August, 2004

With reports this month on the loss of Sound Decision on the Big Island; from Maude I. Jones on cruising East Africa; from Cheval on the quick trip from the Caribbean to California; from Renaissance on six months in Mexico; from Witch of Endor on the pleasures of Ecuador; from Anonymous on disappointment in Cuba; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Sound Decision - Islander 32
Tom Wilkinson
Disasterous Landfall In Hawaii
(Bellingham, Washington)

I learned that 'Lectronic Latitude had heard about my plight, and I wanted to say 'thank you' for your concern and interest. Here's the story of my 10,573-mile cruise and its abrupt conclusion:

I set sail alone from Bellingham on September 12, 2003, aboard my Bob Perry-designed 1979 Islander 32. I cruised down the West Coast of the United States and in Mexico as far as Puerto Vallarta. I then sailed across to the Marquesas as part of the '04 Puddle Jump group. I then continued through the Tuamotus and Society Islands.

On June 4, I left Papeete for Hawaii. I sailed a perfect northerly course with good easting, crossing the equator at 143°W, seldom dropping below six knots. The last two days before landfall I had light wind from the east, but there were large swells from the northeast and east. It made for sloppy seas and prevented me from getting much sleep. It was nothing I was overly concerned with, however, so I slept in bits and spurts, and kept on course using my Sail-O-Mat windvane. Two hundred miles from Hilo, I found myself trying to sail dead downwind in five knots of wind, so I started the motor, plotting a course to have me arriving at Hilo on the Big Island during daylight. The currents and my fatigue made my choice a bad one, however, as I drifted into sleep down below with a cup of tea in my hand. The next thing I knew, we were hitting the reef and rocks five miles from the light at Blonde Reef shortly after midnight on June 26.

Needless to say, it was a rude shock when the bow of my boat struck the Big Island at six knots. After 20 days at sea from French Polynesia, I was ready for a beach, not hard rocks! I first thought I'd been run down by a ship, but then I saw the rocks, the surf, and the cliff my boat was being pounded against. Although I knew my boat was doomed, I quickly threw the transmission into reverse. The boat moved about five feet backwards before a breaker slammed into her, throwing her over the reef and smashing her rudder on a rock.

Scrambling below, I put out a Mayday. The Coast Guard responded with a rescue ETA and safety information. Twenty minutes later, a huge swell broke Sound Decision's back, taking out the port side in one sweep. With water reaching as high as my knees in a matter of seconds, I knew I would have to abandon ship. I called the Coast Guard again for an ETA, but got no answer. I called 10 minutes later and still got no response. So I took the photos of my children, my laptop, my passport, and a pair of shoes, and stuffed them in a pillowcase I would use as a ditch bag. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate my cash kitty, because there was now a lava boulder where the galley cupboard had been.

After 45 minutes, the Hilo Fire Department arrived with a launch and was able to rescue me. At the time, I could only take what I had in my pillowcase. The rest was at the mercy of the surf. Unfortunately, Sound Decision had come to rest at a remote place subject to high surf. With the help of volunteers, I was eventually able to salvage about 30% of my belongings. This was pretty good, considering that looters came every night to take what we hadn't gotten. But overall, the Hilo community was incredibly good and helpful to me.

I'm alive and will sail again. The main thing now is for me to find a way to see my children in Bellingham, and get money to them to continue their lives as well as mine. But I am alive, and will sail again.

- tom 7/6/04

Readers - The word from Puddle Jumpers is that Wilkinson is a nice guy. So if you - like us - would like to send him a little money to help him see his kids and get back on his feet again, send a check to Tom Wilkinson, c/o John Messina, 15-121E, Puni Lanai, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778. Shortly after the loss of his boat he was able to get a construction job, so he's not destitute, but the extra money and encouragement would certainly be a much-appreciated boost.

Maude I. Jones - Finch 46
Rob & Mary Messenger
Cruising East Africa
(Houston / Sacramento)

[The first two installments of our report on Rob and Mary's 10.5 year trip around the world appeared in the Changes section of the April and May issues.]

From the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the couple had a seven-day trip to the Seychelles, a group of about 100 islands in the western Indian Ocean. The islands are unusual for the area because they are granite. Rob and Mary found the islands to be quite pretty, but thought that there were too many rules and regulations to be able enjoy the more remote islands.

The Praslin Islands, part of the Seychelles group, are unique because they are the only place in the world where Coco de Mers, also known as double coconuts, grow. What's unusual about these coconuts - some of which weigh 50 pounds, making them one of the largest fruits in the world - is that they are double-lobed and thus bear a strong resemblance to female genitalia. As such, they sell for several hundred dollars. "It must be a guy thing," shrugs Mary.

After another seven-day sail west, Maude anchored in Kilifi Creek, Kenya, about 50 miles north of Mombassa. It was here that Tony and Daphne Britchford played host to the handful of yachties who needed to catch up on their rest or were dying to jump into their swimming pool. The couple were able to assist yachties with just about all their needs. For example, their day employees were also available to sleep on boats at night for security purposes while yachties visited some of Kenya's famed national parks. And those who have cruised East Africa will certainly remember Tony's weather forecasts over the ham radio. Sadly, he passed away from diabetes complications in January of '02.

It just so happened that Sam, Rob's best friend of 35 years, was living in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. He's the manager of a blue jeans manufacturing plant that employs 2,000 workers from 35 different African tribes! So Rob and Mary flew up to see him several times. Sam took them to several national parks, where they saw baboons, zebras, rhinos, gazelles, and a dozen lions. From Amboseli National Park, they twice saw the snow-covered peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa. Since the snow cap is diminishing and is usually shrouded in clouds, the peak is not often seen.

The best part of going on safari with Sam was that Rob and Mary were able to travel at their own pace in the air-conditioned comfort of Sam's 4X4. Not only could they observe wildlife on their own schedule, they could do it while drinking lots of cold beer - to clear the dust from their throats, of course. The couple remember their time in Kenya as being one of the highlights of their long near-circumnavigation.

After an adventurous five months in Kenya, Rob and Mary spent a couple of weeks in Ethiopia with Mary's parents, exploring ancient religious sites. They even saw 'Lucy's bones', which at one time were considered the world's oldest remains of (wo)man. "Before we went to Ethiopia, we had a lot of concerns because of the media attention about the extreme poverty," remembers Rob. "But the Ethiopians have a lot of national pride, and we felt safe, even in the most remote areas. The people were industrious and informative about their culture."

The couples next stop was the Spice Island of Zanzibar. "It was fabulous!" says Mary. "In California, 150 years ago is like the beginning of time. In Zanzibar, the civilization is more than 5,000 years old." Zanzibar was once the center of lucrative trade on the coast of East Africa, and locals still ply these waters in dhows in order to trade. Zanzibar was also the last place in the region to abandon slavery.

