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Back to 'Changes' Index Changes in Latitudes
May 2010

Missing the pictures? See the May 2010 eBook!

  With reports this month from Curare on the cruising good life in El Salvador; from Fleetwood on starting a cruise penniless and now having money in the bank; from Swell on nearing the end of the nearly interminable battle with a leaky shaft log; from Latitude on the attractions of San Blas, Mexico; from Sea Bear on Puerto Rico and the DR, and a generous helping of Cruise Notes.

Curare — Bowman 36
Geoff and Linda Goodall
Barillas Marina, El Salvador
(Vancouver, B.C.)

While marvelling at the efforts of Marina Manager Heriberto Pineda and the staff at Barillas Marina in El Salvador to get us a rental car at the lowest price, we noticed a stack of crisp new Latitudes on the office desk. So while they dialed, we leafed through the February and March Latitudes. Reading the articles by other cruisers prompted us to write about the exceptional reception and services we’ve enjoyed here at Barillas Marina. We’ve been treated royally from the moment we received their reply to our email. After a great five-day crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec — half of it under spinnaker — we hailed the marina on VHF, and they arranged for the pilot to guide us across the bar. He met us at the designated spot at exactly the designated time. With a two-metre swell running, we were glad to follow the pilot in even though we had accurate waypoints. Seeing whitewater churning on all sides of us was a little disconcerting, but we crossed the bar into the shelter of Jiquilisco Bay without incident.

When we arrived at the mooring field 12 miles up the estuary, Heriberto had the Customs and Immigration officials on hand and ready to welcome us into El Salvador. After the formalities were over, Heriberto offered us a free drink at the palapa restaurant bar. After three enjoyable years in Mexico, we’ve been surprised to discover that the cruising life can get even better!

We think the costs at Barillas are reasonable. We paid $45 for our first night on a mooring ball, but that included the pilot's coming eight miles down the estuary to guide us in, bringing the officials from Customs, the Port Captain’s office, and Immigration out to our boat, and help checking in. It also includes the guide boat's helping us out across the bar when we leave. The next 13 days are charged at $16.95 a night, after which the rate drops to $11.30 per day. Included in that fee is full use of the facilities — meaning the three pools, palapas, quite good wi-fi, even out the mooring field when you use an antenna; the dinghy dock; and the freedom to walk around the secure compound, which is an old cocoa plantation.

The menu at the marina restaurant is somewhat limited and probably 20% more expensive than at a restaurant in town, but the food is good. Papusas are three for $3, and that’s all you need. A hamburger is $5, and beers are $2 each. A few cruisers on bigger budgets said the steaks are delicious. We would typically get our boat chores done by midday, then head to the palapa by the pool for the remainder of the day to enjoy lunch, do research on the internet, and lounge in a hammock. A tough life!

Twice a week there is a shuttle van that takes crews into the local town of Usulatan, 45 minutes away. There is excellent provisioning there from either the local market or at two American-style supermarkets. The marina also has an airstrip if you need to fly out. Our car rental came to $337 for 5 days, plus a $50 delivery fee — standard Budget Rental Car pricing. We shared the car with the crew of another boat, which was a lot of fun and halved the cost. We had a great trip inland, and got a much better appreciation for the country and the turmoil its citizens have been through recently.

Why did we choose Barillas over Bahia del Sol, the other popular stop in El Salvador? It was basically the result of a coin toss. But thanks to the first class staff and facilities at Barillas, we’ve been very happy with our decision. We are fairly low budget cruisers, and our full keel, sloop-rigged Bowman 36 is very comfortable, although a little slow in light wind. We’re are currently in Nicaragua, and we’re putting together information on the mooring options here for publication in the next Latitude.

— geoff and linda 03/16/10

Fleetwood — Naja 30
Jack van Ommen
You Don’t Know Jack!
(Gig Harbor, Wash. / The World)

We’ve all heard the joke about how you make a small fortune. You start with a big fortune, then you buy a boat. But Jack van Ommen has enjoyed an entirely different experience. When he took off cruising in March ‘05 aboard Fleetwood, he’d spent his last pennies on food for his long passage across the Pacific to the Marquesas. Although he’s been cruising ever since, and hasn’t worked, he now has money in the bank and is able to afford things like flying from Amsterdam to Vietnam — first class for several of the segments — for a three-month vacation from cruising. How has he done it? Read on. (Although you’ll have to wait for Part II in the June issue to get the full story.)

Having published a number of van Ommen’s Changes since ‘05, we were eager to meet the vet of the ‘82 Singlehanded TransPac and a half decade of cruising a small boat most of the way around the world. So when he was passing through on his way from Vietnam to Amsterdam, we were thrilled that he took the ferry from San Francisco to meet us for lunch in Sausalito. Slim, calm and soft-spoken, van Ommen appeared to be the picture of health and vitality. What follows is the first of our two-part interview with him.

38: You’re looking lean and relaxed. Do you mind if we ask your age?

Jack: I’m 73. But you know what they say, you get a year younger for every year you spend at sea. When I asked for the senior discount on the ferry, they didn’t card me, but they thought I was under 65. (Laughter.)

38: Give us a rough idea of where you have cruised so far.

Jack: I’ve done 35,000 miles and visited 30 countries ­— but I should probably begin with my inauspicious start. After trailering my boat from Gig Harbor to Alameda in March of ‘05, I set sail for Santa Barbara, but got hit by a really big southerly halfway down the Central California coast. I was driven back to Big Sur by big, angry waves on the nose. My Navik windvane broke, then I had power problems. After many hours, I became so exhausted that I called the Coast Guard in Monterey. They came out with a 47-footer to tow me in. The waves were so big that they had a difficult time finding me, and it was so rough that 11 of their 13 crew got seasick.

38: Were those first days of your cruise the worst conditions you’ve seen in your 35,000 miles?

