September, 2004

With reports this month on Bitchie and Butchie aboard Contenta from Xephyr in New Caledonia; from Topaz after a 4.5-year circumnavigation; from Traumerei on four years in the Adriatic and Eastern Med; from Sand Dollar on winters in the Bahamas; from Capricorn Cat on the Marshall Islands and the 5,000-mile trip home from Tonga; and a rogue wave's worth of Cruise Notes.

Xephyr - N/A
Lachlan & Becky McGuigan
Bitchie & Butchie Still Famished
(Off The Coast Of Australia)

For years Latitude has proved to be a rich source of information for cruisers such as us. We've spent untold hours combing its pages, copying lists of uncharted reefs, perusing the ads, and chuckling over the occasional sighting of the likes of Bitchie and Butchie (aka Vicky Oswald and Chuck Levdar) of the 1959 Sausalito-based Lapworth 40 Contenta (ask Disconnected). Being seasoned cruisers, we assumed them to be the invention of a mind that has had too much idle time and alcohol. Come on, could Bitchie really varnish their mast naked? Would Butchie happily grind her up to do it? We didn't think so, as these things never happened in the places we anchored.

Well, the times they are a-changing. We recently met Bitchie and Butchie in New Caledonia by chance. Or maybe fate. Bitchie had apparently admired my wife's one-fingered approach to nostril-cleaning, and just had to stop by and say 'hello'. The big world suddenly shrunk when we learned that Bitchie and Butchie were from our old stomping ground, the Bay Area. We became instant friends. Over drinks I learned that Butchie was something of a legend in my hometown. As a teen, I had heard tall tales of celebrity hot-tub parties in a 'salvaged' water tank that had been 'liberated' one stormy night from a brussel sprout field just up the coast. All I could say was, "That was your place?!"

It took us a while to realize that these two were the real Bitchie and Butchie. We'd met a number of Bitchies and a few Butchies during our years on the water, but they were never sailing together, and not on a boat nicknamed Disconnected. These clues, and many others, were right under our noses, but we were slow to connect the dots.

For instance, Bitchie is famous for her amazingly high metabolism - and hence ravenous appetite. We remembered a Latitude article report that she ate a kilo of chow mein before going to a neighbor's boat for dinner because she was afraid she might go hungry. So it should have been clear that this was the real Bitchie when, having dinner on their boat, we watched her down two baguettes, a kilo of rice, two dozen oysters, four liters of home brew, two bottles of wine, two plates of goat stew, and countless cookies. Tommy Toucan swears he also saw her wash down two cake a-la-modes with cider, but I can't vouch for it personally.

Butchie added another clue when he regaled me with tales of their off-season projects while "tarting up" Disconnected in New Zealand. Normal things like brightwork, bottom paint, and even adding a hard dodger were only starters for these two. Their classic craft needed further updating, so they added a second rudder and cut off the boom with a Sawsall to "balance the rig". It was more stuff of which legends are made. Mind you, they didn't replace the boat's ancient Greymarine gas (!) engine.

A few more bells went off when Bitchie and Butchie told us of their first trip to a remote Fijian village. Fellow cruisers had told them of the traditional Fijian greeting, "Esa tika na sapoí." They practiced hard and were all smiles as they beached their dinghy with their sevusevu and new expression. It seemed to work, as they were welcomed with smiles and even some laughter. The chief replied "Esapo ilo iloí," and they were welcomed as family. Not until after they'd been in the village for several weeks were they told that their greeting translated to, "Are you wearing any underwear?" The headman's response, naturally enough, had been, "Yes, invisible underwear!" It turned out that the couple had something in common with the villagers - no underwear. Bitchie and Butchie haven't worn it since contracting a nasty rash from washing their underwear in a freshwater stream in Mexico.

Despite all this, we still hadn't realized that this enigmatic couple was the Bitchie and Butchie. Even though their reputation had preceded them to Noumea, Tommy Toucan - definitely a guy with too much time on his hands - had to connect the dots for us while we dined aboard Disconnected. Over steaming plates of Billy Chili, we learned that all the stories were true! Bitchie and Butchie are real - we were sitting in their cockpit eating the proof!

The proof came from Ducos Island, a few hours north of Noumea. We knew the place was littered with goats. In fact, it had been less than a month since we had told them about the place. While we watched Bitchie devour her dinner, Butchie told us of the 2,000 feral goats eating the island bare. He told us that the owner had a they-are-yours-if-you-can-catch-them policy. We chewed disbelievingly as Butchie described how Bitchie had culled, not one, but two "crippled" goats. One was the billy we were then eating!

Butchie further described 'The Look' in Bitchie's eye as the first limping goat metamorphosed from picturesque quadriped to predestined prey in her mind. It was 'The Look' known - albeit briefly - to many a mahi mahi and tuna hauled over Disconnected's transom. It's the same look seen on lions hunting in the Serengeti. 'The Look' eloquently said, "This goat is toast!" Butchie conveniently volunteered to retrieve knives and plastic bags from the boat rather than watch the kill. I suspect that most of us around the cockpit would have done the same.

Bitchie simply shrugged as she doled out second helpings, and said, "The goat would have died anyway." As Butchie continued to tell the tale of Bitchie's kill, we all had vivid images of Bitchie, a sinewy Canadian-American sylph with a big smile, charging down a steep, rocky trail on a mountain bike, filet knife in her teeth, spear-gun balanced on her elbow, about to end the grass-stealing career of a crippled goat. Our visions didn't seem to hinder our appetites at all.

We're a safe eight days offshore as I write this. Though I wanted to stay in New Caledonia and help Bitchie with the varnishing, I thought I saw 'The Look' directed at my wife, who had recently broken her leg. In any event, we will never doubt anything we hear about Bitchie and Butchie again. Only the real deal would grow alfalfa spouts in their head or convert their water tanks to beer brewing vats saying, "You can get water anywhere."

I will sure miss those two. In today's cynical world, taking things on faith is hard, but I swear to you they are out there. They may drop anchor next to you tomorrow. Butchie is hard to recognize, but Bitchie is a dead giveaway. She is the only cruiser in the anchorage without varnish stains on her clothes.

- lachlan & becky 9/15/04

Topaz - C&C 38
Ken Hellewell
End Of A Circumnavigation
(Seattle / San Diego / Portland)

According to Ken Hellewell - who in June completed a 4.5-year solo circumnavigation - the finest cruising in the world is relatively close to home for West Coast sailors. He also suggests that there are better multi-year cruising options than sailing all the way around the world.

"The best part of my circumnavigation was the first three plus years, when I sailed from the Bay Area to Mexico and on to the South Pacific. It's in these places that I met up with the same group of people over and over again, and with whom I had the best times in the best places. From Australia on, there weren't as many good places to stop, there weren't as many cruisers, and the cruisers weren't as friendly. As a result, once I left Tonga, I sailed the rest of the way around the world very quickly."

For those looking to do a long cruise or circumnavigation on a relatively modest budget, Hellewell has good news. During his 4.5 years, he spent less than $150,000 for everything - and still has an excellent cruising boat to show for it. He paid $32,000 for the 1976 C&C 38 Topaz, which had been circumnavigated previously by Robert Peterson, who currently lives in Portland.