Among Rob and Mary's next stops were Dars es Salaam, a major port and cosmopolitan city in Tanzania, and Ilha Mozambique, the original capital of Mozambique. The latter had a well-preserved fort and was very beautiful. The only fly in the ointment is that the locals use the beautiful white sand beaches as their toilets. "We saw piles of human crap everywhere on the beach," says Rob.

Theft was another concern. "After catching a trespasser on our boat one night, I would stay up from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., shining a spotlight every hour or so to keep people away," recalls Rob. A pair of binoculars and other miscellaneous deck gear were all that was stolen from the deck of Maude I. Jones. "It's not that the people of Mozambique were violent or anything, they'd just become sneak-thieves because they were so terribly poor. In that country $50 U.S. would buy a stack of local currency a foot tall that you wouldn't be able to spend for days. We lived on calamari steaks, salads, and cold beer, all of which were readily available at a number of palapa-style restaurants along the beach.

While in a reef-strewn area of Mozambique during a horrible rainstorm, the couple's GPS antenna became waterlogged and failed. As such, they had to dead-reckon 60 miles down the coast to Pemba, which is a resort area - although not one which would be confused with Bora Bora or some place in the Caribbean. Since there were no West Marines in Mozambique in which to buy a replacement GPS, the couple were lucky to come across a local dive shop that had a handheld Garmin GPS for sale. It was of no use to the dive shop because they didn't know how to reprogram the military data out. But Rob did. One can only imagine what a GPS with military data was doing in Mozambique.

Like other cruisers, Rob and Mary had heard that Nosy Be, Madagascar, was a spectacular and unspoiled cruising ground. Unfortunately, at the time they could have visited, two politicians were disputing the results of the presidential election. Like Bush and Gore, both claimed to be president. But in Madagascar there was civil unrest, and it didn't seem safe to visit. Friends who have subsequently visited Nosy Be report that all is well.

From Ilha Mozambique, Maude I. Jones would sail 1,000 miles down the Mozambique Channel to Richard's Bay, South Africa. She was fortunate not to have been hit by a dreaded Southwester, the waves of which, when combined with the Agulhus Current, have been known to consume ships. Thinking back on their nearly two years in East Africa, Rob and Mary view it as a virgin cruising ground. "We didn't see five cruising boats between Kenya and South Africa. And having recently passed through the Caribbean, we not only know that East Africa is less crowded, it's less dangerous, too!"

Like other cruisers, Rob and Mary found they had to always be on their toes when moving along the potentially treacherous rough coast of South Africa, always checking the weather and seeking local knowledge from fishermen. "But there was no point in paying attention to long term weather forecasts," remembers Rob, "because they would always change." It doesn't help that there were few natural anchorages.

"South Africa is an interesting country in transition," says Mary. "They have some great things, such as the wine country, terrific scenery, and some wonderful people. South Africa also has some really bad stuff, such as extreme poverty, ghetto townships, and an extremely high rate of violent crime." Rob and Mary recall that they went to a restaurant in Natal one night only to discover that armed men had robbed the place the night before. "The bad guys said they robbed the rich to feed the poor, but the food and service were so good that all the customers came back the next night."

Leaving Saldahna, north of Cape Town, in February of '03, Rob and Mary sailed up to Namibia, another very interesting country. "Since we've been in the Caribbean, we've already seen four Namibian sailboats. There are lots of diamonds in that sparsely-inhabited African country, and people can get permits to mine diamonds from the ocean. About one in 10 hits it big."

Crossing the South Atlantic, the couple stopped at little St. Helena before continuing on to Brazil for two months, a place the couple describe as "a sleeper for cruising". According to Rob, "Brazil has everything that a cruiser could want, and it's very cheap." The only problem is crime. But they say that, with local knowledge, one can avoid most of the worst areas. Luck, of course, can play a big part in whether or not one is a victim.

After a stop at Devil's Island, they rode as much as four knots of current up to Tobago, their landfall in the Caribbean. Five days after arriving, they found themselves surrounded by nearly a hundred yachts participating in Tobago Sailing Week. Up until then, it had been years since they'd seen so many boats. Rob found himself crewing on Ain't Misbehavin', a racer/cruiser they'd met in Brazil. He had a ball sailing in the fast lane.

"It's hard to believe," says Rob, "but the Caribbean is probably the most expensive place in the world for boat insurance. For example, off South Africa, where the conditions can really be treacherous, we only paid $900 a year to Lloyds. In the Caribbean, the same underwriter wanted $2,800 a year - more than 300% more. So we went without."

As we noted in the April and May Changes, Rob and Mary have been cruising comfortably on $25,000 a year, all things included. Perhaps their number one low-cost secret is that they very rarely dine out. "We'd rather spend money on the best ingredients and make the food ourselves. Not only is it less expensive, but our meals are almost always better than we could get in a restaurant."

Although both Rob and Mary would both dearly love to continue cruising, in June they sailed to Florida to "do something" to replenish the cruising kitty. They arrived at Fort Lauderdale at 0200 and tied up to a fuel dock. By 8:30 a.m., Rob had a job as a construction supervisor, and by 4 p.m. he had his company truck. In a way that's good, but having not had a job in 11 years, it's also a challenge. "The other night," Rob says, "I sat bolt upright in bed and said, "What the f--k have I done? Mary and I miss cruising already."

- latitude 38

Cheval - Outremer 55 Cat
Chris Bridge
St. Martin To Newport Beach
(Corona del Mar)

[Editor's note: Thanks to the bungling of the Changes Editor, this piece didn't appear in the April issue when it should have. Sorry.]

Our return from St. Martin in the Eastern Caribbean to California went smoothly and swiftly. With my wife Caroline and our three youngsters having flown home to California, a friend and I doublehanded the 1,200-mile leg to Panama. Our route was due west for about 18 hours, which took us north of St. Croix and along the south coast of Puerto Rico. About half of the way along the bottom of Puerto Rico, we jibed over and started heading directly toward Colon, Panama, and the entrance to the Canal. This route was intended to keep us about 90 miles off the coast of Columbia, where large and confused seas are common.

Our sail to Panama was very enjoyable, as we had 20 to 30 knots of wind, with gusts to 40 - all from behind, of course. As such, there were plenty of swells for surfing. We covered the nearly 1,200 miles in five days and six hours without ever using the main or spinnaker. Throttled back, we used nothing but the Solent jib or the gennaker.

I had a great time in Panama - even Colon, which is frequently described as being very dangerous. I found Panamanians to be sone of the most industrious people I have ever met. They realize the bureaucracy is redundant, but work around it - usually until the job is finished. And I was impressed on all levels, from the Canal officials to government employees to the local business people.

Our Atlantic to Pacific Canal transit also went smoothly. I chose to use taxi driver/ship's agent Joseph Briggs, who can be reached at (507) 637-5339. 'Taxi driver' does not really do Briggs and his associates justice. I think there are only about five people allowed to help sailboats with their paperwork, all of them licensed by the government. From my experience they are a bargain. My costs were $65 to check-in and out, about $30 for tires/fenders, and $60 for lines. Briggs was even able to move me up in the transit schedule about four days, which I believe is fairly unusual.