Jack: I’d seen bigger seas in ‘82 when sailing home from the Singlehanded TransPac. As tall as they were, those were gentle rollers from a distant hurricane. The ones off the Central California coast weren’t as big, but they were much worse. It had me wondering if I should be making such a trip at all.

38: How many times have you seen more than 40 knots at sea?

Jack: Hardly ever. The worst was just outside of Cape Town, South Africa, when I misunderstood the weather guy. He told me to hide somewhere along the coast, but I thought he told me to continue on. It blew about 40 knots for 36 hours, and was really bad. I was scared. I set the windvane to heave the boat to, closed the boat up the best I could, and went below. The worst part was the noise, with all the wind and vibration in the rigging.

38: Let’s put it this way: how many times have you been really scared in 35,000 miles?

Jack: Only three or four times. But I’ve had a few unpleasant passages. My sail from Virginia to Bermuda last summer was pretty bad, as was the passage I did against the trades a year ago January from Florida to the Virgin Islands. I can also remember getting hit by 25 to 30 knots on the nose on my way to Bali. The problem then was that I couldn’t stop my boat from falling off waves, which resulted in the hull's continually slamming. But the majority of the time it’s wonderful out there.

There are many different kinds of cruisers, of course. Sailing between islands and harbor-hopping are both fun, but I really prefer the long passages. After a couple of days, you and your body get into a routine, and you just do your thing. When I’m sailing offshore, I hardly ever have time to read because there is much to do. Even though the vane is doing the steering, I’m still busy listening to the SSB, writing emails on my laptop, navigating, fixing little things, and so forth. In addition to my 28-day passage to the Marquesas, I had 20-day passages from South Africa to St. Helena and St. Helena to Brazil. Last year’s crossing from Bermuda to the Azores took 18 days.

38: Sailing upwind in anything much over 15 knots and three-foot seas isn’t that pleasant for more than an afternoon. What percentage of the time have you been able to sail with the wind aft of the beam?

Jack: At least 80% of the time.

38: Has your 30-ft boat been big enough for sailing around the world?

Jack: It would be nicer if I had a 33 -or 34-footer. Maybe even a 36-footer. I’d also prefer a ketch rig, because when I’m in the middle of the ocean I always wonder what I’d do if I got dismasted. With a ketch rig, I’d be able to jury rig something. And with a ketch rig, you can always just drop the main to quickly reduce sail when the wind comes up.

38: We sure got you off course, so to speak. Take us back to your start from California.

Jack: I decided I needed a more robust windvane, so Hans of Scanmar in Richmond, a really nice guy, set me up with a Monitor. It’s been great. Once I got that mounted, I set out again and didn’t have any more problems with steering. I eventually made it down to Santa Barbara, spent my last few dollars on food, then set off on the long passage to the Marquesas. Of all the all the places I’ve been, the Marquesas remains my favorite. I used to think it might have been because it was my first real landfall, but now I know I just love it for the beauty and wonderful people. They are so kind and joyful, there is no poverty, and there are no giant houses hanging off the cliffs. There is great sailing in the Marquesas, too. I’d love to return sometime.

From the Marquesas, I continued across the Pacific, making all kinds of stops. I then broke away from the ‘Milk Run’ and headed to Vietnam, where I’d been stationed in the early ‘60s. I love Vietnam, and while I know there are problems with the bureaucracy and corruption, I believe it might open up as a great cruising ground in as little as five years. Friends of friends know a man who is about to start a marina near the mouth of the Mekong River, so I really believe there is reason for optimism.

Anyway, I sailed around Southeast Asia, then across the Indian Ocean, up to Brazil and French and Dutch Guiana, then to Trinidad. From Trinidad I sailed straight to the Chesapeake Bay. I thought I was going to sail to the Caribbean in the winter of ‘07-’08, then across the Atlantic to Europe that summer. But I fell behind schedule, so I came back to the Chesapeake in the summer of ‘08, sailed back to the Caribbean in the winter of ‘08-’09, and last summer sailed from North Carolina to Northern Europe via Bermuda, the Azores and France.

38: When you were in Trinidad, you weren’t that far from completing a circumnavigation.

Jack: Well, I want to sail around Europe, Besides, I’m never going back to the Pacific Northwest because it rains too much. What’s more, I don’t like the idea of the Panama Canal, as I heard it would cost me about $1,700 to do a transit.

38: No, no, it would be way less than $1,700.

Jack: Maybe you’re right, as I’ve heard conflicting reports.

38: Correct us if we’re wrong, but didn’t you once tell us that you only use about 15 gallons of fuel per year?

Jack: I probably use a little more than that, but not too much more. My boat only has a 20-gallon fuel tank, and I hardly ever fill it. Normally, I just top it off with five gallons from a jerry jug. But I’m frugal with fuel. For example, lots of cruisers motor across the doldrums. Not me. I can’t afford to spend that kind of money on fuel. Besides, I’ve never had much trouble sailing across the doldrums. The only time I’ve used a lot of fuel was motoring along the East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway.

38: What kind of an engine does Fleetwood have?

Jack: She’s got her original 16-hp Renault diesel. It’s one of the few left, so parts are hard to come by. One day I’m going to have to replace her. But I never power unless I have to. The engine is so noisy that I can’t hear the radio, and it’s stinky and it costs money. So I don’t motor unless I’m sailing less than about 2.5 knots. Besides, I’m in no hurry, and I really enjoy being out on the ocean.

38: What do you have for a dinghy?

Jack: I started out with a Metzler, which had an unusual design that featured air tubes on the bottom. It rowed really well, which was good, because I didn’t have an outboard, and because I always anchor out. But after two years the Metzler was toast. I bought a used inflatable as a replacement when I was in Virginia, but I don’t even know what kind it is.

38: Let’s talk about safety and electronic gear. Do you have a liferaft, EPIRB, SSB and satphone?

Jack: I have all of those except for a satphone. I use my SSB and Sailmail to talk to people, send emails and get weather.

38: Are you in contact with someone every day when you make a long passage?