"The C&C 38 was a brilliant boat for my trip. I'm not a racer, but I like speed, and she was fast. She was also dry, easy to manuever, held up well, and did fine in rough weather. Some people thought that her fin keel and spade rudder would make her squirrely, but it didn't, not even when she was being driven by the Monitor windvane. The only flaw in the boat's design is that she doesn't have a bilge, so on the few occasions that it got rough, there was some water in the cabin sole."

Hellewell also invested another $32,000 in preparing the boat for his trip. The money went to things like replacing the electrical, water, and propane systems, and buying new sails, upholstery, and fuel tanks. "I redid everything except the engine and the rig, and I had pretty much all the stuff you'd expect on a comfortable cruising boat - refrigeration, a PUR 40 watermaker, hot and cold running water, a microwave oven, and that kind of stuff. While I did have an EPIRB and a VHF radio, it might surprise some people to learn that I didn't have a liferaft or SSB radio. I did all of my communication at internet cafes. I did have radar, which was valuable for confirmation navigation and for keeping an alarm lookout for ships, giving me a chance to get some sleep. When I started out, I was a hardcore paper chart guy, but I did take electronic charts with me. I was converted in Tahiti, however, and from then on was an electronic chart guy. If you have electronic charts and the cruising guide for the local area, I think you have what you'll need. In fact, I now question the need for paper charts."

You've heard the old saw about cruising being defined as fixing broken boat stuff in exotic ports? That wasn't the case with Hellewell's circumnavigation. Although Topaz's Yanmar diesel was 24 years old and already had 6,000 hours when he started his circumnavigation, it has remained virtually trouble free. "I didn't do anything to the engine before I left, and besides replacing the water pump in Mexico and routinely changing the oil, I never did anything to it during the rest of the trip." He didn't even have problems with dirty fuel or alternators!

In addition to the cost of the boat and refitting her, Hellewell spent roughly $70,000 on living and other expenses during the next 4.5 years - which comes out to $15,500 per year. "During the first two years I was pretty flush from the booming stock market, so I spent about $20,000 a year and lived quite well. After the stock market turned to crap, I reduced my budget to about $1,000/month, everything included."

Ironically, when the then 35-year-old Hellewell departed Seattle in October of '99, he wasn't planning on cruising solo or even necessarily circumnavigating."I left the Pacific Northwest with a girlfriend, but the relationship was over by the time we got to San Francisco. Initially I was open to the idea of having crew, but by the time I left the South Pacific a couple of years later, I'd already started to think about a solo circumnavigation. So in the few instances where I did have crew for a short time, I always backtracked to keep my solo circumnavigation intact. From Australia on, I was committed to the concept of a solo circumnavigation, and it would have taken a very special woman to have interfered with that."

Hellewell says it was't difficult having a social life in Mexico and the South Pacific. "I met women - most of whom were quite a bit younger than me - everywhere. Some were locals, others were cruisers or tourists. I had an incredible social life." From Australia on, the social life was much slower.

Having completed a circumnavigation, Hellewell is of the opinion that many cruisers greatly exaggerate the wind and sea conditions they experience. "You hear people talk about 30-ft seas, but I can't even imagine what genuine 30-ft seas might be like. About 40 knots plus is the most wind I experienced at sea, and that only happened four times. Once was coming out of Rarotonga, once while getting knocked down in the shallow water and strong currents off Cape Town, and a third time was while on the way from the South Pacific to New Zealand. Oddly enough, the worst weather I had was in the very beginning, rounding Pt. Conception on my way south during my first singlehanded passage. It's not that uncommon for it to blow 40 knots from the northwest at Conception, but in this case the wind was out of the southeast! I was having to beat south. It's true that I could have turned around and taken shelter, but I don't like to backtrack."

Hellewell's best passage was his first long one, the 2,700 miles from Mexico to the Marquesas. "It was absolutely perfect, as I was able to beam or broad reach in smooth seas. Sometimes it seemed so calm that I'd have to go up on deck to reassure myself that I really was at sea." He made the crossing in 19 days, fast time for a 38-footer being singlehanded.

Unusually, his trip from Cape Town to the Caribbean - generally considered to be one of the most pleasant on the planet - wasn't particularly to his liking. It didn't help that he did it non-stop in 40 days, something that taxed him to his limits "in all respects." But it was more than that. "It was slow to start out with, then the wind came forward of the beam and there were lots of squalls. Jimmy Cornell's book suggested that the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone would only be about 150 miles wide, but what he didn't mention is that if you sailed along it, as I had to do, it would last more like 1,000 miles. I'd expected the wonderful passage that so many others have talked about, but I didn't get it. Neither did any of the other boats I travelled with at the time."

Rather than circumnavigate via the Red Sea and the Med, Hellewell went by way of the Cape of Good Hope. As such, he spent a couple of months in South Africa. While he'd like to return, he says most Americans would be shocked by the social climate. "Apartheid may be over, but racism is still pervasive, and it was pretty hard to take. All the blacks looked at me suspciously until they got to know me. The South Africans just don't understand the problem - you can't believe how ugly their speech can be." He also didn't like the fact that South Africa has few natural harbors, which meant he had to stay mostly in marinas.

It was at Venezuela's Isla Margarita that Hellewell had the most trouble with crime. "I got robbed a couple of times, losing my dinghy and outboard, and having my credit card cloned. Other than that," he laughs, "I really did like the place."

Having spent the first 3.5 years in Mexico and the South Pacific, Hellewell mad-dashed the remaining five-sixths of the way around the world in an incredible one year. He admits that part of the pace was caused by "smelling the barn", but it also had to do with it being a long way between great places to see and great things to do. As such, he wouldn't make the same trip again.

"If someone had the same 4.5 years, I would recommend a big Pacific loop, including Asia. I honestly don't believe there is that much benefit to going all the way around the world. If Asia was included in the itinerary - and wouldn't China be great? - I suppose the best way to get back to the States would be a loop across the North Pacific. Surely it would be easier than sailing the rest of the way around the world. In any event, it's my strong opinion that the best of what you can only see and enjoy by boat - as opposed to by plane and land - is in Mexico and the South Pacific. That's what I would recommend concentrating on."

While on his circumnavigation, Hellewell wrote two cruising guides. The first was The Cruising Guide To The Kingdom of Tonga, which is being used and sold by Sunsail and The Moorings, the two big charter companies there. He also wrote Ken's Torres Strait Passage Guide, which revives the old way of negotiating the reef - which was downwind and through it as opposed to the much harder upwind and around it.

Although Hellewell might not recommend circumnavigations to others, having completed one did have an emotional impact on him. "On June 2, I motored Topaz into San Diego Bay, returning to the same slip at the Police Dock from where I had started my trip in '99. My 4.5-year solo circumnavigation had ended officially in Cabo San Lucas, but San Diego was the emotional end to the adventure. Having to do the Baja Bash from Cabo to San Diego had a lot to do with this, and I want to give thanks to Doña de Mallorca and the crew of Profligate. It got pretty rough out there, and sharing a few words with some folks on another boat made a huge difference in my emotional state."

Although Hellewell only came back to the States once during his trip, he didn't have any trouble fitting back in. "It didn't even seem more crowded than before. The biggest shocks were little things, such as going to nice bathrooms and seeing water in the toilets. Or forgetting I was on land and stacking things up on one side of the refrigerator so they wouldn't fall over. Or when the wind came up, worrying that the boat was all right."

