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July 2009

Missing the pictures? See the July 2009 eBook!

 With reports this month from Alizee in the Bahamas; from Cocokai on Fanning, Christmas and Penrhyn Islands; from Mimi in Antigua; from Eupsychia on the Baja Bash; from Someday on the good and bad of Costa Rica's being Third World; from Le Chat Beaute on buying a French cat in Venezuela; from Christa on the problems of trying to follow the herd to the Eastern Caribbean; and Cruise Notes.

Alizee — Cabo Rico 36
James Williams & Penelope Mayer
Starting The Cruising Life
(San Francisco)

When I met the publisher of Latitude at St. Barth in the French West Indies a little over a year ago while on a 10-week charter/cruise with my friend Deborah Stern of the Encinal YC, he asked what was next for me. At the time, Deborah and I were partners in the Cal 39-2 Spindrift in the Bay Area, but she wasn't interested in cruising. So my response was that I was going to get my own boat and go cruising as soon as I could. And that's what I've done.

After returning to California, I made an offer on Alizee, a Cabo Rico 36 that had just come on the market in Annapolis. By September the deal had been consummated, and I'd sailed her down the Chesapeake to Oriental, North Carolina. I left Alizee there until January of this year while I finished up my teaching career in the Bay Area.

At the start of this year, I rejoined my boat in Oriental, where the weather was freezing. And they call it The South? By March I'd finished preparations for a three-month cruise in the Bahamas. I was joined for the crossing to Marsh Harbor in the Abacos by fellow Encinal YC members Rob Woltring and Keith Rarick. It turned out to be a five-day, 480-mile trip, and much to our dismay, most of it was in mill pond conditions. I think we sailed for 15 hours the entire crossing, mostly the last afternoon and night.

Penelope Mayer, my permanent first mate, joined me in Marsh Harbor, and we spent three glorious months sailing from cay to cay. We committed ourselves to sailing as opposed to motoring, something that was pretty unusual among the cruising fleet. And we anchored out for all but three nights. While in the Abacos, we were invited to crew aboard the William H. Albury, which was built in '64. She is the last of the wooden schooners to have been built at Man-O-War Cay.

At the end of three months, Penelope and I made a 34-hour crossing from the Abacos to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. We're about to fly back to California to visit friends and spend the Fourth of July at the Encinal YC. After a bit more traveling, we'll return to the boat and sail up to the Chesapeake in September and October. By December, we’ll be provisioning for a return to the Bahamas, this time the Exumas and Eleuthera as well as the Abacos again.

As for Deborah, she's still enjoying sailing Spindrift on the Bay and doing some racing in Alameda as well.

— james 06/05/09

Cocokai — 65-ft Schooner
Greg King and Jennifer Sanders
Life Is Great In The South Pacific
(Long Beach)

As I write this, we, along with my daughter Coco Sanders, are anchored at Fanning Atoll in one of most relaxing, calm anchorages we've been to since we started cruising more than two years ago. Fanning is part of the Republic of Kiribati, which is also known as the Equatorial Islands. Kiribati is spread out over an ocean area the size of the United States, yet the collective land mass is only the size of Baltimore. The locals live off the land and sea, and have what's described as an "abundant" subsistence existence.

This is one of the least visited places in the world, with only 96 Americans having come to the whole country in the last year. One of the reasons more people don't come is that it's hard to get to, particularly for sailors. After getting kicked out of Palmyra, we had to tack back and forth for two days before we got a favorable enough slant in the wind to get here.

There is one pass into the beautiful turquoise-colored shallow lagoon at Fanning. The air and water temperatures are both in the low 80s, but a light breeze blows almost all the time to keep the temperature perfect. Most days we snorkeled in the clear water of the pass or outside the reef, then had school lessons for Coco in the shade of the cockpit. Ah, life is grand! This is what the cruising dream is all about.

We recently went on a wonderful bike ride on some rusty ol' beach cruisers, complete with surfboards in racks, up to Fanning's northwest surf break. It was about a four-mile ride over a dirt track that features lots of potholes and mud puddles. The shade of the coconut and other leafy trees, along with the breeze, kept it comfortable. The road passes through several thatched hut villages, where we were greeted by young locals. They'd run alongside our bikes, shouting 'hello' to practice their English, smiling all the while.

It turned out to be a more adventurous excursion than we'd planned, as our buddy Chuck — an ex-California surfer dude who has lived here for 20 years — dislocated his ankle while surfing. It was an ugly situation. Fortunately for him, the only working truck on the island happened to be at a nearby village and was able to give him a ride to the supply freighter — which just happened to have an EMT aboard. This is a freighter that only visits every few months! After Chuck got a shot of morphine and was held down by a couple of big guys, the EMT managed to pop his ankle back into the socket. Ouch! Chuck then spent time recuperating in the salon of his sailboat, happily being waited on by his young island wife and her sisters.

During the occasional south swell — and one is expected as I write this — there is a world class left that breaks just outside the pass. Greg has gotten some great rides. But don't worry mom, Coco and I will only be taking pictures from the dinghy. I'm going to wait for an easy break with a sand bottom before I try the new 8-ft softtop board that I got for my birthday.

Before reaching Fanning on our way down from Hawaii, we stopped at lovely Palmyra. It was very beautiful, and we would have happily stayed longer were it not for a U.S. Nature Refuge managed by the Nature Conservancy. But because it is, there are all kinds of rules and regulations that limit the time mariners are allowed to stay. We only got four days. Nonetheless, Coco enjoyed watching the manta rays twirling in the shallow water as they scarfed up plankton. It was most fun at night when the action was illuminated by the lights of the boat dock. "Any day you see manta rays is a good day," Coco says.

