August, 2005

With reports this month from Avaiki in Panama; from the Weather Gods in Southern California; from Chewbacca in Cartagena; from Sea Bear crossing the Pacific and in Papeete; from Moonshadow in Australia; from Bobcat also in Australia; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Avaiki - Fantastia 35
Richard Guches & Candace Cave
Balboa, Panama
(Medford / Formerly Sacramento)

We've always known how cosmopolitan the sailboat traffic is here in Panama City, Panama, but the worldly nature of it was really driven into our skulls in May when a catamaran flying a Turkish flag took a mooring at the Balboa YC near our Avaiki. And from our cockpit, we could see other sailboats from France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Canada, as well as a few from the U.S. This, of course, doesn't include the dozens of big ships a day that passed within 100 yards either heading to or coming from the Bridge of the Americas and the Panama Canal. These include nuclear submarines, Japanese warships, Chilean tall-ships, tankers, freighters, car carriers, and cruise ships.

We've watched with envy as sailboats have stocked up and headed southwest. Our Avaiki was one of them in late March, but we were sucked back into the black hole of Panama City, where everything for boats can be repaired, replaced, or shipped in - provided you have the time and the money. The problem was that when we got to the Perlas Islands, we realized that our 28-year-old black iron fuel tank was leaking about three gallons of fuel a day! Sure, we could have sailed on without using the engine, but that fuel eventually would have to be pumped from the bilge and back into the tank, and we didn't fancy leaving an oil slick across the ocean or in the Galapagos Islands National Park. So we returned to Panama City yet again.

Our boat's 115-gallon tank had to be removed in pieces. It was Eugene of the South Africa-based Cherie who pulled up our sole and settee, and Oli of the Germany-based Genesis who actually got the tank parts out. Eugene - aka 'Mr. Carpenter' - is now helping us build in a fiberglass tank to Coast Guard specs. But it's a long and slow process. We're cautiously hopeful that we'll be underway again at the end of July.

If we get underway in July it won't be any too soon, as conditions here in Panama have become increasingly difficult. Although Dave Cooper, the friendly and helpful new harbormaster at Balboa YC, thinks it could be years before the Canal Authority actually usurps the four westernmost rows of the club's buoys, and that the club may dredge north and south to make up the difference, life is not easy in the roadstead. The weather, for instance, has been very different from last year, with strong and frequent winds from the south, which have often created an uncomfortable chop in the mooring field. And the other day there were sustained winds of 40 knots, causing Inshallah to drag her mooring across the harbor into Seafari, whose owners were home in the States. Both vessels sustained a fair amount of damage.

There are off-the-water problems, too. These include the increasing hassles of renewing one's three-month boat permit, and the extra fee assessed boats that arrive and choose to anchor rather than try to find an - often unavailable - mooring at Balboa YC or Flamenco Marina. The latter, by the way, discourages cruising sailboats. Then, too, there are the civil demonstrations - marches, burning tires, rocks thrown at the police - that block the traffic flow in principle thoroughfares around the city because the government has been screwing around with social security benefits and the people are angry. It all adds up to Panama not being the attractive stopping place it was when we arrived in March of 2004.

By the way, the first time we were in Latitude was in '83 when we were in the Marquesas. It's not like we've been cruising continuously since then, as we both worked in Sacramento until January 1, 1999, when we sailed away from Richmond and headed south. But between '83 and '99 we spent many summers along the California coast and out at the Channel Islands, as well as the '92 season in the Sea of Cortez - all aboard Avaiki. More recently, we had our boat at Barillas Marine in El Salvador for 2.5 years, during which time we travelled back and forth to take care of dying parents. Barillas was the perfect place for Avaiki during that time, as Heriberto and the staff kept her safe and well cared for. But every time we got Avaiki ready to head out again, another parent became ill!

P.S. Our son Sean will be joining this year's Ha-Ha with his DownEast 38 Tikilti. Wouldn't you know that the kid would get a bigger boat than his folks?

- r.g. & candace 06/05/05

Southern California Prime Time
August, September, October

Mark Twain famously said that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Oddly enough, for the months of June and July, the San Francisco Bay region - as opposed to the city of San Francisco itself - is often much warmer than coastal Southern California.

In Sausalito, for example, we've had many blue sky mornings, and a surprising number of warm afternoons and evenings. This hasn't been the case every day, mind you, but there have been a lot of them. And out in the Central Bay, there have been lots and lots of blue skies, and behind the various headlands, plenty of hot weather. In Southern California, on the other hand, June and July have lived up to their reputation as being the gloom months. Yes, it might have been 177° just a couple of miles inland, but along the coast it's been mostly cool, gray, and - might as well admit it - depressing.

But it's August now, and that almost always signals a dramatic improvement in the weather along the Southern California coast and out at the islands. If you've got a boat, you couldn't be luckier, because there are so many great places to explore. And unlike the rest of Southern California, when you're on your boat, you can always find plenty of places to be alone.

If you want to get away on your boat, we recommend the 'lost coast' between Santa Barbara and Point Conception, as well as San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands. Lots of folks go out to the islands for weeks, if not months. The late Pete Sutter's favorite scheme was to be out at the islands during the week, then come into port during the weekends when their were open slips to reprovision and plug back in. If you surf, don't forget your board, as the 'lost coast' and Santa Cruz Island have the best least-crowded breaks in Southern California. But don't forget the wetsuit, as there is no such thing as warm water north of Cabo.

If you spend time out at the islands, you'll get plenty of chances to work on your anchoring technique. One thing for sure, if you can anchor at the Channel Islands, you'll have no trouble in Mexico where it's much easier.

There's so much to say about Catalina that we'll have to leave most of it to another time. Avalon is a fun little town with lots of shops and restaurants, and can be lots of fun - but it's crowded with hordes of day-trippers until school resumes in September. Even after that, weekends are very crowded.

Rustic Two Harbors, about 10 miles up the coast, has but one bar, restaurant, and general store, and is therefore the antithesis of Avalon. But it's a heck of a great place, and is preferred by most Catalina veterans. If all the moorings are taken, you can still find places to anchor.

Most Catalina addicts will tell you that September and October are the best months of the year out at the island. If you're in the area on October 1, make sure you don't miss the 16th annual Buccaneer's Bay, the wildest day of the year on the island. Girls scrunch up their boobs to fit into wench costumes, the guys don elaborate pirate outfits, and everyone misbehaves in a semi-responsible fashion. We wouldn't miss it for anything!