Immediately upon completing the circumnavigation, Hellewell assumed that his cruising days were over. But before long he began thinking it might be a great idea to sail the boat back to Tonga and perhaps go cruising there for several months of each year. For right now, he's back in the U.S. and continuing his writing pursuits. "My current project is an anthology of short cruising stories by other authors. If anyone would like to contribute, please take a minute to visit

Hellewell had been to the South Pacific once before, making a passage from Mexico to the Marquesasa and Tahiti in 1997. "Two years later it was quite different in the sense that most of the cruisers were about a decade younger. They were Microsoft and other techie people who had cashed out of the tech boom and gone cruising."

- latitude/rs 8/10/04

Traumerei - Bavaria 42 Ocean
Frank & Kathy Griffith
Our Four Years In The Eastern Med
(San Diego/Tucson)

For 20 years we had a boat in San Carlos, Mexico, and/or San Diego. That changed big time in March of 2000, when we sold our Cal 39 and bought a center cockpit Bavaria 42 sloop to be delivered in Izola, Slovenia. We expected we would have a grand one or two-year sailing adventure in the Med - but it's been four years!

After taking delivery of Traumerei in Slovenia in October of 2000, we sailed to Corfu, Greece, via Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Brindisi, Italy. Since we weren't able to take delivery of our boat until October 24, and the Adriatic sailing season ends at the end of October, our first cruise was by necessity limited to three weeks. But things have gotten better since. For four years, we have been sailing the Eastern Mediterranean in an annual pattern of three months in the spring, and three months in late summer/fall. We put our boat on the hard for the winter.

In 2001, we sailed from Corfu to Istanbul via the Corinth Canal, then to the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles. We were in Chanakkale, Turkey, on September 11, and therefore cut short our visit to Turkish waters in order to return to Corfu for a second winter. This was a great disappointment to us, as we hadn't seen enough of Turkey. We'd had enough time, however, to learn that the Turks are among the friendliest people we've ever encountered. And remember, we'd sailed in Mexico for 20 years, and the Mexicans set a pretty high standard when it comes to being friendly.

That season's high points were visits to Delphi, Ephesus, Pergamon, and the fabulous city of Istanbul. You run out of American cruisers when you go north in Turkey, so the locals were our source of socializing. English is the third language of Turkey - German is second - so there really wasn't much of a language barrier. You might not expect it, but Turkey has wonderful marinas and plenty of free places to anchor. Combined with great food, wonderful people, and low prices, we thought Turkey was paradise. We'd probably keep our boat there permanently were it not so far from Tucson.

We returned to Traumerei in Corfu in the spring of 2002, and sailed to Venice via Brindisi, Dubrovnik, and Izola, Slovenia. While in Venice we had a great slip across from San Marcos Square, the primo spot. This was thanks to a chance encounter with an Italian who was sailing back to his slip. We asked for some assistance in finding a berth. After giving us and our boat a once over, he invited us to join him at his yacht club!

The second half of the 2002 sailing season saw us sail down the Adriatic via Pula, Splitt, Hvar, Korchula (birthplace of Marco Polo) and Dubrovnik to Corfu. We changed crew there and sailed for the Corinth Canal and Aigina, south of Athens, where we were met by two friends for a quick six-day sail across the southern Aegean to Rhodes. We cleared out of Greece in Rhodes and sailed to Marmaris, Turkey, where our boat spent the third winter. The fall sailing along Turkey's Turquoise Coast is second to none when it comes to sailing, ruins, antiquities, and wonderful inland trips to places such as Cappadoccia.

The spring of 2003 saw us sailing up through the Dodecanese via Datca, Turgtreis and Bodrum in Turkey, to Patmos in Greece for Easter. This is where St. John wrote the book of Revelations. We then sailed through the Aegean and Cyclades Islands to Milos in the southern Cyclades. We had decided that three passages through the Corinth Canal were enough, so we sailed around the Peloponnesus Peninsula via Monemvasia, Kalamata, and Pilos to Zykanthos and Keffalonia. Once again we were in the Ionian for the winter, and for the third winter we left the boat in Corfu.

The spring of this year we sailed from Corfu to Santa Maria de Leuca on the tip of the heel of Italy - this as part of our plan to move our boat in the direction of the United States. We sailed the southern waters off the sole of Italy, Sicily, the Aeolian Islands, and volcanic Stromboli prior to getting back to the mainland of Italy. There we visited Maretea, Agropoli, Amalfi, Anzio (of World War II fame), and Naples (Pompeii). When we got to Rome, we put the boat in storage for our annual return to Tucson for four to six weeks of summer.

We are currently in Elba with plans to visit Florence, Genoa, and Marseille on our way to winter our boat in Barcelona.

In the past four years we've spent about 24 months on our boat in the Med, and have met many members of the world cruising community as they passed through. What tales of adventure we have heard! We have met people from all of the European countries plus Australia and New Zealand. One encounter was with a fellow from St. Petersburg, Russia, who was circumnavigating Europe in nine months aboard a Bavaria 34. His was a quick circumnavigation of necessity, not to set any record, as he had to be back for the first anniversary of the death of his mother-in-law! Having to cover 30 miles a day was made more difficult by the fact that his wife didn't know how to operate the boat - and they both had to return to Russia by bus every three months to renew their visa!

We met another cruiser, Willy, who had left France via the canals to the Main-Danube Canal to sail down the Danube to Constanza, Romania, on the Black Sea. From there he travelled through the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles to Turkey where we met him in Bozburun. His trip was the source of unending tales of beauty, bureaucracy, and border police. Willy, by the way, had translated all of Tristan Jones' books into German.

As for ourselves, we have been able to moor our boat in and visit such cities as Rome, Venice and Brindisi in Italy; Syracuse and Messina (location of Charybdis and Scilla of the Odyssey) on the island of Sicily; Dubrovnik and Pula in Croatia; Athens, Delphi, Mykanos, Santorini, and Rhodes in Greece; Bodrum, Kusadasi, Marmaris, Fethiye, and Istanbul in Turkey. We have been in small villages when the national artistic troupes arrived for summer theatre, and we have heard the Izmir Philharmonic at the ancient theatre of Ephesus. Many miles and months of our trip have been in the waters and islands of Homer's Odysseus. The books by Irving Stone about Schliemann, who discovered the ruins of Troy, and about Michelangelo, have been a wonder to read in the area where these lives were lived. It has been our own extraordinary odyssey - one that does not seem to want to end.

This is a very brief account of our travels of the past four years. For more details, visit our web page at, then select Traumerei. There you will see a map with each of our adventures displayed in different colors and links to the logs and picture.

- frank & kathy 9/15/04

Frank & Kathy - It's almost unbearable for us to read your Changes, for between our quick trip through the Med with Big O and various land travels, we've sampled many of the places you mention. Unfortunately, we've had a monthly deadline for 28 years, and therefore haven't been able to linger at any of them. But how we'd love to be able to leisurely return to places such as Datca, Bodrum, and Turkey's Turquoise Coast; the Cyclades and the Corinth Canal of Greece; Capri, the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Elba, and the delta of Rome in Italy; as well as Marseille, and Barcelona. The amazing thing is that all these fabulous historic and cultural places are a shorter distance apart than are San Francisco and Acapulco.

By the way, we think your concept of doing your Med cruising in the spring and fall, as opposed to the summer, is brilliant. High season in the Med is ungodly crowded and expensive - and August can be devastatingly hot.

