June, 2004

With reports this month from Gemini in Panama; Serendipity in the Caribbean; Kellowyn on the coral at Manihi; Runner in the San Blas Islands; Seafari in Guatemala; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Gemini - Albin Nimbus 42
Les Sutton & Diane Grant
Perlas Islands, Panama

The Perlas Islands - a remote cluster of tropical islands with lots of anchorages - is just 40 miles from the Panama Canal on the Pacific side of Panama. In our view, it's much nicer to be anchored off one of these sparsely-inhabited islands than it is to be living aboard in a marina. The fact that your next island destination in the Perlas is seldom more than 15 miles away makes everything in the area a daytrip - sort of like in the British Virgins. And even if you choose to ghost along in light winds watching the sea life, it's still so close that you don't have to resort to the motor to get there. The Perlas Islands have coconut-lined sandy beaches, colorful seashells, chattering parrots, fresh seafood, and nightly breezes - making it a camelot for cruisers.

The most unique experience we had in this island group was at Isla San Jose in the southern edge of the archipelago. There we met Dieter and Gerda, two Germans who sailed to Isla San Jose 20 years ago aboard their 28-ft steel ketch and set up camp. Unlike the typical retired couple in Central America, these two septuagenarians are living off the land in the true sense of the word - they have sheep, chickens, and wild hogs who feed on the fruit growing on trees that Dieter has planted over the years with Gerda's help. The determined couple work daily to keep the pamplemousse, oranges, lemons, papaya, mango, breadfruit, kapok, coconuts and bananas healthy - and safe from the hungry hogs, crocodiles, and other rapacious animals. They do all this while they live in two small cabins with little more than a stove, propane refrigeration, and an outhouse. They started all this while living aboard their small ketch, and moved ashore when the vessel succumbed to the elements.

Dieter reprovisions about four times a year, venturing the 50 miles to Panama City in his trusty mastless sailboat that's powered by a 25-hp outboard. He arrives in Panama City with a shopping list written in German - which Gerda wisely translates into Spanish, since Dieter speaks none of the native language. Once the shopping is done, he loads on food, cement, batteries, propane, and other essentials for the next few months. Oh yeah, and rum, too!

Dieter and Gerda have a wonderful tradition at their home - visitors are warmly welcomed, provided with a tour of their farm, and graciously entertained on the porch. The house specialty, de la paraiso, is a citrus-rum drink that makes it easy to understand how someone could lose track of time on this 10-square-mile island. Rum, however, is a precious commodity on the island, so it has become the unofficial currency in Dieter and Gerda's corner of the world. If you arrive at Isla San Jose, you'll probably be hailed on channel 16 within minutes and invited up for a visit. But Dieter will almost certainly remind you - don't forget the rum!

- les & diane 05/04/04

Serendipity - Peterson 44
Barritt Neal & Renee Blaul
Three Plus Years In The Caribbean
(San Diego)

A firefighter for 30 years, the closest you'll ever see Barritt Neal come to melting down is if you ask him whether he'd take Mexico or the Caribbean if he had to pick just one place to cruise. These two prime cruising areas are so different, but both have so many appealing qualities, that Neal, try as he may, was incapable of making such a decision.

Fortunately for Neal, he's never had to make that choice in real life. After putting in 30 years with the Department of Forestry in San Diego County - where he retired as chief in 1991 - he's spent much of his time cruising aboard Serendipity, the very last of the 299 Peterson 44s built.

Neal's first cruise upon retiring was singlehanded to the South Pacific, where he became friends with Jim and Sue Corenman of the then Alameda-based Schumacher 50 Heart of Gold, and Brian and Mary Alice O'Neill of the Seattle based Norseman 447 Shibui. Both of those couples were starting their circumnavigations. Neal's cruise was cut short at Bora Bora after 18 months when his mother took ill and he needed to return home.

In 1995, Neal and a buddy decided they'd do the second running of a crazy new sailing event, the Baja Ha-Ha. They not only had a good time in that least organized of all Ha-Ha's, they 'won' their class. The Grand Poobah was extremely chuffed to discover that to this day Neal keeps the little painted fish, awarded to all Ha-Ha finishers, hanging in Serendipity's main salon. This despite suggestions that he get rid of it.

After the Ha-Ha, Neal spent another two years cruising Mexico, which he loves dearly. In 1997, he met Renee. Because she's a registered nurse, Renee's services are always in demand. This enabled her to become a 'commuter cruiser', spending big chunks of time both on the boat in Mexico and working in San Diego.

Neal sailed back to San Diego in '99 - his fifth Baja Bash - and then he and Blaul took off on their current cruise in 2000. After spending a little more time in Mexico, they headed down to Costa Rica and Panama, where they found fewer boats and less development. "I prefer the wilder areas," says Neal, who has no interest in cruising in the Med.

In February of 2001, the couple transited the Canal and went out to the San Blas Islands for a month. As beautiful as the islands were, some of the Kuna Indians aren't always so nice. "The transvestites make the best-looking molas," says Blaul, "so when they came around selling them from their outboard-powered cayuca, we bought some."

"When the chief of the nearby island found out," says Neal, continuing the story, "he ripped us a new one for not buying the ones from the women on his island. We didn't know about the political hierarchy of the San Blas Islands, but we sure learned fast!"

Neal and Blaul then headed north to the Boca de Toros area near the Costa Rican border. "It was still undiscovered by cruisers, and there weren't any charter boats," says Neal. They continued further north through the Western Caribbean - Honduras, the Bay Islands, Guanaja, across to Belize, and up the Yucatan coast of Mexico. "We particularly enjoyed Tulum," says Neal. "The water was even clearer than here at St. Barth, and from on the boat at anchor we could look right up at the ruins. It remains one of the highlights of our cruise." They also enjoyed Isla Mujeres.

After waiting for a weather window, they crossed to Fort Jefferson and Key West, putting them back in the States for the first time in several years. They loved it! Key West wasn't far enough north for their insurance company, which didn't want them south of Savannah during hurricane season. "We worked our way up the Keys, then caught the Gulfstream outside of Miami - and started doing as much as 11 knots over the bottom!" laughs Neal. "Before we knew it, we were in Georgia and going up the Savannah River to the Palmer-Johnson facility at Thunderbolt, Georgia. It's the only marina we've been to that delivers the morning paper - and six Krispy Kreme doughnuts! - to your boat each morning."

Because Serendipity's mast is shorter than 65 feet, they had no trouble with the bridges on the IntraCoastal Waterway. "We loved the waterway," says Neal. "It was fun, for instance, hearing the neat accents people have in the south and the flavor they put in their speech." They also liked some of the unique stops along the Waterway, such as Coinjock, "home of the 32 ounce prime rib".

Over the years, a number of cruisers have complained to Latitude about the bugs in the Waterway. Neal and Blaul didn't have a problem with them. But the heat, humidity, and lightning were another story. "We continued on up to Norfolk, and then went to the Solomons, which is a very beautiful area, to haul the boat. It was midsummer, and we just about died doing the bottom. It was 105°, extremely humid, and there were two of the most intensive thunder and lightning storms we've ever seen. With strikes all around the yard, we finally climbed down the ladder from our boat and made a dash through the rain and into the boatyard restaurant. Just as we were about to order, a lightning bolt hit the building, blowing up the television!"