Our general rule for Southern California has always been to never go east of the Pacific Coast Highway. But there are some exceptions. Santa Barbara is a pretty cool town, with lots of interesting architecture, flora and fauna, and happening nightlife. If you rent a car, make sure you take a drive over San Marcos Pass. It's only a few miles and makes a nice counterpoint to the marine environment. And don't forget to wave to Oprah as you take the lovely Highway 92 drive through the foothills of Montecito.

Ventura and Oxnard have marinas, guest slips, and marine services, but not that much else. Marina del Rey has a lot of guest slips, so if you get there before the start of the weekend, you can usually find space. Marina del Rey has never been our favorite port, but it's convenient to LAX, and it has reasonable access to Hollywood for those who want to play tourist. A few miles further down the coast, you can anchor for free at King Harbor. This is a great place for folks who like to walk or bike along the beach and look at girls in their bikinis. By August it's warm enough that they've taken their overcoats off. Redondo is also convenient to LAX.

Long Beach has a couple of marinas where you can often get a transient slip. The downtown area has been revitalized and is sort of interesting. It also has a great bike and jogging trail. Jet Blue flies to Oakland out of Long Beach, but not often.

Newport Beach is a favorite of ours, as it's got lots to do and you can get a mooring for just $5/night - the best deal we know of anywhere. It's another great place for jogging and biking, and you don't want to miss taking a walk out on the two piers. If there's hurricane surf coming out of Mexico, don't miss the world-class bodysurfing action at The Wedge. You'll get an ideal vantage point just 100 feet from young men who are literally risking their lives. John Wayne Airport is convenient and has lots of flights to Oakland.

Dana Point as a couple of places to anchor and is worth a walk around, but don't expect too much. It's about the same down at Oceanside.

When you get to San Diego, you can anchor for free on the way in to Mission Bay and at certain parts of San Diego Bay. As you might expect, there's plenty to see and do. Newport and San Diego are two of the better places to get work done on your boat before heading south to Mexico. San Diego has plenty of flights north.

No matter if you're just doing a coastal cruise or are preparing to head to Mexico, don't give Southern California a short shrift. There's much to do, and the weather is pretty close to ideal. Plus, the sailing in the Santa Barbara Channel and on the reaches between the mainland and Catalina can be terrific. We'll be down with Profligate on August 1 and hope to see you there!

- latitude/rs 07/20/05

Chewbacca - Crowther 33 Cat
The Winship Family
Loving Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia. The first images that came to our minds when we - Bruce, April, and daughters Kendall, 9, and Quincy, 11 - heard those words were of drug lords and violence. But after talking to cruising friends who had been there, we decided that it was reasonably safe to go there with our family. We're glad we did.

Having now lived in Cartagena for over seven months, the images that come to mind are of a historic, walled city reminiscent of the old cities of Europe. There are clean avenues lined with flowered balconies, ornate doors, and wood-framed Spanish-style windows. There are numerous courtyards with fountains, where shade-trees and flower beds abound. And the sound that resonates through the Centro District is not the feared rat-ta-tat-tat of guns, but of hammers working on renovation. In the early morning hours, a walk along the waterfront or along the top of the city wall is invigorating, as the cooling tradewinds blow in from the ocean. The country of Colombia may indeed be in turmoil, but Cartagena has remained a refuge. It's a place to bone up on history and take in some culture - or just sit in one of the many shady town squares and relax. It's also been a place to do a major refit on Chewbacca, our 20-year-old catamaran.

Having spent six months on the hook in the natural beauty and isolation of Panama's San Blas Islands, it was quite a contrast for us to sail past Boca Grande and into Cartagena Bay, with the high-rise buildings in the background. We weren't sure we were ready for civilization, but we were soon enchanted by the mingled sounds of modern traffic and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages.

We tied up at Club Nautico, the famous cruiser haven, where we spent the first week just unwinding and getting the lay of the land of the famous city. But then we had things to do - starting with a long list of boat projects and continuing the schooling of our daughters. We also needed to get medical checkups, and Bruce wanted to look into laser eye surgery - for which Cartagena seems to be a center. Armed with the very helpful Cartagena Cruisers' Guide - which is available on the internet - we searched out dentists and doctors, and in no time had our personal overhauls completed.

Like the major cruising grounds in Mexico and the Eastern Caribbean, the high season in Cartagena is the winter from mid-November until about May. So Club Nautico began to buzz with activity just before Thanksgiving, and was a hub of social events - tours of the city and forts, visits to museums, domino and card games, nautical swap meets, etc - through the New Year.

During this time we learned our way around Centro, which is the area around the Old City. Bruce wandered a bit further afield, exploring hardware, electronic, and welding businesses. We got to know the paint, resin and fabric stores, as we started to work renewing the inside of our little catamaran. We replaced our cloth headliner with marine vinyl, and repainted the entire inside of the boat. Señor Eder works magic with Corian, so we had him put in all new countertops in our galley - as he has done for many other cruisers - for a fraction of U.S. prices. A talented cabinetmaker made our new custom salon table, and our once-carpeted fiberglass sole was finished with gelcoat. Our last task before heading to the yard for a haulout was to build a new nav station, more bookshelves, and varnish all the interior wood. Whew! By March we were ready for the boatyard.

We had a good boatyard experience at Ferrocem, the only place that could accommodate a cat with a 22-ft beam. Chewbacca was gently picked up by a crane and set down on stands. We had saved ourselves some time in the yard by previously removing all of the boat hardware and lifelines. We looked at the haulout as a 'job', so we were there six days a week to work on our own projects and to answer questions from the yard workers. And we had an excellent team of workers. They stayed on schedule and did every task with a smile. Although helping Bruce tie the 1,500 knots in the trampoline was no fun, the workers even did that with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, our boat was completely stripped down to the old gelcoat and a new gelcoat was applied. We also put aggressive nonskid on the deck and redid the bottom paint. We hardly recognized her when she was finished!

While Chewbacca was getting a new facelift, the girls helped in the kitchen of the boatyard's restaurant. They peeled carrots, wrapped silverware, served the lunch crowd and, of course, washed dishes. It was homeschooling 'Restaurant Ownership 101' for them. This was part of our goal of our trying to turn every situation - even a haulout - into a positive experience.