Our transit began at the leisurely time of 10 a.m., and we were anchored off Flamenco Marina in the Pacific by 10 p.m. I did use three professional line-handlers, which cost an additional $150, as we were short-handed, and this helped make the transit even more relaxed. Folks need to remember that if you stay in Panama City for more than 24 hours after your transit, you have to check in all over again. Call Castillo (507) 683-9945 from the port captain's office. He grew up in Southern California and is very helpful.

Heading from Panama to California, we had light winds until we got 30 to 40-knot Papagayos on the beam. This resulted in beautiful sailing, and I was pleased again to see how well our cat handled. The wind only lasted 12 hours, and we were soon motoring again.

It was also great to see so much sea life - particularly turtles - off this coast. We had no wind in the Gulf of Tehuantepec either. Breaking the 'rule' of always keeping one foot on the beach, we cut straight across the often notoriously rough gulf, then decided to head inshore to look for day/night breezes and more favorable current. By the time we came out of the gulf on the coast of mainland Mexico, we'd picked up a light westerly - meaning right on the nose.

Our first fuel stop out of Panama was Acapulco, and we did another one at Cabo San Lucas. Breaking more springtime 'rules', we departed Cabo at noon. It was rough around Cabo Falso, but after an hour or so the wind eased off to just 10 to 15 knots. These light winds stayed with us until the north end of Cedros Island. Our remaining stop was Turtle Bay, just south of Cedros.

To sum it up, our Antigua to Panama trip took 5.5 days, while our Panama to San Diego trip, with three crew, took exactly 20 days. When I do this trip again next time with my family, I hope to take much longer.

- chris 4/05/04

Readers - As reported several months ago, the Bridge family picked up their cat new from the factory in France and cruised the Med for the summer. Chris and friends delivered the boat to the Caribbean, where the family joined him for some more cruising, then flew home while he delivered the boat to California. Outremer cats are rare on the West Coast of the United States, but last month we saw Gryphon, a sistership, sailing around the Bay.

Renaissance - Islander 32
Kelvin Meeks
Six Months In Mexico
(Bellevue, WA / Mazatlan)

I left Redondo Beach on January 3 - a cold and windy day - for a six-month cruise in Mexico. I enjoyed a fantastic trip sailing south along the Baja coast, and encountered many incredibly bold, adventurous, and kind people at every port and anchorage.

During my trip, I came to realize that the 18 months I invested in preparing for my cruise were well spent. I began by spending several months searching for an affordable but seaworthy boat, and later invested in the first two American Sailing Association certifications. I also put in several months last fall attending the Coast Guard Auxiliary Advanced Navigation classes in the evening, and took a few months to sit in on a Marine Diesel Mechanic class at the Long Beach Community College. The instructor of the latter class had worked as a mechanic for over 30 years in Long Beach Harbor. Even though he was over 70 years of age, he was a good teacher.

Having left my boat in Mazatlan, I'm now back in the Pacific Northwest, where I've been most fortunate to be able to find an exciting new opportunity with a hi-tech start-up. Nonetheless, I miss sleeping on Renaissance, the warmth of the Mexican sun, and the sound of the waves crashing on deserted beaches. I even miss the hum of my boat's 16-hp diesel as we entered a new port.

It's true, I didn't make it as far south - Ecuador - as I had hoped this season, but I had a very relaxing voyage, made many new friends, and had some awesome adventures. I also learned a ton of new stuff, and discovered more about what I like about cruising. I also learned how to sail in light to very little wind - a not-so-fun part. Folks in the marina at Mazatlan seemed a bit surprised when I told them it took me about five days to sail the 200 miles over from La Paz - but hey, after the second day my mind downshifted and I enjoyed the slowness of the trip!

I didn't have a lot of the more fancy sailing equipment, such as radar, SSB radio, wind generator, or big honking watermaker. But I did have what I felt was needed to feel safe: an EPIRB with a GPS, a PUR-6 emergency watermaker, two handheld GPS units, and two VHF radios.

The stories in Latitude; the intrepid adventures of the past Baja Ha-Ha crowds; the writings of Lin and Larry Pardey, Joshua Slocum, John Guzzwell, the Hiscocks, and the Smeetons; and that fateful invitation to go sailing on a lake in Little Rock many years ago with my good friend Jack Finch, all contributed to my cruising dream becoming a reality.

- kelvin 06/05/04

Kelvin - We enjoy reports such as yours that prove again how little one needs to have fun cruising - particularly in Mexico. A 31-footer that's more than 30 years old, plus a few bits of cruising gear, are all - along with sailing skills - that it takes.

Witch of Endor - CT-41
Steve Cherry
The Pleasures Of Ecuador
(San Diego)

Since not much has been written about cruising Ecuador - a Nevada-sized country named after the fact that the equator runs through the capital - I thought I'd give it a shot. A small group of us West Coast cruisers have been enjoying ourselves for a number of months now here at Bahia de Caráquez, a little slice of paradise just south of the equator. 'Bahia' is a major Ecuadorian beach resort, with pleasant parks, clean beaches, and a nice river estuary. It's a laid-back town with all the basics, the locals are friendly - and the local women are very friendly.

Budget cruisers - which includes almost all of us - will find Bahia much to their liking. Delicious breakfasts typically run about $1, while very large lunches go for 80 cents to $1.50. The expensive lunches consist of a choice of big bowls of soup; a choice of a fish, chicken or beef entree; as well as rice, salad, a slice of fried banana, and a glass of freshly squeezed juice. Do you know of any other beach resort where you can get such a bargain? A beer the size of two normal cans of beer goes for 70 cents. A big bag of veggies at the mercado runs about a dollar, while fresh ground hamburger is $1.20/lb. A big bag of laundry is $5, while photocopies are just a couple of pennies each. Membership in the yacht club is $15/month per boat, and a mooring at Puerto Amistad is currently $100/month. Cruisers feel the moorings are safe enough to leave their boats while they do inland trips, and some have left their boats unattended for six months or more.

In addition to being a pleasant town, Bahia has a nice central market and shops that carry most things a cruiser might normally need. For instance, the local auto supply store got me an 8D battery from Manta overnight. What you can't find in Bahia, you can certainly find an hour's bus ride away at Puerto Viejo, where there is a big gringo-style supermarket and hardware store in an upscale mall. If you're looking for machine shops and electronic repairs, you can find them in Manta, just another 15 miles away by bus.

Speaking of Puerto Amistad, last night the city council approved a plan to greatly increase the facilities for visiting mariners. The marina will be expanded, with the addition of up to 100 new moorings, a muelle for Med-tying, and a dinghy dock. In addition, there will be a new clubhouse, bar/restaurant, showers, laundry facilities, and a playground. This is pretty exciting for all concerned, as yachties will appreciate the facilities and the locals will like the jobs the facilities will create. The first phase - moorings, restaurant complex, and dinghy dock - is expected to be completed by November of this year. All this is in addition to the Bahia YC, which has a dinghy dock, swimming pool, soon-to-be-installed hot and cold showers, and large communal areas for telling sea-stories, hoisting cervezas, and mending sails. Bahia wants to put itself on the map for cruisers heading to the Galapagos - or just wanting to escape the rainy summer months in Central America.