Jack: Oh yes. It’s very seldom that there isn’t somebody I talk to like Herb Hilgenberg of Southbound in Toronto, who provides weather for the Atlantic and Caribbean. He’s fantastic. When I left Bermuda for the Azores, I stopped at the fuel dock for a little fuel, and had a very mild run-in with a guy on a big ketch who wanted fuel first. He fueled up and left, and once he got his big gennaker up in the windy conditions, really left me behind. I figured I’d never see him again. But it turned out that I tied up at the Customs Dock in the Azores almost 12 hours ahead of him. He was impressed. We talked, and I was surprised to hear that he’d had a couple of days of no wind, and because their engine was down, they’d only made about 30 miles each of those days. It turns out that the guy in Florida he paid for weather routing hadn’t given him as good advice as I’d gotten for free from Herb. Before I went across, I told Herb I was planning on crossing at 32°N or even a little higher based on Jimmy Cornell’s book. Herb told me I’d been reading the wrong stuff, and kept me at about 31°N. He did a great job for me.

[To be continued next month.]

— latitude/rs 04/10/10

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
The Shaft Tube, My White Whale
(Santa Barbara)

So there I was, near the end of February, having labored for months in the boatyard and having spent tons of money getting Swell ready for more adventures. But my dreams had been thwarted by a leaking prop shaft tube that had to be removed from the boat. Fellow Cal 40 owner Fin Bevin of Southern California had told me that it was not uncommon for shaft tubes on Cal 40s to eventually develop holes and leak water into the bilge. But, he said, with the help of Doug Grant, another Californian, I could get the shaft log out using something called a ‘slide hammer’. In my case, it was explained to me, it would be a custom tool made of a six-foot length of stainless rod threaded on both ends. The rod would be inserted into the old tube, and a cap just smaller than the outside diameter of the shaft tube would be screwed onto the inside end. Then, on the back end of the tube on the outside of the boat, a heavy ‘slide’ would be put on the stainless rod, followed by another cap put on the aft end of the rod. By hammering the slide against the aft cap, it would — in theory — indirectly ‘hammer’ on the cap on the inboard end of the shaft tube, and the tube would come right out.

Since my helper Laurent wouldn’t be around for awhile, I decided to make the slide hammer myself. I began by making precise measurements and drawing a diagram. But where was I going to find six-foot stainless rod threaded on both ends? When in doubt around here at the yard in Raiatea, you ask Cesar. I found him leaning against a shaded post, talking with Benois, the metal worker. “Do you know where I can find a six-foot steel rod or pipe threaded at both ends?” Cesar told me that the plumbing store sold 18-ft lengths of 1/4-inch steel pipe threaded at both ends. Great. I asked Ben if he could make me a steel washer of the dimensions I needed.

“What are you making?” Cesar and Benois asked at once, looking at the diagram.

“A slide hammer,” I replied, “Or as you French would say, an extracteuuuuuuuur. I’m going to use it to get my shaft log out." They nodded as if it made sense to them.

It took a few days to gather all the pieces, but soon enough Jacques had cut down my 18-ft pipe to six feet, and had welded a plate, rather than a cap, on what would be the outside end where I would hit it with the sliding 'hammer'. Benois made a washer to my dimensions, but out of aluminum instead of steel. I figured I had better give it a try before I complained.

I got the awkward device set up, borrowed a massive sledge hammer from the yard, and went for it. I was shocked at how hard the head of the hammer slammed into the plate at the end of the rod. But after 30 hits, I’d broken through the weld on the plate and the tube still hadn’t budged. So I went inside my boat to see what was happening, and found that the aluminum — not steel — washer had bent completely out of shape.

I had to carry all the broken parts of my slide hammer back across the yard in order to return to the drawing board. Everyone gave me a curious look — like they’d never seen a young woman carrying anything like across a boatyard before. “Extracteuuuuuuur!!!!!!!!!” I yelled in frustration. They just wrinkled their foreheads and went back to whatever they were doing.

It took two days to get a new washer made out of thick piece of steel and to get the end plate reinforced, but I was ready to try the hammer again.

“It’s not going to work," taunted Thierry the mechanic in French.

“Extracteuuuuuuur!” I yelled back at him.

After getting it set up, Taputu came over to help me. I held the new steel washer perfectly in the middle of the shaft log from inside Swell, while he slammed on the newly welded piece. Every time he hit the welded plate, the washer got sucked down into the tube — because the tube hadn’t been cut at an exact right angle. So my slide hammer failed again.

That got me to thinking about the epoxy job we’d recently done on the shaft tube from the outside, hoping it would stop the leak. Surely that had firmly bonded the shaft to the hull so that no amount of pounding was going to break the adhesion. So while the others in the yard spent Friday afternoon drinking beer and toasting the weekend, I borrowed Taputu's grinder. After all, my leaky shaft log was still stuck in the hull, and poor little Poe, the baby tern I had rescued, was so sick he couldn’t eat or stand up straight. What did I have to celebrate?

Poe got so sick that weekend that I put her in my bike basket and pedaled off in search of a vet. When I found one, the gentle man took Poe in his hands and said the obvious, that she was very weak and skinny. I bought Poe some nutrient supplements meant for cats. An hour after giving it to her, she could hardly lift her head. She took her last breath from this world as I held her cupped in my hands. To witness the fragility of life — one moment there, the moment gone — hit me very hard. I cried and stroked her still-warm feathers.

For a week after Poe died, it was strange returning to Swell. There was no chirping, no more fishy stink, and no more fuzzy head popping up. Instead, I found only piles of progress-less projects staring at me. Despite grinding off the recent epoxy job on the shaft log, and making an even more precisely-fitting steel washer, my slide hammer still failed to get the shaft log out. In fact, a mighty swing by my friend Josh Humbert broke my slide hammer for the third and final time, slicing it in half at the upper threads, and sending it flying across the yard!

