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April 2012

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  With reports this month from Andalucia on clearing in at Cedros; from Morpheus on adventures in the Caribbean and on the East Coast; from Wendaway on a brief anchor-out 'revolt' at the Marina Riviera Nayarit; from Soggy Paws on tropical cyclone Cyril hitting Tonga; from Sockdalager on a Harper's Index on cruising Baja; from Brigid on evaluating a cat in the Caribbean; and Cruise Notes.

Andalucía, Irwin 37
Steve Hollen
Checking/Clearing at Cedros
(Mazatlan / Seal Beach)

Contrary to a recent report in Noonsite, we had a terrific experience clearing into Mexico at Cedros Island in '08. After being dismasted in the Ha-Ha — I'm a vet of two-and-one-third of them — we endured the worst bashing I've endured in my 36 years of sailing. We had eight-foot seas with a three-second period for nine hours as we headed north from Turtle Bay. Because of crew fatigue, we decided to pull in at Cedros Village.

The next morning we were greeted by Port Captain Issac Lopez, who was happy to check Andalucía into Mexico formally. He told us that he couldn't provide us with visas because it wasn't his job, but we could get them from Immigration at the airport. He then provided a taxi to take us to the airport. We did, however, have to wait for the next plane to arrive, as Immigration opens only when a plane arrives or departs.

That anyone would have a problem with the port captain at Cedros is a big surprise to me. After all, Issac agreed to let us leave our boat in "his" harbor for an unspecified amount of time, as our crew had mutinied, we were leaving on the next plane out, and we didn't know exactly when we'd be back. Further, he provided a person to make sure our boat would be safe while we were gone.

We had no pesos for our airplane tickets, and the small airline didn't take dollars or credit cards, so our new friend the port captain literally went door-to-door in the small village asking business owners to change dollars to pesos. When we had enough, Issac drove us to the ticket office in town, where a very young lady put our names on a list in a Little Princess binder. All we had to do was wait for the next day's plane.

What's more, the port captain had us picked up at the dock the next day and taken to the airport, where Immigration gave us our visas before we boarded the plane.

The rest of the story about our getting our boat back to the States is a long one that will have to wait. But when we Bash back up to the States in July, we'll be getting our exit papers from the port captain at Isla Cedros. And we'll give him yet another big thanks for having been such a big help to us.

— steve 02/15/12

Morpheus — Schumacher 50
Jim and Debbie Gregory
The Caribbean and Northeast
(Pt. Richmond)

The second Northern California boat we crossed paths with in St. Barth this winter was Jim and Debbie's Morpheus, which is also home to Ita, their miniature long-haired dachshund. Actually, there's a fourth crewmember, Jack from Milwaukee — whom Jim suspects his wife of 25 years might like even more than him. Jack is the nickname for the big 28-volt Milwaukee brand right-angle drill motor fitted with a bit that fits into winches. For just a couple of hundred bucks, Jack converts all the winches on the Morpheus into electric winches. (This system, by the way, is used on a lot of smaller crewed charter boats in the Caribbean as well as by many cruisers.)

Jim has raced all his life on a variety of boats, including an Etchells, a Wylie 34 with his dad, and for the last 10 years, Morpheus. When it came time to get a racing/cruising boat, the Gregorys decided to go with a Carl Schumacher design along the lines of Heart of Gold, the 50-footer on which former Oakland residents Jim and Sue Corenman circumnavigated, and Steve Chamberlin's 46-ft South Pacific vet Surprise. "As far as we're concerned," says Jim, "Carl did the crossover designs better than anyone. Morpheus is not the optimum racer or cruiser, but she does both of them very, very well."

As it turned out, Morpheus was the last boat design completed by Schumacher, and the first one built by Davie Norris of Christchurch, who for the prior 20 years had been the foreman at Ian Franklin's highly-regarded yard in New Zealand. "Morpheus was launched a day early and slightly under budget, and we've been over the moon with her design and construction ever since," says Jim. "We've sailed her hard for 10 years — including back from New Zealand and in five Mexico races and three Pacific Cups to Hawaii — and we've had no issues with the boat. Not one."

Able to retire in their early 50s — Jim worked for Larry Ellison back when Oracle was still just a billion-dollar-a- year company, and describes it as "an excellent experience" — Jim and Debbie decided to set sail for somewhere besides the familiar waters of the Pacific. The Northeast, where Jim grew up sailing, seemed like the perfect place. They set a goal of exiting the Richmond Breakwater at 10:10 a.m. on 10/10, but missed it by five days to the minute. Their primary goal was to get to Rhode Island for the following summer's Block Island Race Week, so they jammed down the coasts of Mexico and Central America, and transited the Canal on December 30.

The couple were so awestruck by the beauty of Panama's San Blas Islands that it got them to learn how to slow down. "Those islands are like a postcard picture of the perfect tropical islands," Jim remembers. "So we ended up spending a month there, and would both love to go back some day."

"The next stop on our way to Newport was going to be whatever point of sail would be good for the wind we had," recalls Debbie. That turned out to be a broad reach to Grand Cayman Island in surprisingly pleasant conditions. "I was led to believe that it would be awful sailing across the Caribbean," says Jim, "but the trades lay down for us to 17 to 20 knots on the beam, so it was almost boring." The Caymans are not a cruising hot spot, but the Gregorys spent nearly a month there, too.

