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July 2012

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With reports this month from El Tiburón in Ensenada; from Gitana on taking two Northern California crew from the Caribbean to the Chesapeake; from Hydroquest on waltzing in La Paz; from the Wanderer on North Sound and the Bitter End YC; from Cirque on a Canal transit; from Trilogy on the passing of Don Thomas; from Final Escape on an interspecies rescue; and Cruise Notes.

El Tiburón — Tayana 47
Darrell and Sarah Powell Erickson
Baja Naval
(San Francisco)

I read Latitude's June article on boatyards, and wanted to add one more to the list. I know Latitude focuses on all the great yards in the San Francisco Bay Area, but so many Latitude readers sail to Mexico for extended periods of time that I thought I'd mention how happy we've been with the Baja Naval yard in Ensenada.

We hauled out after being 'on the road' in Mexico for two years, by which time El Tiburón really needed some fresh bottom paint. The work was very professional and it was obvious that they really cared. In addition to doing our boat's sorry-ass bottom, they were also very helpful in coordinating the additional work that we needed — such as new upholstery, new countertops and updates to our dodger.

But my favorite thing about Baja Naval is the statue of the regal virgin Nuestra Señora del Carmen, located near where the Travelift launches boats. Señora is the Patron de Los Marineros who protects mariners and vessels on their voyages. Fishermen are a big part of Mexican life, so her birthday, July 16, is celebrated with great fanfare. That means plenty of music and fireworks. My second favorite thing about Baja Naval is that all the workers play baseball during their lunch break.

We'd also like to put in a good word for Marina Coral. As with all the other marinas we've been to in Mexico, the staff was very friendly and helpful. The day we arrived, the marina was sponsoring a concert by Aleks Syntek, who has performed with countless major American music stars. Wow, what a multi-talented guy! Marina Coral hosts a series of summer concerts under a big tent, and they feature lots of great local food and wine. We died and went to heaven over the sushi-style mushroom caps stuffed with spicy marlin in tempura batter — which we happily washed down with a very nice red wine from a nearby vineyard. Our Marina Coral experience was fantastic.

By the way, Ensenada in general turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We love Mexico. Viva Mexico!

— sarah 06/18/12

Gitana — Lapworth 44 Schooner
Michael Johnson
Not Pleasure Cruising
(Santa Fe, New Mexico)

In October of last year, we published Managing Editor Andy Turpin's excellent interview with Michael Johnson of the modern schooner Gitana. There aren't many sailors who have sailed as much or to as many infrequently visited places as Johnson. Since the late '70s, he has sailed not only to all the usual places, such as the South Pacific and the Med, but also to Antarctica and to within 450 miles of the North Pole.

Perhaps Johnson's two greatest voyages were in the '80s with Aissa, his Westsail 32. Despite the fact that the heavy Colin Archer design is a poor performer upwind, Johnson sailed his around the world via the five Southern Capes, one of the greatest challenges in the world of sailing. As one Aussie journalist aptly put it, "It was against the wind, the waves, and all common sense." Another of his three roundings of Cape Horn was again the 'wrong way', from Rio to Easter Island. It was nonstop and all under sail, as he'd sealed the boat's prop shaft. On calm days Aissa would lose as much as 60 miles of progress because of adverse current. The trip took 88 days, during which time Johnson saw only one ship, and briefly saw land just one time. Oh yeah, he made the trip without any electronics, navigating by sextant.

Johnson's first trip around the Horn was actually the 'right way', meaning with the wind from astern, aboard the San Francisco-based schooner Lord Jim. After the rounding, Johnson learned that the old Cape Horn hands don't think a 'right way' rounding even counts as a rounding at all. They have even less respect for those so-called sailors who harbor-hop in good weather, and then claim to have 'sailed around the Horn'. To the old hands, the only proper way to round the Horn is nonstop, east to west, from 50° south to 50° south — a distance of hundreds of miles of mostly wicked open ocean.

So whom do you think we saw while taking a leak in the men's room on the quay at St. Barth in early May? No, not Johnson, but rather Jackson Lord, one of two Northern Californians crewing for Johnson. In response to Jackson's inquiry, we confessed that we were the publisher of Latitude, but said we were a little busy and would like to meet the whole Gitana crew later. We ended up having them join our 'Will You Still Love Me When I'm 64?' birthday party.

An ancient proverb claims that the gods don't deduct from your life the days that you spent sailing. Looking at Johnson, we can see why there might be some truth to it. He sails six or seven months a year, and at 68 years of age looks more fit than 80% of the men half his age. He's 6'3" and weighs just 185 pounds, which is what he tipped the scales at as a paratrooper nearly 50 years ago. He admits that he puts on an extra "seven or eight pounds" in the off-season when he's taking care of his little place in Santa Fe. But thanks to the fact that he uses oars rather than an outboard to get to and from shore, he says he drops those extra pounds quickly once his sailing season starts.

Johnson's mind is as fit as his body, so there were no pauses when he recounted his sailing history. He told us about owning the Westsail for 25 years, then going to Seattle to buy the Lapworth-designed schooner that had been finished off from a hull by Bud Taplin of World Cruising Yachts. The schooner originally was built for a Newport Beach sailor who wanted to win the local schooner races, so she had very little tankage and, curiously, only one electric light. Purchased by a tech guy, Gitana spent a few years in the Bay Area before she became a "dock ornament in the San Juans." Johnson bought her in '98.

Having been schooled in the traditional sailing ways of the British Navy, Johnson took three years to redo the schooner to his satisfaction. It is true, however, that the refit was delayed somewhat by the fact that the ex-CIA guy who had bought Aissa asked Johnson to help him sail the boat to Europe. Johnson agreed — but only on the condition that they sail to Europe by way of Greenland. Not knowing what he was getting into, the new owner agreed. Which is why the boat ended up wintering over in Iceland — where Johnson says he made many good friends.