So the shaft tube remained stuck in the hull, and the behavior of Laurent, the yard glasser who was supposed to help me, was troubling. He'd walk past me stone-faced and cold, dead-set on ignoring me. It was obviously time to seek out other help, but who? Rain poured down and I wandered in circles around the yard in a cloud of despair. It seemed useless to try any more. I was defeated, broken, sinking on land, doomed to boatyard purgatory.

But then Mike, whose boat Apple was hauled out in the yard, yelled down at me from his boat. “Hey Liz! We got my rudder shaft out today using a hydraulic jack.”

“Fantastic,” I replied, struggling to sound happy for him.

“You don’t understand, the jack could be the answer to your problem!” he shouted. “Take it over to Swell and see if it might work by pushing instead of hammering against the shaft log.”

You’ve never seen a girl sprint faster with a 15-lb hydraulic jack in hand. I hauled it up the ladder, eager to see if it would fit. “It does!” I cheered, doing a little shuffle-step-wiggle. Sure, I’d have to remove the v-drive and make some wood and steel supports, and I'd need some more hydraulic fluid, but at least there was new hope. Plus, Mike said he'd give me two hours of his time the next day.

I didn’t sleep much that night, but it wasn’t because of shaft log anxieties. No, at 3 a.m. there was a pounding on Swell’s hull. I wondered. I peered over the side and saw Taputu standing below with a flashlight. “Sorry to wake you,” he said in French, "but there is a tsunami coming. It’s supposed to arrive at 6 a.m. “Tsunami,” he repeated. “Go to Simona’s house and ride up the mountain with her."

I couldn’t believe it, but it was true, a severe tsunami warning had been issued for the entire Pacific. For the second time in less than two months, I had to pack up my survival bag with my passport and a few precious items, secure Swell as best I could, then head down the road to Simona's house. By 8 a.m., the local radio station declared that the wave had passed through the Marquesas at less than 30 centimeters.

Tsunami warning or not, an hour later Mike, the successful Hollywood director, began directing what I hoped would be his greatest hit — the removal of Swell's shaft tube. I spent two hours running around the yard in the glaring sun, looking for pieces of wood and steel to wedge things in. I thought I was going to puke. By the time the clock struck noon, we’d only just finished fitting out the mishmash of metal and wood scraps to support the jack against the fiberglass bulkhead behind the v-drive. But just as Mike left, his two hours up, a cheery 6’2” Canadian named Adrian appeared on the scene. He was low on cash, but full of spirit.

Sleep-deprived, we decided to go at it the next morning. At that time I had another weapon. Kyber, my buddy on Natty M, had run me through a quick certification in the use of his pyromaniac’s delight — a hefty, flame-spitting, butane torch. The idea was to repeatedly heat and cool the bronze tube from outside — hopefully without setting Swell on fire — with the goal of breaking the tube's bonds with the surrounding fiberglass. Adrian stood by with a bucket of water in the event that I lost control of the torch. The tube turned rainbow colors under the heat, and boiled the water that was soaked in the surrounding fiberglass. Fantastic! When we both agreed that any more heating might cause Swell to semi-spontaneously combust, Adrian threw on some water to induce quick contraction of the metal.

It was time for the final showdown. Inside the cabin, a few pumps on the hydraulic jack put 20 tons of pressure against that stubborn shaft tube. At first it didn’t budge at all. I couldn’t bear to watch, for if this failed, I would have to concede to ‘open-fiberglass surgical tube removal’. Being rather nervous around pressurized jacks after my accident last year, I decided it was better for me to go down and survey what was happening on the other end.

“Hit it with the sledgehammer!!” Adrian called from above.

“Okay!!” I hollered back, slinging the beastly tool over my shoulder, and unloading on the exposed part of the tube.

“It moved!!” He yelled.

“It mooooooooooooooooved!” I shrieked back in delight. The tube had officially been broken from the fiberglass, and had moved 1 mm in the right direction. We carried on in a similar fashion for the better part of the day — Adrian loading up pressure with the jack from the top, while I occasionally hammered from below. When the jack reached its maximum length, we’d pull it out and shove some other piece of steel inside, re-assemble the support, and continue to push. Millimeter by sweeeeeeet millimeter, we pushed that tube out of the hull. That afternoon the final six inches of the tube slid out to expose a series of corroded holes, meaning it was certain that the corroded tube had been the source of all the leaking into the bilge.

I felt as though I finally had gotten my white whale!

With the tube removed, it might seem as though the problem was all but solved. But no. I needed to get some glass work done, and since Laurent wouldn’t talk to me, and the only other fiberglass guy worked at a competing boatyard next door, and the two yards don't like each other, it was going to be a nightmare. Then there was the issue of getting the right tube and cutlass bearing. But that same day I got an email from Fin:

“My friend, Doug Grant of Marine Products Engineering Co, sells the exact tube you need with a cutlass bearing to go with it. I already spoke with him, and he said he would sell it to you for half price. Send me your address and I’ll get it in the mail by Monday — and cover the shipping.”

After a month of agonizing, everything had suddenly turned around! Shiny beams of hope were making the world twinkle again! Fin and Doug, neither of whom I had ever met, were like angels who had descended to carry me out of boatyard purgatory. God bless them both, and everyone else who has helped me.

— liz 4/1/10

San Blas, Mexico
History And a New Marina

We hadn't had a chance to see how the Singlar Marina had turned out in San Blas, the northernmost town along the 100-mile long Nayarit Riviera that starts just north of the Puerto Vallarta Airport, so in late March we hopped aboard our trusty Honda 250 dual sport bike for the 2.5-hour drive up from Punta Mita. While the first 45 minutes to Las Verras was on dangerous Highway 1, the last 1 hour and 45 minutes featured a spectacular ride through the Mexican countryside — think of a tropical Sonoma County — then miles of sparsely-populated jungle-lined beaches. As for the lightly travelled two-lane road, it was better than much of what passes for pavement in California these days. If you love rides through the jungle and along tropical beaches, it might even be worth renting a car for a Sunday drive from Puerto Vallarta or La Cruz, particularly if there's a swell running and you have a couple of surf sticks.