Debbie has two main cruising rules: "1) We no longer race the 'house'. And, 2) We're only to go where I'll be warm." As going farther north from Grand Cayman so early in the year would have meant heading into periods of cold weather, Jim and Debbie sailed 'backward' to Roatan. Having been drenched in torrential rains just several days before, making the water murky, Roatan didn't put her best face on for the Gregorys. But they still had fun.

Jim desperately wanted to go to Cuba, and the failure of a leeward shroud enroute to Key West gave him the perfect excuse. "We limped into Hemingway Marina just outside Havana, and then had four of our best days ever!" Jim remembers with enthusiasm. "I was surprised to find that the Cubans love Americans, and to see how many tourists were there. It's only we Americans who don't go to Cuba, so they seem to be doing just fine."

Jim wanted to give Debbie — who had run Jim up and down the mast seven times for the leeward shroud jury rig — a 'big night' in Havana. There was just one problem: having planned to hit the ATMs upon landfall at Key West, they had no money. And there are no capitalist ATMs in Cuba. But as Debbie proved, there's a solution to every problem. She strolled by the biggest boat in Hemingway Marina one day and managed to introduce herself to the captain. By the second day, she and the captain were good enough friends that he was willing to cash a pretty hefty check for the couple. So Jim and Debbie got their big night — it happened to be St. Patrick's Day — and enjoyed strolling the Havana streets, listening to the a capella singers, visting the rum museums, and relaxing in the outdoor patios of the old hotels.

The rest of their way to Newport wasn't particularly eventful, except for stops at Key West and Charleston during the latter's Race Week. Block Island Race Week had been Jim's big goal, and while it gave him a chance to reciprocate by taking East Coast friends sailing, the results weren't what he'd been hoping for. "It didn't help that Morpehus was designed for the strong winds of San Francisco Bay and we never saw more than eight knots the whole week, but that's how it goes."

We asked Jim for his view of how sailing is different in the Northeast than on San Francisco Bay. "It's a lifestyle in the Northeast," he replied, "while it's merely a hobby on San Francisco Bay. This despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that the Northeast has such a short season, which means they have to pack their sailing in. In addition, the racing in the Northeast is more like in San Diego, where you have to use your brain more and your body less than on San Francisco Bay."

Another difference between San Francisco and Newport is that despite being further north than San Francisco, Newport gets threatened with tropical storms and hurricanes. While in Newport, Morpheus had to be hauled out quickly because of the threat posed by Irene.

The Gregorys' trip from Newport back down to the Eastern Caribbean reminded them of how unpredictable sailing those waters can be compared to sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii or Mexico.

"There we were on a 3.5-day, 650-mile trip to Bermuda," remembers Jim, "and we and a lot of others were surprised by a late October low coming out of South Carolina. You don't get those kind of surprises on even 10- to 14-day trips to Hawaii, when you know the wind direction and maximum windspeed before you start. We spent a day in gale force winds when we weren't supposed to get any of that stuff. To make things worse, our autopilot ram and mount broke, so the three of us spent two days hand-steering to get to Bermuda.

"At least we didn't take off when the North American Rally to the Caribbean (NARC) from Newport did," he continues, "which seemed to me to be into the face of some very bad weather. I don't know if they were trying to keep to a schedule or what, but the results were tragic. As was reported in Latitude, Jan Anderson of the Sausalito-based Island Packet 380 Triple Stars, a vet of the '07 Ha-Ha, was swept overboard in 30-ft seas and never seen again. That really hit home, as Debbie and I realized that it could have been either of us. Another boat in the relatively small fleet was abandoned and several others straggled into Bermuda pretty badly beaten up. I saw the NARC organizer in Bermuda waiting for the boats to arrive, and his stress level was understandably way up there.

"We were also surprised at how some of the NARC boats prepared — or didn't prepare — for sea." Jim continued. "Some had kayaks lashed to the lifelines and hard-bottom dinghies on davits. I'm not sure that's the best way to prepare for an offshore voyage."

Rather than having a hard-bottom dinghy, which works so well in port, the Gregorys have a roll-up dinghy. "It takes us about 15 minutes to get her ready to launch or put away," says Jim, "so it's not too bad. When faced with a 10- to 15-mile passage into the trades, such as from St. Martin to St. Barth, we remove the engine and tow the dinghy."

Morpheus' forced stop in Bermuda was a good one, as it allowed the couple to get a stronger replacement autopilot ram and a stronger autopilot bracket. Jim's only concern is that those two items may no longer be the weakest links in the steering system, but rather the rudder, rudder post or something else. "As such, we have a new rule. When the wind hits 25 knots, we hand-steer to be sure we're not putting too much stress on any part of the steering system."

The second leg of the Newport-to-Caribbean trip was the 970-mile leg from Bermuda to the Virgin Islands. "It wasn't that comfortable, as we had 20 knots of wind on the beam, but it was a piece of cake." Although not quite the piece of cake a friend sailing nearby on a Gunboat 62 catamaran reported enjoying. "He said they were sailing easily in the low 20s, and only rolling a little."

