy and a couple of his friends ducked under the palm fronds and into the restaurant. 'Hi Jess, hi Liz,' he said. 'Looks like we've come to the right place.' Then Quino, Jimmy's friend, suggested that — if I wasn't too busy — I join them for dinner. How could I refuse? When they asked how my day had gone, I told them I'd surfed a reef in the morning that rarely breaks. Jimmy was really interested. In fact, so interested that he showed up at Swell at 10 a.m. sharp the next morning, as promised, aboard his stand up paddleboard (SUP). He came aboard Swell for a few minutes to check her out, then we headed off to the pass.

"'It’s not the easiest wave,' I explained on the way. 'It’s kinda shifty and there were long waits between sets yesterday, so it’s easy to drift away from the take-off zone.' He seemed slightly anxious, but determined. He paddled for the first wave, but pulled out and caught the next two waves on the head. I cringed as the board snapped back just in time for another wall of water to crash in front of him. 'Oh no,' I thought, 'I'm going to kill him!' But he came back out laughing, took a few deep breaths, and paddled a little farther outside. Just then a lovely head-high wave sprang up from the north. In perfect position, Jimmy turned and leaned into his strokes. He caught it, and away he went, disappearing behind the wall of almost neon blue water. He paddled back out glowing. We high-fived and cheered in celebration of his first wave in French Polynesia. He caught three more beautiful waves, the last being overhead. He rode it well inside, and I began to worry. But just before it closed out on the reef, his yellow board came flying over the back of the wave. I was so thrilled for him that I didn’t even care whether I caught another wave or not. Afterward we celebrated with coconuts and pamplemousse.

"That night I sat at a table with Jess and the rest of the gang for Jimmy's Saturday show. He came on stage rosy-cheeked and full of stoke. The show was magic. He played with heart and with an unmistakable twinkle in his eye. None of my experience with Jimmy seemed real, but the one thing I know for sure is that it's great to have one of your heroes not just meet, but exceed your expectations of who they are. Eternal thanks, Jimmy!"

A few weeks after we got this report from Liz, we saw a guy of Jimmy's height and stature looking at the waves at Lorient in St. Barth. When we got closer and saw the guy was wearing a Bora Bora YC shirt, we knew it was him. That night, a friend who had spent the afternoon aboard Jimmy's motoryacht Continental Drifter, told us he'd watched about 30 minutes of great high def footage of Liz surfing Bora Bora that had been taken by Buffett's video crew. "She's really good," he said. So who knows, maybe some of it will end up on a future music video."

Bill Yeargan and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mita Kuuluu report that the first five of the nearly 60 entries in their first ever Cruisers Rally to El Salvador have arrived at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. At the time they wrote, many more boats were staged to leave Huatulco, Mexico, for the next weather window across the Gulf of Tehuantepec to El Salvador. The couple report that Hotel Bahia del Sol, one of the event's major sponsors, has hired Claudia Olviedo to be the official rally hostess, and that she's been and will be helping out with check-ins and organizing weekly cruiser events. There is a bar, of course, that needs to be crossed to get into estuary where Bahia del Sol is located, so the hotel has been providing a bar pilot on a jet ski to help boats get across safely. We hope to have more on the event in the next issue, as this has the potential to turn into a popular annual event.

"At long last, my Kriseten 46 Precious Metal is ready to set sail for more distant shores," writes Pamela Bendall of British Columbia, who was the major force behind the success of this year's Zihua SailFest. "My intention is to sail around the world, but my first stop will be the Galapagos. It would be nice if my SSB radio hadn't been knocked out by lightning and if I had a washing machine, but at least my freezer, fridge and every little cubbyhole is full, thanks to Mauro and Alfonso, my new best Mexican friends. They provided me with plenty of fish, lobster and prawns, but I passed on the iguana. A few days before they'd arrived with iguana tamales and other iguana dishes — all of which looked repulsive to me since the leathery skin that was still intact. Not knowing what to do with them, I brought them to a dock party. The cruiser verdict? 'Next time we'll bring the appetizers.'"

On March 14, in response to some members of the U.S. consulate being murdered in Juarez, Mexico, the U.S. Department of State issued a 'Travel Warning' for Mexico, which the mainstream media basically passed off as a warning not to travel to Mexico at all. Not once did we hear or read the second paragraph of the advisory being reported: "While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year — including tens of thousands who cross the land border daily for study, tourism or business, and nearly one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico — violence in the country has increased. It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable."

We flew to Banderas Bay right after the advisory was issued, and found it to be the object of derision by all the cruisers and expats living in the area. "Does Mexico issue a travel advisory for their citizens not to visit California when somebody gets shot — as they do all the time — in Oakland, San Francisco or south central Los Angeles?" asked one. "We know there are parts of Mexico that are dangerous, just as we know that parts of Oakland are dangerous, but overall, we feel safer here than we do in the United States."

We agree with that sentiment completely!

Missing the pictures? See the April 2010 eBook!


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