Since we couldn't live on our boat in the boatyard, we had to rent an apartment for a month. Thanks to the trusty cruisers' network, we got the names of a few buildings to look at. We ended up on the 18th floor in a place in the Boca Grande district with ocean and bay views. Furnished places like this go for just $350 to $600 a month. The building had 24-hour security, two tiendas, and the girls swam in the pool every day. The Boca Grande district is where the Colombian tourists flock. Although it doesn't have the charm of Centro, it's right on the beach, where for 80 cents you can rent beach chairs and an umbrella. After those 10-hour days, six days a week in the boatyard, it was heaven to come home to a place so far removed from the dusty environment.

We've been back at Club Nautico for a few weeks now, cleaning up and reinstalling the rest of our hardware and sailing gear. We are readying ourselves and Chewbacca for a few month's stay back in the San Blas Islands. Yes, we're looking forward to some more 'hammock time' in Kuna Yala land. We've saved a few interior boat projects for when we're at anchor, and the girls will be playing catchup to complete their school year by mid-June.

Our stay in Cartagena has been a very positive and happy one. We have felt safe here, and have been treated with warmth and kindness by the Colombian people. We plan on returning to this historic city.

- the winship family 06/01/05

Sea Bear - Gulfstar 62
Capt. Dennis Roquet & Cindi Scott
Acapulco To French Polynesia
(Friday Harbor, WA)

We left Acapulco on March 23 for the South Pacific, with a courageous crew consisting of Binky, Tommy Pickard, and Tom Pezman. There was no wind the first five days, so we had to motor. The good part was we could run the ice maker 24 hours a day; the bad part was it became very hot in the boat.

For the next seven days, we had 10-20 knots of northeasterly trades. During this period Sea Bear was plagued with boobies - a species of bird not noted for intelligence - who were insistent on trying to get a free ride across the Pacific. We spent hours attempting to dislodge the loose-boweled birds from every possible perch, until they finally decided to search for less bothersome transport.

The days and nights spent crossing 2,900 miles of ocean were both relaxing and exhausting. Life at sea becomes routine. There are no phones to answer, no errands to run, and just a vast ocean vista. Lots of books are devoured, and many simple things become extraordinary. Once you get a few hundred miles offshore, the water becomes the most spectacular aquamarine color. We happened to have a full moon at our departure, and the moonlight literally glistened on the surface of the tropical water. And when that moon disappeared, you felt like you could just reach out and grab a star from the Milky Way, which seemed to be exploding in the dark sky. And not soon to be forgotten are the spectacular sunsets and the long-awaited sunrises. No matter if it was dawn or dusk, the sky seemed to be washed with every shade of red, yellow, blue and gray. Every group of playful porpoise was a delight, as was counting the number of flying fish that ended their lives on our deck.

We entered the southern hemisphere at 0°, 130°W. All the pollywogs on board were initiated to shellbacks by King Neptune and Queen Clitoris. The 'horse latitudes of the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) featured no wind and smooth seas, so we went back to powering and making ice. The wind finally returned, as did the squally conditions and rock & roll seas. Much to everyone's delight, the diligent Pez finally caught the one dumb wahoo/ono in the ocean. The chef and sous chef gladly prepared the fish - while perfecting the galley ballet movements that rival those of Cirque du Soleil. Our average sailing speed was 6.5-7.5 knots, but we did reach 10.4, and often hit 9s during the windy periods.

Nineteen days out of Mexico we made landfall at Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas. The view of the tropical land, the steep spires, and the swaying palms, as well as the smells of the land, were in sharp contrast with the open ocean. We explored the entire island with Roti, our 4-WD chauffeur, and collected a huge stock of bananas from an 'all peoples tree'.

At another anchorage, we hiked through shoulder-high tropical foliage, traipsed over slimy mud, and four times each way forded waist-high streams to reach the terminus of Vaipo Falls, the third highest in the world. This is the valley where Survivor Series Marquesan Islands was filmed. While there, we met Daniel, a 78-year-old local, who shared the fruits of his land with us - coco aqua, more coconuts, pamplemousse (something like a gigantic, sweet grapefruit), limes, breadfruit, bananas, and mangos. Daniel now wears Latitude 38 T-shirts!

After a few more stops in the Marquesas, we were off to Manihi in the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are also known as the 'Dangerous Archipelago', because the atolls are no higher than a palm tree, only 600-1500 feet wide, and surrounded by coral reefs. A dangerous environment in which to navigate, the reefs are littered with the remains of ships, fishing boats, and sailboats.

These atolls were created when ancient volcanos sunk into the sea and the lip of their caldera became the surrounding reef. The lagoons have many coral heads, which it's best not to hit. The passes into these lagoons are extremely tricky to navigate because of the large volumes of water that flow in and out creating tidal rips, whirlpools, and waves that can turn a boat the size of Sea Bear sideways.

Manihi and Ahi are two atolls where pearl farming is a big industry. The farms, which sit on stilts over the lagoon, may have as many as two million oysters in the water. The many coral reefs of these atolls made for great shell collecting and beachcombing. We also snorkeled around the coral heads, where there was 60-foot visibility and innumerable tropical fish of every color imaginable. The black-tipped reef sharks are said to be shy, but still looked ominous to us.

We departed Rangiroa for Tahiti on flat seas - and with some concern about not having enough fuel. We need not have worried, as we had 30 hours of 30 to 46-knot winds, with waves crashing over the boat and the cockpit sometimes awash. It was a most uncomfortable ride for the crew.

At 3 p.m. of the second day we were abeam of Tetiaroa, the island once owned by the late Marlon Brando. We'd planned to anchor there until we heard a loud crash from the engine room. It turned out that a coupling we'd just had made in January had fractured in three places! So we carried on toward Tahiti without benefit of an engine. We were close by midnight, but once we got in the lee of the island, the last five miles took 7.5 hours! And we still needed a tow for the last mile. The tugboat captain looked like Mr. T of the A Team, as his bald head was covered with Marquesan-style tattoos.