Upon arrival in the Eastern Caribbean for the winter season, the Gregorys started with two months in the Virgin Islands. "It was perhaps a little too long, but there are lovely anchorages." One of their big thrills was seeing all the huge yachts showing up at the new Costa Smeralda YC and at anchor in Gorda Sound for the holiday wedding of Richard 'Virgin' Branson's daughter. Another was the kite-surfing conditions at Gorda Sound, as Jim has become a fanatic.

The couple's plan is to cruise the Eastern Caribbean while "following the regattas around and putting my thumb out," says Jim. He's doing well, for as we write this he's joined East Coast friends aboard a Swan 56 for the 200-boat Heineken Regatta in St. Martin, and we've hooked him up with a crew position for the St. Barth Bucket aboard Swan 100 Varsovie, run by Capt Patrick Adams of Mill Valley. With a resume and friendships made from just those two regattas, we expect that there is no end to the racing opportunities Jim will have in the Caribbean.

The Gregorys plan to sail back up to the Northeast next year, where Debbie will let Jim break one of her two rules again by letting him enter Morpheus in the classic biennial 650-mile Newport to Bermuda Race. "It's going to be a two-week project getting all our cruising stuff off," laughs Jim, "and putting the racing stuff back aboard. Right now we're a two-sail boat with no chutes."

They also want to do more cruising in New England, and especially Maine. "It's gorgeous up there," says Jim, "and it's a flashback to my childhood with my family. And I've still got many friends in that part of the country."

Next winter they'll return to the Caribbean to cruise and race on other people's boats. "And Carnival in St. Barth was so much fun," says Debbie. After next winter it will be decision time. "We've always wanted to sail to the Med, so we'll have to see how things shape up for that," says Jim.

How does Debbie like the cruising life? "It's wonderful;" she says, "what's not to love? Although my mom was raised on a sailboat on the East Coast, I'm not a lifelong sailor. It wasn't until college when I started racing with Jim that I really got into sailing."

Debbie was unable to come up with a "most annoying" aspect of cruising, but she knew what alternative she enjoyed. "When I'm on land, the thing I get most excited about is long showers. Jim and I were in Newport for our 25th anniversary, so we spent a night in a hotel. Oh my God, we had what seemed like a huge bed, a television with countless channels, and a shower where you could stand under the hot water for as long as you wanted. It was wonderful!

"People always ask us what we do all day," Debbie continues. "We never have that problem. Jim says there is always something to fix, and we have lots of books on my iPad. When we sailed Morpheus home from New Zealand, we and the boys had so many books that the boat always heeled over to the bookshelf side. Now we have almost no books."

"We also navigate using the Navionics app for the iPad," says Jim. "It's the greatest — although sometimes it's hard to read the screen in bright daylight." Jim then showed us the iPad track that Morpheus made into Baie St. Jean in St. Barth, and our jaw dropped. No sailboats, let alone ones drawing nine feet, go inside the northwest reef near the Eden Rock Hotel. "We went in a little too far and hit bottom," Jim admits. "Normally I want five feet or more beneath my keel."

Jim and Debbie also thought the French/Dutch island of St. Martin was fantastic. "The Budget Marine chandlery was like walking into a toy store," says Jim. "In addition to stocking everything you can imagine, and having a very knowledgeable staff, they have one guy who knows every part number off the top of his head."

— latitude 02/18/12

Wendaway — Norseman 447
Mark Schneider
Cruiser Revolt, Then Peace
At The Nayarit Riviera Marina
(La Cruz, Mexico)

The normally staid VHF cruisers' net for Banderas Bay came alive at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 21 when it was announced that Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle would start to charge a fee of $5/day for the use of their dinghy dock by the crews of the many anchored out boats. Bloggers started to type furiously while the VHF crackled with anger.

A cruiser aboard Ocean Echo, who gave his name as "JJ", reported that he'd tried to kayak in to visit friends on Bravo in the marina, and the security folks told him that he'd have to pay the $5 fee. "This policy is going to make a lot of people angry," he predicted.

The situation was reminiscent of that four years ago when Latitude reported that extremely high dinghy dock fees had become "a substantial source of friction" between the then new Marina Riviera Nayarit and the anchored-out cruisers. The uproar settled down only when the fee was recinded, and the dinghy dock has remained free since then. So it was something of a surprise that the marina seemed to be heading 'back to the future'.

Later in the day, a group of 20 cruisers and local business representatives met with Pedro Fernandez, founder of the marina, and Rafael Alcantara, the dockmaster. Cruisers came armed with examples of fees at other Mexican marinas along the Pacific Coast, most notably at Marina de La Paz. That popular marina charges $1.50/day for dinghy docking, and this includes free water and garbage disposal.

Emotions ran high, but rather quickly cooled when the marina explained its side of the story. Fernandez explained that some of the anchor-outs were leaving garbage and used oil on the marina's docks, and that some marina property had been stolen. The odiferous issue of sewage being dumped by cruisers at anchor came to the surface once again. The owners of the marina explained that what they felt had been their generosity in the free use of the dinghy dock was not being reciprocated. They said they felt that they deserved not just some financial return for the facility, but also respect for the marina environment.

It was a message that resonated with the cruisers. Geoff Anderson, who had organized the meeting, later reported that nearly everybody attending agreed that a modest fee was warranted. A number of other issues were discussed. What about people who were coming in to the marina to buy supplies at the marina's tienda? And was it fair to charge cruisers who were using the dock only to check in with the port captain?