We also enjoyed the main island, and took some fun pictures at the swimming hole, which is complete with a tree swing. We also sat in an abandoned jeep and a wrecked airplane at the end of the runway. There is lots of stuff leftover from the U.S. occupation during World War II. It's hard to imagine that there were once 5,000 soldiers stationed at what is now a very lonely and peaceful place.

There is a cool 'yacht club' at the Nature Conservancy compound that is covered with graffiti from cruisers. Most of it is from before the Conservancy took over, when the building was uninhabited except for a caretaker. We saw the names of several cruising boats that we know, proving once again that the cruising world is a small one. We marked our visit by hanging an artfully decorated T-shirt from a ceiling beam.

Ducky, our ship's dog, also liked it here at Fanning. She spends most of her days sleeping after her periodic swims in the lagoon. Cruising is a dog's life, too!

It's a bloodbath outside! Life or death awaits, all depending on which way they turn. As I write this we're now anchored inside the far pass at Penrhyn Atoll, and the 'they' I'm referring to are the one-inch long fish that make up a turquoise shoal. The 'shoal' has grown to epic proportions over the last few days, and surrounds our ketch.

Unfortunately for the little guys, a small but growing school of trevally discovered their hiding place. The crystal clear water splashes continuously as the feeding goes on. Our resident black tip reef sharks circle below, waiting for scraps — or maybe a larger lunch of a preoccupied trevally. Meanwhile, Coco was hard at work in the dinghy with our flour sifter. She caught 20 of the little fish, and offered them a safe haven until she released them after dark. Please, God, don't let me come back as a bait fish!

After we left isolated Fanning, we headed south for Christmas Island, which, because it has an air strip, qualifies as 'civilization'. It was only 150 miles as the crow flies, but thanks to a wicked easterly current and the prevailing southeast winds, it was a tough passage. Even though we waited for a favorable weather window, it still took us three days to cover just 300 miles. Thanks to the mighty Cocokai's schooner rig, she's not at her best going to weather. On the other hand, we've heard of boats that have taken 12 days to make the passage. Another skipper tried for 10 days before heading back to Fanning because he'd run out of food.

Coco and I were seasick for the first 24 hours, which was unusual. While it wasn't my favorite passage, we'd sailed to Christmas to pick up our new inverter/charger. The old one had decided to wait until we left Hawaii to crap out, finally giving up the ghost the morning we arrived at Fanning. We had to get the new unit shipped from Long Beach Shipyard, and it worked out quite well. The unit got to Honolulu just in time for the "once-a-month, more or less" freight plane. Via email, our friend on Fanning had hooked us up with the only shipper at Christmas. They even delivered it right to the jetty near where we anchored. Coco made short work of the packing materials. Her Am Girl dolls now have a new bunk bed and cool closet ­— all from the latest white styrofoam collection.

It was also nice to get to Christmas because they have a store where we could buy fresh produce that's flown in on the same monthly plane that brought our inverter. The stuff was a bit pricey — $8 for a head of lettuce and $2.75 for a pear. But at least it was reasonably fresh. Besides, we haven't spent any money since leaving Hawaii — except for a couple of thousand on the inverter. But hey, we won't count that!

Christmas Island has the same kind of clear and warm water as Fanning. The lagoon — known for world class bone fishing — is so shallow that the anchorage is outside the atoll in the lee of the island. The jetty we used for getting ashore is several miles from town, so we enjoyed getting around the way the locals do — by flagging down any vehicle going our way. We also got rides on the 'official' buses, which are jam-packed mini vans that blast U.S. teeny bopper music at extremely high volume. Coco was delighted!

While at Christmas, we met Henry, a semi-retired biologist/surfer who is originally from Northern California but now has a 'local' family. In addition to patiently driving us around to reprovision, he included us in some of the local village life. Thus Coco got to go with his young daughter to a special cultural day at school. She had fun watching the dancing — lots of hip wiggling — singing and sporting contests. A traditional lunch was made by the moms for the occasion, and consisted of taro root, grilled red snapper with the head and tail still on, crab claws and boiled coconut hearts. This was all washed down with fresh coconut milk. "It was just delicious!" Coco told me.

It was at Christmas that we saw our first cruising boat since leaving Hawaii. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was Willow, with our 'old' cruising friends from Ecuador the year before. They were heading back to Hawaii for work, but we had fun catching up on stories and adventures. One of the best things about cruising is that it's truly a small community on a big ocean. It means that you make new friends often, and by the next time you see them they've suddenly become longtime friends! Thanks to the travel/survival mentality of cruising, we've probably made more new friends in the last two years than we had in the previous 20 years in L.A.

After a few weeks at Christmas, we took off for another beautiful spot, Penrhyn in the remote northern Cooks. It meant we crossed the equator for our third time. We hoped to break up the 600-mile passage with a few days at Starbuck Island, but the reported anchorage wasn't evident to us — even though we got to within 100 feet of the large breaking waves at the western point. It was still 300 feet deep there! In order to quiet the disappointed crew, I made cheesy ranchero omelets and hash browns, complete with our own freshly brewed Starbuck's coffee for a brunch at Starbuck Island.

Although Greg got a few strikes on the way to Penrhyn, he caught only one fish — and it was a weird one. It looked prehistoric, as it had the head and teeth of a large barracuda, but with huge round eyes and a three-foot long eel-like black body accented by fluorescent blue stripes down the sides. We guessed it was some type of eel fish, but it looked like a monster from the deep. Needless to say, Greg threw it back after we took some photos. After that, we were excited when one of the local fishing boats dropped off a freshly caught yellow fin tuna. Seared ahi for lunch! Spicy tuna rolls, sesame tuna rolls, and tuna sushi for dinner! Fresh fish along with spectacular snorkeling.