For the last 11 years Johnson has tried to cover the operating expenses, but not boat expenses, of his sailing adventures by taking on two to three guests at a time. He knows he could make much more money doing charters in more popular cruising areas such as Greece, but he's more interested in going to unusual places, where hopefully there are few other boats and surely no charter boats.

In the '70s, this could have included the Marquesas, the Tuamotus and Tonga. "We only saw one cruising boat in all three of those places," Johnson says. "Now they have countless cruising boats and even charter fleets. The Med is even worse. I was told that during the height of the season there are 33% more boats than there are slips. So it's not only crowded, it's expensive."

No, Johnson prefers remote places such as the Arctic. "I like it because there is nobody else there." Or edgy places such as Alexandria, Egypt. "Everyone else is too afraid to visit." Or sometimes dangerous places such as up the Amazon River. "We had two incidents at the very spot in the Amazon where sailing legend Peter Blake was shot and killed by thieves." But some places are more than his guests can take. For instance, both of his crew jumped ship in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam carried out nearly 200 suicide attacks until '00.

So what was Johnson doing in the crowded Caribbean and, specifically, in chic St. Barth? He was on his way north from Brazil to the Chesapeake, where he plans to prepare the schooner for a Northwest Passage. He hadn't been in the Caribbean since the '90s.

In addition to going to the less popular places, Johnson makes it clear to potential guests that he doesn't offer a sailing vacation or a pleasure cruise, but rather a working adventure. Not everyone likes it. Last year, for example, a woman called up and said that her 17-year-old son had been raised soft by women and needed to be toughened up. Mom signed the boy up for a trip all the way across the Atlantic, but by the time they got to the Canaries, the boy had come up with lots of reasons that he couldn't possibly continue. Johnson was about to replace him with a 17-year-old Irish lad, when his middle-aged crew said he was sick of whining teenagers, and asked if just the two of them couldn't cross the Atlantic. Johnson agreed. Normally, however, he prefers three crew, as it allows for a military style watch schedule.

Johnson has had all kinds of people join him over the years, and says that fewer than 10% found it wasn't what they were looking for. Interestingly, he says that experienced sailors don't always make the best crew. "Enthusiasm is much more important than sailing experience. In fact, the sailors who think they know it all are the most dangerous." Johnson has no prejudice against women crew, as it's been his experience that they can be as good as, if not better crew than men. He sailed around the Horn with one woman, and had another aboard for a 360-degree roll that nearly sank his Westsail near New Zealand's Stewart Island.

We were tickled to hear that Johnson has gotten an inordinate number of his crew from his ads in Latitude. Indeed, both of his crew in St. Barth were from Latitude. The first one we saw was Paul Lara of Modesto, who keeps a Pearson 46 at Marina Village in Alameda, and who'd just retired from the Brisbane Fire Department at the ripe old age of 53.

"Michael gave me the down and dirty about his trips," says Lara. "He said it wouldn't be a pleasure cruise and that he ran his boat like a military ship. I joined Gitana in Antigua, and will be sailing with him up to the Chesapeake, and can't tell you how much I've learned from him already about every aspect of sailing, preparation and maintenance. I was even lucky enough to be with him at Jolly Harbor in Antigua, because it meant I got to help with the eight-day haulout," he says with laughter. "Michael's a very nice man, and a really fine raconteur."

Paul was paying $1,500 for six weeks. Johnson charges different prices depending on where Gitana sails, as in some places the fuel and marina bills are much higher. The price also depends a little on whether the trip is more or less a delivery, or if they are exploring.

Johnson's other crew was 28-year-old Jackson Lord of San Francisco, who is taking a sabbatical from his career in the wind and solar fields. "I was looking for a real sailing adventure," said Lord, who is the co-owner of the Catalina 34 Don Miguel at Gashouse Cove in San Francisco. He'd gotten on the schooner just five days before in Antigua. "I'm paying $1,500 for six weeks to sail with Johnson up to the Chesapeake," says Lord. "I wanted to see if I could get along with him, so maybe I'd do a Northwest Passage with him,"

Lara and Lord apparently got all the adventure they were looking for — and perhaps more — on the way to the Chesapeake.

"We made a fast passage from St. Barth to Bermuda," recalls Johnson, "logging 890 miles in under seven days. We were at St. Georges, Bermuda, a little over a week watching the beginnings of Beryl, the second named storm of the year in the Atlantic. Apparently there have only been three tropical storms this early since they started keeping records in 1851.

"Anyway, we were in the Gulf Stream when we began to feel Beryl's effects on the afternoon of May 30th. We went right through one side of the tropical storm, and were hit by winds of up to 50 knots. They were out of the south in the beginning, so we could keep moving. Then we were in the eye, with a nearly full moon beaming down tranquilly. This was followed by NW winds of up to 50 knots, which forced us to lie ahull until the next evening. The storm only lasted about 24 hours, and because it was fast moving, the seas didn't have time to get too big. My inexperienced ocean crew said they wanted some drama during the passage. I think they've been cured."

At close to 70, how long does Johnson plan on doing what he's doing? "As long as I can," he says with a smile.

His near-term plan is to make repairs and modifications to Gitana, then head back to the Arctic in the spring.

— latitude/rs 06/12/12

Hydroquest — Beneteau First 405
Will and Sarah Curry
The La Paz Waltz
(Vancouver, B.C.)

Will stood up, stretched, and ambled over to the window of the delightfully cool air-conditioned coffee shop in La Paz, where we were enjoying some late afternoon iced drinks. After all, it's hot here in May. Will spent a couple of seconds gazing out to the water before turning around with a peculiar smirk to ask me: “Hey Sarah, where’s the boat?”