According to Bob Wilhelm of the San Diego-based Islander 37 Viva! and the unofficial ex-mayor of Bahia, the rainy season just ended here. Well, I've been around since March 10, and until recently hadn't seen a drop the entire time. Once the season was over, we got a few sprinkles every day for a week or so, and actually had one day of drizzle. But we haven't had any thunder boomers, and no serious wind to speak of. So the rainy season here isn't very wet.

Having the use of an economical mooring in a secure harbor, I decided to take a 3,000-mile trip inland, mostly via 12 buses. I visited Quito, the capital; Mitad del Mundo, a little town known as 'the middle of the world'; Banos; Cuzco, via Lima; Machupicchu; Lago Titicaca, which at 12,500 feet, is the highest navigable lake in the world; and Guayaquil. What a trip!

The Inca ruins, including Machupichu, were incredible. The Andes defy description, so you have to experience them firsthand. The bus is the best - if not the most comfortable - way to see everything. The malecon in Guayaquil is a sight to behold. The reed islands on Lago Titicaca are worth a visit, but perhaps the most interesting thing there is the Peruvian ship Yavari, which plys the lake's waters. One of the oldest iron ships still in service, she was fabricated in England in the 1860s, shipped in pieces to Arica, Peru, carried 250 miles over peaks as high as 15,500 feet, and reassembled in Puno! Originally she was fueled with dried llama dung, but now she has a diesel engine.

I also took a cab ride to the bus station in Guayaquil that was a classic. 'Beat up' doesn't begin to describe the cab. It had no headliner, no trim panels on the doors, an old Hang Ten pedal for the gas, and so much slop in the steering that when the driver wanted to turn the car, he had to spin the steering wheel a complete turn before it took effect. I kept waiting for the U-joints to get me in the butt.

Ecuador will not be mistaken for the French or Italian Rivieras, but it's really nice. According to the locals, Bahia is where 'the Big Guy' comes for his vacations. I gotta believe it.

- steve 6/15/04

Readers - Fun fact: One third of Ecuador is Amazonian rainforest.

Boat Name Withheld - 60-ft Cat
Cuba Today
(Withheld By Request)
[This Changes is continued from the July issue.}

Bummed out that the local authorities wouldn't let us use our dinghy because of security reasons, we visited Astillero Marbella, the boatyard for Cuba's Varadero Marina. Although it was only a half-mile from the marina as the crow flies, a sailboat would have to make a 20-mile trip around the peninsula to get there because of the long-broken drawbridge.

The yard has a Travel-Lift able to hoist boats with up to about 25-foot beam, a storage area with gravel ground cover, and about six foreign boats in dry storage. The yard has about 15 workers and two uniformed security guards. They quoted us about $10 U.S. for labor, which is inexpensive. But since our cat was over 25 feet wide, it would have to be hauled with two cranes - at a cost of $2,000 out and back in. That was too much.

Our next stop was Marina Gaviota at the eastern end of the peninsula, which has a large marine rail to service the fleet of 10 Fountaine-Pajot daysailing cats, the largest of which is 80 feet with a 30-foot beam. They quoted us $200 to haul our cat in and out, plus $10 U.S./hour for labor, $13 per layday on the slipway, and a 78% (!) markup on materials. Obviously, you want to bring your own materials. All the cats looked bristol to us, a testimony to the workmanship of the Cubans. Since the charges seemed reasonable, we made an appointment to haul the cat a week later to have the hulls reglassed.

Before any work could begin, a permit was needed from the port captain in Cardenas. So the skipper made a 20-mile round-trip ride by bike to get the $15 permit. It was a bit of an arduous trip thanks to the hilly terrain, but the sightseeing was great, as was mingling with Cubans outside of the normal tourist situations. The highway to Cardenas and the city streets were nicely paved and lined with sidewalks and bike paths. The harbor facilities and official buildings were in obvious need of repair, but some of the historic architecture had been grandiosely restored.

The Cubans had basic homes that were clean and in good repair, and all were hooked up to water and electricity. Nobody looked ragged or as though they were going hungry. Occasionally, a young man would shout: "Hey friend, gimme a dollar!" But that seemed like more of a challenge to capitalist pigs than aggressive begging. We'd seen more beggars on Duval Street in Key West.

Many Cubans spoke fluent English, German, French, or Italian. They seemed to be unusually well-educated for a Third World country.

While waiting for our date in the boatyard, we cruised Cayos Blancos, a pleasant group of small islands 10 miles distant, where the cats take tourists on daytrips. The tourists pay $75 each for a day of snorkeling, swimming, dolphin encounters, sunbathing, and lunch. This $75 is about twice what a Cuban cat captain makes per month in Castro's 'workers' paradise'.

Does Communism equal equality? Not in Cuba. Just like all the other socialist countries I've been to, Cuba has a two-tiered society and economy. One runs quite inexpensively on the peso - the local currency - and food ration coupons. The other runs on hard currencies - such as dollars and euros earned in trade, from tourism, or wired from relatives in the U.S. Indeed, remittances from the States total $1.2 billion a year - and are the second largest part of Cuba's GNP.

If you want to buy something of value and quality in Cuba - brand-name food, appliances, electronics, and so forth - you have to have hard currency. We tried to buy eggs in a miserable peso store that had dusty and empty shelves, but they only had four. But with hard currency, we could buy all the eggs we wanted at the marina's spotless chandlery.

Fresh fruits and veggies were only available to us directly from the producers - and they were a great deal. An organic farm and a small veggie garden at the edge of town sold us a shopping bag full of freshly harvested produce for about 50 cents. In addition, a 50-lb bag of potatoes cost just $2 U.S. We purchased dozens of reasonably good 8-inch tomato & cheese pizzas for 20 cents from the charcoal grill on the side of the street.

All prices in the official hard currency stores seemed equal to or higher than back in the States. The only cheap commodities were liquor and tobacco - including capitalist pig brands such as Marlboro and Johnny Walker. There seems to be a pattern in all totalitarian states I've been to - keep the masses drunk and entertained, and they'll keep quiet. We bought a couple of cigs from the marina restaurant at $1 each, which was probably a sucker price. And then the waiter hustled us for the dinner tab by about 600%. It served us right for not asking to see a written menu before ordering.