Life continues to be grand — we wish you were all here to enjoy it with us!

— jennifer 06/07/09

Mimi — Lagoon 380 Cat
Keith and Marcy Kjeldsen
(Santa Cruz)

We took over our Lagoon 380 catamaran when it was phased out of the Sunsail yacht management program this January in the British Virgins. After a few weeks of struggling, we managed to actually get the paperwork from Sunsail needed to register our cat with the U.S. Coast Guard. The upside of the delay was that we gained a greater appreciation of all the British Virgins have to offer. In addition to the wonderful time exploring, we got to know other cruisers.

Once the documentation had been completed, we were free to leave the BVIs and sail to French waters and beyond. We're now anchored at English Harbor, Antigua, having already visited and enjoyed St. Martin, St. Barth and St. Kitts. Our experiences to date have been thought-provoking, challenging, physically demanding, exciting, scary, awe-inspiring and renewing.

We had one of our most exciting experiences in Antigua when, on March 29, 25-year-old American Paul Ridley arrived following an 88-day, 2,950-mile row across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands aboard his specially built 19-ft boat. We had the privilege of participating in Paul’s initial landing celebration. Having been at sea for almost three months, he was initially lost for words and a little emotional. Then he became very articulate about his remarkable effort, which was planned as a way to raise money for the Yale Cancer Center. People wanting to contribute should visit Our plan is to end our season by leaving Mimi at Chaguaramas, Trinidad, for the hurricane season.

— keith and marcy 04/05/09

Eupsychia — Cal 36
David Addleman, Heather Corsaro
The Bash and Beyond

After a second full season in sunny Mexico, we successfully bashed our way back to Monterey. "The conditions weren't too bad and the wildlife was fabulous — humpbacks mating, thousands of dolphins, and a beautiful sea star that rode up on the anchor chain.

Eupsychia’s little diesel kept us guessing the whole way. The week before we started, we were in La Paz with oily engine parts scattered about the cockpit, and David was about to begin putting the engine back together for the fifth time. The bearings, having been back-ordered for months, had finally arrived. Interestingly, they were shipped from the States via UPS directly to Marina de La Paz. They had cleared customs in Tijuana and arrived after just a few days. The shipping wasn't expensive, and there was no duty on the $700 in parts.

When the engine purred to life on the first try, our Bash was on. The loose plan was that if the engine pooped out again south of Turtle Bay, we would sail back to La Paz — not the worst option in the world. If it made it north of Turtle Bay, we'd continue on. Thankfully, the engine ran the whole way. I didn't have any doubts, but later learned that David was constantly worried. He knew that he'd sheared off an important bolt deep inside the engine while putting it back together, so he'd jump to the alert if I so much as tapped my foot.

We motored out of La Paz on a sprinkly afternoon. Once the wind picked up, we made sail and let the engine rest. Suddenly there was a horrible noise — the prop shaft had pulled out of the engine! This was odd, because when David had tried to remove the shaft earlier it had required big tools and hours of sweat. Then it just fell out while we were sailing! David added a few drops of Loctite to the bolts and we were good to go again.

After we rounded Cabo Falso, the conditions became somewhat splashy — enough to rinse all the Baja dust out of the cracks, but not off the radar. At times we had wind up to 28 knots, and by Abreojos the seas had become pretty unfriendly. But once we passed Turtle Bay, about halfway up Baja, the only thing to disturb the glassy conditions was a large number of blue whales. We saw about six blues milling about, and then one of the small ones — a 60-footer — approached us. I’d been hoping to see blues all season, having seen none the year before. Even better, we encountered huge krill patches that colored the water a deep red. We could see the mouths of the blues distend as they filled their gullets with tons of their favorite food.

After tying to the Police Dock in San Diego, we got a middle-of-the-night clearance from Homeland Security. Having learned from two Bashes that you don't waste favorable weather conditions, we had one Bloody Mary at Red Sails, did a quick provisioning at Von's, picked up a June Latitude at Downwind Marine, topped off the diesel tank — and got underway again.

Conditions from San Diego to Monterey were calm, so we stopped only at Santa Cruz Island and San Simeon for short rests. Point Conception was calm with rain. This was the first serious rain Eupsychia had seen in seven months, and it thoroughly cleaned the Baja dust from even the radar and the rigging.

As we arrived at San Simeon, we were surprised to see a humpback come shooting out of the water, mouth agape, just 50 yards from the boat. It was one of four humpbacks that were lunge-feeding in teams. The next day off Big Sur was beautiful. We stayed close to the kelp line to see the waterfalls, the wooded canyons, and surfers on the glassy south swells.

As we closed in on our destination of Monterey, we were happy that the weather had been benign for most of the trip. With a sigh of relief, happiness and awe that our little engine had made it, we tied up at our Monterey slip 18 days out of La Paz. For the first time in nearly three weeks, we slept in a bed that didn't rock. It's very hard to adjust to city life after cruising. We got a parking ticket, were flipped off, and came home to dead car batteries — and that was in just the first 24 hours.

— heather 06/10/09

Readers — If you're in love, appreciate it, because it can be a fleeting condition. David and Heather, who despite an age difference of more than 20 years, were Latitude's 'Most Loving Cruising Couple of '08', a title they took seriously. But they have now decided to go their separate ways. David plans to spend more time with his daughter and do work at the family place at Big Sur — for as long as he can stand it. Preferring boat life to city life, he still might do another month-on, month-off season in Mexico. The wild card is a Santa Cruz 50 in Australia. If the deal is too good to pass up, he may end up buying her and cruising Southeast Asia. As for Heather, we can imagine her Facebook site will be inundated with hits from sailors — male and female — from Seattle to Sardinia.