Having never been to the East Coast, Neal and Blaul continued on to Annapolis, which became their base for visiting all the historic sights in the region. They greatly enjoyed visiting the attractions and Annapolis itself. "It's humid and there isn't much of a breeze in Annapolis in the summer, but they do love their sailing," says Neal. "In San Diego, it's about 50-50 sailboats and powerboats. In Annapolis, it's about 95-5!" The couple were in Annapolis when terrorists struck on 9/11.

Neal and Blaul were surprised at how quickly the weather can turn cold on the East Coast. "We had ice on the docks in mid-October!" says Neal, not remembering anything like that ever happening in San Diego. "All our cold weather stuff was back in California, so we had to wear socks on our hands to keep our fingers from freezing on the way to South Carolina."

During their trip from Beaufort to Fort Lauderdale they hit some of their worst weather ever - but at the most unusual place. Rather than out at sea, it happened while they were at anchor at St. Augustine on the IntraCoastal Waterway. "There was a low that stayed right there, bringing 45 knots of wind, five feet of chop in the waterway, and torrential rain," remembers Neal. "Boats got beaten up against docks and many of the bridges over the Waterway had to be closed. It was just miserable! We couldn't even put our heads out the companionway, let alone risk a 100-yard dinghy ride to shore. Inflatables were cartwheeling behind boats, so I pulled the plug on ours, filling it with water to keep it from flipping. The blow lasted nearly three days."

The way Neal sees it, in California we have earthquakes and fires, while on the East Coast they have more extreme weather as well as lightning.

Just as there are various different schools of thought on getting from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean, there are different schools of thought on getting from Ft. Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean. The offshore option is a 1,400-mile non-stop L-shaped route that calls for sailing due east at 25°N until 65°W, at which point you head due south with the trades to the Virgins or St. Martin. A second option is to go by way of the so-called 'Thorny Path', which is a 1,300-mile interisland route that weaves through the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Hispanola, and Puerto Rico. Although there are frequent stops, it doesn't avoid any of the adverse wind or current, and because of the 'night lee' affect, most of the travelling has to be done between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m. Nonetheless, it's still popular with mariners who have small boats.

Since Blaul still isn't completely comfortable on longer offshore passages, Serendipity took the second option. Neal's verdict on it is clear: "Don't ever take the Thorny Path! It's 1,300 miles of strong winds and seas right on the nose. It's just like the Baja Bash - but nearly twice as long!"

Their only consolation is that they met some wonderful people, including the folks on their two buddyboats. One of boats was the the Mason 43 Quiet Woman, owned by the folks who operate the well-known Quiet Woman restaurant in Corona del Mar, California. The other boat, the Beneteau 44 Revival, was being sailed by a mother-daughter team. "The two women had very little experience, so they were quite nervous," says Neal. "But they wanted to learn everything, and they absorbed information like sponges. We buddyboated with those gutsy broads - who happened to be knockouts, too - all the way from Rum Key to Puerto Rico."

The 'Thorny Path' is a long and slow trip in large part because you only travel a couple of hours each day around dawn when the trades are the lightest. As such, Neal and Blaul spent Christmas of 2001 in Nassau, and didn't make it to the Eastern Caribbean until February. That's not bad, because lots of cruisers don't make it at all. Once they arrived at Georgetown in the Bahamas, they found life to be pretty good, and the prospects for the rest of the voyage to be daunting. So many abandon plans for going further that Georgetown has become known as 'Chickentown'. Since so many cruisers truncate their cruise at Chickentown, there is an endless variety of cruiser-specific activities - volleyball, potlucks, writers' groups, children's hours, etc.

Neal says one great thing about the Bahamas and Exumas is that they are not fished out. "We had lobster as often as we wanted, and always caught or dove for our dinner."

The couple also liked the Dominican Republic. "It's poor," says Blaul, "but the people are very sweet. When we walked into a store at the cruiser crossroads of Luperon, there was a big poster on the door of a store that read, 'We love America!' I liked the people of the DR almost as much as I like the people of Mexico."

Once the couple got to the Virgins, they particularly liked St. John. "Since I'm over 62, the National Park Service gave us half-off on the $15/night moorings," says Neal.

The couple continued all the way down the island chain. Bad weather kept them from the Classic Yacht Regatta in Antigua that year, but they did manage to stop at Bequia, where they enjoyed the people, and St. Lucia. Their final stop was Trinidad for hurricane season. Once there, Renee flew back to San Diego for the summer, while Neal took a $600/month berth at Crew's Inn in Chagaraumas. For the 2003 season, the couple sailed back up the island chain as far as the Virgins, before heading back down to Trinidad for another summer at Crew's Inn.

While in Trinidad, they met up with sometime San Diego resident Les Crouch, who keeps Maverick, the N/M 70 on which he circumnavigated, in the Caribbean. Neal was there while Crouch launched another boat, Storm, an R/P 44 all-carbon beauty that had been built in Trinidad. "We didn't know Les in San Diego," says Neal, "but did get to know him in Trinidad."

When we spoke to Neal and Blaul in late March, they were headed south down the island chain again, but this time to Venezuela to have the boat painted over the summer. "Our quote for the hull and deck is $6,000, not counting the paint. Our friends with Endless Summer had their boat painted there last year, and were very happy with the work and the price." The difference between getting a boat painted in Trinidad and in Venezuela is the time. Since it rains almost every day in Trinidad, the job can take months.

So having done numerous winter seasons in Mexico, and having made five trips up or down the Caribbean chain over a three-year period, which do Neal and Blaul prefer, Mexico or the Caribbean?

Blaul likes both places very much, but if forced to chose, would pick Mexico based on the fact that the people are so friendly and the sailing conditions aren't so challenging. "I also really love the Sea of Cortez, the quieter anchorages, and the food. You can't believe what they try to pass off as Mexican food on the East Coast!"

Neal isn't so sure. "We both really miss Mexico," he said. "I love P.V., the Sea of Cortez, the area between Tenacatita and Z-town, and Huatulco. I can't wait to get back there. But I'm also a sailor, and I really enjoy the stronger and more consistent winds in the Caribbean. I'm really glad we had our three years here."

After some mental anguish, Neal said, "I just can't pick between the two." He also noted that he was looking forward to returning to the "wilder" areas of Panama - such as the Chagres River, with its monkeys and crocs, and Costa Rica.

(A week after our interview, Neal, who had obviously still been pondering the Mexico versus Caribbean question, sent us an email: "My answer," he wrote, "is that you need to have a boat in both Mexico and the Caribbean!"

Other nuggets from the Reporter's Notebook:

- The couple love their Peterson 44, which was built in '81. "When it's blowing 30, we double reef the main, set the staysail, and she powers through - unlike many other cruising boats. And in many other situations, we can sail when others have to motor, and we still arrive ahead of them and in better shape."

- Neal cares about boat aesthetics. "I don't like to see cruising boats with big roll bars and all kinds of stuff sticking off the top and back. They remind me of the Mir spacecraft, not a boat."