Sand Dollar ­ Caliber 40
Jeff & Teri Huntington
Fun In The Bahamas
(Elk Grove)

To many East Coast mariners, the Bahamas are sort of like the Delta is to Bay Area sailors - except they go there to be warm in the winter instead of the summer. While there are many similarities between the Delta and the Bahamas - favorite secluded anchorages, different food, slower pace, warmer water - there are some significant differences. Most notable of these is the gin-clear water that comes in every shade of green and blue, and the fact that everything besides rum and ice cream cones is more expensive than at home.

As we write this it's late March, and we're three weeks into our second winter trip to the Bahamas. We had grander plans than just the Bahamas when we started cruising the East Coast four years ago, but as far as we're concerned, this is as far 'down island' as we need to go. As Latitude reported in the piece on the Heineken Regatta, it has been an unusually windy winter and spring in the Caribbean, so this year we've spent a lot of time waiting for weather - and for friends to receive boat parts. While this has somewhat restricted our travels, who can complain about sitting at anchor in clear water with 80° weather, looking at a palm-lined white sand beach while holding a cold drink in one's hand. It hasn't been perfect, but it hasn't been bad.

On the way down to Georgetown, Great Exuma, we had a 40-mile sail on the sound. Someone in our group of a half dozen boats suggested that we have a fishing contest. While other boats were catching barracuda, we on Sand Dollar caught two mahi. If you haven't tried landing a fighting fish caught on rod and reel with 30-lb. test line while sailing close-hauled on a cruising sailboat - complete with dinghy on davits, Lifesling, stern anchor, BBQ, outboard, radar pole, and sundry bimini poles hanging on the stern - you can only imagine the excitement. We stuffed the fish into big garbage bags, tossed in some still-in-the-tray ice cubes, threw it all in the dinghy, and covered it with wet towels until we were anchored. That evening everyone in the group came to Sand Dollar for a fresh fish dinner. No one showed up empty-handed, and we had a wonderful potluck. When we started our group cruise that morning, most of us hadn't met each other. By the time we turned in that night, we had a dozen new friends. What a way to start our socializing in Georgetown!

The highlight of this year's trip to the Bahamas was Jeff getting a chance to sail aboard an A Class Bahamian Sloop in the National Family Island Regatta at Georgetown. This is big time Bahamian racing, with a typical team budget of $100K a year. There are 18 races a year, with a different island hosting each regatta. The National Family Island Regatta in Georgetown is the largest of the regattas, and it receives considerable government support.

An A-Class sloop is 28 feet long with a 60-foot mast and a 38-foot boom. It's sailed by a crew of 10 to 20, and can have either two or three prys. What's a 'pry'? It's a 2x12-inch board about 12 feet long that is pushed out on the windward side while sailing to weather. Typically, four or five crew ride on each pry. When the boat tacks - which the locals call 'come back' - everyone must quickly move in off the prys, get them to the other side of the boat, and climb out again. To complicate matters, the boom is only a foot or two above the deck, so during a tack the crew slides across the flat deck on their bellies or backs. The races have a sort of Le Mans start, as the boats are anchored with their sails down. At the starting gun, boats gain speed by rapidly pulling up their anchors while simultaneously hoisting the huge mainsail and tiny jib. All boats except for the one furthest to the right must start on starboard tack, but can tack as soon as they dare. Boats hoisting the anchor rode to the top of the mast or hooking their long booms on other boats' rigging is not unheard of. Starts vary from being merely interesting to chaotic.

Several of the boats were T-boned and at least one sank as a result of a collision. But sometimes these boats sink without being hit, usually on very windy downwind legs. An unintentional gibe is a sight to behold, as the huge boom sweeps across a foot or two above deck, and everybody is hiked out on the wrong side of the boat. Hauling in the long boom and getting the prys set at the leeward mark is another exciting time, especially when there is a traffic jam.

It's not a big concern when one of these racing boats sinks, for there are a number of island 'mail boats' with cranes at the regattas. They go out between races and raise the boats from the shallow water. Often the boat is pumped out and ready to sail the next race. We saw one boat that had been badly damaged as a result of being T-boned at the shrouds. The crew worked through the night to make up new wood pieces and sister them in - while constantly bailing. They were out sailing the next day.

Even without the racing, you wouldn't want to miss the National Family Island Regatta, as it's great for cultural stuff and people watching. There are relatively few family names in the Bahamas, so a great many people are related. The Family Island Regatta seems to be a reunion for about a half dozen families - and thousands come in from all over the Bahamas, be it by car or boat, for the party. There is lots of music, Bahamian food, Kalik (Bahamian beer), rum drinks, gin and coconut water, and a beauty contest, fashion show, and a wonderful performance by the Bahamian Police Force Band. Even with everyone in a serious party mode, we never saw any behavior problems.

As we write this, the wind continues to blow from the east at 20 to 25 knots - as it has for a week and is predicted to do for another week. We have already scratched our plans to go to Long Island and Cat Island this year, and see our opportunity to get to Eluethera slipping away.

Several days ago there were three San Francisco boats anchored at Black Point, a wonderful little Bahamian settlement in the Exumas. What are the chances of that happening? Two of the boats, our Sand Dollar and Torla-O, have been traveling together off and on for four years. The third, Brett Greene's F-31 R-TRIumph, has been cruising the Bahamas since November. He plans to spend the summer in the Chesapeake or New England. Sterling and Kathy aboard Torla-O were bound for the Caribbean, but were delayed by weather and boat problems. They were returning to the States with plans to try for the Caribbean again in November.

In five years of cruising, we haven't found a place we like better during the summer than Northern California, so we come back for that. In fact, after eight years of living aboard, we're buying a house in Elk Grove for when we're not cruising. But we plan to cruise to the Bahamas again next winter. For the second summer in a row we'll be leaving our boat on the hard in Fort Pierce, which is about 100 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. We pay about $300 a month. In previous years, our boat had spent the summer at the dock in Baltimore and on the hard in Oriental, North Carolina.

As you might have heard, a number of months ago the Bahamian government suddenly jacked up the price of a cruising permit from $100 to $300 for boats over something like 35 feet. This really hit the sportfishing boats, as they had to get a new permit each time they came over - which for some was several times a month. We think that's been modified by now. For cruisers it's not really bad. Even if we have to pay $150 twice a year, it's not too expensive when amortized over the time we spend here. And unlike Mexico, once you get a permit, you can cruise anywhere without having to check-in again.

There are three distinct groups of mariners that visit the Bahamas, and they do it at different times of year. The Canadians and folks from the colder areas of the U.S. tend to arrive in November and stay through March, the time when it's the coldest back home. Many of these will often stay in just one place. Lots of others - including ourselves - don't arrive until February or March, but we tend to travel around quite a bit. We tend to stay until May or June, the start of hurricane season. The third group are folks from Florida, who have to deal with hurricanes no matter what. They come out to the Bahamas during the summer because it's cooler and there are fewer thunderstorms than in Florida. Different strokes for different folks.

- jeff & teri 3/15/04

Capricorn Cat - Custom 46-Footer
Blair Grinols
Back From The Marshall Islands

Judging by the cruising career and otherwise activity-packed life of Blair Grinols, who is now in his early 70s, we all ought to be living on a diet that consists primarily of sticky buns and ice cream.