David and Heather were a terrific cruising team, and their relationship — and Heather's youthful antics — provided endless entertainment for the cruising fleet. We know that everyone who met them wishes the best for both.

Someday — Gulfstar 41
Bill Nokes
Costa Rica
(Brookings, Oregon)

I'm currently at Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica, which is another magical cruising spot. It's a large bay with very little development, so you can still hear the howler monkeys calling to each other in the morning.

While magical, Bahia Ballena is not perfect. For example, it rained very hard from about midnight to 4 a.m. last night, with water finding every possible leak. It's sort of summer/winter here in the tropics, because it's actually colder in the summer than the winter due to the cloud cover and humidity. And thunderstorms are common. In addition, the bay becomes the color of chocolate after a hard rain, and the 'chips' are floating logs and trash that have rushed down the rivers and streams.

Another downside is the limited facilities. My dinghy is tied to the dilapidated concrete pier right below the 'yacht club.' which is really a restaurant and bar. We came to the front gate only to find it locked three hours after it was supposed to open. A grumpy woman inside said they weren't open because the cook hadn't shown up. After dallying at the local tiende buying a dozen eggs, we returned to the yacht club and talked our way into getting to use the internet until the cook arrived. When the cook finally did arrive, he seemed to be suffering from a serious hangover. The food actually turned out to be quite delicious, and was nicely presented. Oddly enough, the woman did the cooking. The cook waited on our table when he wasn't watching television.

I suppose there is no point in expecting U.S.-style services in Central America. But there are compensations. For example, Elena just pointed out a pretty kingfisher sitting on a piling, and a wall of rain is approaching.

— bill 06/15/09

Bill — You didn't mention how much of the summer you plan to spend in Costa Rica. Based on a number of previous reports from cruisers, there are some potentially serious downsides. One is that Costa Rica is the lightning strike capital of the universe during the summer, and many yachts have suffered expensive damage. Second, humidity not only makes it unpleasant for humans, but promotes the rapid growth of mold in boat interiors. Finally, Costa Rica is known for an unusually high number of dinghy thefts — even dinghies that have been hauled out of the water. Dinghy and outboard thieves love to strike during the middle of the night during torrential rainfalls, as they know it's unlikely they'll be heard and even more unlikely that the crew will want to go outside and investigate funny noises. Possibly the best summer option is Ecuador.

Le Chat Beaute — Privilege 42
Paddy Barry
Going To The Dark Side
(Vancouver, WA)

It's been awhile since I last checked in. I had sailed my Baltic 42 Zafarse across the Pacific to Bundaberg, Australia. Three days before we were to start a cruising rally to Indonesia, my boat sold. What caused it to happen was that the Aussie dollar was at an all-time high, making my boat more affordable than ever for locals.

Like many who cross the Pacific, we'd become interested in catamarans. After all, they are roomier, sail flat and none of them had sunk on the way over. While we were in Tonga, Bruce of Ohana Kai won one day's use of a Moorings/Leopard 47 cat. The skippers and crew of every cruising monohull in the area came along for a 'test drive'. We all came back impressed by the ride and comfort of the platform, and the boat's performance in five foot seas was impressive. We were not, however, impressed with the construction.

After the sale of Zafarse, I went over to the dark side by purchasing the Privilege 42 Le Chat Beaute. She's named after a famous French children's story. Alas, it's another difficult name to understand when listening on the radio.

I bought the cat at Porlamar, Margarita Island, Venezuela. A French boat being sold to an American in Venezuelan waters sounds as though it could be complicated — and it was. If anyone finds themselves in the same situation, I'd be glad to share what I learned from my experience.

Life in Venezuela is interesting, and it's not as unsafe as reported — if you use common sense and avoid areas where trouble has been reported. Nonetheless, it's unfortunate that some parts of a country as beautiful as Venezuela are unsafe for cruisers — and Venezuelans, too! I spent three months in Porlamar before I was forced back to work in the States. I left the boat on the hard in Chacachacare, a small but well-protected boatyard on the far side of Margarita.

In April of '09, I sailed my cat to the Virgin Islands. The 450-mile trip took 72 hours, and my cat sailed to weather well.

When we were about 200 miles from Venezuela, John, one of my crew, woke me and said, "Hey, it's the Coast Guard!" I mentioned that this could only be bad news. John and I had both served in the Coast Guard. A voice speaking in Spanish gave our position over the VHF. When I responded, they asked a few questions. Then they told me that they were going to inspect my boat. I told them it wasn't necessary, as everything was fine. After all, it was a perfect day, with 15 knots of wind, a two-foot swell, and we were doing a comfortable eight knots. I didn't want to stop!

They came aboard anyway, in what we soon realized was a training mission. The three-person boarding party was composed of a 1st class bosun, an ensign and a 2nd class gunner. The BM was the only one with experience. They did the standard safety routine, then asked us to roll up our sleeves! They swabbed our persons and the boat, then sent the swabs back to the mothership. I was starting to get indignant, but what's a sailor to do? They were armed and we were not.

Soon the BM got a message from the mothership that one of my crew tested positive for marijuana, and that traces of heroin had been found on my boat! I knew the crewmember had smoked pot in the last month, but not since we arrived in Venezuela. The heroin charge was unadulterated BS. The bosun said it was possible that trace amounts of heroin had been found on money we had on the boat, because, according to him, most bills of over $20 have some trace of drugs on them.