- Renee on the difference between sailing in Southern California/Mexico and the Caribbean: "I remember sailing across to Catalina once when it was blowing 20 knots and being scared. It blows that hard everyday in the Caribbean. Once we took a friend from Southern California on a short but typical Caribbean sail, and later asked him how he liked it. "When I'm back home," he replied, "I wouldn't even take my boat out of the marina if it was blowing this hard."

- Although the couple don't keep track, they figure they spend about $1,000 to $1,500/month - although it could be more. "Dinners ashore are what busts a budget," says Neal.

- Quote from Renee. "I didn't realize how much I would enjoy cruising. It's a great life."

- Quote from Barritt: "You can't learn about cruising at the dock."

- latitude 03/29/04

Kellowyn - F-31 Trimaran
Curtis Nettleship
Musings From The South Pacific
(Pacific Northwest)

[The following report, which we have heavily edited, was forwarded to us by Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz. She originally met Nettleship, his ladyfriend and her daughter, when they were in Mexico with a combo kayak/sailboat/peddleboat, which could be sailed or peddled down a highway! Curtis later built Kellowyn in the wilds of Idaho, after first building a house there by hand - no power tools at all.]

I'm having a pretty good time here in the South Pacific - at least when I'm not having to make repairs to the boat. The latest part to need work is the daggerboard, which fell prey to what seems to be my inability to take the path of least resistance. In this case the resistance turned out to be a coral head lurking diabolically near the surface of the lagoon at Manihi Atoll in the Tuamotus. Actually, there were three coral heads, and it took me an hour to hit them all. All I can say is thank god for Kevlar, which I'd slapped on the bottom of my tri in anticipation of possible beach landings. I now realize it also has value when smashing the crap out of coral heads.

To all my environmentally-conscious friends, whose jolly company I so miss, don't worry about the coral heads. Left to her own devices, Nature will patch them in no time - perhaps even before the next round of nuclear bomb tests.

"Oh my, what a pessimist!" I hear some of you saying. "Hasn't he seen the Toyota commercial promising the new gas/electric hybrid. Not everyone drives a Hummer." When I get back home, I'm going to buy a Hummer - or whatever is the biggest vehicle at that time - and when I see one of those pussy 'green machines', they'll just be so much coral under the surface. I may not even get the satisfaction of watching the flotsam sputter out across the road in my rear view monitor, as my next rig is going to be so big that those pansy environmentalists will probably just get wedged up between the treads. I'll need a regular 'tire flossing.' I mean, this cruising around without the aid of fossil fuel is just plain scary, and goes some way toward explaining why we busted up so much coral. 

Anyway, here's how things have gone. Ben was standing on the top of the bow pulpit, the main and jib were up, we were doing six knots to weather. Then he started screaming, "Coral head to port, coral to starboard, oh dear god, coral ahead!" He finally screamed, "Shark!"

While raising the daggerboard and releasing the main and jib sheets, I tried to understand the significance of the presence of a shark. Our speed was down to around four knots by the time I got my hand on Kellowyn's kick-up rudder release line, a half second before it struck the top of a coral head. The rudder popped up nicely and suffered no damage. Nonetheless, Ben and I were both a little shaky, as the sun was going to be down in an hour and there didn't seem to be a safe anchorage in this god-forsaken atoll.

We headed back for the pass and for the relative safety of the open sea, as sailing around in the lagoon all night was simply unthinkable. Not only were there hundreds of coral heads, which our depth-sounder/fish-finder had already proven itself incapable of spotting - but also countless 'stations', which are the floating pearl farms, as well as unlit shanty huts erected on stilts atop coral shelves. These brought new meaning to the dream I'd had the night before, in which we sailed smack dab into the middle of someone's living room. It was a real embarrassment, what with our mast lying in pieces all over their furniture.  

Some may ask, "Why didn't you just toss your anchor off any old place and wait out the night." Well, even my friend Kenny - who never tires of extolling the virtues of chain and having an anchor or three aboard big enough to stick the Nimitz to an ice rink in a gale - would have trouble in this place. The depths were jumping from two feet to 200 feet in just a llama's spitting distance. We do carry two anchors, which are both adequate provided we find reasonable holding. We also have 50-ft of chain plus endless rode. If we weren't on a lightweight trimaran whose sailing performance demands she be kept light, we certainly would have had more and heavier ground tackle. That, of course, would have required a big and heavy windlass - and a big and heavy battery - rapidly adding weight to the tri. With just the light stuff, a strong back and gloves are all that's needed. But anchoring in the lagoon with our lightweight ground tackle was out of the question.

So we ended up back at the pass which leads out the lagoon and into the Pacific, perhaps just a half hour before sundown. The tide was low, however, so water was pouring in through the pass faster than we could sail out. We had to do something, so we headed for the small boat harbor where the local fishermen run their pirogues up on the beach. We hoped there was room there. There wasn't, so it started to look really ugly. With no other option, we threw our anchor off in the last sandy spot we were likely to see, which unfortunately was in the channel to the harbor, and dropped sail. We then ran a line to the rocks to prevent the tri from swinging, which would have thrown us up on more coral - which seemed to be everywhere.

It wasn't the most relaxing night, as the locals weren't happy about our blocking the channel in and out of their harbor, and there was some yelling. But nobody was injured, and I learned a few words of French I hopefully won't need in the future.

The life of a nomadic sailor has its appeal - although at times such as this, I'm at a loss to elaborate on what it might be. Right now, as we careen so quickly over the waves on our way to Tahiti that we knock jellyfish high enough to hit with a badminton racket, the idea of kicking back all snug in an armchair recliner sounds real good. Maybe click on the food channel and see what Emeril is whipping up. Perhaps enroll in a yoga class where my physical and spiritual well-being would be in the hands of a certified expert. Goodness knows I could use some help. 

But for now, it seems that I am committed. We've gone too far to turn back, and in any event the wind would be coming from the wrong direction on the way back. So it looks like with some luck I'll see you on the other side. But, see you I will, for if I have learned anything on this worrisome adventure, it is the value of a home life where family and friends are close at hand. Well, closer anyway. And I must say that no place beats the Northwest. True, the fruit here is incomparable, the fishing is great, and the sunsets are beautiful enough to make you cry. But it's damn near impossible to get a decent cup of coffee, and I'm getting tired of explaining that although I'm an American, it doesn't mean I favor my government's policies.

It's a big ocean. For 20 days we've been flying southwest across the Pacific, sailing so fast that the dolphins haven't been able to keep up. Yet we've only made it halfway across. Now I see how it is we can all still breathe, how it is that the Hummers, truck-o-pottomuses, and big ol' jet airliners and such haven't asphyxiated us all. It's because the ocean is real big, and no foolin', there's a lot of fish out here on clean up detail.

Some facts on our crossing: Our trip from Chacala, Mexico, to Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, was a dream. The trades blew a consistent 10 to 20 knots, and we didn't even get becalmed at the equator. We averaged 8 knots on our 14-day crossing, and our top speed was 23.3 knots.

Our approach to Tahiti was an entirely different story, as there was a bit of a typhoon there. We ended up beating into it for a day, with 10 miles of it being so severe that we were doing 14 knots into the waves. That's something I can't recommend, as the hard pounding tore the forward bulkhead away from the main hull, adding more repairs to the already long list.