"Excuse me?" I thought he was kidding until I registered that the smirk was his ‘This is kind of an emergency, but let’s try to play it cool’ look. I sprang out of my seat and we both rushed out the door.

Where the hell was our Beneteau 40!? She definitely wasn't where we'd left her, anchored a quarter-mile off the beach. Our wide eyes scanned the many masts, water, and the horizon as we dodged traffic to cross the street to the beach. Finally we spotted her, part of the way down the La Paz Channel, floating out with the tide.

I should back up a few hours. Will and I spent the early afternoon doing boat projects, and by the time we were ready to head into town, the 'La Paz Waltz' was in full swing. The La Paz Waltz occurs when the tidal currents that surge through the channel are going sideways or in the opposite direction of the wind. Because of the different depths in the channel, and the fact that the tide doesn't flow out of all parts of the channel at the same time, boats rotate out of sync. Sometimes boats step on each other’s rodes.

So the Waltz was in full swing, which was no real cause for concern, as it can happen a few times in a day. But as we were dropping into the dinghy, my woman’s intuition kicked in. “This feels weird," I said. "Maybe we should stick around a bit longer to make sure Hydroquest is okay.“ But my new-to-cruising woman’s intuition has been known to kick in fairly often. As in, “I think the engine sounds funny”. Or, “I think we’ re anchored too close to shore”. Or, “I really feel that we should sail another 20 miles offshore”. Usually Will, who did a long cruise with his parents as a teenager, knows better. But I swear, in this case I really knew something was up.

Fast forward, and there we were standing on the beach as our home-sweet-home floated away. Did I mention that our dinghy was still tied up at Marina de La Paz, a 10-minute walk away? We were very close to not-playing-it-so-cool with our panic-stricken faces and hands raised to our heads.

But wait a minute, we realized that Hydroquest was no longer moving. Her anchor had clearly dragged, but somehow reset. Reset in a precarious spot, no doubt, but reset nonetheless. Either that, or she’d grounded on the shoal that divides the channel. Ugh.

Luckily we were able to flag down a fellow cruiser who had just pulled his dinghy up onto the beach. Will jumped in to go to Hydroquest's rescue while I ran back to the coffee shop to rescue our bags and computers.

I can’t speak for Will, but the next 20 minutes were very stressful for me. By the time I got back to the beach, I couldn’t tell if Will had made it out to Hydroquest or if he'd gotten a dinghy ride to the marina to collect our dinghy. What's worse, Hydroquest kind of looked as though she were on the move again. And I was helpless on the beach.

Unable to keep playing it cool, I ran over to a group of Mexican fishermen and made a total fool of myself trying to speak Spanish — “Mi velero, mi velero” — and pantomiming ‘dragging anchor.’ Then I started pointing out at the water and saying, “Mi esposo, mi esposo!” At that point they surely thought I was so crazy that my husband had ditched me ashore to enjoy life on the sailboat alone. One guy finally offered to drive me out there in his panga for 500 pesos — about $40 — so I’m pretty sure they didn’t fully understand my predicament.

Will’s version is that he convinced the fellow cruiser to take him straight to Hydroquest. When he arrived, she was still in 14 feet of water and no longer moving. Wow, lucky again! He started the engine and raised the anchor. But the La Paz Waltz had really done a number on her anchor over the prior week, as our boat must have done many pirouettes. For the anchor was wrapped up with chain like a Christmas present, with the most recent wrap right under one of the flukes. Aha, this was the culprit!

Will singlehandedly drove Hydroquest back up and out of the channel, dropped her untangled anchor in a perfect spot, backed her down hard, and let out 120 feet of chain. She wasn't going anywhere!

What did we learn from our first — but probably not last — anchor dragging experience? That the Waltz is fun to watch, but that we should always anchor with 300 feet of swinging room and at least 100 feet of chain. And when at La Paz, we should re-anchor every week!

Dull moments? Not out here.

— sarah 06/16/12

North Sound & The Bitter End
British Virgins

As every Latitude reader knows, when we write about the Caribbean, we frequently write about St. Barth. And why not, as it's the one place in the Caribbean where all great boats and great sailors seem to call. But there are other great places, too. One of them is Virgin Gorda's North Sound in the British Virgins. It's our jumping-off point to St. Barth, so if we have to wait a few days for a weather window, no sweat, as it's such a great place. Indeed, we know cruisers who spend a month or more without ever leaving the Sound.

About four ragged miles by a ragged mile-and-a-half, the Sound is just big enough for some fun daysails, and to plunk around its nooks and crannies under power or with the dinghy. The water is soooo blue, but you do have to watch out for reefs. No matter how hard the trades are blowing, you can find flat water in the Sound for free anchoring, thanks in part to one island owned by Virgin's Richard Branson and another owned by one of the Google co-founders. The combination of strong winds and flat water make it a paradise for sailors who like to kite- and/or board- sail.

The Sound is remote and sparsely inhabited, so what businesses there are cater to sailors. As such, this isn't a great place to provision or find cheap meals ashore. But it is a great place to play with the ocean, chill and socialize.

The oldest and most famous sailor hangout in the Sound is the Bitter End YC, a mellow, high-end sailors' resort that 173 reviewers gave an average of 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 on Trip Advisor. The Bitter End has rooms down by the water, and rooms on the sides of the hill with fantastic views of the Sound and all the boats. They also have lots of moorings, a few docks, small boat and kite- and boardsailing rentals and instruction, as well as a nice bistro and a more formal restaurant. They try to cover all the bases for sailors, and unlike a few places in the BVIs, you won't find any surly staff.