After our ignominious arrival at Papeete, we Med-tied at the main quay - where there have been a few problems. For example, there was an unpleasant incident one night on the Tucker Thompson, a 90-ft Baltic Trader from New Zealand that was headed to Seattle to be part of a tallships event on the West Coast. It's kind of a barefoot charter thing, with people paying to sail on a square-rigger and sleep on deck. Well, with seven crew sleeping on deck, a local came aboard and tried to rape a passenger. The crew fought him off and he escaped.

And while we took our dinghy to the marina for lunch, a thief pried open our galley hatch, then stole our computer with all our photos of the trip, Tommy's movie camera with all the film, five other cameras, sunglasses, watches, and money. He (they) were very thorough opening and closing the drawers. They also took my ATM card and hit five banks in one day.

So I told my story to three newspapers and was on television one night offering $100,000 CPF reward for the photos. So much for a low profile. The gendarmes said the reward wasn't such a good idea because the crooks might come back to the boat at night looking for my reward money! So now I can't leave the boat day or night. It sure gets hot here in the tropics with all the hatches closed!

Last week's newspaper had several articles, including one from Moorea, about graffiti. "Tourists go home!" It says. Another article showed six charter guests in the cockpit of a catamaran holding up their disposable cameras. Their better cameras had been stolen.

We'd also heard that French Polynesia was expensive. Well, it is. A Big Mac, fries, and Coke - supersize, please - is $10 U.S. A bottle of gin is $40. I wondered how people can afford it. Then I got a bill from the computer repairman, who charged $110/hour for labor. The outboard repairman charged $200/hour for labor.

I'm looking forward to heading west.

- dennis 05/15/05

Moonshadow - Deerfoot 64
George Backhus & Merima
The Queensland Coast Of Oz

We're in Darwin, Australia, having just sailed 'over the top' from Cairns on the Queensland coast. My partner Merima and I had a blast on the Great Barrier Reef, and the 1,500 miles of sailing was terrific, as we carried the spinnaker 60% of the time. At the moment, we're chilling out in a Darwin marina preparing for the annual Darwin to Kupang (Indonesia) Rally which starts in late July. It will be fun to head to an exotic destination.

I've been cruising in Australia for two years, but would have to say that the last year on the Queensland coast offered some of the best cruising I've ever experienced. Sure, there were a few minor drawbacks. There's lots of shallow water and a big coral reef, so you have to be diligent about navigation. But the cruising guides and charts are reasonably accurate, and there are plenty of navigation aids. The heat, humidity, and stingers of summer aren't so much fun. But at least you can cruise the entire coast in one season, or if you want to stick around for two, put the boat in a marina for the summer. And while there are numerous small chandleries, it was hard to get any special parts. But these were minor problems and completely overshadowed by the positives.

In fact, there were so many great things about cruising Queensland that I can only list a few of them:

- An abundance of good marinas and anchorages. From Brisbane to Cape York - which is over 1,200 miles of coast - you never have to do an overnight! We never had to cover more than 80 miles in one day.

- Good and easy provisioning. There are various cities and towns along the way where you can get nearly everything you need - and it's not too expensive. Plus, Australian wine is excellent!

- There's plenty to do, both in and out of the water. There's hiking, biking, cycling, swimming, diving, regattas, festivals, wining and dining, and just beachcombing - Queensland is a giant playground and has it all.

- Good weather. The winter weather is settled, pleasant, and predictable, and there is plenty of weather information easily available to the mariner. The southeast tradewinds are fairly reliable and usually blow from 10-20 knots. We flew a spinnaker much of the time.

- Great people. The Australians in general, and Queenslanders in particular, are friendly, helpful and usually have a quirky sense of humor unique to Australia. We met lots of terrific people and made many good friends along the way.

- There are no language or significant cultural barriers, and the officialdom of Oz was easy to understand and work with. We're going to miss it as we now head to Indonesia.

- george 07/18/05

Bobcat - Crowther 38 Cat
Bob Wilson
All-Female Crew
(Northern California)

I flew to Australia to buy a cruising cat, sail up the East Coast of Oz, and then cruise the South Pacific. I found just the cat I was looking for in Melbourne, so I bought her. On March 19, my crewmember Simon and I set sail for Sydney, Brisbane, and the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to light winds, I soon learned that my new boat could motor at five knots while burning less than half a gallon of fuel.

A couple of days later, we had great fun playing with lots of dolphins, who seemed to like to scratch their backs on the tulip-shaped bows that are characteristic of Crowther designs. Then the rain closed in so thick that we couldn't see more than 50 feet in any direction - and it got dark. Thanks to the radar, depthsounder, and GPS - and lots of prayers to the silicon chip gods - we made it through a clump of islands into Oberon Bay. Working our way into a strange anchorage on a strange boat with almost no visibility was not the brightest thing I've ever done. I got away with it even though I didn't deserve to.

On a later 45-mile run off the beach to Gippsland Lakes entrance, we finally got a chance to see how Bobcat sails. In 15 knots of wind on the beam, we did nine knots. That afternoon I dropped the main and put up the kite. Thanks to the help of some waves, we saw 18 knots a couple of times. Bless you, Lock Crowther, for making the cat as quick as she is nimble.

On April 3, we arrived in Sydney, which has a wonderful setting for a city. It sprawls out around a harbor that has branches and bays in all directions. Almost half the housing has water views. Sydneysiders are almost as friendly as the Melbourne types, although one has to make the effort at first contact.

After 10 days in Sydney, I was all set to sail for Brisbane and the Great Barrier Reef - when my crew Simon suddenly informed me that, having been seasick everyday underway, he was signing off. But what a good fellow, as before disembarking he lined up two seemingly delightful young ladies to replace him! Julie, from the U.K., is about the age of my oldest daughter, while Jenny, from Sweden, is a couple of years older than my middle daughter. Both had some sailing skills. In fact, Julie had already cruised extensively in the South Pacific and is a candidate for her master's license. The girls got the whole port hull to themselves while I got starboard.

You can imagine the grin on my face as I set sail from Sydney with two young women as crew. And they were good crew who spoiled me rotten. For instance, Julie shot a practice approach to a mooring buoy on her first chance, and then confidently drove us over the bar for the next leg north. As we continued on, Julie and Jenny acquired a taste for surfing Bobcat in the breakers over the bars at the entrance to harbors, may God have mercy on my soul! But I must admit, riding a five-ton surfboard does have its moments - even for the onlookers on the breakwaters. Otherwise, the crew assiduously protected the boat from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays through the ultimate sacrifice - interposing their lightly-clad bodies.