- curtis 04/05/04

Readers - This is what the Guide To Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia by Patrick Bonnette and Emmanuel Deschamps, has to say about navigation and anchoring in Manihi: "Almost all of the lagoon is navigable, and the wildest places are located in the northeast section. In the proximity of the village is a good anchorage leeward of the coast and the winds from the northeast, with a sandy bottom of five to six meters. You can also anchor near the Hotel Manihi Pearl Beach Resort, situated close to the airport, in eight to 10 meters with a sandy bottom. This anchorage is exposed to the east wind, however, and getting ashore may be difficult. The village of Paeua is typical of the Tuamotus atolls. It has a small harbor that is well-sheltered, where you can get ashore with no problems. You can anchor your yacht in front of the harbor, but watch out for the numerous coral heads where your anchor can get hung up."

When it comes to cruising without an engine, one obviously becomes extremely dependent on the wind and unusually vulnerable to currents. As such, one has to plan far in advance to avoid being caught in situations where the sun is going down and there is no good place to anchor. Lyn and Larry Pardey, having sailed relatively low performance engineless boats around the world for decades, are the gurus for this kind of cruising. It's inexpensive and very clean, but in many ways it's also very limiting and inefficient - and can be very dangerous.

Runner - Stadell 48
Reg & Debbie Miner
The San Blas Islands
(New York)

Reg and Debbie have been living aboard in the tropics for nearly 10 years now, and split their time almost exclusively between the East Hollandes Cays in Panama's San Blas Islands, and Cartagena, Colombia. That they came to be together - let alone on a sailboat in the tropics - is remarkable. For one thing, Reg is a Canadian boy and Debbie is from Australia. They met by chance while drinking at the Star & Garter Bar on 13th Street in Manhattan.

When they decided to get into boating, they looked for a waterski boat. Unable to afford one big enough to ski behind, they went partners with a friend in a Morgan Out-Island 33 sailboat. "That partnership lasted for five years," says Reg, "and it worked out great. Debbie and I subsequently bought Runner for ourselves, while my old partner bought the sailboat formerly owned by Geraldo Rivera."

When Reg and Debbie bought Runner 11 years ago, they moved aboard her in Manhattan. (Well almost. Don't tell anyone, but they actually lived aboard in Jersey City, which is across the Hudson River from Manhattan. They don't like to admit it because of the stigma of being 'bridge and tunnel' people.) There aren't a lot of liveaboards in the immediate New York area," says Reg, "but there are some." The Miners paid $500/month for their slip, reflecting both the high prices of the short summer season and the lower rates of winter.

And yes, it did get cold in winter. "There's nothing like having to shovel snow off the deck of your boat," laughs Reg, the tropical sweat of Panama dripping off his brow. The Miners enjoyed living aboard in the New York area. "During the cold six months of the year, we'd ski every weekend," says Debbie, "and during the warm six months of the year, we'd sail every weekend."

"New York is a wonderful cruising area," says Reg. "Most weekends we'd go up Long Island Sound to places like Port Washington. It's also very beautiful and there are lots of yacht clubs if you go up the Hudson to the Palisades. Block Island is nice and only 120 miles away - but that was still too far for our weekend trips."

In the fall of '96, the couple left New York, one of the most crowded and intense places in the world, and eventually ended up in the San Blas Islands, one of the least populated and most relaxed places on earth. "We began by going down to Beaufort, North Carolina, where we realized our boat wasn't ocean ready," says Reg. "So we picked up a liferaft, watermaker, SSB, and that kind of stuff. We had ambitious cruising plans - being at the International Dateline for the Millenium, New Zealand for the America's Cup, Australia for the Olympics, and all that. Well, we did the Bahamas, the Virgins, and the Eastern Caribbean chain, and enjoyed ourselves. But when we got to the San Blas Islands in March of '98, that was it! We didn't think there could possibly be a better place in the world, so we've been either here or Cartagena ever since."

The couple would stay in the San Blas Islands year round were it not for Panama requiring visitors to leave every six months. More specifically, if they could, the Miners would stay just off a little unnamed island - one of the 365 in the San Blas - in the east Hollandes Cays. They've come to think of the flat, palm-covered, Alcatraz-sized island as their own, and now rarely go anywhere else.

The couple jokingly refer to it as "our island" because they spend so much time there and because they take care of it. When they first arrived, the little island was a natural mess, much of it overgrown with ivy, palm fronds, and other debris laying about. "Just for the fun of it," Reg started to clear and tidy the island up. Before long it was in pretty good shape. He still goes ashore every day to do a little cleaning, but now it mostly consists of clearing the dozen or so palm fronds that fall during a typical night.

Debbie's thing is snorkeling. Most days she'll spend two or three hours diving at her favorite spots, looking at coral, under coral, and just about everywhere else to find fish for the three aquariums she keeps in Runner's pilothouse. "There is fabulous snorkeling in the San Blas Islands," Debbie says, "as the water is so clear and there are so many different kinds of fish." About every two weeks she swaps out the fish in her aquariums for new ones. Some of Debbie's favorite dive spots are as far as four miles away, but she's not worried about an outboard breakdown. "The layout of the islands is such that I could make it back by a combination of swimming and walking," she says.

Reg isn't big on snorkeling, and neither he nor Debbie go after fish for food. "I'd be a diver if you could go down there and spear steaks and chops," he jokes.

Having found their little bit of paradise in the East Hollandes, the Miners don't go to Porvenir or Boca de Toros, let alone Colon, Panama. "We like the beauty of this particular place," says Reg, "as we can see many of the other islands, the mainland, and we can watch the waves that come all the way from Africa to crash on a reef just a couple of hundred feet from us. Because this island is about as far away as you can get from the mainland, the water is clearer than anywhere else, and it changes color a little each day. We love the tranquility, as there's never very many cruisers - or even Kunas - around. And during the rainy reason - which lasts from May until almost the end of the year - it's very secure in abnormal weather."

Despite the fact that the nearest road is 45 miles away, the Miners have no trouble getting supplies. "Over all the years we've figured out ways to have stuff delivered to us. Thanks to all the airports built during World War II, it's not hard. For example, when we needed a new outboard, the dealer in Panama City sold us a new Yamaha 15 for $1,600 - and had it delivered to us here by airplane for just another $30. Another time we needed a barrel of new 3/8 Acco chain - the good stuff. We had that delivered out here, too. If you had a big enough order of groceries from Rey Supermarket or booze from a big liquor store, I'm sure somebody would deliver it for $5 or so."

What's more, the Miners have managed to get some significant boat work done out at their little island, which is at least 20 miles from the nearest electric light. "We wanted a hardtop to replace the soft dodger covering our cockpit," explains Reg, "so we got the supplies from Panama and Cartagena. Then I helped a friend build it right here on the hook." They did a very professional job on it, too.

On another occasion, the Miners decided they needed to repair the bottom of their mast, which had corroded badly at the step. Rather than use a crane at a boatyard, they had Melodi and Bagoas raft up on either side of them, and lifted the mast off the step - right there at anchor! It stayed lifted for a couple of days until the repairs could be completed. It just goes to show what can be done with a little intelligence and a lot of determination.