The Bitter End is a 'must stop' for folks who charter in the British Virgins, but it can be a hard slog to weather to get to North Sound from the bases at Roadtown. So when smart charterers get to the North Sound, they take a mooring or a berth and encourage the gals to dress up a little for drinks and a romantic dinner ashore at the Bitter End. And the next day they buy day-passes for the pool, so the gals can kick back with a book, a cool drink and a nice lunch. It's a totally mellow place.

The Bitter End is also a great place for family charterers, as kids of all ages will find plenty of fun things to do in a safe environment, giving mom and dad a break. One of the kid favorites is watching movies being shown on the resort's 35-ft wide outdoor screen. This means mom and dad can safely park the kids and slip off to the owner's cabin for some undisturbed hanky-panky.

The Bitter End is also home to two of the oldest and most popular sailing events in the Caribbean. The first is the Bitter End Pro-Am, now in its 26th year. The deal is that the Bitter End comps some of the world's greatest sailors a week at the resort in return for their agreeing to race with amateurs who have paid for rooms. If memory serves us, one year the late Latitude Racing Editor Rob Moore did the Pro-Am where Paul Cayard was the skipper and supermodel Heidi Klum was the other crew.

Cruiser Robin Stout of the Redondo Beach-based Aleutian 51 Mermaid, who also loves to match race, has done the Bitter End Pro-Am a number of times. "I've done it so many times that each year after it's over, I say to myself, 'I've had my fill'. But six months later I can't stop myself from signing up for another one. They are great!"

The Pro-Am is sailed in IC-24s, which are radically modified J/24s, but there are two other events within the Pro-Am. They are the Scuttlebutt Regatta, sailed in Lasers and Freedom 30s, hosted by Scuttlebutt's Tom Lewick. Then there is the Defiance Day Regatta, now in its 19th year, which is open to everyone with boats over 20 feet, including multihulls.

The Defiance Day Race, from North Sound to The Baths, with a stop, and back to the Bitter End, is former San Francisco sailor and Cabo Marina dock master Tim Schaff's favorite race. He's competed several times with his Leopard 45 Jet Stream, and while he doesn't want to brag, notes that he's beaten both Paul Cayard and America's Cup helmsman Ed Baird. He admits it might have had something to do with the fact that Tom Lewick was calling tactics.

If you're looking for a little variety in the Sound, there is always Saba Rock, a restaurant and small hotel on an island about 150 feet offshore of the Bitter End. A natural beauty, Saba Rock has a great happy hour, during which time they feed the fish — meaning the scores of semi-domesticated four-foot tarpon who hang out there.

New this year to the North Sound, and only about a half-mile across the water from the Bitter End, is the Caribbean station of the Aga Khan's Costa Smeralda YC in Sardinia. Designed to attract megayachts and others willing to pay $4/foot to Med-tie, it's not very busy outside of holidays, so outsiders are usually welcome. But please, no torn shorts and t-shirts.

There are other places to visit in North Sound, but we've never got past these three. The British Virgins is a great place to charter, and North Sound is one of the best places in the British Virgins. Don't miss it.

— latitude/rs 06/12/12

Cirque — Beneteau First 42s7
Louis Kruk and Laura Wellman
Transiting The Canal
(San Leandro)

We completed our transit of the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean in May. It was both spectacular and educational.

For those keeping score on the financial front, our transit toll was $500, which is $250 less than for boats between 50 and 80 feet of length; the transit inspection was $54; and the transit security fee was $55. Additional fees and expenses are listed below.

We'd had business in California, so Cirque had been on a mooring at the Balboa YC since March 23. During that time we'd been working with agent Erick Galvez of Centarios to arrange for our transit. His fee was $350. Shortly after admeasurement and other formalities, we were assigned a transit date of May 25. This gave us enough time to provision and visit Chapera and Contadora, two islands in the nearby Perlas Archipelago. We shared a good time at Contadora with friends Rick and Karen of Eyes of the World.

At 6 a.m. on the 25th, the four young men who would serve as line handlers, and who had been arranged for by our agent, showed up. There was a $90 fee for each one of them for the two-day passage. Half an hour later we were underway and calling Flamenco Signal Station to let them know we were ready for our canal advisor, who would guide us through the Canal.

There are normally two transit scenarios. If your transit is scheduled for very early in the morning, you are likely to complete the whole trip in one day. However, if you are scheduled for later in the morning or at the Canal Authority's “convenience,” you wil 'lock up' through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, motor 29 miles across Panama, and spend the night tied to a buoy in Lake Gatun. In this second scenario, you will lock down the Gatun Locks the following day to complete your transit.

The Canal Authority scheduled us for scenario two. We did, however, have a 'special lockage' the first day in that we didn't 'lock up' with any major ships. This didn't mean we had the locks to ourselves — after all, each complete transit uses 52 million gallons of fresh water — but rather shared them with two tugs, two large tourist vessels, and a sportfishing boat. The second day we 'locked down' with a mammoth car carrier.

Normally a cruising boat such as ours would get one advisor. We ended up having four of them. Our first advisor was actually a ship's pilot, and accompanying him was a 'student' who just happened to be one of the Canal engineers in charge of the 24/7 operations of the canal — virtually a VIP. Our advisor/pilot was brilliant, gregarious, and helpful. He and his student got off in Gamboa, where we picked up our third advisor. We had a fourth advisor for the last day.

Our transit was an amazing experience. It was also uneventful, something that can't be said about the transits of some other boats. Due to the turbulence within the chambers, which can be caused by the prop wash of ships or tugs, and/or the mixing of salt and fresh water, some yachts get spun around and make unwanted contact with the rough concrete walls of the chambers or the massive steel gates that open and close the locks. That's never a pretty picture.

We had to pay a $13.70 checkout fee, plus a $10 "tip" to the inspector to grease the paperwork. We also had to pay $193, plus another $10 "tip," to get a cruising permit, which is compulsory for entering marinas or visiting any of the local islands. The immigration visa cost another $100.