We took turns cooking and had a mild competition to see who could prepare the most delicious meals. The girls liked my bread and ratatouille, I liked Jenny's pancakes, and Julie did a great shepherds's pie. After helping another bloke with his docklines, he tossed us about a 6-lb bass that I filleted and Jenny grilled with lemon. Conversation faltered as we fell on it like sharks. As I was slaving away down in the galley the next day making pizzas, while the crew were again shielding the boat decks with their bodies, I had to ask myself if it was all worth it. Without a doubt, it was!

Our routine was to cruise 40 to 60 miles a day, then stop to anchor in this cove or take a mooring in that harbor. The only time we took a slip was when we had to do some shopping. Once I entertained the marina onlookers by tucking Bobcat neatly into a double 26-ft slip - a neat trick for a 38-ft boat. In reality, the cat handles so easily that almost anybody could have done it.

On this occasion, the dockmaster slotted us adjacent to charter boat row. So when the girls later stretched out on deck to work on their tans, all the young studs on the charter boats nearly fell into the water. I could have stripped naked and painted myself blue and no one would have noticed. Later, one of the blokes from the charter cat Imagine came aboard for an Aussie-style hoedown. He'd developed a respectable skill with the didgeridoo, and held forth for quite a while. Teaching it was a different story, as Jenny couldn't blow it for more than five seconds before cracking up.

While anchored in a Byron Bay roadstead the next night we had a Chinese fire drill when Murphy sent a brief but strong squall at 2:30 a.m. that broke the inadequate anchor bridle. Cats horse around to their anchor without a bridle, and tend to break out the anchor at the end of the arcs. With the wind and girls shrieking, I was roused from my bunk to a cold foredeck to recover the hook, clear the wreckage of the old bridle, replace it with a new bridle, and replant. Of course, by the time I was finished, the squall was gone.

Our next stop was Surfer's Paradise at Broadwater Sound. I spent a few nights dancing at the neighboring clubs. I had to choose between dancing with the ladies my age - their husbands beaming happily because it meant they didn't have to dance - who knew how to dance well, and young bimbos falling out of their wiggle dresses who didn't know how to dance at all.

Then we motored up to Brisbane and the sloughs and river channels of the Broadwater - with scenery remarkably similar to the San Joaquin Delta. I'd learned enough in the Delta to have an easy time of it, never touching the bottom.

All things must change, and a few days later I regrettably had to ask Julie to leave the cat. Although she had several years experience in crewing on yachts in these waters, I just couldn't build a workable relationship with her. In my estimation, she had become self-centered, disrespectful, argumentative, and disobedient. Without Jenny as peacemaker, I might have strangled Julie weeks before. In any event, Julie left in a storm of bitter insults and reciminations for my allegedly having failed to appreciate her. I think she took the ship's cellphone to punish me. So any time I feel the need for more criticism, I can always call her up.

As Jenny had to get off to finish her trip in Queensland before having to return to Sweden, I was alone again. But what a great crew she'd been! Although an inexperienced sailor, Jenny had a knack for being in the right place just before she was needed. Plus she was well-educated, a good conversationalist, and a first-class cook. If she had been 50 rather than 30, I would have slapped a leg-iron on her and chained her down in the Master's Cabin. Or granted her any other terms that she could be persuaded to accept.

Ah well, a few more glasses of rum in the sunshine and I'll be back in working order again!

- robert 06/06/05

Cruise Notes:

We recently received an email from a female reader who reminded us of just how difficult it can be to trust people these days. More than a year ago, she'd read an article in Latitude about a guy who had just lost his boat - and just about everything else - on the rocks of an island in the Pacific. The woman felt sorry for the shipwreck victim, so she contacted him. To her thinking, they hit it off well. "I figured that I'd found 'Mr. Perfect'," she remembers. One of the reasons is that he seemed to be so sensitive. When she told him that she'd lost her husband, she says he wrote back and expressed empathy: "I know how you feel, I lost my wife two years ago." If you're like the woman, you probably assumed this meant the guy's wife had died. Au contraire. His very much alive ex-wife contacted us to say that he'd 'lost' her because of repeated problems with alcohol.

Although the 54-year-old shipwreck victim was considerably younger than the supposedly new woman in his life, the woman confesses she was blinded to any problems. "I was 63 going on 17," she admits. Enthralled, she began sending him money and gifts. When she mentioned having found a hurricane-damaged sloop in the Caribbean that might be suitable for them to cruise together, she says he thought about it, then encouraged her to buy it. She did - with $15,000 of her own money. But once they got together on the boat, it seemed like a bad dream. She no longer saw him as "sweet, cooperative, wonderful, and fun." So in short order, the woman returned to the States, leaving Mr. Shipwreck on her hurricane-damaged boat in the Caribbean. Where it goes from here is unclear. But the woman - who would like to remain anonymous - feels it won't have been for naught if other women like her learn to become more cautious.

You have to feel for Grenada, the Catalina-sized island/nation that is the southernmost in the Eastern Caribbean. Last year this island, its 90,000 people, and the 1,000 sailboats that were mostly stored for the summer were almost totally devastated by a direct hit from very powerful hurricane Ivan. It was reported that it was the first hurricane to hit the island in 150 years. Grenada has always been considered to be south of the 'hurricane zone' - even by insurance companies. At least when the hurricane passed, residents and boatowners could feel reasonably confident that the island wouldn't get hit again for a long time. But you just can't trust hurricanes. On July 14, Grenada was hit for the second time in less than a year, this time by hurricane Emily. Fortunately, she was only blowing about 75 knots at the time, so few if any boats were seriously damaged, and the still-battered island came through fairly well.

(Readers Mike and Keri O'Barr dispute the claim that Grenada hadn't been hit by a hurricane in 150 years, saying that Janet hit the island in '55. In any event, it's been a long time between hurricanes.)