The Miners stay in touch with the outside world via radio. They are active on nets such as the Panama Connection, the Panama Pacific Net, the Northwest Caribbean Net, and the Central American Breakfast net. There used to be a VHF net in the San Blas Islands, but it went silent several years ago.

"Thanks to the radio, we're able to know what's going on," says Reg. "For example, we were able to follow Profligate's episode of replacing the saildrives here in Panama last December."

When we talked to the Miners in early May, it was the beginning of the rainy season, which is the time with the least boats. They estimated there were 30 to 40 cruising boats in all the San Blas at the time. "During the high season in December and January," says Debbie, "there might be a maximum of 75 boats."

At the time we visited, there were seven other boats in the anchorage, and they'd had a big party the night before on the Miners' island. "One great thing about being in this part of the world," says Reg, "is that you meet people from all over. At the party last night, we had Austrians, Australians, Italians, Germans, a couple from the Canary Islands, and a token American. Recently, we had two boats here from Turkey. One was well over 100 feet, the other was quite small."

When they have to leave their paradise in the San Blas Islands, the Miners head for Cartagena. "It's called the gem of the Caribbean," says Reg, "and we won't argue with that. It's beautiful, and it's certainly inexpensive. For example, if you want to go all out with a three-course meal with cocktails, wine, steak, lobster, and desert, you can figure on $12 each. And there are more modest meals for much less."

Colombia is certainly a country beset by crime, but Cartagena is, by all accounts, relatively safe. "We feel more secure there than we do in big American cities," says Reg. "There's only one or two streets I wouldn't walk down at night in Cartagena. Otherwise you can just wander. And the people are so nice. If you're looking for something and one store doesn't have it, they happily tell you where you can find it."

There are two places for boats to stay in Cartagena: Candelaria Bennett's Club Nautico and the Club Pesca. "The more nerdy cruisers tend to go to Club Pesca, which is more formal and staid," says Reg. "If you enjoy a little fun and drama - as do most of us - Club Nautico is a wonderful place. There's a little more theft in the bay than there used to be. We think that's because when Norman Bennett was around, he had his own vigilante squad to keep things under control."

The Miners have also had Runner hauled at Todomar in Cartagena three times. As with all yards, they say you have to oversee the work, but the craftsmanship is good, they are great at fabricating stuff, and the prices are low. There's another yard, Feracem, located next door, that they say is also good.

Lots of people are searching for that perfect place. The Miners have found theirs just off the mainland coast of Panama.

- latitude 5/09/04

Seafari - Mapleleaf 54
Brad & Audrey Sonka
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
(San Diego)

On January 2, we and our two Siamese cats left San Diego on an open-ended cruise south, our first major goal being the Caribbean. After visiting the many developed bays of mainland Mexico, we were anxious to explore some of the less developed bays of Central America on our way to Panama. Our plan was to leave our boat at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, so we could travel inland. However, we were soon to discover that currently there is no place at Puerto Quetzal for cruisers to leave their boats for even a short time. As such, we're currently anchored at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, and will be travelling back to Guatemala by bus!

We arrived in Puerto Quetzal on April 23, the first of a group of 12 boats who were making a rhumbline passage across the Gulf of Tehuantepec from beautiful Huatulco, Mexico. Our plan was to anchor beside the new marina - which we'd been told was ready for business - for seven to 10 days. Unfortunately, the marina wasn't anywhere near being ready to accommodate any boats. Furthermore, the report of an adequate anchorage was merely wishful thinking.

We contacted the port captain via radio for permission to enter the harbor, and were instructed to anchor in 18 feet of water in front of the Guatemalan Naval facility at the west end of the tiny harbor. The Guatemalan authorities then asked that Brad pick them up for inspection and check-in. As Brad met with the various authorities on the dock, the port captain asked him to relocate our boat a very short distance away next to the head of the cruise ship pier. This didn't appear to be a safe anchorage for a boat our size, but the Guatemalan Navy insisted that we had to move our boat from in front of their facility.

As this was happening, the second boat in our group - Delphinus, a Mayotte 47 catamaran with Bruce Swegler and Randall Sparks - arrived. We directed them to the head of the cruise ship pier, which was right off the marina entrance - which was too narrow and shallow to enter. After they got their anchor down, we told them we'd ferry the authorities to their boat as soon as they completed their check-in of Seafari.

Brad arrived back at Seafari with five Guatemalan officials. All five were very pleasant and introduced themselves. I served ice water as we completed our paperwork. The officials held and petted our two cats. One official went below for all of one minute, looked around, opened two cupboards for a peek, and returned to the cockpit. That was it for the inspection. The officials spent all of 15 minutes on our boat before heading off for Delphinus. We and the boat were charged $150 for the privilege of checking into Guatemala.

With the inspection complete, we raised anchor to re-anchor in the place the officials indicated. It wasn't a good spot, as the water was 40 feet deep and there was only room to let out 100 feet of rode - not even half of what we consider adequate. As Seafari swung in the wind describing a 45° arc, our depthsounder would go from 40 feet to 15 feet. Sometimes our transom was just five feet from the operating dredge. After the workers on the dredge yelled and gestured at us to beware of the dredge - believe me, we were aware! - they soon gave up and returned to their work.

The port officials had also informed us that a cruise ship was expected the next day, so that we would have to move to another location the next day. Unfortunately, there was no other location. Meanwhile, Otter, an Island Packet 38 that was the third boat in our group, squeezed in next to Delphinus and dropped their anchor. Like us, they weren't able to put out sufficient rode, and their stern soon came right up to a sandbar marker.

As this was going on, the captain of a small sportfishing boat told Brad that the previous week a visiting boat had been asked to move three times in two days, and that despite 200 feet of rode, had dragged when it blew 30 knots. That skipper and his boat were stranded at the dock - where there was only space for one boat - until the dredge moved to a new location.

We very quickly realized that no other boats from our group - which were expected to arrive in less than 24 hours, and who were monitoring our 'Tehuantepec Net' every hour for details on the anchorage and clearing procedures for Guatemala - could fit into the tiny anchorage. Based on our report, the majority elected to continue a day or so further to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, with a smaller number going another 36 miles to Barillas Marina, also in El Salvador.

No other boats in our group even attempted to enter the harbor at Puerto Quetzal, and Otter, having evaluated the situation, quickly left before the officials even got to them. We and the crew of Delphinus, realizing this was an untenable situation, went ashore to get our documentation back so we could proceed south. It took a few hours, but our paperwork was finally processed and returned to us. We did not, however, get our $150 back. Because they had six people, Delphinus had paid $210. They didn't get their money back either.

In summary, the Puerto Quetzal Marina is not ready to accommodate cruising sailboats or powerboats. They still have two small dredges working all day, and have not finished driving pilings for the floating docks. The biggest boat that could fit into the marina would be a 35-ft powerboat that had a draft of less than four feet.

Although it was a disappointing experience, we want to emphasize that the port authorities were very professional and polite. We were led to understand that it was the Commandant of the Navy who had made the decision to close the anchorage that had previously been open to cruisers. In any event, even that closed anchorage could have only accommodated a handful of boats. Maybe we'll reconsider returning to Puerto Quetzal again when the marina is actually open and ready for business. Next week we'll be taking a bus trip back to Guatemala from Bahia del Sol, because we sure don't want to miss Guatemala.