Anyway, I started to get really mad, and told them that if they kept fabricating stuff, they'd have to leave right away. They told me to be more cooperative or they'd tear my whole boat apart. As you can imagine, I was livid. Here we were sailing along peacefully, hundreds of miles from the nearest land, and these 'pirates' board my boat and start talking about the retention and/or destruction of my boat. Fortunately, Neptune came to the rescue. After four hours of being on my small boat, the boarding party started to get seasick! So after all the foolishness, they left.

The rest of the trip to the Virgins was uneventful, and after clearing into Charlotte Amalie, we were off to St John. Needing to do a little work on the boat, on May 26 I sailed my cat to Charleston, South Carolina. I'm currently hanging on the hook in the river, and plan to head north soon

— paddy 06/10/09

Paddy — We're shocked that you and the others didn't think the Moorings/Leopard 47 was well built. We have a Leopard 45, which is the same boat as the 47 but without a sugar scoop, in a yacht management program in the British Virgins. Having spent six months on her in the last three years, usually in rough weather, we're convinced that she's a brick shithouse. The Westsail 32 of catamarans, as it were. Indeed, our main complaint with the cat is that she'd be a little faster if they hadn't overbuilt her so much.
We've come through customs hundreds of times, and only had trouble once. That was when we landed at LAX after flying home from Isla Margarita. We were all but dragged into a small room where we were questioned relentlessly by a group of short-haired men in dark suits. They wanted to know what we'd been doing at Margarita. At the time, a lot of drugs were being shipped out of there. It's still probably going on, but we never had anything to do with it.

It seems odd to us that you, a former Coastie, would think that you could get impatient with a boarding party and not have to suffer the consequences. When dealing with law enforcement, it's been our experience — including when we were boarded between the Dominican Republic and Cuba by the Coast Guard — that cooperation is the quickest way to getting to continue on.

Christa — Westsail 32
Christian Allaire
Going With The Herd

[In a continuation of his Changes in the June issue, Christian considers the dangers of the 'herding instinct' common among cruisers.]

With the end of hurricane season last fall, I left Miami on a westerly bound for Gun Cay in the Bahamas. With my penchant for underestimation fully established, I hit the Gulf Stream with the wind just north of west. It quickly became apparent that Gun Cay, Bimini — or maybe even the entire Bahamian island chain — was either moving with the tectonic plates or I had underestimated the northerly set of the Gulf Stream. I had to work hard all day to mitigate the set, and even so was only able to enter the Bahamian bank several miles north of Bimini.

I had read about and seen the photographs of the intensity of the blue of the water in the Bahamas, and I was not disappointed. The transition from the deep blue to the shallow hues has been a highlight of my trip thus far. With good fortune and a west wind still at my back, I decided to skip Bimini and soldier on throughout the night and check in at Chub Cay.

I did not particularly enjoy my experience in the Bahamas, largely because the wind blew relentlessly while I was there. From what I gather, the winter of '07-08 was a banner year for the trades. They blew and blew and blew.

I largely based my decision to head to the Caribbean via the 'thorny path' on Bruce Van Sant’s A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South. While I don’t want to bash the guide because it really is chock full of great information, I did find it a bit optimistic. Van Sant clearly states that if you do X, you will receive a serious pounding, so make sure you do the ten steps that make up alternative step Y.

But when it came to the Bahamas, I thought I’d just wait for a cold front to sweep through from the north, then broad reach my way south. Simple. Well, once again my naiveté reared its head. Maybe you can do that some years, but not my year — as I was to discover as I tried to claw my way south. I would love to lay blame on the Westsail’s legendary lack of windward ability, but the fact is that my Westsail is not that bad to windward. In any event, every boat struggles to windward.

In terms of the Bahamas, you certainly can wait for a front and its associated clocking of the wind. However, I found few anchorages that offered all-around protection, and this meant at some point during the front’s passage my boat was going to be exposed. It usually meant riding a bucking bronco, and, depending on the front’s length and characteristics, meant a transit through a reef at the other end in less than favorable conditions. This is exactly how I entered Nassau. It's true that it has a large and well-marked entrance, but the combination of 25 knots of wind, a large following sea, and busy shipping made it a challenge.

South from Nassau, I continued to try to play the fronts sweeping down from the East Coast of the U.S. But there was another complicating factor that I hadn't counted on — meeting other cruisers. I really became attached to these folks and didn't want to leave. The herding instinct of cruisers is real, and it's probably even stronger for those of us who singlehand. The result is that folks sit in cockpits and talk weather windows obsessively — and I'm usually leading the charge. Any conversation that tries to be taken elsewhere was swiftly brought back to what counts — my lack of progress to windward.

All cruisers have different comfort levels, and obviously some boats do some things better than others. As a result, what is a weather window for longer and more weatherly boats is not necessarily a weather window for me. But when the herd was leaving, I surely didn't want to be left behind. I certainly was not stupid enough to knowingly launch out into a full gale just to keep up — it was more of how much of a pounding I was willing to accept. And the level of pounding has a direct correlation to the number of repairs that you'll have to make at the next port.

And so it was for my departure from Long Island, just east of the Exumas, for Playa Cay well to the southeast. I left with four other boats on a marginal forecast. The other boats had significant waterline advantage, so they quickly pulled ahead. I listened on the radio as they started to labor in increasing winds that were heading them and would head me. By nightfall I decided to break off and make for Rum Cay — and an unwanted nighttime arrival. I pretty much did what you're not supposed to do — enter a poorly charted, coral head-strewn anchorage in 25 knots of wind at night while nearing exhaustion.