San Blas, a municipality of 37,000 that includes the infamous prison colony at Isla Marias, has four claims to fame. First, this being the base for Spanish naval operations in the Pacific from as early as 1531, it was from Las Islitas Beach at nearby Mantanchen Bay that Junipero Serra boarded the locally built barque Purisima Concepcion in 1768 for the trip to California to found the string of missions. As such, San Blas has some great history and ruins. Second, the same Las Islitas Beach is internationally famous for being home to some of the longest rideable waves in the world of surfing. Indeed, at one time the Guinness folks claimed you could ride the same wave for a mile, although changes in the jetty mean that's no longer possible. Third, San Blas — but particularly Mantanchen Bay — is internationally notorious for no-see-ums at dawn and dusk. Pour some pepper on your hand and you'll get an idea what it will look like about sundown. Lastly, San Blas has been famous for decades of clashes between former Brooklyn resident Norm Goldie and some cruisers who, thank you very much, don't want his help. At Goldie's age and with his heart condition, you might expect he'd be less garrulous, but apparently that's not the case.

There was an air of anticipation as we pulled into Mantanchan Bay, for it was only a couple of days until Semana Santa, when the beaches would be invaded by countless thousands of families on holiday. All the basic palapa restaurants on the beach were being spruced up, toilets were being dug, and festive ribbons were being strung. And looking out to the popular Matanchen Bay anchorage, we watched four northbound cruising boats pull in, on their way from Punta Mita to Mazatlan. Alas, there was no surf or surfers, but there had been great waves just a few days before. In fact, the waves were big enough to send Richard and Sharon Drechsler's Catalina 470 Last Resort into a big broach after being overtaken by a breaking wave at the bar to the San Blas Estuary.

Despite some tourism, San Blas remains an authentic Mexican town that has changed very slowly over the last few decades. It's not yet gone upscale nor does it have any of the glitz that can be found at some of the other towns on the Nayarit Riviera. That will come soon enough. Nonetheless, the San Blas Estuary, as no-see-um infested as it can be, was chosen as the site for one of the cookie-cutter Singlar Marinas.

Built based on a 'if we build a marina and boatyard, the boats will come' business plan, it hasn't exactly panned out yet. When we visited the boatyard and marina, it was quiet despite its being the high season, with about a quarter of the 30 or so well-built marina slips occupied, and the beautifully built and spacious boatyard and facilities having only four boats on the hard. The swimming pool and hot tub were empty, and the big outdoor bar and the meeting room facilities looked as though they hadn't been used in a long time. In other words, market forces didn't demand that this marina be built. But the basic facility seems to have been well designed and constructed, so who knows? If the yard and marina are properly run, they might eventually make economic sense.

As for the town of San Blas, the plaza, about a half mile from the marina, is still the center of activity day and night. There's always something to watch, and that something is usually the people. The San Blas Social Club, across the street from one corner of the plaza, seems to be a gringo center of sorts, though when we were there in the mid afternoon, it was dominated by some noisy, chain-smoking RV wackadoos from the Southwest. For those short of cash, two ATMs were working in San Blas the day we were there.

For some reason, a lot of cruisers seem to skip a visit to the fort, overlooking the town, that was built in 1770 to defend the town's extensive sea trade with the Phillipines, of all places, which wanted the hardwoods from the San Blas area. On the hill behind the fort are the ruins of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, built in 1769. The ruins once contained the bronze bells that are said to have inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Bells of San Blas, At the very least, it's worth a short visit.

About 30% of the way between Punta Mita and Mazatlan, San Blas makes a good intermediate stop. But it or Mantanchen Bay are also worth visiting on their own — particularly if there's a surfing swell out of the southwest. Check it out.

— latitude 03/25/10

Sea Bear — Whittholz 37
Peter and Marina Passano
Puerto Rico and the DR
(Ex-Marin / Woolwich, Maine)

In late January, we left Sea Bear on the east coast of Puerto Rico and travelled to San Juan to pick up Bob and Jean Dale, Marina’s parents. The Dales are used to roughing it, so they arrived with only a couple of small backpacks, and enjoyed sleeping under the stars in the cockpit. Once they were aboard, we sailed 20 miles east, against the trades, to the beautiful Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra. While the Dales were with us, we enjoyed great weather.

After they flew home, Marina and I spent a couple of nights at the Puerto Del Rey Marina. It has 1,000 slips, making it the largest in the Caribbean. It’s also very well managed — primarily by women. Perhaps we should consider having women run more things — such as our government.

We then set off west, behind schedule again. The problem is that Marina and I have so much fun seeing new places and meeting so many nice people, that it's hard to keep up. Our next stop was Salinas. We arrived after dark, and carefully entered through the reef at Rat Cay. Once inside, we decided to anchor and wait for daylight before working our way up the shallow channel into the main anchorage. As we slowly motored into shoal water, a boat appeared ahead of us with no lights. Although apprehensive, we carried on. It turned out to be a police boat. Fortunately, one of the crew spoke English, and they gave their blessing to our anchoring where we were for the rest of the night.

From Salinas, we sailed to Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) off Ponce, and from there we sailed across the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic. The crossing was unusually pleasant, with clear skies and moderate fair winds. One container ship passed within a quarter of a mile, but we were confident that he saw us. Our destination was Boca Chica, which we had been advised not to enter at night. Since we weren’t going to make it before dark, we decided to divert to Isla Catalina, which was 30 miles closer and near the industrial town of La Romana. We didn't want to anchor at La Romana, because a gang of thugs had robbed a German boat there a few weeks before.

We sailed around to the lee side of Isla Catalina and, lo and behold, found a beautiful sandy beach in front of quite a large resort. There were a number of day-charter catamarans there, and lots of tourists and music. At 3:30 p.m., everyone packed up and left, leaving the anchorage all to us. There wasn’t even a light on the island that night.