After taking two years to build - with the help of one worker - his 46-ft cat, Blair launched Capricorn Cat in January of '96. Every winter since, except for the last one, Blair has cruised the boat to at least Mexico for the season before returning home for the summer or fall. One year he continued on to the Marquesas and Tahiti before coming back to California via Hawaii. Another time he sailed to the Line Islands before returning via Hawaii. Yet another time he just sailed to Hawaii and back. As for last winter, he sailed to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Fiji, back up to the Marshalls, down to Tonga, and home via Christmas Island and Hawaii.

So far Blair, who used to work at Mare Island, has racked up a total of 62,000 ocean miles with his cat, most of them with his wife Joan, and he isn't about to stop. After a motorhome trip to Minnesota to visit relatives and some time in the yard repairing his cat's two broken daggerboards, he'll be sailing Capricorn Cat in yet another Baja Ha-Ha to kick off another season of cruising in Mexico.

For most folks, a multi-thousand-mile trip home from the South Pacific would be a major undertaking, but Blair and his well-travelled cat made it seem like a walk in the park. Although he had his wife Joan, daughter Vye, Vye's boyfriend Gary, and Vye's two teenage sons along, Blair pretty much singlehanded the boat. In his spare time he did things like fabricate a working alternator from the parts of two broken ones.

How long was the trip back from Tonga? "It was 1,800 miles to Christmas Island, another 900 miles to Hawaii, and, because you have to sail a bit of a loop, 2,400 miles back to San Francisco. We covered the 5,000 miles in about five weeks. We had some pretty rough weather during the first 400 miles as we sailed north through the islands of Samoa. By 'rough' I mean 25 knots true with 12 to maybe 15-foot seas. Because we had to point as high as we could, the apparent wind was about 30 knots, and we pounded quite a bit. It's funny, we didn't get rolling seas like you find outside of San Francisco, but rather steep seas close together. The result was we had to throttle way back to prevent launching the boat off the waves. After the initial rough weather, we had steady winds to Hawaii. From Hawaii to California we didn't have much wind at all, so it took us 14.5 days, which is a little slow for us."

When cruisers rave about cruising in the far Pacific, they're usually referring to Fiji, Tonga, or French Polynesia. Not Blair. His favorite place is the Marshall Islands, a group of 29 coral atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. You get there by sailing to Honolulu - and then holding course for another 2,000 miles. Other islands in the group include Bikini and Enewetak Atolls, which were nuclear test sites, and Kwajalein Atoll, the famous World War II battleground that is now home to a military installation that tracks missiles pitched across the Pacific from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Point Conception.

"Hands down the Marshalls Islands have had the best cruising I've ever enjoyed," states Blair. "The weather is wonderful, as it's 85° every day with consistent tradewinds. At night the temperature cools to about 79°, so I sleep with a sheet. It's just perfect. Best of all is the water, which is ideal for diving. It's 82°, and just about everywhere we went there was at least 100 feet of visibility. We didn't even have to put our face in the water to see our anchor resting on the bottom in 60 feet." The water conditions are very important to Blair, who dives as much as he sails.

"Another thing I liked about the Marshalls is that they aren't crowded. Other cruisers think the Marshalls are too far out of the way, so I bet there weren't 20 cruising boats in the whole damn place - which covers an area of about 900 miles by 600 miles. By comparison, there are always 40 to 60 boats at the Musket Cove anchorage in Fiji, plus a dozen or more in every other nook and cranny around there."

Blair laughs when he admits, "I may be the only cruiser who bitched about Fiji, but I really didn't like it as much. One of the problems was that the two main islands are so big that they disrupt the trades and create their own weather patterns. So when I was at anchor, I always seemed to get 180° windshifts at least twice a day. And no matter if I was headed north or south, the wind always seemed to be on my nose. It's also true that I whined about how cold it was. When the wind blew hard, the air temperature dropped down to 78° - which is cold for me. I even had to put on long sleeve shirts. And the water was only about 78°, which is about four degrees cooler than it ever gets in the Marshalls. That four degree difference is significant, as it's the difference between having to wear a wetsuit and being able to dive without one. Lastly, the water in Fiji wasn't as clear as in the Marshalls."

Blair was also disappointed by Fiji's paucity of beaches. "There are beaches only in a few places, and even then only at high tide. The rest of the time the shore is made up of coral debris, which is hard on the bottom of the dinghy when you're dragging it out to deep water. In the Marshalls there were long white sand beaches everywhere. Fiji also has terrible reefs, whereas the only real reefs in the Marshalls are the ones surrounding the atolls. It's amusing in the Marshalls, as when the GPS says you're three or four miles out, you still can't see anything, and you begin to think that it might not be there at all. As you get a little closer, you might see a little motu a mile or two off to one side or the other. When you're about a mile away, you see a long turquoise strip across the ocean. As you get even closer, you finally see the unmarked entrance to the reef. That's the Marshall Islands for you."

Although it's a very different kind of experience, Blair is also very fond of cruising in Mexico. "A lot of the time while I was in Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, I found myself thinking, 'Mexico is pretty damn nice.' There are so many nice locals and cruisers in Mexico, and it's about the only place where you can find 10-mile-long sandy beaches with nobody on them. But the water isn't clear enough for good diving."

Since most readers aren't familiar with the Marshalls, Blair offered this introduction: "The capital is Majuro on Majuro Atoll, which is about 25 miles long, five miles wide, and has three cities at one end. The 25,000 residents represent half of the population of the country. It's the only place in the Marshalls where you can find provisions. But there are at least two large grocery stores, tons of mom & pop stores with some things cheaper than in the States, two big resort hotels, at least one big hospital, internet cafes, and other services. They use the American dollar and the U.S. postal service."

"One of the neat things about the Marshalls," continues Blair, "is that the islands are oriented in a southeast to northwest direction, and the trades blow from the northeast. This means you're usually sailing on a beam reach - and often in the smooth waters of the lee of an atoll. The villages on all the other atolls are primitive. For example, the villagers cook over open fires fueled by coconut husks, get almost all of their food from a supply boat, and don't have running water. I gave the locals lots of presents of flour, sugar, and things like pepper and vanilla. They were most appreciative, and reciprocated with some of the beautiful baskets they make."

Because the villages are so primitive, friends assumed that Blair must have occasionally gotten bored out of his mind. But not so. "There was too much to do in the Marshalls to get bored. On a typical day, I'd have six to 10 people come over, and we'd set the chute and sail across the lagoon. Once we got out the pass, one of the guys would dive in the water and drop the anchor in a crevice in a shallow part of the reef wall. With the offshore wind keeping the boat off the reef, we'd all go diving - which in the Marshalls is just spectacular. It was funny, because day after day we'd tell ourselves that it was the best diving we'd ever had. Then we'd come back to the boat and cook one of the fish we'd caught for lunch. After another dive, we'd weigh anchor, sail back into the reef, make a couple of tacks, and lay the anchorage. That evening there would be some kind of yachtie social event, with small groups of people gathering on a boat for cocktails and/or dinner. The next day we'd do it all over again. It's a very healthy and active way of life."