Local businesses fretted about the potentially negative impact high fees would have on their businesses, since it was clear that it would discourage anchor-outs from making trips to town. Several new businesses catering to cruisers have opened in the last few years.

The tone the next morning was radically different, as Geoff announced a resolution on the cruisers' net. The $5 fee had been reduced to a more palatable 20 pesos (approximately $1.60 US) a day, or 400 pesos or ($31 US) a month, with boats with kids getting a 25% discount. Shopping trips to the marina store will be free. Cruisers also got the welcome news that the dinghy dock will be moved to a more central location in the marina, and that there will be better security at the dinghy dock.

As Geoff reported the outline of the agreement, things started to get interesting. Philo Hayward, of the popular cruiser hangout Philo's Bar, came on the net and announced that he would pick up the dinghy fee for patrons of his business. Mike Danielson at PV Sails said he'd do the same.

There are still a handful of issues to be sorted out, and as Rafael noted, the deal will be tried for one month to see how it works. He'll be looking for respect and a cleaner environment from anchor-outs.

As Geoff pointed out when he finished up reporting on the meeting, "everyone left with smiles on their faces."

— mark 02/28/12

Readers — We're encouraged that the marina and anchor-outs seem to realize that it's in everyone's best interest that they have a good relationship. In our opinion, the marina has been generous toward anchor-outs with regard to the use of its facilities ­ and various free programs. And it's true that a few bad apples in the anchorage have abused the situation. Nice. Real nice.

About four years ago, the marina tried to institute a $10 dinghy fee for each time a dinghy docked in the marina. This was absurdly high, so they wisely did a 180. But given what they offer anchor-outs — convenience, nice toilets, security — we think $1.60 a day or $31 a month is a bargain. Those who don't want to pay the fee have the easy option of beaching their dinghies with the pangas in the lee just outside the marina.

We were later dismayed when one cruiser derogatorily referred to the much-wanted new pool the marina installed as a "sitz bath". To put things in perspective, the marina really wanted to hold off on a pool until the hotel gets built on the point. But they put in a small pool anyway. How small? They're not going to hold the Olympics in it, that's for sure. On the other hand, it's bigger than most of the pools at the $20,000/week villas in St. Barth. What we always wanted in a pool at the marina was something we could jump into after a salty, sweaty day of sailing and rinse off, or to just sit in all day on the hotter and more humid days of summer. As such, the small pool will suit our essential needs — especially if we can have the unbelievable Wednesday and Friday Happy Hour deals on beer and seafood tostadas delivered to us. For those who need better pool facilities, Paradise Marina — which has at least three big pools — is only a few miles away.

Soggy Paws — CSY 44
Dave and Sherry McCampbell
Cyril Hits Neiafu, Tonga
(Marathon, Florida)

Superbowl Sunday — which was actually Monday, February 6 in this part of the world — started as a blustery, rainy day at Neiafu Harbor, Vava’u, Tonga. During the game, which we watched on Aquarium Cafe's big screen TV, we saw strong gusts from the northwest rocket across the harbor and set boats bouncing. The forecast from all sources — Tonga, Fiji, and the U.S.-generated GFS (via GRIB files) — was for more of the same with winds to 30 knots during the night and then less than 20 knots and clearing by morning. We had been experiencing these same squally conditions for more than a week, as the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) was streaming over us all the way from the Solomon Islands.

After the game we headed to our boats on moorings about five miles south of Neiafu Harbor. After a decent night of sleep, we were awakened at 6 a.m. by a nasty squall. Having no internet, we took a quick look at the latest Spot forecast, which was taken from a GRIB file. It indicated nothing significant in our area. But by then it was gusting to about 45 knots from the NNE, so we knew something was up.

Just then, a local expat came up on the VHF with a special weather bulletin from the Tonga Weather Service indicating that cyclone Cyril was close by. They reported that it was headed southeast, and would pass just about over us in the next couple of hours! Cyril had spun up overnight between Fiji and Tonga, and hadn't been foreseen by anyone.

We tracked Cyril's progress by watching the barometer and watching the wind back from NNE to SW. We were reasonably well prepared on our "cyclone mooring", with everything battened down except for our dinghy and outboard, which were still in the davits.

During the next two hours, the wind reached 67 knots, a Category 3 cyclone in the South Pacific. [Editor's note: The names and categories of storms vary widely in different parts of the world.] We had seas to five feet, and wind from the west, the longest possible fetch. Fortunately, Cyril passed quickly, and by 10 a.m. the wind was back down to 20 knots.

During the height of the storm our mooring dragged, and before we could get free, we ended up on the bow of another boat. Both of our vessels sustained considerable damage, but no one was hurt, and we are working on repairing both boats at minimal expense.

In Neiafu Harbor, where about 20 sailboats were moored, approximately three of them dragged and ended up on the shoreline. One trimaran lost the front of an ama, and a monohull sustained hull damage but was not holed. Most of the docks along the eastern shore were damaged and rendered unusable. Electricity and internet service were out in some parts of the island group for a week. We understand there was also considerable damage in Tongatapu, the southern island group and capital of Tonga.