P.S. Like many of us new cruisers out here, we have been vicariously cruising for many years, following the exploits of others in your magazine. All of a sudden, we know many of the people, boats, and places that have been mentioned in the pages of Latitude!

- brad and audrey 4/25/04

Cruise Notes:

Flash! The news out of Cabo is that construction has begun on a new 625-berth marina - financed by the owner of Corona Beer - at nearby San Jose del Cabo. Many thought the amount of dredging required was going to make such a marina cost-prohibitive. More next month.

Some people contend that everyone in the First World is the embodiment of evil, while everyone in the Third or Developing World has some sort of inherent nobility. We don't buy it. We were recently at Panama's San Blas Islands, home of the Kuna Indians, and found some aspects of the place discouraging. For one thing, the water surrounding densely populated Wichubhuala Island was littered with garbage - as much as collects in the crook of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in front of the Chart House restaurant. You could tell the Kunas just didn't care about the trash because they were swimming in it. Having sailed 1,150-miles from Antigua with 11 people aboard Profligate, we'd accumulated about a dozen bags of garbage that, having festered in the tropical heat for nearly six days, was very ripe. So ripe that we kept most of it in the engine rooms away from our noses. As much as we wanted to dispose of it, we dared not pay the Kunas to take it away, because we knew they'd throw it in the ocean. The second thing we found discouraging was that we got punk'd by a couple of Kuna rascals. They came by and sold us a nice lobster and some crabs - neglecting to mention that the lobster was out of season. These guys weren't impoverished, they were tricksters. Once we got the seafood, we had to eat it - but the lobster didn't taste so sweet.

"I took delivery of my new Switch 51 catamaran Beach House in France in late April," writes Scott Stolnitz of Huntington Beach. "After we left Sete on April 22, we got hit with 27-35 knots of wind - with gusts to 45 knots - off Cabo Creus and Cabo San Sebastian. This is the border area between France and Spain that is known as the 'Cape Horn of the Med'. I hadn't sailed in that much wind in 25 years. Carrying just a double-reefed main and a staysail, Beach House covered 120 miles in the first 10 hours - and hit a stop speed of 19 knots! Even though there were eight-foot breaking seas, the cat handled wonderfully. A sistership that had sailed through the same area the day before on the way to the Palma de Mallorca Boat Show hit 23.5 knots. The only big problem with my cat was that the watermaker didn't work, necessitating a day's delay in Mallorca until a technician could get to it. Once he was done, we were making 42 gallons/hour of pure water. I'm now back in Los Angeles for a planned week of work to keep my business solvent. My crew are now hugging the south coast of Spain on their way to Gibraltar. I'll be returning to the cat as soon as I can. Remember the Molitor family of Seattle - Scott and Stacey, with children Lauren, 9, and Clay, 7 - whom Latitude interviewed last February aboard their Switch 51 Willyflippit in Guadeloupe? I just got a report they're on their way from the Marquesas from the Galapagos."

Here's some good news for a change. Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of just about everybody, Palm Island Resorts has withdrawn from the controversial plan to manage world-famous Tobago Cays, the only national park in the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Vincent & The Grenadines. The idea of having a private company manage a national marine park on a profit-sharing basis with the government set off alarm bells locally, regionally, and internationally. A group called the Friends of Tobago Cays, made up of stakeholders at all levels, came together so quickly and forcefully that the private-public arrangement couldn't stand the pressure. Naturally, the 'Friends' are delighted with the outcome, for not only have they stopped the private management of this national park, but they've got the organization and momentum to ensure that the park will be run on a sustainable basis. Despite the fact that the Tobago Cays are one of the more popular charter destinations in the Caribbean, cruising guide author Chris Doyle notes that some of the marine life that has been absent for 20 years - such as the eagle rays and turtles - has started to return.

Since we're talking about the Caribbean, we should mention that before departing Antigua for Panama, we crossed paths with Hotel California Too, the only cruising version of a Santa Cruz 70 ever built. She's owned by Steve Schmidt, formerly of the South Bay, who has pretty much 'gone native' in the Caribbean for close to a decade now. He's looking very tan, fit, and in tune with nature. Hotel California Too is an interesting 70, with a cut-down rig, an open area aft where the inflatable can be pulled aboard, water-ballasting, and a very open and spacious interior.

"I'm in Tobago now," Schmidt emailed us about a week later, "getting ready for the last race of Tobago Sailing Week, one of my favorite events in the Caribbean. After that, I will be chilling on the reefs of Venezuela for 4-6 weeks, then I'll fly back to Santa Barbara in late June to see family." We'll have more on Schmidt - who says he could happily live 12 months a year cruising in the Caribbean - in an upcoming issue.

It can be damn hard coming north along the Central Coast of California in the spring. Paul Plotts, owner of the great 71-ft San Diego-based schooner Dauntless, tried valiantly to make it up the coast for another Master Mariner's Regatta this year, but the pre-Memorial Day northwesterlies just wouldn't let him. "For two weeks we tried to get to San Francisco," he wrote. "In our last foray, it took us five hours to get by Pt. Sur in 35 to 40-knot winds with 15-ft seas. Ultimately we had to give up." One of the signs of good seamanship is knowing when not to press on. Although Dauntless missed the Master Mariners, we expect she'll be at the McNish Classic Regatta sailed out of Channel Islands Harbor on August 7.

During the Nicaragua to Acapulco leg of Profligate's trip back to California, the crew noticed a boat sailing in the opposite direction. It turned out to be Gene Menzie and crew aboard his Tartan 33 Nereus, which for many years had been based out of Nuevo Vallarta. Menzie is such an interesting fellow that we did an interview with him last year. We would have run it, too, had it not disappeared to an unknown part of our hard drive. We plan to re-do that interview the next time we see him. Among Menzie's many contributions is being a co-founder of the Banderas Bay Regatta. Furthermore, over the years he took many local kids, sailing novices all, as racing crew in that regatta - and still usually won his class. More recently, Menzie headed up Robert Membrano's Puesta del Sol Hotel and Marina project in Nicaragua. In fact, a couple of months ago, he delivered Membrano's San Diego-based Peterson 46 Puesto del Sol to Nicaragua. Since he's now delivering his own boat to Nicaragua, you've got to figure he's planning on staying awhile. We just learned that there's an excellent surf break in front of the Puesta del Sol property that faces the ocean. The break is so good that a wetsuit company recently hosted an international surf contest there.