But there was variety, too. "Of course there were always boat projects, so some days we'd just stay on the hook. Fortunately, even the anchorages were great places to dive, so I'd usually snorkel in the afternoon. And the friendly villages were always trying to get us to come to shore to share a feast, so we'd do that from time to time. I also read some great books, and sent out and received email. If some of us got tired of the quiet, we'd sail to Majuro to do laundry, pick up boat parts, shop for fresh veggies, and maybe hit the internet cafe. The churches on Majuro have some great dinners, where you get BBQ chicken, rice, some local mush stuff, and beer for $5 - and it's plenty for two people. On 'Mexican night' the dinners were only $3."

The only other atoll in the Marshalls with a significant population is Kwajalen, which is at the western end of the Pacific Missile Range. Visitors have to have a sponsor to visit. Keith and Susan Levy of the Pt. Richmond-based Catalina 47 C'est La Vie had a friend there and were able to visit, and so were others. Blair got invitations, but never had time to get around to it.

With nowhere but Majuro to spend money, it's safe to assume that the cruising was cheap. "I bet I didn't spend more than $500 a month," said Blair. "The mooring was $1 a day, food wasn't too expensive, and dinners in Majuro were cheap. So most of my money went to having boat parts shipped out."

During his side trip down to Fiji, Blair spoke so enthusiastically about the Marshall Islands that a number of other cruisers - including ones from Northern California - followed him back up for his second visit. Among these were Tom and Lynn Petty and sons aboard the Pt. Richmond-based Wylie 60 Roxanne. They loved the Marshalls so much that they, like about six other cruising boats that had come up from Fiji, have decided to stay for the entire year. That's why it's nice that the Marshalls are too far north to be affected by the South Pacific tropical cyclones and too far south to be bothered by typhoons.

"I think the Marshalls would be a great place to stay forever," says Blair. "In fact, I would loved to have stayed there." But he couldn't, because he has too many other things to do.

- latitude/rs 08/10/04

Cruise Notes:

When cruisers finish the Ha-Ha in early November, they have three major options of where to go next - as staying in Cabo for more than a couple of days gets old quickly. The options are La Paz, Mazatlan, and Banderas Bay (Puerto and Nuevo Vallarta). Of these options, La Paz is the closest at about 120 miles, and with the opening of the luxurious new Costa Baja Marina, there will be plenty of vacant slips around. It's about 200 miles from Cabo to Mazatlan, where those looking to park their boats for a few weeks or months can sometimes find some of the least expensive slips - no electricity or water - in Mexico. It's 300 miles from Cabo to Banderas Bay, but all the marine businesses there are rolling out the red carpet in the form of the Three Days To Paradise Rally, the purpose of which is to encourage as many Ha-Ha boats as possible to come down to Banderas Bay.

The Three Days group, spearheaded by Dick Markie, Harbormaster of Paradise Marina, will be guided by Blair Grinols of the 46-ft cat Capricorn Cat, who has agreed to be the leader of the pack. Communications will be handled by John Moore of an Alameda-based Hunter sailboat, who is on the board of directors of the Vallarta YC and, like Grinols, will have rallied down on the Ha-Ha. Dick Markie will be in Cabo on November 8 for a skipper's meeting and cerveza party on the beach. The idea of 'Three Days' is to provide an experience similar to the Ha-Ha for anyone who did the Ha-Ha and wants to continue on to Banderas Bay. When members of the Three Days fleet arrive at Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, they'll be guided to their slip by a jet-ski, where they'll be met by Corona Girls bearing cold beers and giving warm welcome-to-Mexico hugs. The nearby Vallarta YC will be open for phone calls, emails, food and drink, showers, hot-tubbing, and lies. The arrival will mark the beginning of a week of cruiser fun, with all kinds of great events and prizes, and big discounts on stays in the marina for the boats and in Paradise Resort for family and friends. The best part about the no-losers, no-protest rally is that there's no entry fee either. Dick Markie, instigator of the event, will be giving presentations on cruising Mexico at West Marine stores in San Diego, Oakland, and Sausalito.

When it comes to getting tremendous value from one's boat, few families have done as well as the Sandstroms of Oakland with their Cross 40 trimaran Anduril. They spent two years building her in Southern California in the early '70s, being some of the first builders to take advantage of the then-new WEST epoxy saturation technique. Then Don and Joanne, and sons Donald, 13, and Erik, 11, took off in 1975 on a five-year circumnavigation by way of the Suez Canal. This was, of course, before conveniences such as GPS, electronic charts, and watermakers. They had a great time, and Joanne wrote a book about their experience. Then in 1988, Don Sr. and Erik took Anduril on a second circumnavigation, going by way of South Africa. They completed the trip in a breakneck time of 15 months! With the tri still in excellent structural shape, family and friends will be coming down to the dock at Marina Bay in Richmond on September 12 for a bon voyage party for Donald Jr. and his new bride Erika, who will be cruising Anduril to Mexico this fall. You never know, they might go all the way around the world, for both the boat and Erik know the way well.

With the rest of her family either back at work or off to school, it was left to Caren Edwards of Portola Valley to deliver the family's Marquesas 53 catamaran Rhapsodie home from Hawaii at the conclusion of their 5.5-year cruise. As the skipper, Caren wanted to be prepared for all emergencies, so while in Hawaii she contacted the Coast Guard Pacific Command Center to make sure it was them that she should call in an emergency. She then taped that number next to the Medevac number by the Inmarsat satphone. As first reported in 'Lectronic, Rhapsodie's rig came down for unknown reasons while in moderate conditions 300 miles from San Francisco. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, there was no structural damage to the boat, and the crew remained calm and focused on making the boat secure for continuing on their way. Bent clevis pins and broken hacksaw blades meant that getting the mast, boom, sails, and rigging over the side - where they couldn't damage the hull - were left to one particularly strong crewmember with some cable cutters. He got the job done, allowing them to clear the deck of dangerous debris in about 90 minutes.

The next problem was getting Rhapsodie to San Francisco without her being run down by a ship in the sometimes pea soup fog conditions the rest of the way to San Francisco. This wouldn't be so easy, as they no longer had a masthead tricolor or, more importantly, a radar. Caren tried to alert the Coast Guard of Rhapsodie's status on all the SSB emergency channels, but couldn't reach them - or anyone else. Frustrated, she tried the Inmarsat satphone - and the Coast Guard picked up right away. Curious, Caren had the Coasties listen intently on a specific frequency while she again tried to reach them via the SSB. At best they were vaguely able to pick up fragments of her speech. "Forget the SSB when it comes to emergencies!" Caren says emphatically. "If you need to get through from any place and at any time, you need a satphone." Caren reports that the Coast Guard alerted ships in their area of their status. Initially, the Coasties wanted Rhapsodie to report in once an hour. Caren, mindful of the potential satphone bill, decided that was overkill and negotiated a twice-a-day schedule with the Coasties. When the fog later came back with a vengeance, the check-ins were again increased. With the cat now back on the Bay, Caren's frustrated. She wants to go sailing but, until the mast is replaced, may have to settle for motoring around the Bay.

As of the third week in August, it had been a relatively quiet hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific. There had been two hurricanes and two tropical storms, which is about normal. Fortunately, all had been well offshore, as is usually the case early in the season. Now comes late August, September, and early October, which are traditionally the most dangerous months to be in the Sea of Cortez. Last August 22 to 27 is when Ignacio came into the Sea and hit La Paz with about 80 knots of wind. Everybody thanked their lucky stars it wasn't worse, assuming they'd made it through another hurricane season with very minor damage. After all, the Sea of Cortez usually only gets one hurricane every two years. But then from September 19 to 24, Marty reared his very ugly head. Making Ignacio seem like an afternoon breeze, Marty almost totally destroyed Marina de La Paz - as well as countless boats in La Paz, Loreto, and further north. Better preparations could have prevented some of the damage, so we hope that lessons were learned from last year. No matter what, here's to hoping things will remain quiet in the Sea for the final months of hurricane season.