We left Varadero and anchored between a shallow reef and the largest of the Cayo Blancos just as the tourist cats started arriving. The cats anchored on the reef and everybody went into the water with snorkel gear. But there was nothing to see! The coral looked dead to us, and we'd seen more fish back in the marina. We think the problem is that fertilizers and insecticides that have been outlawed in other countries for generations are still being used on the farmlands around the Bay of Cardenas. In addition, there's a large oil refinery that was belching soot and sulphurous fumes. Lastly, there was deep dredging in progress. Whatever the cause, we see more fish, dolphins, and sea birds in Florida's Intracoastal Waterway than we did at this Cuban snorkeling spot.

After the snorkeling session, the eight cats were beached on the island, and their passengers disembarked for a seafood lunch cooked and served out in the open next to thatched-roof palapas. The Cuban boat crews graciously invited us to join them and the passengers in a meal of shrimp, rice and beans, to be washed down with Buccanero beer. Rum punch also flowed freely. It seemed that half of the guests were from Canada and Britain, and the other half from Europe and Central America. They seemed to be happy campers, enjoying the food, drink, and dancing to Cuban rhythms. "No American tourists," was the response we got from several when we asked what they liked best about Cuba. Many of the women went topless, and there was even some nude sunbathing at the end of the beach. Try that in Daytona Beach in the Land of the Free. Freedom does seem to be a relative concept.

The Cuban staff for these expeditions were neatly uniformed, well-groomed, well-spoken in several languages, and polite and professional. We were impressed with the seamanship of the cat crews, as just two men handled everything from anchoring to flying the chute to docking. When leaving the island, they also took all the garbage - and even the human sewage - back to the mainland. What a contrast to Malibu or Bali.

When we showed up at the Gaviota Boatyard for our haulout, we saw that one of the tourist cats was on the slipway that was to be reserved for us. The marina manager - fluent in English and German, and with an MBA earned in Germany - had neglected to inform us that it was time for the cat fleet to be inspected. There wouldn't be an opportunity for us to be hauled "for a few days". He did offer us the chance to tie up at their new floating docks for 35/cents/ft/night, which was a bargain by Florida standards. We didn't mind too much, since the place was nicer and less expensive than Marina Darsena. We didn't mind, that is, until dusk when millions of mosquitos from the mangroves emerged to attack us.

Figuring this was a good time to go to town to look for entertainment, we asked one of the gate guards where we could meet some of the famed Cuban chicas. The guard just laughed. He told us that there had been a big propaganda drive about the dangers of AIDS, and that there was a big effort to keep Cuban women from fraternizing with foreigners. As such, there wouldn't be many Cuban woman around, and they no longer knocked on the hulls of foreign boats in the marinas.

We didn't quite believe the guard, so we took the tourist shuttle into town, and followed the instructions in our copy of The World Sex Guide. The book said a good place to meet Cuban woman was at one of the many Rapidos, which are open-air eateries that are Cuba's version of U.S. fast-food chains. These establishments are quite nice, frequented by tourists and locals alike, but only accept U.S. dollars. The fare was hot dogs, hamburgers, and omelets, all about $1 each, and all served on real plates with real utensils. Beer was 75 cents.

While enjoying our food and watching the people on the street, we were soon accosted by three neatly dressed females: a young woman, her old mother, and her small daughter. They didn't offer anything, they just asked for money. Compared to most other Cubans, they didn't look as though they needed it.

Our guidebook said that "heavy flirting" was common at establishments such as the fast food place. Even though the place was crowded with locals and tourists, we didn't notice anything like that. About a half an hour later, a plain-looking woman boldly sat down at our table and said, "Hi, Peter!" When we told her that none of us was named Peter, she replied, "Oh well, who would like to have sex for $30?" We weren't interested, but asked for more details. She explained that she and her girlfriends could take care of each of us for the equivalent of the average monthly salary in Cuba. As she continued to explain things, she became weirdly agitated, as though she might be on meth or coke.

After she left, we asked a waitress about what looked like security cameras. We were told that they were indeed security cameras, and the police monitored them via the internet!

The next morning, we bumped into the young female doctor who had given us our initial health exams when we arrived. She asked if we had any medical complaints. When the skipper said he had a backache from stress, the doctor replied, "Well, how about a good massage after I finish with the vaccinations of the boatyard workers. Say 11 a.m. on your yacht?"

Sure enough, the doctora arrived at 10:55 a.m., black bag in hand. She and the captain disappeared into his quarters, where he was given a full body oil massage - and more. They both emerged an hour later, smiling and flushed.

"Who is next?" she asked. One by one, the three of us that made up the rest of the crew were 'de-stressed' - if you catch my drift. The Cuban doctor didn't ask for any money - after all, all medical services in Cuba are free. Nonetheless, we chipped in some candies for her kids, some hotel soaps, shampoos, and lotions, some surplus medical supplies, and $10 U.S. She thanked us profusely, and promised to return for more treatments "until we all felt better".

But she never showed up again. Maybe the secret police called her in. Maybe nothing happened at all. If there was some way we could contact her, we'd be happy to return to Cuba, let her steal our dinghy, then wait 12 miles offshore to pick her up and take her to freedom.

As for the work on our cat, the marina manager kept telling us mañana. After a week, the skipper got fed up and we left for Florida.

All in all, our trip to Cuba had pretty much been a waste of time and money. It cost us about $550 in fees and provisioning, and our experience had been somewhat less than we had expected. We'd hoped to find something like our pre-war visits to Yugoslavia, which was then known as the 'Sexiest Socialist Republic'. Yugoslavia had a well-developed marine tourism infrastructure, rock-bottom costs, and a friendly population, and we were free to move about and do as we pleased.

What we encountered in Cuba was a police state worse than we had feared, with paranoia and state control in evidence everywhere. The people were clean, well-fed, and well-dressed - but they didn't smile much. There were police checkpoints on every bridge and on many streets. They stopped cars, pedestrians, and bicycles at random. Locals were very careful about what they said, but we heard the same line several times: "You should have been here before the start of the war with Iraq. Now we all worry that Cuba will be invaded next."

We talked to cruisers who came back from Marina Hemingway just outside of Havana, who reported a similar experience. One said there was just one American-flagged vessel in the whole marina.

In the week that I've written this, a total of 25 Cubans entrusted their lives to three different makeshift vessels to try to cross the Florida Straits to freedom in the U.S. Fifteen of them made it to American shores and freedom. Five were plucked from the Gulfstream without food and water, and having not made it to American soil, were returned to Cuba by the U.S. Coast Guard. Five others were lost at sea. May their souls rest in peace.

- anonymous 6/15/04

Cruise Notes:

More trouble on the north coast of South America. Last month we reported that Bob Hunall and Dana Cannon, vets of last year's Ha-Ha aboard their Hudson 50 Doña Lee, had their boat boarded and were shot at by pirates in the river at Baranquilla, Colombia. Fortunately, neither was badly hurt. This month we regret to have to report a much more serious attack on two French cruising boats, this time in Venezuela. The information comes from Georges (EL5MG) in a message translated by Gaston and Fran aboard Relax in Cartagena.