Following our transit, we berthed Cirque at Shelter Bay Marina, which is across the way from Colon, a notoriously dangerous place. Cirque will be on her own until we join her again this winter for adventures in the Caribbean.

— louis 06/16/12

ex-Trilogy — Cal 2-46
Jim Massey and Leslee Bangs
The Passing of Don Thomas
(Friday Harbor, WA))

Don Thomas, singlehanded skipper of the Corona del Mar-based Peterson 44 Tamure, and a longtime liveaboard in Panama, passed away last week in Newport Beach. He was not only a wonderful friend, but had been our weatherman supreme on the Pacific side of Central and South America during the 12 years we cruised there on Trilogy. Don sold his boat about a year ago when he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

When Leslie and I first picked up Don's weather reports, it was '02 and we were in either El Salvador or Costa Rica. For years after, we were glued to our SSB each morning so we could tune in and get "the real thing" from Don. He didn't just read weather reports picked up from NOAA or someone else's service. He ran weather faxes and raw chart data numerous times throughout the day, every day, then gave us his analysis based upon his experience as a military meteorologist and longtime cruiser. He included lots of local weather forecasts, as well as tide and current information you could only get from someone who had been there.

Don was efficient, too. Some days we'd hear "if you like what you've got today, you'll like tomorrow even better." Enough said. Other days he would warn of bad things to come, tell us why in detail, and give us his thoughts about leaving or hunkering down. And if we were getting beat up on a passage or just needed to talk, he was there for us.

If Don said it was going to blow like stink, it did. If he said it was going to blow "woo woo," we put out more rode, shortened sail or hove to. But he didn't get angry when people ignored his advice. One time he gave a very strong warning to a captain not to set out across the Gulf of Tehuantepec, potentially a very dangerous body of water. The captain took off anyway, and soon started to get hammered. Don nonetheless stayed with him on the radio every day and every night, helping the boat get through the bad blow. There was never a hint of "I warned you", but just hours of patient cruiser-talk to see the boat through.

At the little village on Isla Cana in Panama's Perlas Islands, Don was known as "the stand up man," That's because he was not only a 'stand up guy,' but because he was the gringo singlehander who always stood up while driving his dinghy from dive spot to dive spot or to different fishing spots. By the way, we don't know of anyone who spent more time in the water than Don.

Don must have got some of his love for the ocean from his father and uncle, who back in the early 1900s were among the first to surf in Southern California. Don told me he started surfing when he was 8 years old. As a kid, Don had a favorite book about a real life sailing adventure. He read it over and over, using a flashlight while hiding under the covers when he was supposed to be asleep.

To the best of our knowledge, Don took off cruising in '98, then spent most of the time afterward in Panama. We miss him badly.

As for ourselves, we spent 12 wonderful years cruising our Cal 46. It couldn't have been better, as we met wonderful people and had a fabulous time. We're now living aboard our old Monk woodie in Friday Harbor.

— jim and leslee 06/20/12

Final Escape — Perry 60
Geoff Scott Andersen, et al
Inter-Species Rescue
(La Paz)

In late May, Maru Sanchez of the Perry 60 Final Escape was enjoying her morning coffee while at anchor in the channel at La Paz, when she saw some large sea life in trouble. Perhaps dolphins trapped in a net.

Calling other cruisers on the VHF for help, I heard myself saying, “My girlfriend keeps telling me they’re whales, but they're so small I think they must be dolphins." I knew that dolphins and whales are the only two sea creatures who breathe air. What I didn’t know is that some sperm whales, specifically dwarf or pygmy sperm whales, are no bigger than most dolphins. These shy whales usually are seen only when stranded or dead in shallow water.

We were joined at the scene of distress by Pitt of Karma Seas, William of Prana and Eran of Patient Pariah. Sure enough, we found two dwarf whales, a 7'6" mother and a four-foot-long baby. They appeared to be just like their larger cousins in all respects except for their size.

Three times a huge cloud of red filled the water as the mother thrashed her flippers. But since she wasn't caught in a net and we found no damage to her aft quarters, we assumed that it was afterbirth being released. We later read that these unusual creatures have a sack of red ink in their tails, ready to squirt out as a distraction to potential predators, much like the black ink of squid.

But the whales did have mild cuts, the result of the mother dragging her young over sharp rocks. For two hours we tried to calm the whales by gently stroking them, and also tried to coax them back into deeper water. But each time we did, the mother pulled us back to the beach again. Perhaps her GPS was telling her to head north, but the sandbanks of El Magote weren't marked on her chartplotter.

It was clear that we needed specialist help, so it was lucky that the folks at Marina La Paz were able to contact AICMMARH (Association for Investigation and Conservation of Marine Mammals in their Habitat). Their enthusiastic team rushed out, examined the specimens, and dispatched me to find towels to act as makeshift slings. Nearly four hours after the initial sighting, the mother and baby were released in deep water outside of La Paz Bay. This was done with the assistance of the Mexican Navy and other official agencies.

Since dwarf whales don’t breach the surface of the sea, as their big brothers or dolphins do, we don’t expect to receive any postcards. But at least we got them swimming in the right direction.

— geoff 05/30/12

Cruise Notes:

If you want to know why Latitude has always advised against clearing out of Mexico from La Paz, see the June 11th 'Lectronic for a detailed report by John Garteiz of the Alaska-based Nordic 40 Arctic Tern. His experience was expensive — and right out of Kafka.

Doña de Mallorca, on the other hand, was able to clear Profligate out of Nuevo Vallarta for San Diego in less than an hour. By her calling a day in advance, the port captain arranged to have Customs and Immigration waiting for her. The total charge was only $30.