The wind was light the next day, so we set our largest headsail and motorsailed the last 30 miles to Boca Chica. The Zar Par Marina, a modern and well-managed facility, was completed there three years ago by American entrepreneur Frank Virgintino in partnership with a Dominican. Born on Long Island and educated in the U.S., Virgintino came to the DR 20 years ago and fell in love with the country. He and his wife have had homes in the DR and New York ever since. Virgintino recently wrote a cruising guide to the Dominican Republic that is available on line. It’s the only such guide I know of, and it's very useful.

Boca Chica was originally settled by Italians, and it still has a high percentage of residents of Italian heritage. It’s also a very popular winter holiday destination for Italians. As such, it has a wonderful delicatessen where every conceivable Italian delicacy and wine can be purchased. As you might expect, there's also an Italian restaurant serving delicious food.

The DR supplies an inordinately high percentage of baseball players to the United States, and the people are true baseball ‘nuts’, so I wanted to see a baseball game. Unfortunately, we arrived just after the winter season had ended, However, Virgintino told me that Pedro Martinez, the famous pitcher for the Red Sox and later the Mets, keeps a boat next to Raffles Light. Martinez apparently loves to come down to the marina and sit on the float in a lawn chair next to his boat. We were told that he’s generally accompanied by at least two beautiful lady friends. The first night we stayed at the marina, Virgintino invited Marina and me, and a nice Canadian couple, aboard Raffles Light for drinks. Sure enough, when we arrived, Martinez was next door enjoying the evening air with his friends. He was quite approachable, and I got the thrill of shaking the hand of the baseball great.

James and Chantel, the Canadian couple, had just arrived on their handsome aluminum sloop from Bonaire. They were very interesting and charming. James is a very knowledgeable techie, so their boat has every conceivable, state-of-the art marine electronic installed. Their boat makes Sea Bear seem like something out of the Dark Ages.

While in the DR, we’ve been keeping our eye out for other boats that might be heading for Cuba. So far we’ve come across a couple of possibilities. One is an English/Irish couple aboard the Freya 39 Foxglove that Roy and Tee Jennings of Tomales Bay once sailed around the world.

As I write this, our plan is to stop at one or more of the five nice stops between here and the Haitian border. We’ve also been told Ile de Vache is a beautiful and safe island off the south coast of Haiti. Although the island has no electricity or cars — they get around by horseback — there are 10,000 residents. Yet there is no official presence there, so we won’t have to check in. It’s our understanding that the island wasn’t directly affected by the terrible earthquake, but there is still horrible poverty. As such, Marina is preparing a token CARE package. After that, we’ll be off to never-never land.

— peter 03/01/10

Readers — For those who may have forgotten, in ‘07 Passano was awarded the Cruising Club of America’s Bluewater Medal for his extensive cruising achievements, thereby joining the ranks of Bernard Moitessier, Sir Francis Chichester and Eric Tabarly.

Cruise Notes:

Gotta have your internet off Caleta Partida in the Sea of Cortez? While doing the recent Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, we had some participants tell us where they got internet access closest to the popular Caleta Partida anchorage. Allan and Rina Alexopoulos of the Redwood City-based Hunter 466 Follow You Follow Me — who had just had their boat shipped from New Zealand to Ensenada at a cost of $1,000/ft — reported they got Edge connectivity at 24°31'7"N - 110°24'2"W, although it was very slow. They got their first GSM connectivity at 24°29'8"N - 110°25'1"W, which was all right, but still not very fast. They finally got swift and solid GSM connectivity at 24°29'5"N - 110°25'3"W. Bill Lily of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 470 Moontide reports that he had 236 kbs Edge service at 24°30.99'N - 110°25.111'W and much better 3.6 mbs service at 24°32.448'N - 110°24.568'W and 24°32.582'N - 119°24.970'W. “When I was getting a good signal, Arjan Bok was also getting good service on his San Francisco-based Lidgard 43 Rotkat to the north of me,” writes Lily. “I kind of figured out that our two boats were creating a range that went between Isla Ballena and Isla Partida and the area by Pichilingue. I had better signals when closer to the entrance to Partida than farther out, which is consistent with a couple of years ago when I could get cell phone service in my dinghy right outside the entrance.” On Profligate, we had 3G speed at 24°31'65"N - 110°25'07"W, and even faster speed at 24°26'00"N - 110°24'00"W. While coming up from Puerto Vallarta to La Paz, we had our Telcel modem connected sometimes as far as 15 miles offshore, but it was often pretty slow. However, close to La Paz and in the marinas, we had sizzling connectivity — much faster than what we get at the Latitude office in Mill Valley on our ISDN connection.

“On July 11, there will be a four-minute-plus total eclipse of the sun at 8:30 a.m. at Kikueru Atoll in the Tuamotus,” reports Josh Humbert. The photographer and pearl farmer got to know Latitude when he went to school in the Bay Area, but for the last 18 years has lived at Teahupo’o in French Polynesia, one of the most famous — and feared — surf spots in the world. “A group of us are planning to travel to Kikueru Atoll for the eclipse, then stay for a couple of more days at a nearby atoll that usually has good surf in July.”

And now for some bad news. Kattywompus, the Port Townsend, Washington-based Golden Wave 42 owned by Brad Nelson and Linda Attaway, sank almost instantly in early April after she struck a reef off the North Island of New Zealand. The boat was entering Doubtless Bay, across from the town of Mangonui, when she hit. “The water poured in so fast that they didn’t even have time to grab their ditch bag,” reports Bob Bechler of the Seattle-based Gulfstar 44 Sisiutl, “but they were able to deploy their liferaft. Apparently, local observers helped the couple ashore just as a rescue helicopter arrived in response to their having set off their EPIRB. My understanding is that the couple made it to shore with almost nothing, but the Kiwi locals have been doing a good job of looking after them.” Our condolences to both Brad and Linda.