Just recently we got an email from Ken Burnap and Nancy Gaffney of the Santa Cruz-based Amel Super Maramu 53 Notre Vie, who had been enjoying some summer cruising in the Caribbean when they found themselves in Emily's path. They took shelter at Carriacou, a 13-sq mile dependency of Grenada. "As it got dark," Nancy reports, "the wind continued to increase. Somehow I managed to sleep for 90 minutes. At 10:30 p.m., the wind was 35 knots on our port side. A loud popping noise brought us on deck to watch as a jib on one of the charter boats unfurled itself and flapped to pieces. Despite being across the channel and 20 boats down, it sounded as thought it was right next to us! The roar of the wind and the creaking, clanking sounds were nerve-racking. The force of the wind continued to increase, and didn't peak till 2 a.m., when we saw 67 knots. But it backed off after that, and there wasn't too much damage."

As most of you know, Emily gathered strength as she continued across the Caribbean Sea and whacked the Cozumel-Cancun-Isla Mujeres area with winds of up to 115 knots. J.R. Reyes and Lupe Dipp of Puerto Vallarta just happened to be at an Isla Mujeres marina with their new-to-them Catana 47 cat Moon & Stars when the approach of Emily left them nowhere to go. Fortunately, there was a relatively well-protected boatyard that was able to haul their cat. Six hours before Emily made a direct hit, Lupe emailed us to report that they were scared but confident - and noted that some people were still lounging by the pool. A few miles away on the mainland, some 50,000 tourists had either been taken inland or were herded into stifling gyms and other shelters. Emily hit hardest about midnight. Lupe was thankful they'd gotten the boat out of the water, because there were 15-ft seas and lots of damage. Miraculously, there weren't any reports of deaths. When Gilbert hit the same area in the late '80s, there had been 300 deaths - despite the fact the area only had 25% of the tourists they have now. The improvements in hurricane predictions and tracking have made all the difference in the world.

"What a strange Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season it's been already," writes John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 37 Sanderling from his summer base in Trinidad. "This early in the season hurricanes normally form in the central Caribbean and move toward the Gulf of Mexico. But last year Ivan made history by being a major hurricane below the 12º 40' line, and it wiped out Grenada. But at least that was in September. On July 5 of this year, Dennis became a tropical storm as he crossed through the southern Windwards. And now we've had Emily, too! Hurricanes aren't supposed to hit this far south, they're not supposed to form in the Eastern Caribbean until September, and it's the only the middle of July and there have already been five Atlantic-Caribbean named storms. Grab on with both hands and hold tight!"

Meanwhile, it's been very quiet on the hurricane front along the coast of Mexico. There has been one 70-knot hurricane and four tropical storms, all of which were short-lived and offshore. Let's hope it stays that way and that the Atlantic-Caribbean gets a respite.

"Just wanted to let you know that Windy Dancer, the Cal 2-46 we sailed in the 2004 Ha-Ha, is now in Guatemala's Rio Dulce," writes John Brandes. "I'm home in Seattle now, but will return to the boat in November. We had a great trip with very few problems."

"We're now in Honolulu following a 15-day, 1-hour passage from Raiatea," reports Paul Biery of the Emeryville-based Catana 431 cat New Focus. "My crew of Leno Petteys and Mark Purdy - whom I got from my ad in 'Lectronic Latitude - worked out great, as they were very compatible and qualified. At times the crew was so busy fishing - successfully - and playing very hard-lined cribbage tournaments that my wife wondered who, if anyone, was on watch. Light winds kept us motorsailing for the first 36 hours, then we broad-reached for two days with spinnakers in light air, which was followed by about a week of great sailing with the wind about three points ahead of the beam. We hit the ITCZ about 5° north, and spent the next couple of days dodging storm cells. Thanks to these cells, the wind would go from five knots to 30+ knots in less than two minutes, and change direction 180° just as quickly. Needless to say, we were kept on our toes. But New Focus handled the fitful conditions like a dream. We exited the ITCZ at about 9°N, then started hitting the easterly winds where we again enjoyed great sailing conditions. Two days out of Hawaii, the winds shifted from the east to the north, and we got the wind on the nose. It was a little bouncy, and we finally motored the last day to make port before nightfall. We're currently docked at the Waikiki YC Marina, where we've been shown great hospitality. The docks are in superb shape and the facility is being well run by Harbormaster Bill Foster. Once we get the saltwater washed off, rest, and reprovision, we'll set sail for Vancouver."

"We read in another marine publication that SEMARNAT, Mexico's Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has closed certain fuel sources in Turtle Bay," write Peggy and Neil Brand of the Dana Point-based Catalina 320 Peggy Sue. "As such, the only option is to Med-moor to the pier in order to fuel, and even that service might not be around too much longer. Have you any reports that this will be a permanent arrangement? It would really hinder our plans for heading south in the fall."

There is quite a list of reasons why we're not worried about the fuel situation in Turtle Bay. First, in the more than 15 times our boats have stopped in Turtle Bay on the way from San Diego to Cabo, we've never needed to get fuel. Second, we fully expect fuel to be available at the pier, for if it isn't, where are the Mexican fishing boats going to fuel up? In the unlikely event fuel won't be available at the pier, one of the many enterprising locals will surely offer to get it from the Pemex station in town and deliver it out to the boats. If the station were to mysteriously disappear, members of the Ha-Ha and Mexican fishermen have always been happy to sell diesel to those who need it. And if all those options were somehow negated, we'd just sail a few more miles down the coast to Ascuncion, where Shari, a former Canadian cruiser on Sirena, and her husband Juan, would be happy to help. Say, here's a message from Shari now!

"Hola todos from lovely Bahia Ascuncion! I want to thank all the cruisers who stopped in to see us, as we had a terrific time showing you our area, visiting your boats, and sharing many activities. Many of you came out to our beach house in San Roque and enjoyed the archeological hike through fossil valley, where some found petrified shark's teeth, coral, clams, and so forth. Some of the men went out lobster fishing with Juan in the panga, while some of the ladies stayed with me and learned to make tortillas and empanadas. But we had the most fun with the cruising kids! They stayed with us at the house and rode our horse, played games, watched movies, met the kids in town, went to baseball games, parties, and dances, boogie-boarded, and generally had a blast while their parents got some private time on their boats. Bahia Ascuncion is an awesome village with great stores, a fabulous internet café, inexpensive laundry service, an impressive church, some super nice people, and a safe anchorage. We've got diesel, and are working on making it more readily available to boats. We are currently building a little yacht club palapa where we can all get together. Anyone wanting to contact us in advance, or to come down and visit either by boat or land cruiser, can - or even call us at 01-52-615-160-0289. We also monitor 16."