As for this fall and winter's weather, NOAA is calling for a light El Niño condition. This is caused by the trades easing up, resulting in the Eastern Pacific becoming warmer than normal. The final result might mean more rain in the Southwest - which would be excellent because of the terrible drought - and other effects that are hard to predict. The problem with El Niños is that some of the real strong ones have resulted in little if any changes to the normal weather pattern, while some weak ones have had major consequences as far away as Europe and Australia.

The granddaddy of all cruising rallies, the 2,700-mile Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) from the Canary Islands off Africa to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean, reports that as of July they've once again sold out, with over 220 paid entries for the November 14th event. Once again it's an overwhelmingly Brit event, as 96 of the 220 will be flying the 'red flag'. There are also 29 German entries. American entries are way down to nine from 17 a year ago. Why the drop in Yank participation? The poor exchange rate means that buying boats in Europe is much more expensive, plus some Americans were concerned - unjustly, it turns out - that they would not get a warm welcome in Europe. Be that as it may, the American entries are: Thomas Might's Hallberg-Rassy 62 Between the Sheets; Steven Woodruff's Oyster Lightwave 48 Chant Pagan; David Mulmat's Beneteau First 47.7 Flying Shadow; John Martin's Robertson 40 Jaimie; Michael Nightingale's Morris 38 La Niche; Tom Puett's Swan 56 Perseverance; Gilbert Osnos' Hallberg Rassy 53 Shalimar II; Jim Reiher's Swan 53 Sky; Lurelle Verplank's Oyster 66 Sundowner; and William and Camille Melbourne's Amel Super Maramu 52 Third Wish. We don't know if any of these American entries are from the West Coast, but none are familiar to us. There are 16 catamarans entered in the ARC, five of them Lagoons. Last year the catamaran fleet was dominated by Catana, which only has three entries this year. The biggest boat entered? That would be Mike Slade's R/P 92 Leopard of London under charter to John Davis. We had a chance to race aboard Leopard at Antigua Sailing Week earlier this year. She's a big boat to manage, but with Captain Chris and crew, she should provide a fast and luxurious ride on the mostly downwind passage.

For the third year in a row, World Cruising Ltd, which runs the ARC, has responded to the 'sold out' situation by creating a sister event, the Rubicon Antigua Challenge. This departs Lanzarote rather than Las Palmas in the Canaries, does it on November 20th rather than the 14th, and finishes at Antigua rather than St. Lucia. Unlike the ARC, which accepts boats as small as 25 feet, Rubicon entries have to be a minimum of 38 feet. So far the Rubicon has nine entries, Gregory Carroll's classic Rhodes 52 Thunderhead being the only American entry.

We did the ARC back in 1994 with Big O, and had an almost idyllic crossing, with warm winds from aft virtually the entire way. If you ever get the chance to do an ARC, don't let it pass you by. The only downside is that it's not inexpensive, costing about five times as much as the admittedly much more casual Ha-Ha.

Speaking of leopards, "We just wanted to let everyone know that we're doing well here in the Caribbean, have been having a very busy charter season in the British Virgins, and have just become the skipper and crew of Sea Leopard, the newest of The Moorings' luxurious new 6200 crewed charter cats," report Peter and Darcy Whitney. "It's been awhile, but I, Peter, am originally from Lake Tahoe. Now I'm part of the 'Peter & Darcy Show' here in the Caribbean.

"If anybody is interested in communications from boats," Whitney continues," we dumped AOL, went with Earthlink (), and signed on with a Globalstar satphone - which I understand Latitude doesn't care for. We also subscribe to UUPlus in order to fetch email within seconds and thus keep our Globalstar phone bills low. By the way, all indications point to another incredibly strong charter season down here this winter. Already we're nearly sold out, with back-to-back 24-hour turnarounds throughout the year. Hopefully we'll survive. We're currently on charter, anchored off Virgin Gorda, and will be headed to Anegada tomorrow. Come on down and see us!

Back-to-backs with 24-hour turnarounds are killers. We hope you survive, too. We want everyone to be clear on our position about Globalstar. We have one of their phones, and it works great and has better sound quality than Iridium in Mexico. However, they assess a roaming charge that itself is often higher than the per minute charge for Iridium. What we like even less is that our Globalstar was virtually useless - despite what their coverage chart indicated - south of Acapulco and all the way to the Eastern Caribbean. Even in St. Barth it was very unreliable. Two good things: It's our understanding that the only place Globalstar doesn't have roaming fees back to the U.S. is from the Caribbean, and that its data transfer rate, although slow, is still four times faster than that of Iridium. We don't know what it's like in the British Virgins, but in St. Barth almost all the boats had Iridium - which, unlike Globalstar, is designed to work all over the world - or one of the much more expensive systems. As for UUPlus, we haven't used it, but others agree with you that it's terrific for sending and fetching email.

"We did the Ha-Ha in 2001, and then spent three amazing years cruising our boat down to, and through, the Panama Canal, and then up to our new home of Tampa, Florida," report John and Susan Pazera of the Tayana 42 Compañia. Their boat was formerly based out of South San Francisco. "We're really glad that we did the Ha-Ha because we became - and remain - friends with a bunch of terrific people we met doing. It was also good because it got our butts out cruising! We're now going back to work so we can retire and get out cruising again."

Also wrapping up a cruise are Mike and Joan Whalen, who have two boats. "We've returned from a two-year cruise in Mexico on our Catalina 380 Esperanza, and are looking forward to getting out and racing on the Bay again with our Santana 35 Spirit of Bombay."

"Although my 1971 Islander 32 Renaissance is currently in her berth at Mazatlan Marina," writes Kelvin Meeks. "I've just returned to Seattle after visiting St. Kitts and Antigua on a business trip. Man, what beautiful places! I'll be heading back down later this month for a couple of client projects, and the next time I go down I'll be looking forward to chartering a sailboat. While in the harbor at St. Johns, Antigua, I found a Dufour 28 to rent. Carnaval was in progress while I was in St. John's, but I missed out because I was on business and had to get to bed early, and most of the festivities didn't start until after 10 p.m.

In this month's Letters you'll read about Midway Islands and the controversy about the mandatory $500 the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife charges to put a fuel containment boom around any boat that stops there - something that clearly isn't encouraged - to take on fuel. The following report, the facts of which were reported in an August 'Lectronic, is what started it all. It's important to note that Britt Finley of the Peterson 44 Restless didn't complain about the $500, we at Latitude did. As we told Refuge Manager Tim Bodeen, someday we hope to be able to provide some kind of service to a member of the Department of Fish & Wildlife. We'll do it at a very reasonable price - but then we'll gouge the hell out of them for some unnecessary but mandatory additional service.

"We left Midway Islands two days ago on July 27," wrote Finley. "We caught two big grouper as we sailed away from the island, but released them because we'd been told they could be poisonous. Those were the last fish we caught. The GPS originally told us we had 2,700 miles to go to Puget Sound, and now it says 2,470 miles - so we are making some progress. But these are the Horse Latitudes, and we can't really expect too much speed until we get up to 35°N. We've been motoring through the calms, but the forecast calls for good wind further north. Right now it looks as though we have another 21 days of sailing - and without the autopilot, which broke today. We still have the wind vane, however.