Dennis Biby of the Keehi Lagoon-based Sun Po - and formerly Pier 39 - has put together a well-organized and effective website that illustrates the poor job the State of Hawaii has done running their harbors - which are a disgrace. If you don't believe us, visit www.hawaiiboaters.org. It's got the photos and the facts. As most mariners know, the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Honolulu has had to close countless berths because they were unsafe. That's a lot of revenue flying out the window. On second thought, can't be all that much money, as the state only charges $2.90/ft to $4.10/ft for berthing. Those folks must be living in the '70s. Further contributing to the terrible situation is that the state is wasting incredible amounts of money - such as paying $1,000/day for a vacant acre of land. www.hawaiiboaters.org posted the story that first appeared in Environment Hawai'i. Here's an excerpt:

"Seven years ago, Environment Hawai'i reported on the state's lease of an acre of privately-owned vacant land at Ma'alaea Harbor on Maui's southern coast. The lease, with real estate agent Don Williams, locked the state into 30 years of rent that allowed Williams a minimum 8% return on the value of his property, subject to escalating biannual reappraisals. And my, how those appraisals have escalated. From an initial agreed-upon valuation of $1.8 million in 1994, Williams now calculates the state's rent based upon a $4 million appraisal done at his behest in 2002. Even this, according to Williams, is a gift to the state. He claims the property is actually worth $6.3 million. And even as mortgage rates reached historical lows in 2002, the state, under lease terms, was paying Williams' rent that gave him an 8.75% return on his appraised value. Recently, the poor state of public facilities at Ma'alaea Harbor has been described in news stories. The harbor is used as a staging area for snorkel and sportfishing tours, yet there is just one working toilet for men, and two for women. Most boats using the harbor, which is managed by the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, have to pump their bilges at sea, since the harbor has no suitable sewage pump-out station. Moorings are ancient. The parking spaces available to the public are rarely enough. Some commercial tour operators have to lease parking space for their customers from the nearby Ma'alaea Triangle shopping center. Harbor users have complained that the money they pay to use the facilities is not being spent at Ma'alaea. The fact is, plenty of the revenue in the Boating Special Fund is being spent at the harbor, but much of it - more than $333,000 a year - is being flushed away on the Williams lease, leaving the state with nothing to show for its money. And unless the state manages to purchase the land or buy their way out of the lease, the state can look forward to paying out at least that much - and probably much more - for the next 20 years, the term remaining on the lease."

By our calculations it takes the berth fees from about 160 40-ft boats paying the maximum State of Hawaii rate just to pay for one unused acre of land at Ma'alaea Harbor. No wonder the infrastructure at Hawaii's harbors is in such bad shape. We've said it before and we'll say it again, the State of Hawaii has repeatedly demonstrated that they are incapable of running harbors. In the best interests of everyone, they should be privatized.

We don't know what it is about the Acapulco YC, but it seems to breed loyal employees. Harbormaster Jose Marquas has been there for 32 years - and he's one of the newcomers! Efigenio Garcia, the Head Waiter; Pablo Lorenzo, Head of Reception; and Jose Angelcaro, also Reception, have all been there for 39 years. In addition to being great guys, they have terrific memories, and are able to recall many boats and crews - even those who haven't been by in years. The Acapulco YC is a good one, so if you find yourself in the area, be sure to stop by.

Can't find a copy of Jim Elfers' The Baja Bash, his guide to bringing a boat from Cabo back up the coast to San Diego? The good news is that he's releasing it to the public domain so we can post it on the Latitude website. A final version of it will be up soon.

Having recently become the Marina Manager at the soon-to-be-opened Marina Costa Baja just outside of La Paz, Elfers is too busy to do any writing right now. According to him, Mexican Manual Arango bought the property 30 years ago with a vision of creating something very special - and his dream is now close to becoming a reality. The $35 million that's being put into the luxury home, hotel, and 270-slip marina complex is, according to Elfers, the largest private or public investment ever made in La Paz. The hotel will be run by Fiesta Americana, while the marina will be managed by Elfer's employer, the Bellport Group of Newport Beach. "The marina is geared toward the higher end of the market and larger boats - we'll even have a number of berths set aside for 120-footers," says Elfers. "The marina will have Newport Beach-type amenities, and will be run at Newport Beach standards." Although Costa Baja's market is the upper-end boatowners, it will also indirectly benefit more budget-oriented cruisers. That's because by next fall the marina will have doubled La Paz's supply of slips, meaning it's more likely there will be open slips during the high season at Marina de La Paz and Marina Palmira. As you might expect, the Costa Baja complex will have a yacht club, pools, restaurants, and a free shuttle service to town eight miles away. Elfers is delighted to report that owner Arango is a very environmentally-oriented guy. "While building the marina, we found some live coral. Arango paid for biologists to scoop it up by hand and transplant it." If you're interested in a berth at an upmarket marina in La Paz for this summer or winter - with discounts of up to 30% for the first six months - or give him a call at 011-52-612-12-16210.

Wow, 270 new slips in La Paz, and eventually - it's not certain when - 625 new slips at San Jose del Cabo! Real estate, which has already been on fire in Southern Baja with the arrival of U.S. title companies, is bound to boom even more.

Over the years, both Iridium and Globalstar satphones have been sponsors of the Baja Ha-Ha, which has given the Grand Poobah/Wanderer opportunity to use both of them - at least in Mexico. We used the Iridium phone shortly after the service was introduced four years ago, and at the time about 80% of the calls on the way to Cabo went through. The sound quality was not, however, very good. For the last several Ha-Has, we've used a Globalstar phone. About 90% of those calls went through, and the sound quality was superb.

For our 25th anniversary cruise to the Caribbean this winter with Profligate, we decided to take a Globalstar phone because we knew it had excellent sound quality and because the Globalstar coverage map - see the accompanying illustration - indicated that there would be coverage all along our route. There was not, and we now know we should have taken an Iridium. Based on countless failed or dropped Globalstar calls, we reluctantly have to conclude that the Globalstar coverage map is a work of fiction. Our Globalstar phones didn't work south of Acapulco to the Panama Canal, and from the Canal over to the Eastern Caribbean. Even in the Eastern Caribbean the service was unreliable. Maybe they don't have enough satellites or maybe it has something to do with the fact the satellites have to be shut down for recharging. But the system doesn't work in those areas.

Some of the crewmembers on Profligate brought along Iridium phones, and these phones always worked. The surprise was that the Iridium sound quality has improved dramatically. It's not quite up to Globalstar standards, but it's perfectly acceptable to us. Our verdict? Globalstar is fine - even superior to Iridium - in Mexico. Beyond Mexico and offshore, Iridium is the only option because Globalstar phones just don't work.

Instant communication, of course, can be a curse offshore. The last thing anybody needs to hear while enjoying offshore solitude is somebody checking stock prices or yelling instructions to employees back home. On the other hand, sometimes there is no substitute for instant communication. Several hours before Profligate arrived in Acapulco, we received an email at our office saying that one of the crewmembers had to call home ASAP because of a family emergency. Using our Skymate email service, we sent an email to the boat. As soon as a satellite passed over - only a short time later - the crew was alerted there was a message. Getting the email, the crewmember used the Iridium satphone to call home and find out that his aged father had suffered two heart attacks. But thanks to the satphone, the crewmember was both able to speak with his father, and later make reservations to fly out of Acapulco immediately. So in some cases, the ability to communicate is priceless.

Coincidence or are they all using the same satellite? Just before the northwesterly bound Profligate reached Acapulco, the XM satellite radio system kicked in, the Globalstar satphone started working regularly, and the Skymate email system went from being in contact with a satellite 23% of the time to 38% of the time. Maybe all three systems work off the same bird.