The speed with which Cyril developed — less than 12 hours — the middle-of-the-night timing, and the existing squally conditions combined to make it a difficult situation. Even the ‘old hands’ in Neiafu were surprised by this one. We sure didn't get the many days' notice of an approaching hurricane that we were used to in the Caribbean.

— dave and sherry 2/15/12

Sockdalager — Dana 24
Jim Heumann and Karen Sullivan
Our Mexico Wrap-Up
(Port Townsend, WA)

Here's our Harper’s Index-style review of the 3+ months we spent cruising Baja and the Sea of Cortez.

Date of Arrival: Thanksgiving Day.

Place we checked in: Ensenada, because everything’s in one building.

Checked out at: San Jose del Cabo, where the agent has a good reputation.
Percentage of stay in Baja/Southern Sea of Cortez: 100. For crossing to the Marquesas, Cabo San Lucas is considered the best jump-off spot because of reliable northerly winds and its being the shortest distance to the tradewinds. And we wanted to see the Sea of Cortez.

Favorite city: La Paz.

Favorite anchorage: The many good ones on Espiritu Santo, Isla Partida and Isla San Francisco. We loved El Mezteño.

Number of disturbances: Hundreds. Birds calling and diving, manta rays jumping, sea lions snorting, dolphins larking and whales whooshing.

Cost: A modest annual Park Pass fee of about $25 per person, good for one year.

What you get for your fee: Peace, quiet, and abundant wildlife. Funds go to habitat and species restoration.

Least favorite anchorage: Cabo, although we enjoyed the bustling city.

Number of disturbances: Hundreds. Passengers from two cruise ships per day racing dozens of Jet Skis among the anchored boats. Also dozens more speeding pangas, parasail boats, tour boats and water taxis.

Cost: $18 per day just to drop your hook, demanded by a grumpy API employee.

What you get for your money: An accident waiting to happen.

Closest comparison to being at anchor in Espiritu Santo: Canyonlands National Park meets the world’s largest aquarium.

Closest comparison to being at anchor in Cabo: Animal House meets Ground Hog Day.

Number of Mexicans who did not sincerely appreciate our attempts to speak Spanish: 0.

Number of laughs we shared with Mexicans as we massacred their language: Hundreds

Number of days of calm encountered enroute from San Diego to Cabo: 3

Number of days of southerly winds encountered enroute from San Diego to Cabo: 1

Number of days of poor visibility or rain: 1

Number of times the temperature went above 72 during the day: Almost every day.

Number of times the temperature dropped below 40 at night: 0

Prevailing wind direction during a Sea of Cortez Norther: N to NE

Usual wind speed during a big Sea of Cortez Norther: 25 to 40 knots.

Number of big Northers we experienced: 3

Amount of warning we had for each Norther: Several days

Number of times we couldn’t find a reasonable anchorage to ride out a Norther: 0

Average number of days the Northers blew: 2 to 6

Where we got weather forecasts: Ham and SSB nets; downloads via internet or Winlink; also daily cruiser nets in the larger communities.

Best weather forecast: Don Anderson on Summer Passage.

Availability of food: Supermarkets in Cabo and La Paz offer a big selection, including many American brands. Local and farmer’s markets have gorgeous vegetables.

Expectations and Surprises:

1) "Mexico is dangerous, don't go!", as urged by many land-based friends.

Number of times we felt unsafe: 0.

Number of rude Mexicans we met: 0.

Number of friendly and helpful Mexicans we met: Can't count that high.

2) “You’ll get blown out of the Sea of Cortez in the winter!” as expressed by several cruisers who wintered on the mainland coast of Mexico.

Number of days we had to stay on the boat because it was too windy to go ashore: 9.

Number of times we had to turn back from an intended destination due to wind/seas: 1.

Number of nights we were uncomfortable at anchor: 2.

3) “You need a full year to even begin to see Mexico!” — a common comment from cruising friends.

Number of times we agreed with that statement: Hundreds.

Number of cruisers we met who said they didn't like Mexico: 0.

We're now going to be the smallest boat in the Puddle Jump.

— karen 03/01/12

Readers — Biggest mystery to us: Even if you eventually need to sail a few more hours or days to get to the tradewinds for the crossing to the Marquesas, why not enjoy both the Sea of Cortez and the warm waters of Norther-free mainland Mexico? Second biggest mystery to us: Spending an average of 10% of one's time in Mexico stuck on one's boat because a Norther in the Sea makes it too windy to get off your boat. Puerto Vallarta to Zihua, anyone?

Brigid — Islander 36
Corky and Anna Stewart
Not So Cat-ivated In the Carib
(Castro Valley)

Among the first Northern California sailors to pay a visit to Latitude's winter office aboard the Leopard 45 cat 'ti Profligate in St. Barth were Corky and Anna Stewart of Castro Valley. Not only enjoying their first taste of the Caribbean, they were also in the process of searching for their 'check out of California' boat.

A sailor all his life, Corky introduced Anna to the sport six years ago. While sailing in The Slot during a breezy summer afternoon aboard the couple's MacGregor 26, Corky asked his wife if she was scared. She said "No", to which he replied, "You should be." When asked what would be a safe boat for such conditions, he told her something bigger. "Then let's get one," Anna replied. It was like music to his ears.