"Check out the photo of our boat at anchor in the lagoon at Penrhyn Atoll in the Cook Islands," suggest Mike and Robin Stout, vets of the '02 Baja Ha-Ha with their Long Beach-based Aleutian 51 Mermaid. "A tropical island, a nice sunset, and a great anchorage - what more could you want? Mermaid is now back in Long Beach awaiting her next adventure."

"I just got back from Mexico City on July 13," writes Tere Grossman, president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association. "While there, I talked to the Director of the Merchant Marine, Lic. Jose Tomas Lozano. I learned that it's final; 'domestic clearings' can be done either via VHF radio or by filling out a form such as the half-page one used by the port captain in Mazatlan. In addition, mariners cannot be required to use an agent when they clear in or out of the country. Lastly, the Director Lozano asked me to send him any complaints about port captains who ask for anything else or charge fees. If anyone has a complaint with a port captain, I would need to know which port captain and what date."

We think what Grossman means is that if a port captain says it's all right to clear by VHF, it's all right. But if he says you need to fill out a half-page form at a marina or his office, you would have to do that. But you don't have to pay a fee or use a ship's agent. One couple wrote us to complain that they had been charged API fees in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, and wondered if the port captain was doing something wrong. These are port fees - very modest ones - that are charged in some of the developed ports such as Puerto Escondido, La Paz, and Cabo. They have never had anything to do with clearing, and do have to be paid where applicable.

With everything sounding wonderful, we got the following note from Chuck and Cheryl Stewart of The C's: "We read that we should email you if we were charged a fee by a port captain. Well, the port captain at Punta Penasco in the northern Sea of Cortez didn't charge us anything when we arrived on May 5, but he charged us a 163-pesos fee - which we paid to Banamex - when we checked out on July 4. He also wanted us to use an agent to check out, but he finally did the paperwork himself when he couldn't reach the agent and knew we were leaving the next day. The port captain insisted that the fee and having to use an agent were the proper procedure."

We have Tere Grossman looking into this situation as we go to press, but she's wondering if Chuck and Cheryl trailered their boat to Puerto Penasco, in which case they would have to clear the boat into Mexico. However, a ship's agent should never be required. We have a report in the next issue on how this all shakes out.

While Mexico has wisely been eliminating red tape for cruisers, the same can't be said for Croatia, which is foolishly headed in the opposite direction. When a boat arrives in Croatian waters, her crew is required to take the shortest route to the nearest customs office to clear in and obtain a one-year cruising permit. So far, so good. But get this: when you clear in, you must complete a crew list - with the names of all the individuals who are going to be on your boat for the next year! Obviously, Croatian officials aren't aware that nobody really knows who their crew is going to be until they step aboard the boat. Yet there's more nonsense. The total number of crew in that one-year period is limited to twice the number of berths on the boat plus 30%. So if your boat has six berths, the limit is 16 people during the year. And no, you can't get more than one cruising permit per year to allow for additional guests. So if you're taking your boat cruising in Croatia, for your sake let's hope you don't have very many friends. In addition to the cruising permit, you have to show a certificate of competence from the country that flags your boat. What do you do if you're from the U.S. and they don't have such things? You also have to show proof of third-party insurance. We can only assume that Croatia - which has seen an explosion in nautical tourism since the war stopped - is trying to use absurd regulations to try to limit the number of visiting boats.

"A reader asked about good dentists in Puerto Vallarta," writes Al Burrow. "I recommend Fernando Penalva, who is located in the stand-alone white building at the corner of the Marina Plaza shopping center just south of the airport. Penalva is U.S.-trained, speaks good English, and has better equipment than my dentist here in Alameda. He's done two bridges for me as well as various cleanings - at about half the U.S. prices. He may not be the least expensive dentist in Mexico, but he's one of the best."

"In response to your 'Lectronic inquiry about which of the Mexican cruising guides is the best, we used all of them, but didn't depend on any one," writes Jimmie Zinn of the Pt. Richmond-based Morgan 38 Dry Martini. "Why? Compare the description and drawings of the tricky little passage between the Los Candeleros just south of Puerto Escondido and you'll see they don't agree. In general, Gerry Cunningham's guides seemed the best for the areas around San Carlos, Sonora, and the northern Sea of Cortez. Charlie's Charts has the best drawings of anchorages, especially for the mainland south of Mazatlan - but it's becoming increasingly dated. Jack Williams' guide is good for both coasts of the Baja peninsula. The Rains' Mexico Boating Guide has a lot of good pictures, but we found enough error in both text and drawings to make us distrust it overall."

Just to show there was no consensus on the cruising guides to the Sea of Cortez and Mexico, here are the other responses we received:

"For the Sea of Cortez, Charlie's Charts are the best," says Mike Hatcher of Del Mar. "For the mainland, the Rains' have a small lead over Charlie's, but only because I believe Margo Woods hasn't seen that area in a long time."

"In our eight seasons in Mexico, we've found that for the Sea of Cortez, Cunningham's sketch charts seem to be the best," writes Dave Parker of Carlota. "The photos from the air and from afloat in William's guide are a great help for the first time you're finding some of the anchorages."

"We prefer Charlie's Charts," writes Gordon and Kaysea Ray of Snow Leopard. "Rains' guide is OK for additional information, but seems to be far behind the times."

"We use both Charlie's and the Rains' guide," writes Tom Collins of Misty Sea. "We prefer Charlie's for better detail on the anchorages, and Rains' for the passage-making. But we find that by referring to both, we seem to get a better overall picture. We definitely wouldn't use just one, and we warn people to use all the guides with caution. We have found errors in both of them that could have put us into serious trouble had we not also been using government charts and our eyes."

"I like Rains' guide the best," says Mike Schacter of El Sobre del Mar, "but also carry Charlies's and reference both of them. I found Rains' to be more accurate."

"As you know, the regular charts suck, so we generally used all the cruising guides," writes Sara Johnson of the Alberg 35 Pelican. "The three rarely agreed, but after combining all the info, we'd eventually figure out where we were. I can't wait to dust them off again in '08."

"For the Sea, nothing compares with Cunningham's guides and charts," say Stan and Rhea Strebig of the Morgan 41 Magari. "For the rest of Mexico, we use them all, but use Rains' the most and then Charlie's."