I was able to speak with a Canadian boat that was already in the anchorage at Rum Cay and discuss the odds of my coming to grief upon entering. I decided to try it — and made it in without incident. When I awoke the next morning, I saw there was a coral head just below the surface only 50 feet ahead of me. I was quickly gaining spirituality.
While upset that my random detour severed my ties with the herd, I quickly found another 'herd' in the form of one boat — the Jansen family's Mason 48 Adamo. I had briefly chatted with them at Long Island, but now we were together in Rum Cay, and they'd followed my death-defying entrance on channel 68 the night before. In fact, they'd turned on their spreader lights, which became like a beacon to a very tired sailor, giving me a critical point of reference. I couldn’t have been more appreciative.

As usual, the wind just cranked for the next two weeks. But the time I spent in Rum Cay with the Jansens was truly special. I think they fed me every single night aboard their boat. Adamo and I then had a delightful transit under power from Rum Cay to the Turks and Caicos Islands. They even loaned me one of their sons, 16-year-old Doug, for the transit. But they are a real baby factory, so they could spare him.

My time in the T&Cs was spent replenishing fuel and food. After being in the Bahamas, where I couldn't find decent shopping, it was nice to get back to the endless aisles of food that we Americans are used to.

The gaggle of boats in the anchorage at Provo were all waiting for a decent weather window to stage ourselves to Big Sand Cay in the eastern portion of the islands. This required motoring across the T&C Bank, which is only seven feet deep and sprinkled with many coral heads. Adamo and I left at sunrise. It was a long day, and I spent the majority of it standing on the spreaders. When I sighted coral heads, I rapidly made my way down to the deck, disengaged the Tillerpilot, and steered clear. Toward late afternoon, Adamo and I had made it safely across the bank, with things going smoothly. We both downloaded the latest GRIB files and checked the latest offshore forecast. It was then I made one of my worst decisions ever.

The forecast wasn’t that bad, with easterly wind of 15 to 22 knots, due to ease halfway between the T&Cs and the Dominican Republic. I should have known to include more margin for error in my plan by heading for Big Sand Cay — as I'd originally intended — instead of continuing on. But once again the herd instinct strongly influenced my decision. True, it was one of those situations in which some boats took off for the D.R., while some decided to stage at Big Sand Cay — as recommended in Van Sant’s guide. It's at times such as this that having a strong vessel like a Westsail can be a disadvantage. I knew that my boat was up for the conditions. The bigger question was whether or not I was.

To make a long story short, instead of easing, the wind strengthened to 35 by midnight. Christa sailed beautifully with just a staysail and a double-reefed main. But as the seas got to 10 feet, she started to pound. Unable to lay my goal of Luperon, I decided to take Van Sant's advice of cracking the sheets and head for Manzanillo, farther to the west in the D.R. What I hadn't realized is that it would require me to first sail dead downwind approaching dangerous Monte Christi Shoals, then sail to windward(!) — having already sailed for 45 hours with little food or sleep — for 17 miles against 35-knot winds and short, breaking seas. When I realized what I was in for, it nearly broke me.

My only other options were to head for the Ragged Islands in the Bahamas — which would effectively end my Caribbean cruise — or continue on to Fort Libre, Haiti. I was able to raise the skipper of a Southern Cross 35 who had just dropped his anchor in Manzanillo after the dreaded 17-mile beat. If he'd done it, I decided that I could do it, too! And so it was we beat into 35-knot winds and more, with breaking waves and water completely filling the cockpit several times. But once I realized that my boat would handle the extreme strain on the rig, I became exhilarated. I also thanked my lucky stars and Bud Taplin for having replaced the bowsprit with the stainless steel model. Confidence in the boat and its equipment become everything when the chips are down.

Needless to say I made it into Manzanillo. And I made it on down to the Eastern Caribbean, where I spent the hurricane season at Salinas, Puerto Rico, with many more lessons learned and adventures along the way.

I shall leave you with a quote from Peter Muilenburg’s book Adrift on a Sea of Blue Light. "So it goes, on land and sea, that all of life’s wrecks force us to drag deep on the cup of knowledge and swallow its bitter but potent dregs. If the ocean held no reefs or squalls, if no ships sank and no one ever drowned, who would ever bother to go to sea?"

— christian 03/10/09

Christian — A couple of comments, if we might, on your very interesting Changes. Boats are very different, so what makes sense for one skipper in a given situation doesn't necessarily apply to the skipper of a different boat. For example, there are a lot of upwind bashes we would have attempted with our old boat, the heavy Ocean 71 ketch Big O, that we'd never try with our Surfin' 63 cat Profligate. Different boats do well in different sailing situations.

But the other half of the equation is how well a boat is sailed. An experienced skipper who knows how to sail his/her boat well can sail the pants off an average skipper. Nowhere does this become more obvious than when sailing to weather in rough conditions, when the difference in VMG can easily be 200% or more. As such, we're going to dispute your statement that "all boats struggle to weather". It's all relative, of course, but some boat/skipper combinations absolutely thrive on going to weather, while others really struggle badly. It's not the end of the world for a skipper/boat combo that struggles to weather; skippers just have to take it into account when planning passages and such.

By the way, having made the often wicked hip-hop passage from Florida to the Eastern Caribbean, we predict the rest of your circumnavigation will likely be a comparative walk in the park.