Myron and Marina Eisenzimmer of the San Geronimo-based Swan 44 Mykonos report they had an easy time clearing out of Mexico from Cabo San Lucas — and even arranged for it from the comfort of their home. "We mailed our passports, boat documentation, and Import Permit to agent Victor Barreda in Cabo. We arrived on Friday and had our clearance papers on Saturday. We paid $160 so we wouldn't have to do the running around. All went according to plan. We then had a nice eight-day passage to San Diego."

We assume Myron and Marina, vets of a number of Ha-Has, mailed copies of their passports and other documents, or they wouldn't have been able to get into Mexico.

Having had his J/130 Sceptre in Mexico for several years, San Francisco's Bob Musor did the Bash and cleared out of Ensenada for the States. "Jonathan Cervantes of the Cruiseport Marina, who speaks excellent English, drove us to a building that has the port captain and Immigration and Customs. Cervantes then stood in line with me, and it was all done in 52 minutes for less than $20 U.S. Very efficient and professional."

"Will Imanse reports that he just did a delivery from La Paz to San Diego, and also cleared out of Mexico at Ensenada. "Everything was done in one building, so it took all of 10 minutes to hand in our visas, get our passports stamped, and get a signed certificate from the port captain. The total cost was about $33. Jonathan Cervantes of Cruiseport drove us to the office and showed us exactly what needed to be done."

It was just a year or so ago that a number of cruisers swore they would never check into or clear out of Ensenada again, all because of one apparently corrupt Immigration official who made their lives miserable by asking for bribes. Apparently he's been removed, as we haven't heard grumbles about Ensenada for some time. Bueno!

M.M., another cruiser, reported he cleared out of Mazatlan for Cabo, but made his next stop in San Diego. "The U.S. couldn't care less if you have clearance papers from Mexico," he wrote.

H.P. reports that he's usually the kind of guy who blows off as much paperwork in the U.S. as possible, while he dots the 'i's and crosses the 't's in Mexico. "I feel that I can tell my own country to shove it, but I need to follow the rules when I'm a guest in another country." Alas, the day he was going to clear out of Mexico, he responded to a mayday just outside of Ensenada. When it was all over, he decided to risk it by making a dash for the border. He was surprised that U.S. Customs and Immigration didn't ask to see any papers.

"I guess it was a roll of the dice," writes T.C., "but my instincts tell me that the Mexican bureaucracy does not have a computerized system for tracking boats, so they don't know that I returned to the States without clearing out of Mexico. I guess the real question is what I should do when I return this fall — check my boat back into Mexico even though I never cleared out, or say I came from what my papers say was my last port in Mexico."

We realize there was a time when if the weather was good, cruisers returning to the States who had planned to clear out of Mexico at Ensenada would just blow it off and make a dash for San Diego. Because, yes, U.S. officials didn't/still don't care if you had any clearance papers. It was dangerous to not properly clear out of Mexico back then, because if there is anything that will get a Mexican official's dander up, it's gringos knowingly and blatantly breaking one of their laws. They view it as the ultimate disrespect. We don't know if Mexico uses computers to track boats entering and leaving the country, but in this day and age we sure wouldn't risk it. We strongly urge U.S. cruisers not to play that game.

A Latitude salute to Ed Skeels, who left Mexico last month aboard his Alameda-based O'Day 27 Dos Gatos — with his two cats — bound for San Francisco. He was going to let the wind determine if he sailed back to the Bay Area nonstop — as he did last year — or via Hawaii. It turned out he went by Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the ones that Larry Ellison hasn't bought yet. "We had perfect weather for the 22-day passage from Cabo." We hope the rest of Ed's trip home is as pleasant.

Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell just finished "an incredibly wonderful 2,600-mile, year-long trip around French Polynesia." Unfortunately, it ended with Swell getting t-boned by a charter cat her first day back in Tahiti. Luckily the damage wasn't extensive. Liz reports that she's relaunched her website, which looks better than ever, at She also notes that she'll be at the Patagonia store in Ventura on July 13 for a presentation titled, Voyage to the Source: 2,600 Miles in the South Pacific Examining Life Close to Nature. It will feature stories and insights from her trip around French Polynesia. She'll also discuss concepts such as simplicity, sacred wilderness, biological egalitarianism, dissolving self, and how compassionate living preserves and protects our environment. Our having met Liz before the beginning of her adventure, when she was at best a novice sailor, it's been fascinating to watch her evolve as a sailor and a person.

The Mazatlan Club de Vela finished its six-race cruiser series at the end of May with two races," reports Mike Wilson of the Mazatlan-based S&S 44 Tortue. "Sailing in the remnants of hurricane Bud, Mazatlan's Chuck Naslund drove his Catalina 30 Saber Vivir to line honors in both races to claim the Copa de Mazatlan Cup. His crew included Frank from Endless Summer, and Antonio and Gonzalo from Alhambra. This was the first time in eight tries that Naslund took top honors, and he did it while racing his 'home', which naturally has a kitchen sink, TV, rum supply and all the normal clutter of a long-time cruiser. The awards ceremony was held at Isla Palapa on Isla Mazatlan, and was followed by a big carne asada barbecue. Everyone at the Club de Vela wants cruisers coming to Mexico this winter to know they are welcome to join us in our 'nothing serious' racing fun. And as a long time resident of Mazatlan, I encourage everyone to not believe every negative thing you read about Mazatlan in the U.S. press. It's a great city!

By now, you've probably realized that this isn't the normal layout for Cruise Notes. Usually it's half-pages, which we like much better. But we got backed into a layout corner this month. You can expect the old format to return next month.

Unfortunately, there have been an unusual number of cruiser tragedies/misfortunes in the last month or so.