After shopping around, the Island YC members purchased a used Islander 36 from Don Wilson at Passage Yachts. "Don was the original Islander dealer on the Bay, and a gentleman-and-a-half," the couple say. "We love our Brigid, but we don't think she's quite enough boat for our long-term cruising."

Nonetheless, Corky, who just retired from selling lab equipment, and Anna, who just sold her veterinary practice of 18 years, think now is their time to leave California behind and go cruising. One big reason is that their two kids, both in their early 20s, don't have children yet. "I'm going to want to be around for the grandchildren a few more years down the road," says Anna.

Thinking a catamaran might be the way to go cruising, the couple chartered a Catana 43 in St. Martin to get a feel for two hulls. They booked the cat before friends could make the final commitment to join them, so they ended up having the 43 all to themselves. Corky and Anna are glad they chartered a cat before buying one, because it made them decide that they'd rather stick with a monohull.

The charter didn't start off that well, because Anna noticed that one engine impeller needed replacing and none of the gauges on the fuel or blackwater tanks worked, nor did a bunch of switches or the watermaker. (A watermaker on a bareboat?) If that weren't disappointing enough, Geneva, the 43 they got, wasn't in the best condition. "Our five-year old Catana looks as though she's been through the war and back," said Corky. "While your 11-year-old 'ti Profligate appears to be in excellent condition," Anna said. (That's going to put big smiles on the faces of the service folks at our BVI Yacht Charters base.) Finally, because a Frenchman who spoke as little English as they speak French gave them the briefing, the couple didn't start the charter as confidently as they might have.

Of course, these are comparatively small issues when deciding between one hull or two. The Stewarts did say they were pleased with the way the Catana sailed upwind — even though the charter company rigged the boat so the daggerboards could only go halfway down. But they complained that the boat sounded "tinny", and they were disturbed by the way the daggerboards banged around, even while at anchor. Nor did Anna care for the four-cabin, four-head charter configuration, which she thought made the hulls seem "really skinny". The bottom line is that "we weren't as fond of the cat as we thought we would be."

In addition, the week alone on the cat gave the couple time to do a 'bang for the buck' boat-buying evaluation. "In the end," Anna said, "we realized that we could buy a great, nearly new 40-foot monohull for half the price of an older catamaran." Indeed, before the charter was over the couple had gone into contract on a Sabre 402 in the Northeast. They hoped to close the deal shortly after the catamaran charter.

After looking at a lot of boats such as Tartans, Sabres, Island Packets and the like, both online and at the docks, they decided to go with a late-model Sabre. "Rather than get a 20-year-old boat, we decided to go with a well-equipped late-model boat, as we figured in the long run it wouldn't cost us any more money," says Corky.

"Our current plan is to close the deal on the Sabre, sell our house — houses are actually selling in the bedroom community of Castro Valley — then move onto the boat in Rhode Island," says Anna.

"After minor improvements, such as adding a watermaker and a SSB, we'll cruise the Northeast and head down to Annapolis to the boat show, then down the IntraCoastal Waterway to see that part of the country," adds Corky. "Then we'll do the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, and the Eastern Caribbean."

Indeed, the one regret the Stewarts have in probably buying a boat in the Northeast is that they won't be able to do the Ha-Ha. At least right away. "Who knows," says Corky, "maybe we'll end up sailing through the Canal, doing the Bash, then doing a Ha-Ha."

In defense of Catana catamarans, they enjoy a good reputation. Dean Daniels and a partner bought the Catana 43 Thanks Larry! in France and sailed her across the Atlantic, to the South Pacific, and then to Hawaii. Subsequently she was sold to Paul Beery and rechristened New Focus. The Emeryville-based cat has done an additional 25,000 miles under Beery's ownership, including several Ha-Ha's and a trip to the South Pacific.

Similarly, Greg and Debbie Dorland of Lake Tahoe have owned their Catana 52 Escapade for several years now, and after two Ha-Ha's, a trip from Mexico to Hawaii to California and going through the Canal to the Eastern Caribbean, and from the Eastern Caribbean to the Northeast and back down in heavy weather, absolutely love their boat. In addition, they've chartered cats from Dream Yachts up and down the Caribbean and in the Seychelles, and have always been very pleased.

We mention the above not to call into question anyone's opinions or evaluations, but rather to point out that views of boats are very subjective and chartering experiences vary. Personally, we can't wait until the Stewarts check-in with us in St. Barth again next winter, hopefully in time for another Carnival.

— latitude 02/26/12

Cruise Notes:

Floridian Donn Pinkney, 43, was apparently lost overboard from his Catalina 27 Finesse sometime after leaving Manzanillo on February 20 for what is believed to have been a 180-mile nonstop passage to Zihuantanejo. Finesse washed ashore 60 miles south of Manzanillo at La Ticia on February 29, and was quickly stripped. There was no sign of Pinkney. One experienced cruising couple who passed Pinkney as he left Manzanillo reported that they were surprised to see his boat under full sail, as they said the wind was strengthening and conditions were deteriorating. But Roy and Marlene Verdery of the Sausalito-based Manta 40 cat Damiana, who were anchored in nearby Santiago Bay before and after February 20, firmly dispute this opinion. "We still have GRIB files with GFS and COAMPS data, Solemate's forecasts for Corrientes to Manzanillo, and wide area NOGAPS reports from those days." write the Verdreys. "At no time during those days was the wind predicted to be significantly over 10 knots between Manzanillo and south of Cabeza Negra, where Finesse was found. We can remember no problems with the weather which would have prevented a prudent sailor from taking off on a singlehanded voyage to Zihua at that time."