Cruise Notes:

In the August issue we'll have a detailed report on the just-concluded 11-year cruise of Paul and Annalise Pedersen aboard their 28-year-old Islander 36 Sea Lise. The Vancouver couple did a 'six month on, six month off' cruise from Vancouver to their native Denmark and back. Interestingly enough, they did the trip — with all expenses included — for less than $1,250 a month. "And we often spent much less than that," adds Annalise. It should be noted that Paul is a retired car mechanic and shipwright, so he did all the work on his boat. During their trip, the couple visited a lot of countries that some people in the States tend to feel are crime-ridden: places such as Mexico, Panama, Colombia and the Bahamas. But the Pedersens never had any problems with theft in any of those places. Indeed, the only place they were ripped off was Santa Barbara, one of the most affluent cities in California and home to the likes of Oprah and Dr. Laura. And, we might add, a harbor with one of the greatest armed police presences on the coast. "The robbery happened in the middle of June," says the 73-year-old Paul, who is so spry that he's been pulling up the anchor manually since the windlass crapped out two years ago. "We put the hatchboards in place, then walked up to the Santa Barbara YC for dinner. When we returned just two hours later, we found that someone had come inside our boat and taken the camera we'd purchased just two days before." The Pedersens were more amused by the irony than upset about the loss of their point 'n' shoot camera.

A few days before that theft, we'd dropped Profligate's hook in the A-9 anchorage in San Diego, which is located off the east end of Harbor Island about a third of the way to the crowded Laurel Street mooring field. "You better watch out, there are lots of pirates around here," said the first guy we met. We figured he was just one of those guys who objected to anyone sharing an anchorage with him — but then we noticed that he shared his boat with a brown pit bull. This dog was the strong but silent type, and looked as though he might enjoy one of our legs for dinner. The moral of the story is that if you're halfway careful, some of the poorer countries aren't as risky as you think, but on the other hand, even marinas in the most upscale U.S. cities might not be as safe as you'd assume. If you've had your boat gear ripped off in California, we'd love to hear about it.

"The Volvo Penta diesel in our CT-41 Black Dog II needed a major rebuild while we were at Bahia del Sol in Estero Jaltepeque in El Salvador," report Roger and Lorraine Atkins, vets of Ha-Ha 10 from Everett. "The nearest authorized Volvo service center was Grupo Toco S.A. in Guatemala City, Guatemala, which seemed as though it might be a big problem. But when we contacted owner Marco Ortiz, he made arrangements to have his crew come to our boat, remove the engine, repair it, then reinstall it. We compliment the management for keeping us posted with the progress, and the staff for the great job they did. We would recommend them to everyone. We would also recommend the new 189-slip Marina Papagayo that opened last December in Bahia Culebra in northern Costa Rica. It was designed for megayachts, but the management welcomes sailboats. Off-season rates are negotiable, and we've recommended that the management offer a dinghy dock for cruisers who may want to anchor in the bay and just use the facilities for a daily fee. This marina offers new showers, laundry, Internet and a restaurant with reasonable prices."

"It's been unseasonably cool down here at San Carlos on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, with highs in the low 90s and the water a chilly 79 degrees," jokes Robert Gelser of the much traveled Alameda-based Freeport 40 Harmony. "Actually, the June weather in the Sea of Cortez has been just fabulous. Whenever my wife Virginia and I get too warm, we just jump in the lovely water. As for our troubled 36-year-old diesel, all it took was some gaskets and the know-how of Omar the mechanic to get it running — and running better than it has in a long time. We want to thank all our friends and family for being so supportive while we brought our engine back to life, and thank Latitude for the encouragement to get it together and go sailing again. We intend to cruise the north part of the Sea to Bahia de Los Angeles until it becomes unbearably hot — probably in July — at which time we'll put the boat away until we return in October. We've never cruised the Sea in the summer, but if it's anything like what we've heard and what we've experienced so far, it should be great."

Everyone knows the famous Mark Twain saying that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Well, we've got a variation on that. The grayest and gloomiest June we've ever spent was in San Diego. We've heard about the June Gloom, but we never realized it was so bad! The heck with hurricanes, next year we'll stay in the Sea of Cortez through June and not come north to California until July.

"My boat is safe and secure in Marina Mazatlan after weathering near hurricane force winds on June 19," reports J. Mills of the San Francisco and Newport Beach-based Catalina 470 Location. According to weather officials, the wind was associated with Tropical Depression One, which had maximum sustained winds of 30 knots, so it didn't quite make tropical storm status. But perhaps the local gusts were much stronger. Of greater concern, as we write this on June 21, is Tropical Storm Andres, the first of the Eastern Pacific season. Currently it's sweeping up the coast of mainland Mexico off Cabo Corrientes, and is expected to curve west, bringing it to within no more than 100 miles of Cabo. What's more, Tropical Depression Two is twirling farther off the Mexico coast at the same time as Andres and Tropical Depression One.

On second thought, maybe we'll keep Profligate in the Sea of Cortez only until June 15, not July 1, of next year.

The amazing Glenn Tieman of Southern California, who cruised the 26-ft homebuilt cat Peregrine across the Pacific for 10 years on a few bucks a day, emailed friends that he'd safely made it from the Galapagos to the Marquesas aboard his newer and much larger cat. That would be the 38-ft Manu Rere, which he built for $14,000. As you might assume, this new cat is the antithesis of luxury. It doesn't even have a house, but in the hands of Tieman, it gets the job done. Tieman was going to write more, but ever thrifty, is going to wait until he gets somewhere Internet access is less expensive. A tip of the Latitude cap to this true adventurer.

Citing pirates as among the main reasons, Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Mariner 49 Wanderlust 3 has decided not to do a second singlehanded circumnavigation. "I was going to leave St. Martin for the Med and Croatia, with the intention of being in Thailand for New Year's, but the pirate situation in the Gulf of Aden is not conducive to safety — and I enjoy my life too much to do anything foolish. As such, I'll now sail down to Grenada — where I had the hang-gliding accident that nearly killed me so many years ago — then to Venezuela for the big boat show there, and on to the ABC Islands. In November, I'll transit the Canal, then sail up to Costa Rica and across to Hawaii for New Year's. My big plan is to be at the Hunter Yacht docks and 'Discover Sailing' for Strictly Sail Pacific Expo next April in Oakland. My last important sail will be the '10 Ha-Ha, which will have brought me full circle, and after which I'll put my beloved boat up for sale. If any good folks would like to join me for any of the legs from the ABC Islands on, I can be reached at ."