The attack is said to have taken place on the evening of June 14th. Two French yachts, the 42-ft Tursiops and the 26-ft Les Chouans, were anchored at Medina on the Paria Peninsula, seven miles east of Puerto Santos. There were two people aboard Tursiops, and a man named Fred, who intended to meet his wife a short time later at Los Testigos, alone aboard Les Chouans. Fred's body was found with a bullet hole to the head. To this date, nobody has heard from Tursiops, so cruisers are fearing the worst.

In an open letter to several major sailing magazines, Craig Owings, longtime Commodore of the Pedro Miguel Boat Club and Panama-based cruiser aboard the CSY 44 Pogo II, wrote the following, which we have edited for clarity:

"The problem nowadays is that cruisers are generally fools. They assume that the world plays by the same rules they do - which it doesn't. The reality is that cruisers need to remain alert, deny strangers access to their boats, and prepare to defend themselves. Access is the main issue. Many cruisers foolishly let cayucos approach their boats as though all of them were manned by harmless locals. Another problem is that, in our world of rapid communication, one fool can go into an area that's dangerous because of thieves and rebels, not have a problem, then put out the word to the rest of the cruising world that it's a safe place. The next thing you know, the rest of the cruising world has followed, and there are problems. I've been living and sailing in this area for many years, and in my estimation the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia are very dangerous. Cruisers avoided those coasts for years for the very reason that the most recent shooting reinforces - they ain't safe! These are the real wild west areas, where life is cheap and people survive by force alone. The latest news is that the Venezuelan Coast Guard has asked cruising yachts to avoid the Paria Peninsula. I assume this means the Venezuelan government is not in control of the area."

We at Latitude think the situation in Venezuela and Colombia has become worse in the last year or so. As such, the only place we'd now stop in Colombia is Cartagena. In Venezuela, we wouldn't cruise east of Puerto La Cruz - and would also be cautious everywhere on the mainland.

And now we learn that there are problems with piracy off the Pacific Coast of Colombia: "After three months in Central America, we decided it was time to change continents," report Mike and Catherine Whitby of the Vancouver, B.C.-based Contessa 38 Breila, "so we are headed from Panama to Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador. This morning's Panama Pacific Net had more reports of another piracy. Latitude has already reported that a Japanese cruising boat was boarded and robbed in March while on her way from Panama to the Galapagos. Well, in late May the yacht Chameleon was chased by what's believed to be the same pirate boat, a 40- to 50-footer with a dark hull and white cabin. Fortunately, Chameleon was a big enough boat to outrun the pirate vessel in heavy seas. Then just this week the Florida-based catamaran Sandpiper was chased by the same boat. Once again the cat was quick enough to avoid being boarded during four attempts in four hours. All three of the pirate attacks or attempted attacks occurred in the same general area - west of Isla Malpelo, a Colombian Nature Reserve that's on the rhumbline from Balboa to the Galapagos. By the way, we have been trying all the emergency frequencies on the HF radio - and have gotten no response - even though we know there is a U.S. Navy ship patrolling the Gulf of Panama. Our goal is to contact them so the U.S. and Ecuadorian navies can be advised of the piracy problem. In closing, we want to say that we found Panama to be the most enjoyable of the Central American countries - fabulous people, deserted islands and anchorages, and great provisioning and repairs in Balboa."

Despite these reports of piracy, the world of cruising remains extremely safe, particularly when you're on your boat. For example, everywhere on the West Coast from Alaska to Panama is safe. On a boat, the entire East Coast and the Carribean are safe except for Colombia and Venezuela. The South Pacific is safe except for Papua New Guinea. The Med is safe. Scandinavia is safe. Thailand has no pirates. Even the Red Sea proper has been safe to date. So don't let a few incidents in well-known problem spots give you a distorted picture of the reality of cruising.

"We checked out of Panama bound for Ecuador with a stop at the Perlas Islands to clean the bottom," report John and Linda Kelly of the Seattle-based Sirena 38 Hawkeye. "But there's a Colombian island, Isla Malpelo - which would seem to translate to 'bad hair' - on the 223° rhumbline, that is restricted. We were 20 miles to the northwest of the island when somebody got on the radio and said, "Vessel four miles north of Isla Melpelo, this is a restricted area. Change course immediately!" We checked our charts and GPS to confirm that we weren't the vessel they were referring to. The final transmission we heard was, "If you do not leave this restricted area, we will open fire!" So those Colombians don't mess around with mariners in restricted areas."

Hmmm, this Isla Malpelo would seem to be the same place that is possibly a base for the pirate vessel mentioned earlier in Cruise Notes. What's up with that?

"We've just sailed to Hamilton Island, which is located in Australia's beautiful Whitsunday Islands, and is the ultimate holiday destination on the Great Barrier Reef," reports Max Young of the San Francisco-based Perry 47/50 Reflections. "I'd always heard it was very expensive to moor here, so I thought we'd only be able to stay for 10 minutes. But it turned out to be $80 Aussie - or $58 U.S. That's not too bad, and was certainly worth the money. Hamilton Island Race Week, a major sailing event in Oz that attracts 200 boats, starts in two weeks. On another subject, remember the uproar about Australia's new 'fumigation policy'? A number of foreign cruising boats, especially wooden ones, did have to be fumigated, and the cost really was outrageous. But thanks to pressure by Aussie marina owners, the government in Canberra reviewed the policy and then reversed it. The 'Ugly American' piece you published four months ago was right on the mark, but I've actually seen very few of those idiots. All in all, the cruisers out here are some of the best goodwill ambassadors the United States has. I could give you story after story of the fine things cruisers have done, especially in areas such as Tonga, the Cooks, and other outer islands."

Last June, Rolly Rosic stopped by our offices to report that by that time he was supposed to have met his brother Nesha in Tonga with a new transmission for his 55-ft ferro ketch Stella Rosa. But he hadn't heard from him since he left Tahiti five weeks before. At Rolly's request, we put a notice on 'Lectronic Latitude for anyone who might have seen Nesha, who was now long overdue, to call his brother. Nesha, who is 52, had bought a ferrocement hull, finished her off in Sausalito, and sailed to Cabo, where he spent about 18 months on a mooring. Three months ago, he left for the Marquesas and Tahiti, arriving safely in both places.

The good news is that Nesha and Stella Rosa are safe. "This is my irresponsible brother," said Rolly. "He told me that he'd picked up two crew, they'd sailed to some deserted island, and had been having too much fun to continue on or contact me. They stayed for three weeks! When I got mad, he said that I would have understood if I had been there. He's in Tonga now. In fact, I just had to send him $500 by Western Union - which cost $43! If he wasn't family . . . "

Oops! Last month's report on Greg White's Mischief being sailed to Hawaii last summer was written by Judie Braaten, not Judie Bratten - who asks what the best place is in Hawaii to find Latitudes. The best place is the Ko Olina Marina - but get there early because they go very fast.