Anthony Karakas, Pinkney's boat partner, said that Pinkney always wore a harness when alone at night, but he was apparently not wearing one when he left Manzanillo on the morning of the 20th. Our condolences to Pinkney's family and many friends.

"I'm about to sail for Raj Ampat, Indonesia, aboard the fancy Napa Valley-based 73-ft ketch Lady K. that friends manage," reports David Addleman of the Monterey-based Santa Cruz 50 X. Raj Ampat is another famous dive site about 700 miles south of Palau, where I am now and where things have been great. After the week's trip, I fly back to California to see my daughter, and take care of taxes and other crap. But I should return to Palau about April 1. At that time I hope to sail X to the Philippines."

"We sailed south from Ensenada on December 21, and have been enjoying the beautiful town of Zihuatanejo and it's surrounding beaches for the last month," report Jan and Ramona Miller of the Santa Cruz-based Odyssey 30 Jatimo. "But this is as far south as we plan on sailing this year, so we'll be stopping at most of the popular anchorages — Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Tenacatita, Melaque, Puerto Vallarta, Chacala, Isla Isabella — on the way north to Mazatlan."

The Millers have done so many cruises on their modest boat — she was built on the Peninsula — that we can't remember them all. But one of the most recent was a four-year cruise across the Pacific to Australia. A Latitude salute to them!

"Being a totally irresponsible, unattached vagabond has a few advantages," advises Jack van Ommen of the Gig Harbor-based Najad 29 Fleetwood, which he's sailed most of the way around the world, often following the path much less travelled. "I had planned to spend the winter on the south coast of Turkey," he writes, "but the mooring costs there had risen above my budget. Fortunately, I found exceptionally good and inexpensive winter storage on the Greek island of Chios. After a couple of weeks of maintenance when I return to my boat, I plan to head south in early May, then head west through Greece and up the Adriatic to Croatia. After Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the French Riviera, I'll have to make a big decision. Do I head out the Med via Spain and Morocco to the Canary Islands for a winter crossing to the southern Caribbean? Or go back up to Holland? Given my age — my twin brother celebrates his 75th birthday next week — if I do head out the Strait of Gibraltar, there realistically won't be another opportunity for me to come back across the Atlantic again with Fleetwood. I had such a good visit to Holland with my boat/home in '09/'10 that I'd really like to do it again. I'd also like to sail the English coast and possibly the Baltic coast, too."

Readers may remember the Latitude interview with van Ommen, the one in which he reported being able to fund his cruise entirely on his $1,700/month Social Security check — while still putting $1,000 a month of it in the bank!

"We’re still in Pt. Richmond checking on the dog, our house, and the Sugar Dock — in that order," writes Grace Bodle of the 103-ft schooner Eros that she and her husband own. "Eros is in Trinidad at the moment, and we’ll be flying back soon to start north for a charter in the British Virgins. I'm hoping we have time to stop at St. Barth as we island-hop north. By the way, can you check if our South African crew absolutely needs a visa in advance to visit St. Barth, as our crew's old visa expired and there's not enough time to get him a new one."

We visited the Port Captain and Immigration for Grace. Alas, South African citizens do need to get a visa in advance to get into France. Did we mention that Bill, who is in his late 70s, and Grace, who is in her early 70s, do charters on the massive 103-ft schooner with the help of just two crew?

If you send Latitude a Changes, it helps if you remember to answer the four 'W's' of journalism — Who, What, Where and Why. If not, we end up with reports like the following:

"It is with sadness that I have to report that Princess is no more. On February 17, the eve of my birthday, I finally had no choice but to issue a Mayday. For two days I had been fighting to keep her afloat about 50 miles off the coast of Ensenada after pounding seas had opened up her seams and she started taking on water. The electric bilge pump kept up with the inflow until it stopped for some reason. I worked the manual pump until it started sucking air, and then bailed with a bucket until I could no longer keep up. Standing in ankle-deep water, I started to become delusional. When the Navy answered my Mayday, they both pumped my boat out and took me back to their battleship for medical treatment. I shouted that I was not abandoning my boat! I was taken to the ship's ICU and put on a drip feed plus antibiotics as they motored back to San Diego. The Mexican Navy had showed up before I left the scene and told me they'd take my boat to their dock in Ensenada. But when I got off the battleship, the captain told me, "Your boat sank before the Mexican Navy could get her to the dock." I really wanted to turn around and go back out to where Princess had met her misfortune, but didn't. Instead, I walked the plank to an awaiting ambulance that took me to the Navy Hospital in Balboa. I spent four days there before being transferred to the VA hospital in La Jolla for an eight-day stay. Once my system was stabilized, I was sent to a Vet's living quarters to recuperate, which is where I am now."

The report was simply signed "Don". We're sorry about your boat, Don, and wish you the best.