As we went to press, Kiwi SAR teams were about to call off a search of the area around Late, a small island to the west of Vava'u, Tonga, for Ian Thompson and Erwin Claus. The former's Bavaria 50 Navillus, which he'd just bought in the Caribbean and was delivering to Queensland's Whitsunday Islands, had broken up on a Late reef in mid-June. The men, both in their late 60s, had been able to contact Thompson's wife by satphone after hitting the reef, but only extensive boat wreckage has been found.

Then there is the case of a Kiwi couple — a 59-year-old male and a 53- year-old female, names withheld — who had to be rescued from their liferaft by the crew of a tug after Touche, their 46-ft sloop, hit a reef at the entrance to Fiji's Somosomo Strait. The couple initially didn't think there was serious damage from the contact, but half an hour later they found water over the floorboards. They headed back to Savusavu, but the partially submerged boat became unmanageable in the big waves of Waikava Passage, and the boat went on that reef for good. The couple set off their EPIRB and were rescued by the tug not long afterward. The following day there was virtually nothing left of Touche. Fiji is, of course, notorious for dangerous reefs.

Commodore and Nancy Tompkins, of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl, currently in New Zealand, got some bad news from good friends Fabian and Tarn Stelco of Rosslyn Bay, Australia. The couple had lost their Adams 13 Xyris. Fabian had been singlehanding the boat from Fraser Island to Rosslyn Bay on the east coast of Australia, when at 4:30 a.m. he heard a loud bang. Nobody will know if it was a container, a whale, or a log, but Xyris' bow rose up during the "mushy collision". Fabian checked the bow from on deck and didn't see anything wrong. After rolling in the headsail because of an approaching squall, he noticed there was water above the cabin sole. And it just kept rising. Eventually Fabian used his satphone to call for help, then got into his inflatable. The boat sank 18 miles from the nearest land, but Fabian was rescued before he suffered too badly from hypothermia. "I feel lost, and the thought of becoming a landlubber again is very distasteful," Tarn wrote to the Tompkins.

In this month's Sightings there is the report of Max Young's Antioch-based Perry 57-60 Reflections going down off Baja in June. This was the result of her rudder area's being damaged in a collision with a whale.

And as we went to press, Mag Bay Outfitters was reporting that some boat, possibly a Beneteau about 42 feet long, had gone on the beach somewhere in the vicinity of Mag Bay. The good news is that the Mag Bay folks thought the boat probably could be refloated without too much damage.

Whew! Please be careful out there.

Women Bashing. Patsy Verhoeven of the La Paz-based Gulfstar 50 Talion came north from La Paz to San Diego to get ready for both this year's first-ever SoCal Ta-Ta, and also this fall's 19th annual Baja Ha-Ha. How did her Bash go? She says she could hardly call it a Bash, as the only times she saw more than 12 knots of wind were briefly at Cabo Falso and when leaving Cedros. Lucky girl.

Doña de Mallorca and three crew on Profligate didn't have it quite as easy on what must be close to her tenth Baja Bash with the cat. They had to spend two nights waiting out weather at Punta Pequeña, home of the famous four point breaks of Scorpion Bay. When de Mallorca and crew went ashore, they bumped into Dennis Choate, who had built the 63-ft cat at his Dencho Boatyard in Long Beach in the late '90s. The Dencho yard is very busy with boat and other projects, but Choate likes to sneak away to his Scorpion Bay compound and make surfboards — which is how he started his career. Things didn't get much better farther north for de Mallorca and crew once they got to Cedros, as an area of persistent 20+ knot winds blocked their path, then one of the engines temporarily went down. Their Bash remained a work in progress as we went to press.

"As if a Baja Bash from Cabo to San Diego weren't bad enough, someone stole my boat's Gori folding prop while we were at anchor at the northern tip of Cedros Island," reports Dick Dreschler of the Southern California-based Catalina 470 Last Resort. "So we sailed back to Turtle Bay, which proved to be an exercise in futility. As a result, just two of us had to make the trip from Turtle Bay to San Diego, all of it under sail. At least we were able to set the spinnaker when we left San Quintin, which is pretty unusual. On the other hand, our windlass crapped out on the Bash, too, so we've got to fix that — as well as the gelcoat on the port side, which got damaged when the auxiliary anchor jumped the roller."

We have a hard time believing that somebody at the nearly uninhabited north end of Cedros Island would: 1) want to steal your boat's folding prop, or 2) be able to do it without your being aware of it. Our theory is that your prop fell off. We had two fall off Profligate in a one-month period a few years back.

While Loreto Fest wasn't quite as big this year as last, we're told that everybody had a great time, the weather was better, and close to $4,000 was raised for local charities.

Peter Schmidt of the Northern California-based Valiant 32 Insouciant says that in January of '07 we wondered, in writing, where Richard Barnard, veteran of several Ha-Has with his San Diego-based Valiant 42 Surf Ride, might be. More than four years later, Schmidt has a news flash: "I met Bernard at Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas at the end of May. We spoke only briefly, as he and a female crewmember were preparing to head out. As for me, I was delivering a Tartan 37 to Tahiti. Now that I'm back in the Bay Area, I'm wondering where I'm headed next." Aren't we all?

In keeping with our promise to report on Mexican narco violence when it occurs in areas that might be frequented by cruisers, there were two narco executions around Banderas Bay last month. In the first case, a man was shot outside the Salud (health clinic) in La Cruz. In the second instance, a man was killed after a brief gun battle in the parking lot of the big Mega store in Bucerias. In addition, there was a drug execution in Zihua in early June. No bystanders were injured in any of the incidents, but they are nonetheless disturbing. This month Mexico votes for a new president, who hopefully can reverse the tide on narco violence. Either that or we Americans can reduce our near insatiable demand for drugs.