"We're now anchored in Apia, Western Samoa, as there's been another change in our cruising plans," report Bob and Laurie Bechler, with Arnold the Wonder Dog, aboard the Edmonds, Washington-based Gulfstar 44 Sisiutl. "Our new Fleming windvane steered the entire 1,300-mile rhumbline course from Palmyra. It was one of our best passages to date. We changed our destination to American Samoa because it has a reputation for being 'the place' to reprovision in the South Pacific, as well as a good place to have parts flown in by Hawaiian Airlines. The downside was American Samoa is known for not being a garden spot. It turned out that the reprovisioning was good - but not really any different from Western Samoa. What was true is that Pago Pago is about as far from a garden spot as one can get. The harbor is dirty, and in certain wind conditions the smell from the tuna canneries is overpowering. There are blatant boat break-ins and dinghy thefts. It also seems to be a dead-end for many cruising dreams, as some of the boats in the harbor are no longer capable of safely going to sea again. We tied up to a concrete wharf that had cockroaches the size of wharf rats! It cost us $147 to check in - including a $30 fee for the $250 bond for our liveaboard dog. If you spread the fees over the amount of money you might 'save' in reprovisioning, American Samoa turns out not to be such a bargain."

"Although Apia, Western Samoa, is only 90 miles from Pago Pago in American Samoa, they are worlds apart," the Bechlers continue. "The harbor is beautiful, even for an industrial port, and we only had to pay $25 in fees. You anchor in 30 feet of water and are well-protected from the prevailing winds. There is a secure dinghy landing with showers. A short walk takes you into town, which has all the stores you could want. Everything is clean and well-maintained. Every day the local police band has a parade through the streets, and an entertaining policeman directs traffic from the middle of the main intersection. We recommend skipping American Samoa in favor of Western Samoa."

As reported in this month's Letters, there was a terrible fire at Tripui Resort in Puerto Escondido, Baja, that destroyed the entire complex. Were it not for the bravery of several cruisers at Marina de La Paz, there could have been a nasty fire there, too. According to Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz, after somebody ran the engine on the sailboat Paw Prints, then left cleaning solvent-soaked rags in the hot engine room, it caught fire. "The heroes were Dick of Corazon de Acero and Carlos Solis of WaterWorks. Bill and Barb Steagall's Inspiration was next to the burning vessel, but it could not be approached from the land. So Dick swam over to the burning boat and untied her, allowing Carlos to tow her away from the other boats. When there no longer seemed to be a danger of an explosion, Dick and Carlos towed Paw Prints across the channel to burn out on El Mogote. I'm told that the boat's newly painted mast was blistered all the way to the top. Fire is certainly every marina owner's most dreaded nightmare."

It doesn't cost any more than that? Joyce Clinton of the Tahoe area tells us she's about to buy back her old trimaran Galadriel, currently in Hawaii. Busy working, she looked into having the boat shipped to California on a Matson Line ship. "When they quoted me $55,480," she says, "I laughed and cried at the same time."

"It has been Sunday here for two days," reports the diarist aboard Blair and Joan Grinols' Vallejo-based 46-ft Capricorn Cat in the South Pacific. "It happened because we crossed back over the International Dateline and gained another day. This morning I think we're going to attempt to leave the Manu'a Islands, which is a small group that is part of American Samoa. We'd anchored at the only anchorage on Ta'u. The Lonely Planet guide describes these islands as having some of the most stunning scenery in either Samoa, and I can see why. They have soaring cliffs, white sandy beaches, beautiful volcanic mountains, and crystal-clear waters. The island, most of which is a national park, has some of the highest sea cliffs in the world. We stumbled upon these islands on Day Three of our 10-day trip to Christmas Island. I had been starting to become claustrophobic, so when I awoke in the morning to see that it was cloudy and rough again, my heart sank. When I came up to say good morning to my dad, Blair, I dreamily gazed out the front windows - and saw an island ahead. I thought I was seeing things. And so, at first, did my dad. "Yes, honey," he said, "those are just clouds. No, wait a minute! Hey, those are islands. Where are we?" We quickly pulled out the charts and found out they were the Manu'a Islands. It only took one look from the rest of us for Blair to realize that he'd better pull over and stop until there was a break in the weather. If not, there was going to be a mutiny. So we spent a delightful day lying in the sun and swimming in the warm waters. Stephanie dropped her snorkel overboard in 35 feet of water, so Blair free dove to the bottom to pick it up. Not bad for a man 71!

Update: As we went to press, we received word that Blair and Joan had set sail from Hawaii to San Francisco.

"On behalf of Hemingway International YC of Cuba," our old amigo Commodore Jose Escrich wrote us just before the Fourth of July, "I have the great pleasure to transmit our most sincere congratulations to all members of the honorable American boating family on the occasion of the 228th birthday of the United States of America. From the bottom of our hearts, we wish you a future of peace, prosperity, and well-being. We at the Hemingway International YC are proud of the friendly relations we have with the American boating community, whose members will always be welcomed here with love and respect."

We appreciate Señor Escrich's Fourth of July best wishes. When we took Big O to Cuba 10 years ago, we were indeed welcomed with love and respect at the Hemingway YC. If we were to return today, we're sure it would be the same. The big obstacle to yachties visting Cuba has become the Bush administration's announcements that they are cracking down on any American yachts that visit Cuba. We think this is a policy blunder, as the more interaction between Americans and Cubans, the better it will be for everyone! In any event, thank you, Jose, for from the bottom of our hearts, we wish nothing but a future of peace, prosperity - and personal freedom - for all the good people of the lovely island of Cuba.

"I have a confession to make," writes Dana LeTourneau of the Ventura-based Valiant 40 Paradiso, now in La Paz. "I absconded with a bundle of the March issues from a San Diego chandelry to pass out to fellow cruisers in La Paz. I'd actually only planned on taking four or five copies, but Pete Caras - of the Ventura-based, Alden-designed Foxen - who, along with his wife Tracy, would crew for my wife Judy and me on the trip south, suggested I take a whole bundle "because it will stow better on the boat." We both knew that there were folks in Baja who hadn't seen a Latitude in quite some time, but what I didn't know was that having a current Latitude in hand would be a golden passport to introductions and invites for evening drinks. Every issue was gone in a heartbeat."

We love it when folks help with our out-of-the-country distribution. And a Latitude usually is good for a drink or two in foreign ports. For instance, George Perrochet of the cruiser-friendly Bahia Luminos Beach Resort and Hotel in Costa Rica, wrote, "no fights broke out over who got to read the current issue of Latitude first, but competition for access to it was fierce." By the way, Pete 'take a whole bundle' Caras, is the only person besides the Wanderer to have been a Grand Poobah of a Ha-Ha. He supervised the second one in '95.