Randy Repass, founder of West Marine, and his wife, Sally-Christine Rogers, have entered their Wylie 65 Convergence in the Sail Indonesia’s Darwin to Kupang or Darwin to Banda/Ambon Rally, which starts on July 24. Randy and Sally-Christine's boat is just one of 15 U.S. boats in the 88-boat fleet as of April 20, many of them being vets of the Ha-Ha and/or the Pacific Puddle Jump. The other U.S. boats are Bill Wickman’s Wauquiez 42 Airstream, Chris Zingler’s Brewer 44 Amulet, David Pryde’s Slocum 43 Baraka, Jim Wallace’s S&S 47 Contrails, Don Myers Amerl Super Maramu 53 Harmonie, Roger Hayward’s Catalina/Morgan 440 La Palapa, Steve Maggart’s Bounty II Linda, Walter Page’s Mason 62 Marnie, Kathy McGraw’s Peterson 44 Po’oino Roa, Tom Foley’s Taswell 49 Priscilla, Tom Alexander’s Nordic 44 Rasa Manis, John Prentice’s Peterson 43 Scarlett O’Hara, Bill Heumann’s C&C Landfall 48 Second Wind, and the above-mentioned Bob Bechler’s Gulfstar 44 Sisiutl. We apologize for not being able to provide hailing ports for the boats. We’re tickled by the fact Steve Maggart will be doing the rally aboard his Bounty II, which was built in ‘57. Latitude was started aboard the sistership Flying Scud.

Sail Indonesia is an annual yacht rally that leaves Darwin in July of each year and is followed by a three-month program of linked events across Indonesia. Uniquely, participants — there were about 130 last year — sail from Darwin to either Kupang or Ambon, then follow a series of events on one of two paths all the way west to Nongsa, Indonesia, which is just across from Singapore. The entry fee is a very reasonable $500 Australian, and includes the cost of a Indonesian Cruising Permit. Happy sailing to all!

Almost as much fun as watching a bunch of Spring Break girls in wet t-shirts! On March 11, a group of seven College of Charleston students and one alum were checking out the channel at Alice Town, Bimini, for a midnight departure back to Coconut Grove, Florida, at the end of a Spring Break cruise aboard the sailboat Tardis. As they were getting GPS coordinates, theyp saw a Jeanneau 50, name unknown, slam into a coral reef and go badly aground on the windward side of the island. The skipper of the big boat, who was aboard with his parents, wife and small dog, issued maydays without giving a position. The college kids asked what they could do to help. But before they could do much of anything, the skipper and his group got into the liferaft. Being not far from the marina, they were quickly rescued. The college kids, being young, smart and adventurous, decided to bust their butts — and risk injury — trying to save the boat. After four hours of hard work, they, with the help of a couple of boats, managed to get the big Jeanneau off the coral reef and into a marina slip. Given the situation the boat had been in, it was a remarkable recovery.

According to Charleston's LiveNews, Tardis skipper Conor Smith, 20, said the skipper of the grounded boat broke a cardinal rule. “You’re supposed to stay with the vessel until she’s underwater and sinking.” John Chapelle, one of the Tardis crew, added, “If someone has already declared mayday, they’ve already abandoned ship to basically let the elements take the ship and do whatever they want with it. If another party comes and saves the boat, technically, it’s their boat.” We’re hoping that the kids were misquoted, because if they weren’t, they — like a lot of people — don’t know anything about salvage law. In order for a salvage claim to be valid, three requirements must be met: The boat must be in peril, the rescue service must be rendered voluntarily, and the salvage must be successful. In this case, we think all the requirements were met. Further, there are both high-order and low-order salvages. Since the salvors exposed themselves to considerable danger, we think it might be deemed a high-order risk. But before anybody expects a huge payday, they should know that the courts generally only award salvors 10 to 25% of what was actually salvaged.

“When we did the Ha-Ha in ‘08, the Grand Poobah said it was optional getting a Temporary Import Permit for our boat if we were going to stay in Mexico for less than six months,” write Trevor, Karissa and Kiera MacLachlan of the Seattle-based Taswell 43 Lea Scotia. “Since we’re poor cruisers, we opted not to spend $50 for the permit. But now that we're at Isla Mujeres on the Caribbean side of Mexico, we're hearing that every boat arriving in Mexico must get a TIP — even folks such as ourselves who will only be in Mexico for a week. Any thoughts on the subject? In other news, it appears as though our nearly two-year long adventure is coming to a close. It’s been great.”

Our thoughts on the subject are that different officials in Mexico interpret the rules and regulations differently. To our knowledge, almost nobody has been forced to get a TIP unless they stay in Mexico for six months. However, we've heard one or two secondhand reports that some port captains and marinas have required it. We say you should try to check out without getting a TIP, because what do you have to lose? And as they always say in Mexico, it’s much easier to ask forgiveness than for permission. But we'd like to hear what kind of TIP experiences others have had.

"We have officially checked out of French Polynesia, though we will be here for the rest of the month and into mid-May visiting the islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea-Tahaa, Bora Bora, and hopefully Maupiti and Mopellia Atolls, en route to our first stop in the Cook Islands,” report Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House. So what are the couple doing with all these shots of moai on their website? As best we can figure, they took a vacation from cruising and flew to Easter Island.

"I threw off the docklines in San Francisco in March of ‘08, and since then I have enjoyed the cruising lifestyle more than one can imagine,” writes Dennis Gade of the San Francisco-based Islander Freeport 36 Dolce Vita. “I’ve met many wonderful cruisers along the way, and the locals have always been friendly, helpful, and grateful for my business. Having cruised Mexico, I’m now sailing south with plans to transit the Canal and spend some time in the Caribbean. I’m currently in at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador, where the service has been wonderful, and where everybody seems to go out of their way to make sure you enjoy yourself. I want to encourage other cruisers not to miss Bahia del Sol.”