San Diego's Kurt Roll — who has crewed extensively in the South Pacific for Dietmar and Suzanne Petutschnig on their Las Vegas-based Lagoon 440 Carinthia since shortly after the '08 Ha-Ha — reports that the couple's cruising plan for the year is "to sail from New Zealand to Sydney, then up the Great Barrier Reef in time for the start of the Sail Indonesia Rally." Dietmar, who was a novice sailor when he entered the Ha-Ha, has come a long way, and last month was taking the test to get his captain's license. If there is a better way to learn than by doing, we don't know what it is.

"In the five years my brother Bruce and I cruised Mexico — other than the first year when we did the Ha-Ha and arrived by boat — we always drove across the border into Mexico and picked up a 180-day visa with no problem at K21 south of Nogales," writes Steve Albert of the Grants Pass, OR-based Beneteau 390 Far Fetched. "Our boat was always kept in storage at Marina Seca, San Carlos — which I highly recommend. We didn't get a visa at K21 this season because Bruce took Far Fetched on the Puddle Jump last year and is currently in New Zealand. Health reasons kept me closer to home, but I had loads of fun playing 'weather router' for a number of boats going across."

We wrote to cruising friends Jim and Kent Milski of the Colorado-based Schionning 49 Sea Level about perhaps joining them in Southeast Asia this winter as crew for the Raja Muda, King's Cup or Langkawi regattas. But it looks as though emotional attachments will keep that from happening. "The Wanderer and Doña are welcome to join us," they replied, "but we don't think we'll be in the area next winter. Malaysia and Thailand are great cruising areas, and it would be easy to spend years in this part of the world. Unfortunately, we miss our family and friends, so we expect to be moving on in the next few months. But we're still trying to decide which way to go."

"What have we been up to recently?" Bruce and Alene Balan of the Southern California-based Cross 46 trimaran Migration ask rhetorically. "The year after we arrived in New Zealand, we returned to Fiji. Last summer we did a circumnavigation of New Zealand's North Island, and cruised the north end of the South Island. And we just got back from sailing the South Island's Fiordlands on a friend's boat. It was so great we now want to do it with Migration. But first we're going to sail back to Fiji in May. So yes, we've been getting in the miles. Yet there are so many interesting places to go. We'll probably need to do a big refit on Migration next year, as she's 43 years old, and what's left of the old polyester-over-ply needs to be replaced. By the way, we always get upset when Latitude publishes photos of food in Mexico. We miss Mexico for many reasons, but food is one of the big ones, because once you head west, there doesn't seem to be any good food."

Back in the day, glass-over-ply and other cruising trimarans were mocked by most monohull sailors. While they never became that popular, the well-built ones have proven themselves all over the world.

"Wow, have we found our piece of paradise here at the island of Roatan!" report Wayne and Elly Smith of the Vancouver-based Huntingford 47 Zeppelin. "Honduras has four main islands — Guanaja, Roatan, Utila and Cayos Cochinos — which are collectively known as the Bay Islands. They are between 10 and 26 miles off the mainland. Roatan, about 30 miles by two miles, with high mountains in the middle, is the most popular of these for cruising, as it has dozens of sheltered bays and anchorages, as well as several marinas. It is one of the best areas in the world for diving, and lots of the locals speak English. A barrier reef protects the entire north shore as well as most of the east end and some of the south shore. The shoreline has lots of deep-water bights, and you can see an assortment of mangrove bushes, jagged iron shores — the lava rock at the shoreline is locally called 'iron' — white sandy beaches, huts built on stilts over the water's edge, and a few luxury resorts tossed in for color."

Last month we reported that Italy had come up with the brilliant idea of taxing all boats in Italy, even foreign-owned ones. We're a little shocked, but officials realized what a devastating blow this would be to their coastal tourist economy, so they scrapped the plan before it was to be implemented in May. Now only Italian yachts will be taxed. The loophole is that taxes won't apply to Italian yachts that are leased, so you can imagine how much money lawyers and accountants are going to make setting up boat leases.

After a 15-minute meeting with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Jimmy Buffett, a singer-songwriter of many cruiser favorites, is one step closer to getting a gaming license that will allow him to share in the profits of the Margaritaville Casino at the Flamingo Hotel on the Vegas Strip. Buffett was questioned about two incidents in which he was accused of having drugs. The singer told officials that the Jamaican military mistook his seaplane for a smuggler's plane in '96, and fired 115 shots at his seaplane, only two of which hit. French Customs officials detained him in '06, when they suspected Buffett of carrying Ecstasy. It was actually heart palpitation medicine, and he was quickly released. It's remarkable what Buffett has been able to get away with over the years on charm and a smile — although he was kicked out of the Miami Heat stands for excessive swearing during an NBA game.

It's with great sadness we report the passing of Sam Fleetwood of Monterey after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer. She died in early March at age 60, just days after learning that she also had tumors in her brain. Sam and her husband Bill were in year 15 of their circumnavigation, and their Gulfstar 50 Blue Banana was in Spain when she passed. Sam successfully raced her Shields in Monterey until she met Bill through Latitude and became a cruiser. After a quick romance, she and Bill got married, bought Blue Banana, and the year after meeting took off to cruise the world. It's been nearly 15 years, but it seems like only yesterday that we had a beer with the wonderful couple at the Opequimar fuel dock just days before they set off across the Pacific.

Missing the pictures? See the April 2012 eBook!


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