"Our boat is now up the river at little Punta Mutis on the Pacific side of Panama, and we've taken a one-hour bus ride into Santiago," report Dave Smith and Angie Deglandon of the Seattle-based Passport 40 Magic Carpet Ride. "We've visited several great anchorages in the last three months, but by far the best was Isla Coiba, which is both a national park and the largest of Panama's many islands. We also especially enjoyed Isla Jicarita, which is unspoiled and, except for an occasional fishing boat, uninhabited. We did some diving and found the water to be extremely clear and the coral incredible - it was like being inside an aquarium. We dove 47 feet down to our anchor. It was fascinating to see how the anchor lays and sets, and how the chain drags thru the sand, leaving a trail, as the wind direction changes over the course of several days. We later made the 12-hour trip to Punta Mutis, a village up a mainland river, where we needed to buy fuel and provisions. We'd been down to rice and peanut butter - and actually had been that way for about three months! As we were leaving to start that passage, a squall came through. How hard does it rain in Panama? I'd left the forward hatch open just a crack, but when I went down below to secure a bottle of wine and other potential debris, it was as though someone had stuck a hose through the hatch and turned it on full blast! Our trip up the river was much more straightforward than going up the river to Puerto Pedregal. It was low tide, so we did run aground a couple of times, but Dave always got us off fairly easily. Once we found a good place to anchor at Punta Mutis, we jumped in the dinghy and headed to the nearest restaurant/bar. We may stay a few days, as we've met a young Panamanian entrepenuer who recently opened up a restaurant and is promoting tourism in this tiny fishing town."

If you read this month's Sightings, you know that Mexico is making moves - albeit in fits and starts - to become a more attractive tourist destination to mariners. On July 1, there was more evidence of this just outside of La Paz when, with unusual ceremony - airplanes, three other ships, bands, a PT boat, and many dignitaries - a cleaned and gutted 200-ft former Mexican Navy ship was sunk in 60 feet of water south of Isla Ballena off Espiritu Santo. The purpose? To create a fish refuge and dive site. It would be nice if California could get on the ball in creating new sea life habitats, wouldn't it?

While attending the Heineken Regatta in the Caribbean aboard Profligate last March, we raced against Rex Conn's 50-ft Newick-designed high-performance trimaran Alacrity. But not for long. For with Alacrity just behind us at the start of the second leg of the first race, her brand new $150,000 carbon rig came tumbling down in spectacular fashion. As if the loss of the mast wasn't bad enough, Conn faced the problem of how to get the tri 1,300 miles back to the Annapolis area for repairs. That's when Dave Culp's Kiteship Company came to the rescue. Culp, the only one injured in the dismasting, makes kites for sailboats. Using 450-, 1,000-, and 2,000-sq. ft. OutLeader Kites, they made it from St. Martin to Still Pond, Maryland, in just 9.5 days - and only five of them underway. The kites propelled them for about 500 of the 1,361 miles, sometimes at speeds as high as 8.5 knots. The rest of the time they motored, burning a mere 97 gallons. For the complete story, see the July/August issue of Multihulls magazine. Good luck getting the boat going again, Rex, we look forward to sailing against you in another Heinie soon.

Getting restless on Midway. The Midway Islands - yes, it's plural - are located one-third of the way between Hawaii and Tokyo, and are among the most remote in the world. The islands were a U.S. military base until 1996, at which time the Midway Phoenix Corp. and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service entered into a cooperative agreement to make the pristine National Wildlife Refuge a travel destination. But Midway is no Honolulu or Cabo San Lucas. The resident population is 150 people, and no more than 100 visitors are allowed at one time.

A number of years ago, Clyde Britt Finley of the Denver area cruised his Peterson 44 Restless across the Pacific to New Zealand. For the last four or five years, he's based the boat out of Opua in the Bay of Islands. He'd join the boat for cruising during the southern hemisphere summers, then leave the boat there for the winters. This year it was time for a change. In May, Finley set sail for Port Angeles, Washington. After stopping to enjoy Fiji for several weeks, his plan was to sail to the Pacific Northwest with an intermediate stop at Midway Islands to get more water, fuel, and food. Before he left Fiji, Finley placed three phone calls to Tim Bodeen, the Honolulu-based refuge manager of Midway Atoll, to see if there would be any problem with his stopping. As is par for the course with government officials these days, nobody answered the phone calls.

After leaving Fiji, Finley received an email from Bodeen that read: "After meeting with Department of Homeland Security officials, it was determined that in order protect Midway and U.S. interests and assets, all aircraft and vessels requesting access to Midway must go through an official U.S. Port of Entry prior to accessing Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. So plan accordingly. In your case, you must pass through Customs, Immigration, and so forth in one of the main Hawaiian Islands before you will be allowed to access Midway." Unbelievable. In other words, Finley was instructed to sail 1,000 miles out of his way because the officials figured Midway was probably up there with the Empire State Building, nuclear power plants, and Disneyland as a primary terrorist target.

Throughout the trip, Finley's shoreside contact had been Tim Rosen. At some point, one of the two of them decided to contact Latitude to ask us what we thought Finley should do. We have a slight antiauthoritarian streak, so the answer was obvious - Finley should pretend he never received the email telling him he had to go to Hawaii first, and simply show up at Midway. If nothing else, he could claim that he had engine problems and that combined with dwindling water and fuel supplies, made it imperative for him to seek Midway as a port of refuge. As the Mexicans say, it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. In answer to an additional query from Finley, we said, yes, we were certain he woudn't be fined and his boat wouldn't be confiscated. At the very worst, we figured Finley might be confined to his boat for the duration of his stay.

Deciding to ignore Latitude's advice, Rosen called Bodeen again on behalf of Finley. This time Rosen said Bodeen "was very accommodating, and fully understanding of the difficulties that would be created by not allowing Restless to stop at Midway on a 'Dateline route' from Fiji to the mainland United States." Bodeen told Rosen that from now on, all sailing vessels unable to first clear into the Hawaiian Islands would be permitted access to Midway, which meant that Restless will not have to make her two-month passage to the Northwest nonstop. So this is one bureaucratic problem that had a happy ending. By the way, what work of fiction by a famous writer had Midway Island as one of the central locales?

Welcome news out of Cabo San Lucas. Norma, the office manager at Cabo Isle Marina, reports that they will be adding four 100-ft slips in the near future, meaning the marina will soon have more capacity than ever. You'll remember that they added about 800 feet of dock space in time for last year's Ha-Ha. Hopefully they'll have even more space for this year's Ha-Ha fleet, but it's hard to say. Right now the marina's reservations for powerboats planning to spend the entire winter is greater than last year. So we'll just have to see.

This just in from David Wilson, an expert on all matters having to do with the Panama Canal: "Panama Canal Authority has designed and budgeted a floating wet dock to take yachts through the Canal. I will let you know when more details become available." It's high time that an alternative way for yachts to get through the Canal be proposed. The current system, where often times a couple of small yachts take up the entire capacity of the Canal, is inefficient. By the way, Wilson caught some glaring errors that we made on a recent article about the Panama Canal. We'll fess up to them next month.

If you're out cruising, Latitude readers would love to hear from you. It's best to keep reports short, but don't forget: who, what, where, when, and why. Your reports will keep cruising dreams alive.

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