"If any of you ever get a chance to visit Midway Island," Finley continues, "do it. It's a great place, and there was way too much to see in the four days we spent there. But we were able to refuel, do boat maintenance, and see some of the sites. They have a very nice museum which details Midway's history. This included the location of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable terminal there in 1904; Pan Am's seaplane base 1936-41; and the Battle of Midway in 1942. There are about 90 people permanently stationed at Midway, and they were very friendly. Unfortunately, boats are discouraged from stopping by high prices. We got 100 gallons of JP5 at $2.25/gallon, which I thought was a very good price. Unfortunately, they also required us to have a fueling boom placed around the boat in case of a spill - for which they charged an additional $500."

If you've read this month's Letters, you know that Zsolt Esztergomy, skipper of the Privilege 65 cat True North, was also greatly impressed with Midway - but not the fuel boom charge. Although he passed through Midway after Restless, he's already made it to Sausalito, continued on to Acapulco, and is headed for Panama and Florida. Apparently his owners aren't concerned about the Eastern Pacific or Caribbean hurricane seasons. The chances are always greatly in your favor that you won't get hit - but God help you if you do!

The last word on Midway comes from Jonathan Livingston of the Pt. Richmond-based Wylie 38 Punk Dolphin - he and wife Susie Grubler just paid $11,000 to have Dockwise Yacht Transport ship her from New Zealand to Vancouver, B.C. "If Midway Islands are such a precious and pristine reserve that they have to put an oil containment boom around yachts that are taking on fuel, how is it they are letting cruise ships stop there? I was recently on the phone with one of the people there, and they said they had to run because there were two cruise ships at the very small islands!"

"Of the last six times, it was the best sail we've had from Southern California to Northern California," report Doug and Tamara Thorne of the San Francisco-based Celestial 48 Tamara Lee Ann. "We harbor-hopped like never before, from Ventura to Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara to Morro Bay, Morro Bay to Monterey, Monterey to Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz to Pilar Point, and then Pilar Point home. It was like a leisure cruise. We also enjoyed the Wet Wednesday night race in Santa Cruz - thanks for the feature on them in the last issue - and caught our limit of salmon off Pacifica. A fine trip."

"We've found some beautiful islands in the Flinders Group in Queensland, Australia," reports Max Young of the San Francisco-based Perry 47/50 Reflections. "We were only planning on staying the night, but have now been here three days. While here, we found some Aboriginal caves with original art on the walls, which we enjoyed. In addition, they've got cool shells, oysters everywhere, and the biggest lobsters you have ever seen! We bought 4.4 pounds of jumbo prawns from a fisherman and his wife for $20 Aussie - which is about $14 U.S. - put them on the barbie and ate all of them! Margrett, who is half Aboriginal, was in seventh heaven being on the island. She had heard of the Flinders group before, but had not known anyone who had been here. Now we're just a two-day sail from Torres Strait, and are enjoying great winds and flat seas. We're sailing along the Great Barrier Reef at night to maintain our schedule. It would be nerve-racking were it not for GPS - which makes it a piece of cake."

Ladyhawke, Ingo and Jeri May's Norseman 447 from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, took top honors in a fleet of 12 boats in the 12th annual West Marine Bermuda Cup from Hampton, Virginia, to Bermuda. The rally started on June 28 and featured nearly ideal weather conditions - 10 to 20 knots from the south to southwest - for the duration of the 640-mile event. Taking line-honors was Harry Weber's new Beneteau 47.7 Crescendo from Lyndora, Pennsylvania. (We didn't realize people from Pennsylvania sailed!) Next up for the Cruising Rally Association is the West Marine Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgins on November 7.

"I'm at 41º25'N, 41º25'E, which is the port of Hopa, Turkey, on the Black Sea, one of the few places in the world where mariners encounter identical latitudes and longitudes," reports John Keen of the San Francisco-based Knot Yet II. "We're traveling as part of the Black Sea Yacht Rally, a two-month counterclockwise circumnavigation of the Black Sea. As I write, we're going overnight from Poti, Georgia, to Sochi in the Russian Federation. We will also visit ports in the Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria before returning to Turkey at the beginning of September. The 37 boats make this a good-size rally, and there is a good mix of nationalities. Despite being in this part of the world, the 11 U.S. boats made up the largest single national contingent. The only other Bay Area boat is Audacious, a Moody 44 that was purchased in Europe.

"Inspired by Hall Palmer's report on the 2002 Eastern Med Yacht Rally, which he did with his Beneteau Farr 54 Relativity, we also did that event earlier in the summer," Keen continues. The EMYR started with over 100 boats, but dwindled down to about 80 by the time we arrived in Israel. As you know, the logistics of docking, feeding, and transporting that number of boats and people are formidable. The rally committee did quite well, but they would be advised to limit the number of participants in the future. We departed the rally at Ashkelon, as we needed to get to Istanbul for the Black Sea Rally. Enroute we got a huge ship's line - three inches in diameter, with a spliced loop at one end, and a 4"x12" knot at the other end. The knot caught between the prop and rudder, stopping the engine. Neither my crew nor I were capable of diving to get to the line, and weren't sure if we'd be able to cut it anyway. So we started up the wing engine, a small Yanmar with a feathering prop, and proceeded 70 miles to the nearest marina at 2.5 knots. We were quite happy to have the wing engine. My Nordhavn is fitted with three sails, and we used those as well. If they didn't improve the speed, they did improve the ride. I continue to enjoy Latitude on the web when I get to internet cafes, particularly now that Changes are included."

Keen started his trip around the world on the Gulf 32 sailboat Knot Yet, and got to Thailand, we believe, before he switched to a Nordhavn 46 trawler named Knot Yet II. Since the trawler has three sails, and since he'd made it halfway around the world under sail, we still consider Keen to be a sailor.

"I realize that I'm repeating myself," writes Gerry Cunningham, author of numerous cruising guides to the Sea of Cortez, "but there is a solution to the dangers of using the nautical charts for the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) that are based on the survey from 1873. As most people know, having an accurate GPS is only part of the navigation solution, as you also have to have accurate charts. I remind everyone that accurate grid and shorelines are available on the Mexican 1:50,000 topographic maps available in most university libraries. The hundreds of GPS coordinates I have taken plotted right where my boat was sitting when I took the readings, so I can vouch for them being accurate. P.S. I'm looking forward to seeing all the Ha-Ha people at the Mexico Crew List and Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party at the Encinal YC in Alameda on October 6th."

In this month's Changes, Ken Hellewell expresses the opinion that once you get west of Australia, there's not so much for cruisers to see and do. Without discounting his opinion, it's been our observation that many West Coast circumnavigators develop - about the time they get to Australia or Thailand - a powerful urge to rush back home. As such, the second half of their trips seems to be more of an obligation than a pleasure, and places and things that would have dazzled them during the first half of their trip, make no impression or are ignored. Those who seem the least likely to be affected by this phenomenon seem to be folks who circumnavigate very slowly, or who take at least one long vacation from cruising while going around. Whichever way you might decide to do it, don't forget to write - and include a couple of high res photos.

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