If we're not mistaken, Mike's policy is that the crew pay to get to the boat and for food and activities while ashore, but nothing when on the boat.

"We almost made it to St. Barth before the Grand Poobah and Doña de Mallorca departed for the season," report Ed and Sue Kelly aboard the Iowa-based Catalac 37 catamaran Angel Louise. "Maybe we'll meet up with you guys next year. Thanks so much for making Latitude (in complete magazine form) available online and for free. It means that sailors such as us, with few coins in our pockets, can download it and enjoy it while cruising in the Southern Caribbean. We're down in Carriacou for a week before heading off to Grenada. We intend to make it as far south as Isla Margarita, Venezuela, by July 1. While reading about pirate attacks, we were reminded of an email some wag sent us awhile back. It had a photo of President Obama with the following caption: "I said tax the pirates, not attack them!" Although we're both big Obama supporters, we thought it was pretty funny.

"Speaking of violence against cruisers," the Kellys continue, "while at Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, we had the pleasure of meeting John and Suzanne of Clypeus. This British couple were the victims of a violent robbery while anchored off Dominica one night about three weeks ago. A trio of robbers swam from shore to their boat, which was anchored off the Coast Guard dock. Suzanne was sitting in the cockpit, and before she even heard them, they had overpowered her and John. One brandished what they thought was a pistol — later found to be a plastic gun — while the other two had machetes. The couple were roughed up a bit before being bound with duct tape. Then their boat was ransacked, with everything the robbers could carry being thrown in the boat's dinghy, which the thieves used for their escape. John and Suzanne, who had cruised for 15 years up to then without incident, decided to leave Dominica when the officials began suggesting that it had somehow been their fault, and because "government officials were telling deliberate falsehoods about the incident." The couple are concerned that the unvarnished truth won't get out because the folks responsible for promoting tourism on the island are the major source of information for the Carribbean Compass, an influential sailing magazine in the Caribbean."

As many of you know, stand up paddleboards (SUPs) are a big deal these days. The only problem for sailors is that the boards tend to be awfully big to carry on the typical cruising boat. While at the West Marine store in San Diego last month, we saw what may be the solution — an 11-ft Sevylor inflatable SUP. It sounds like a ridiculous idea, but it actually looked viable. After all, some Ha-Ha folks have ridden inflatable surfboards — an even greater stretch — at Bahia Santa Maria with success. While obviously not the finest waveriding tools, the inflatables seem to at least be serviceable. The advantage of inflatable surfboards and SUPs, of course, is that when deflated they are compact and easier to store on a boat. Plus, if you fall and hit your head on a rail, you won't crack your skull. The inflatables take up to 10-lbs p.s.i. air pressure, so they are stiffer and tougher than you might imagine. And at about $650, they are quite a bit less expensive than traditional SUPs. If you've used an inflatable SUP, we'd love to get a review from you.

"This old Idaho farm boy is landing on his feet," reports John Anderton, who cruised the Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling in the Caribbean for many years before she was hit by an unlit steel boat in the Bahamas two months ago. "I managed to jury rig my damaged boat and get her to the Lake Worth entrance to the ICW in Florida. I’ve donated Sanderling, such as she is, to an IRS-approved charity whose volunteers keep a portion of the ICW clean. This was the best outcome, as I couldn't afford to repair her, didn't want to abandon her, and didn't want to become one of those old singlehanders stuck somewhere on a damaged boat. As I've had to make my transition, the help that I received from total strangers is beyond words, so it is with great sadness that I temporarily leave the boating community. I'm now decompressing in the Vancouver area near family. I lived on my boat for 22 years and cruised her for nine years. It was an absolute hoot!

"Elizabeth and I wanted to thank Latitude for the article about us in the April issue," writes Seth Hynes of the San Francisco-based Lagoon 380 Honeymoon, a cat the couple bought on the East Coast. "One day we came aboard a neighboring boat, and before I could introduce myself they seemed shocked that I'd cut my hair. They'd not only read the article on us, but happened to have it, so we got to see it for the first time. We were surprised, but in a nice way. Thanks. We subsequently transited the Panama Canal, cruised the Galapagos and Marquesas, and are now in Tahiti."

Also having sailing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas were Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House. Scott figured it would be a 3,000-mile trip and hoped to make it in 16 days. Alas, it took them 17 days — still a fast passage. Scott and Cindy, who are relentless sailor/divers, have posted some fabulous photos of their times underwater at places such as the Revillagigedo Islands, Cocos Island and the Galapagos at

"We had just completed a 10-day passage to Portland, Maine, from the Virgins, so my brother-in-law Paul and I started coastwise cruising down east," writes Jerry Eaton of the Belvedere-based Hallberg-Rassy 43 Blue Heron. "Before taking off, my tummy started feeling a bit odd, which I passed off as being a result of Paul's cooking. But three days later, as we arrived in Boothbay, I got a little worried and began to look for some place to get it checked out. The book said St. Andrews Hospital, but how to get there without a car, buses or taxi service? It turned out that St. Andrews has a dinghy dock! So I took the dink in and walked into the ER in my dripping wet foulies. The people in the small and efficient medical center couldn't have been nicer or more professional. In short order I found myself in an ambulance headed for Damariscotta, 30 minutes away — to have my about-to-burst appendix removed! Three days later, I dinked back to the boat.

The rest of you have a great summer!

Missing the pictures? See the July 2009 eBook!


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