"In the past we've read about the obsession some cruisers in Mexico seem to have with the weather," write Kirby and Pam Coryell of the Lafayette-based Tayana 52 Beach Music, "and now we've experienced it firsthand. On a trip from Navidad to Puerto Vallarta, we stopped over at Chamela. During an electrical storm one night, the wind peaked at 22 knots - no big deal. The next day we were hailed by boats going south, warning us to take shelter as a 50-knot storm was coming. Then I heard them discuss the winds from the night before - which had suddenly jumped in strength from 22 to 35 knots! The southbound boats pulled in to wait out the 'storm', while we continued on our way to Puerto Vallarta. We never saw wind over 12 knots. We're convinced that many cruisers in Mexico embellish wind speeds, and/or don't understand the difference between true and apparent windspeed.

"We love the reports on 'Lectronic from the Caribbean," the Coryells continue, "and note that the recent ones have been sent by way of the Skymate email system. We installed this system in less than two hours last June before the start of the TransPac, and it's worked perfectly all the way to Hawaii, in the Pacific Northwest, and now in Mexico. The software is so easy to use that there is no learning curve. Skymate is the coolest and most reliable communications equipment on our boat. It has a green light that indicates when you have mail, and you send emails by dropping them into an 'out' basket. When a satellite goes overhead, they are automatically sent out. The equipment is less expensive than an SSB modem, and will only improve with time - as opposed to SSB technology, which is out of the '50s. The downside of Skymate is it only accepts text with limited files, and is too expensive for long messages."

What would you do if you were having a gigantic 70-ft Shuttleworth catamaran built in New Zealand, and you learned that the builder had underestimated the man-hours needed by 34,000? Yes, 34,000! If you were Don Engle of the East Bay, you'd schedule a meeting with the builder, who may be on the verge of going bankrupt if the deal isn't renegotiated. But first, you'd charter a Moorings 47 catamaran in Tonga. Even that wasn't easy, for when Engle and the other charter guests were ready to board the Royal Tongan jet for Tonga, they learned it had been repossessed! At least they had a fabulous time sailing in Tonga, and when it was all over, Engle worked out a new deal with the builder that he hopes will see his giant cat splash on August 23.

"My new Atlantic 55 cat Javelin is still in the British Virgin Islands," reports multihull designer Chris White of South Dartmouth, Mass. "I packed her up after the BVI Spring Regatta in which we won the multihull class. It was great being able to duke it out with Skyjack; we were consistently faster upwind and slower downwind. Having been away so much since last December, I then had to fly back to work. I'll be sailing Javelin to Bermuda in June, as my wife wants the cat in Massachusetts for the summer. I'm resisting, as it's too crowded, too cold, and the assholes are starting to outlaw anchoring just about everywhere. I can't think of any reason to be here with a boat like Javelin in July and August. I hope to spend some of next winter in the Western Caribbean, as various friends have been consistently giving Belize/Honduras/Rio Dulce high marks. It's supposed to have great fishing and diving, nice sailing behind the reefs, and not be so crowded."

"Not everyone likes catamarans," reports Blair Grinols of the Vallejo-based 46-ft Capricorn Cat, who most recently has been in Tonga and Western Samoa. "The following report is from Rixzene of the 63-ft Ted Brewer-designed aluminum monohull Karmaladen:"

"With our batteries and stuff having arrived in Majuro, Marshall Islands, Joanna and I jumped aboard Capricorn Cat in Aur, along with Keith and Susan Levy of C'est La Vie, to sail to Majuro and pick up stuff for six boats. For years people have told me that catamarans are more stable than monohulls, so I was really interested to see for myself. Well, it blew 25 knots with 12-ft seas, and we did the 63-mile trip in six hours. Perhaps I'm just familiar with the motion of my own boat, but I found the quicker and jerkier motion of the cat in such big seas to be more uncomfortable than our monohull. I was down most of the trip back to Aur, as the boat was slamming into the big seas. I felt every bump and jar. So I'm not really enthused about a catamaran now, but certainly would get one when I stop crossing oceans, as cats are quick and comfortable in light winds and moderate seas."

Rixzene is correct, catamarans do have a quicker and jerkier motion. As almost all catamaran sailors - including Bruno Peyron, Grant Dalton, Steve Fossett, and the Wanderer - will tell you, catamarans are at their worst sailing upwind in big seas. As Peyron famously said while establishing a new Jules Verne Record with the maxi cat Orange, "I'd gladly reach 200 miles rather than sail 100 miles upwind in a cat." Indeed, if all sailing were upwind in 12-ft seas, we'd have kept Latitude's Ocean 71 Big O rather than have gotten a catamaran. Of course, we're not Blair Grinols, who at age 70 doesn't let anything stop him and his cat, which has put more miles beneath her daggerboards in the last eight years than just about any boat we can think of.

"Can you remember the last time the harbormaster shook your hand and welcomed you to port after guiding you to your guest slip in the marina?" ask Bruce Schwegler and Donn Erickson of the Portland-based Mayotte 47 cat Delphinus. "Well, we got that most pleasant welcome from Señor Enrique Laclette, who speaks English fluently, at Marina Chahuè (Cha-WAY) in Huatulco, Mexico. Built in 2001 by Fonatur, the Mexican tourist development agency, Marina Chahuè is a modern marina on the eastern side of Huatulco in Bahia Santa Cruz. Locally known as Bahia Chahuè, it's not yet on Charlie's Charts. The marina monitors channel 16 and will help you find your way in. The marina has 86 slips, standard electrical connections, and potable water. A small palapa has toilets for men and women, an outdoor shower, and a gathering place for cruisers.

"Enrique's attitude is that he's there to make your stay a pleasant one," continue Schwegler and Erickson. "He will drive cruisers to the gas, diesel, and propane station to fill tanks as needed. We had to have a part made by a local machine shop, so Enrique drove us to the shop and helped explain our needs to the highly-skilled, Spanish-speaking workman. The harbormaster also enjoys conversing with the cruisers and joins in potluck dinners. An experienced sailor who owns a MacGregor 26, he understands the needs of cruisers. Huatulco is often the southbound jumping off point for the Tehuantepec, and is an easy port to check out of Mexico. Customs is located at the airport, a 15-minute taxi ride from the marina. But if there are three or more boats ready to check out, the harbormaster can arrange to have a customs agent come to the marina to do the processing. Marina Chahuè is located a pleasant 20-minute walk - or 16-peso taxi ride - from the town of Las Crucecita. This was built in the '80s as a tourist resort, and offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities. Not having been able to read about this delightful port ahead of time, we found it to be a wonderful surprise and suggest everyone headed this way include it in their cruising plans."

If you're planning on doing the Ha-Ha this fall and will be in Southern California early this August, we have a Ha-Ha tune-up event for you - the 86-mile Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race on August 6. The course is from Santa Barbara, around Anacapa Island, to the finish at Redondo Beach. Invariably, the race/cruise has three parts: a close reach to the island; a dead downwind run in what's likely to feature 15 to 20 knots from Anacapa to Pt. Dume; and a light air downwind finish in Santa Monica Bay. If you do the race in a cruising boat, you're likely to have to do some night sailing. The three different types of sailing and the day and night sailing, make it a great warm-up for the Ha-Ha. We'll be there with Profligate again this year, and hope you will, too.

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