Greg and Debbie Dorland of the Lake Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade have made it all the way to the Eastern Caribbean since doing last fall’s Ha-Ha. In fact, they not only made it to St. Barth, they did so in time for the island’s big new event, Les Voiles de St. Barth. “We completely dominated our class,” writes Greg, “thereby winning a beautiful trophy, a magnum of Taittinger, a bottle of Mount Gay — and a week in a villa in St. Barth! It was somewhat embarrassing, however, as we were the only boat in our class. The regatta was windy as hell, with 25 knots of wind and nearly 10-foot seas. In addition, the courses were long and had lots of roundings. We were short-handed, so we only put the kite up once. I’d love to do the event again next year — but on somebody’s race boat. The one thing we did learn is that owners of cruising cats who think their boats can point as high as monohulls are clueless. The Voiles race committee and event organizers pulled out all the stops, and spent some big money on the production. I wish the emphasis had been a little bit more on fun — like the Banderas Bay Blast and Sea of Cortez Sailing Weeks — rather than an homage to money, but everyone was very friendly and I got to meet Luc Poupon. Le Select Bar is still a great place, although I don’t think the cheeseburgers are as good as they used to be. As for the Bar de O’ubli across the street from Le Select, we paid 12 euros for two ice creams. Wow! In late May we’ll head down to Trinidad, where we’ll leave our cat for hurricane season.”

With the cost of Alaska Airlines flights between Mexico and California spiking from time to time, lots of cruisers are opting to fly Volaris, the Mexican discount airline. While the airline does fly into Oakland and Los Angeles, it doesn’t do so from coastal cities. So many cruisers are using flights from La Paz, Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta to Tijuana, then crossing the border and continuing on with Southwest. They’re doing so because they’ve been getting P.V. to Tijuana tickets for as low as $39. John and Gilly Foy of the Alameda- and Punta Mita-based Catalina 42 Destiny flew Volaris from La Paz to Guadalajara. “Our plane was a new-looking Airbus 319 staffed by a very attractive and professional cabin crew, and our flight departed and arrived on time. It was a much better flying experience than we've had in the States recently. And since the fare was lower than for an overnight ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan, it was a no-brainer. After being a delivery crew on a Bash, I’ll be flying Volaris from Tijuana back to Puerto Vallarta."

A lot of Americans who haven’t been to Mexico assume that all the facilities and services south of the border are inferior. That's as big a load of poop as the U.S. government’s idiotic warning against traveling to Mexico. The truth is that the United States has fallen behind a number of Third World countries when it comes to all kinds of things, from flex fuel vehicles to reasonably-priced medical care. Speaking of the latter, a friend of ours recently had an emergency appendectomy in Puerto Vallarta. The total cost at an excellent facility with excellent care was $5,000 U.S. Want to take a stab at what it would have cost in the States?

That’s not to suggest that everything is perfect in Mexico. While dinghy thefts south of the border are usually rare, Harry Hazzard of the San Diego-based Beneteau Idylle 51 Distant Drum reports that that wasn’t the case at Barra de Navidad on Mexico’s Gold Coast this season. “Barra has always been known as a cruiser-friendly town, with a low-key atmosphere, a vast array of pubs, great restaurants, numerous little shops, and natural beauty. However, all of these good qualities were tarnished by the theft of nine outboards over the course of the season. Most of the dinghies stolen had been unlocked in the water behind boats. A quick search of the lagoon usually resulted in the dinghy being recovered but the valuable outboard gone. The thefts continued despite warnings being broadcast daily on the local cruisers' net. The good news is that after the influential owner of a hotel learned about it, a meeting was called that included the participation of the police, army, navy, hotel association, restaurant owners and others. They say that measures will be taken so there won't be similar thefts next season."

What do you call a cruiser who, despite being repeatedly warned about dinghy thefts in an given area, continues to leave his/her unlocked dinghy and outboard in the water overnight? "Foolish," is a word that comes to mind.

Singlehander Jim Brown was slated to do this year's Pacific Puddle Jump, but that trip will have to be delayed, as in early April his 35-ft wooden Chris Craft motorsailor Little Fawn was badly holed and on the bottom at the beach at Agua Verde in the Sea of Cortez. We're not sure how she ended up like that, but Mark and Vicki Reed of the Portland-based Ericson 38 Southern Cross, who arrived after Brown had been sleeping on the beach for a few days, report that he got lots of help from the cruising community. Thanks to the likes of Terry Kennedy of the Horstmann 45 trimaran Manta, Bill and Les of Optical Illusion, Jean-Guy of Gosling, and Martin and Robin Hardy of the San Pedro-based 52-ft trawler Cat's Meow, a combination of Splash Zone underwater epoxy and plywood sealed up the big hole so Little Fawn could be towed to Puerto Escondido, where she was hauled out. The repairs needed will be substantial, as her sampson post was ripped out and her mast pulled over by the first attempt to pull her off the beach. If Brown needs inspiration, he need look no farther than Cat's Meow, which towed his boat to Puerto Escondido. After a navigation error put the wooden trawler on the beach and she was declared beyond repair, owners Martin and Robin Hardy had her back together in just five months. It wasn't easy, but they did it.

We first cruised the Sea of Cortez in the late '70s, and have returned countless times. In fact, we've sailed there so many times we became jaded. But for whatever reason, it was as though we saw the Sea with new eyes this year. It made us realize once again what a unique and beautiful place it is — and one that can't be appreciated without a boat. One of the best things about it is that islands like Espiritu Santo, Partida, San Francisco, and all the rest haven't changed in thousands of years — to say nothing of the last 30+ years.

As for La Paz, like most of coastal Mexico, it’s looking more tidy and more upscale than ever — while still being friendly and funky. We met a guy who plans — when the real estate market comes back — to build a 200- to 400-boat marina in the lagoon to the northeast of Pichilingue. It won't be long before that many berths will be needed.

Missing the pictures? See the May 2010 eBook!


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