One family that wasn't afraid to visit Mexico were the Obamas of Washington, D.C. Last month 13-year-old daughter Malia, 12 of her friends, and 25 Secret Service agents boarded two jets and flew to Oaxaca for spring break. A few weeks later, her father, the president, took Air Force One, a legion of black Suburbans, and countless Secret Service guys to Los Cabos for the G20 Summit, where he hung with the leaders of the 19 other leading economies of the world. While Mexico has the 14th largest economy in the world now, did you know that some economists are projecting it to have the fifth largest economy in the world by 2020?

Turkey stunned cruisers — and owners of Turkish marinas — in February when a new law was passed that restricted visitors to no more than 90 days out of every 180 in their country. Fortunately, the Ministry of Interior announced — just before the start of the cruising season — that they had amended regulations to allow authorities to issue residence permits to all persons shown on a boat's transit log. In other words, you can stay as long as you want because Turkey doesn't want to lose all your cruising bucks. And yes, cruising in Turkey is as fantastic as people say.

Chay, Katie, and son Jaime McWilliam, vets of the '03 Ha-Ha with their San Diego-based Peterson 46 Esprit, report they are now sailing down the coast of Turkey, enjoying the many historical sites. What they are enjoying less is the notoriously poor holding ground. Not realizing that the gulets put out as much as 450 feet of chain to keep from dragging, they anchored Esprit on top of one gulet's chain. Fortunately, the Turkish crew was very understanding. The McWilliams also got a chance to hone their tacking skills, as it took them at least eight tacks to round the tricky point at Knidos, which is at the western end of the Datca Peninsula.

That the McWilliams didn't stop at Knidos is a surprise to us, as it was one of our most memorable stops on the California-to-Turkey cruise we did with Big O back in the '90s. Maybe it was because there was a full moon rising over the ancient amphitheater ruins that our kids were playing on, but Knidos seemed to be a special place. Not only was it a trade and cultural crossroads of the ancient world, it was the site of the world's first man-made breakwater. In addition, it was the site of the world's first 'pornography,' that being the statue of Aphrodite by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles. The citizens of Kos had commissioned him to do a sculpture of the goddess, but for some reason he did two versions, one where she was draped, the other where she was naked preparing for her ritual bath. When the prudes of Kos rejected the version of the proudly nude Aphrodite, the citizens of Knidos purchased it on the cheap, and put it inside a temple for all to see. This was the first life-size version of the female form the world had seen, and it became a huge attraction. It was so lifelike that one night a sailor broke into the temple and tried to copulate with the stone image. Legend has it that the statute was so gorgeous that even the goddess Aphrodite came to check it out. That's not something that happens every day.

Here's why you shouldn't be afraid of dropping your hook in coves that aren't marked as anchorages in the cruising guides of Mexico. A couple of months ago a couple with a 41-ft cruising boat — who prefer not to be identified — dropped the hook in a small cove along Mexico's Gold Coast. Before long, they'd become friends with the owner of the property ashore. Being a Mexican, he invited them to his daughter's wedding. It turned out to be one of those two-week, spare-no-expense affairs at his waterfront estate.

The West Coast sailing community was saddened to learn of the tragic death of longtime cruiser Mark Barger, 64, in a diving accident at Isla Espiritu Santo, not far from La Paz. Formerly of Sausalito, Barger and his wife Kathleen had been sailing together extensively for more than 40 years. In addition to their Passport 51 Lisa Marie, which they sailed in the '98 Ha-Ha, they owned a beautiful home and rental property at Manzanillo. On May 16, after a long day of successful fishing, Barger put on a weight belt and some fins to dive for what was described as a "roll control" anchor. When Mark surfaced, he hollered for Miguel, who had taken them fishing in his panga and who was helping, to pull the anchor up when given the signal. In broken English, Kathy tried to clarify what Miguel was to do. Mark dove down again, later surfaced, and then took a breath. At that time, Kathy reports that his head started bobbing up and down, as though he had lost consciousness. Mark had lost consciousness diving once before, and just a day before had told Kathleen that his diving skills had really deteriorated. Miguel dove in and struggled to hold Mark's head above water. But Miguel was unable to keep Mark's body, with the weight belt, above the surface without himself choking. Ultimately, he had to take off for shore for more help. By then, of course, help would be too late.

Enrique Fernandez, who for several years a while back was the Manager of Marina Cabo San Lucas, is now the manager of the Los Cabos Marina at San Jose del Cabo. Enrique replaces Jim Elfers, who returned to California so his son could go to high school. Fernandez reports he'll be putting together a post- Ha-Ha special for cruisers.

By the way, as of June 23, there were 63 paid entries signed up for this year's Ha-Ha, which departs San Diego on October 28. Be there or be cold!

In the last few years there has been a renaissance of bigger boat sailboat racing in the many islands of the Caribbean, but with little coordination. But now former America's Cup skipper Peter Holmberg of U.S. Virgins and the Caribbean Sailing Association have somehow managed to get everyone to coordinate their events for next year. While there are countless sailing events in the Caribbean, the biggies will be:

Jan 25-27: The Super Yacht Challenge, Antigua. Feb 16-18: Puerto Rico Heineken Intl Regatta. Feb 18: Caribbean 600; Mar 1-3. St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, St. Martin. TBD: Caribbean Super Yacht Regatta, Virgin Gorda. Mar 22-24: International Rolex Regatta, St. Thomas. Mar 25-31: BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival. Mar 28-31: St. Barth Bucket. April 8-13: Les Voiles de St. Barth. April 18-23: Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. April 28-May 3: Antigua Sailing Week.

If you have your boat in the Caribbean, if you're buying a boat out of a charter program in the Caribbean, or if you're a gap-year student crewing on boats in the Caribbean, a month starting with the BVI Spring Regatta and going through the Antigua Classic Regatta, with a variety of types of boats, sailors and competition, would be a sailing adventure you'd remember for the rest of your life.

Missing the pictures? See the July 2012 eBook!


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