"We hit most of the anchorages between P.V. and Zihua, and found that we could probably get by with either Charlie's or Rains', but liked having both," report Bruce and Bobbie McPherson of the Sausalito-based Music. "The different styles of diagrams for the anchorages compliment each other, as do the descriptions. If we had to pick one, I think I would go with Rains' - although Bobbie leans toward Charlie's."

"Cunningham's guides are by far the best - the Bible - among cruisers we interacted with during our four months in the Sea of Cortez," writes Jeff Drake of the Sceptre 41 Magena.

"We used all the cruising guides, and usually had all of them out in our cockpit when trying to make sense of a new harbor entrance," writes Richard of MR Destiny. "I like the Rains' guide the best. We found it to be the most accurate, although we did find errors. But it was up-to-date and the easiest to understand. Our next favorite was Jack Williams', and lastly Charlie's - which had too many errors, was outdated, and was sometimes hard to follow. I like Cunningham's books and CD, but never really had the chance to use any of them."

"1) Rains'. 2) Rains'. 3) Rains'. 4) Charlie's." So says Dave Fullerton of Mudshark.

"I found that we really needed both Rains' and Charlie's as they cover different details about each locations," says Michael Moore of Ayu. "Between the two sets of chartlets - which differ quite a bit on details - you can get a reasonable picture of each location."

"I consulted both Rains' and Charlie's, but when there was a discrepancy between the two - and there often was - I trusted Rains' more," says Mike Fulmor.

"If I had to go with just one guide, it would be Rains'," says Jamie Rosman of the Taswell 49 Tardis. "That said, I really liked having multiple guides since I found them more complementary than duplicative. Using multiple guides definitely made things easier and less stressful. By the way, my trips to Mexico were in '95, '96, and '99, so I haven't used latest editions. While I think Charlie's is probably the weakest overall, I would still feel quite comfortable if that was my only guide."

We're a little surprised that nobody cast a vote for Leland Robert Lewis's and Peter Eric Ebeling's Baja Sea Guide, the 382-page hardbound book that's by far the most colorfully written and romantic of the guides. For example, it's the only one that includes the information that in 1870 the American steamer Golden City sank in nine fathoms north of the Baja Ha-Ha stop at Bahia Santa Maria, and that none of her millions of dollars of gold and silver bullion and specie were ever found. It also has interesting personal accounts of things like boats being driven right onto the beach under spinnaker because of navigation errors. Furthermore, it includes detailed information about Mexico's offshore and oceanic islands. Alas, it was last published in 1973, so it's a little out of date. In fact, its aerial photo of Cabo San Lucas shows the old airport where the Inner Harbor has been for the last 15 years, and just one hotel - now gone - on the beach.

We've found that given a healthy degree of skepticism, you can get along in Mexico pretty well with just about any of the guides - including the old Mexico Chart Guide West, which is another one that's no longer in print. But the more guides you have, the better overall view you get - and the better you get at understanding the shortcomings of each. In our opinion the most accurate of them all to date has been the latest stuff Gerry Cunningham has done on the Sea of Cortez. We have similarly high expectations for the newest version of John and Patricia Rains' Mexico Boating Guide, which we're told will be available before the start of the new cruising season.

"I would love to be the coordinator of all the 'kid boats' in this year's Baja Ha-Ha," advises Jerry McArdle of the Oceanside-based Pearson Alberg 35 De La Sol. "My 12-year-old son - who like me has been sailing since before he was born - is very excited about the journey. When we sailed back to Oceanside from Catalina the other week with the gennaker up, I couldn't get him off the wheel! He's also excited about meeting the other kids in the Ha-Ha. Reading in 'Lectronic that the Pleson family will be sailing with their 12-year-old daughter Marina and nine-year-old son Niko, is what prompted me to volunteer. So it would be great if anyone planning on doing the Ha-Ha with a youngster would . Thank you. We'll also be at the Isthmus at Catalina on August 13 for the Ha-Ha Preview!

That's right, there will be a casual Ha-Ha Preview at Two Harbors on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, August 13. We'll meet in the bandstand area around noon, have some very informal mini-seminars and question and answer sessions starting about 2 p.m. Around 5:30 p.m., we'll get the BBQ pit going for the potluck. Just a reminder to Ha-Ha first-timers, you always bring more to a potluck than you'll eat, plus your eating weapons. Later on we'll have a bonfire and then show slides from the last several Ha-Ha's. While this is primarily intended for folks doing this year's Ha-Ha, we're obviously not going to exclude those who won't be going for another year or two. The Preview is free, and there is no sign-up list.

On July 6, the Miami-based Coast Guard Cutter Campbell was on routine patrol 50 miles south of Cayos de Albuquerque, Colombia, when somebody seemed to be dumping bales from the 65-ft Honduran fishing vessel Ocean Mistery. So the cutter went over to investigate. The fishing boat refused to stop during what turned out to be an hour-long chase, which surely raised suspicions further. Finally, the cutter fired warning shots across the bow from her 50-caliber machine gun. Who would have thought, but those bales were full of cocaine. The Coasties recovered 6,700 pounds of the stuff, which they say would be worth $220 million on the streets of the U.S., which is where it was ultimately headed.

This month's Cruising Question. You're about to head across the Pacific, but your budget is limited to the extent that you can either have an EPIRB or a Iridium Satphone. Which do you choose and why?

"Dreams are for dreamers; goals are for doers," is one of Flocerfida Benincasa's favorite mantras. Thanks to a large bosom and a streak of giggly exhibitionism, many will remember the young Filipino woman from the '03 Ha-Ha. Not quite as many will remember her husband Jasper, of course, who prefers a lower profile. The two met in biology and chemistry classes in Las Vegas, worked in that glitzy city for a couple of years, and just about went out of their minds. Knowing there was more to life and not willing to settle for mediocrity, they - despite very limited sailing experience - decided to do the Ha-Ha and sail across the Pacific aboard their humble gas-powered Columbia 34 Flocerfida. And proving once again that money is not the major obstacle in successful cruising, they had wonderful adventures all the way to New Zealand. So why are they back in Vegas selling real estate? They had so much fun, they want a bigger boat for their next cruise.

May your cruising dreams - and deeds - be equally as large and successful!

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