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September 2008

Missing the pictures? See our September 2008 eBook! 

With reports this month from Destarte ending a four-year sabbatical; from Moonduster in American Samoa; from Caribbean Soul in Grenada; from Gallivanter on sailing down the Caribbean chain; from Raptor Dance on what's newish in Mexico; from Sailors' Run on delightful San Lorenzo, Honduras; from Tawodi on a proposed seven-month circumnavigation; and Cruise Notes.

Destarte — Bristol Channel Cutter
Jerry Murphy
Four-Year Sabbatical Winding Down
(San Diego)

As I write this, my four-year sabbatical is almost over. For three years, I lived aboard my 28-ft Destarte, and we shared many experiences in the course of travelling more than 4,400 miles. Starting in Seattle, we visited the San Juans Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands, sailed down the West Coast of the United States, did the Baja peninsula, sailed up into the Sea of Cortez to Loreto and then over to Mazatlan on the Mexican mainland, then hit all the pretty harbors as far south as Manzanillo. It's been a great ride. I did over 1,700 of the miles singlehanded, but have also had some lively crew along the way, all of them good in their own ways.

What were the highlights? Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge at 2 a.m., having just arrived from Eureka on my 49th birthday. Following in Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez footsteps, singlehanding among the islands. A month on the hook at unspoiled Bahia Tenacatita. Being loved by April and Matt; being taught by Eric and Robin; being befriended by Tex, Richard and Karen, Rosie and David, Roxanne and Jason, David and Kellie, John and Lela, and so many others. Sailing out of Bahia Santa Maria in a light fog. Anchoring at Reid Harbor in the San Juans. Tying up in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Singlehanding in the moonlight from Mazatlan to Isla Isabella. Being net controller on the Amigo Net on Saturday mornings. Getting Venus, the moon, and the sun to cross my position within a mile. Seeing Mercury with an unaided eye. Enjoying a lunar eclipse at Tenacatita Bay. Watching blue whales and humpbacks breaching. Seeing dolphins spinning off the coast of Washington. Enjoying rays doing triple back flips for the sheer joy of it. The dance of the blue boobies. Rewiring my boat — and having it work perfectly. Snorkeling alone in the Sea of Cortez. Solitary silence at Honeymoon Cove, Isla Danzante. Watching Mom steer Destarte through the bays of Orcas Island. Walking up the promenade to Mission San Javier in the mountains southwest of Loreto. The bonfire of fellowship at Muertos after the '06 Ha-Ha. My brother trusting me through two Pacific Northwest gales. A weekend with a Valencia family at their casa de campo in Jalisco. Sailing off the hook each morning in the Sea of Cortez. Hiking at Espiritu Santo. Feeling secure after heaving to in a gale off Oregon. Dinner at Maradaje and listening to Arena del Rio sing the songs of the 1850s–1940s. There's a story with each one of these memories, and if anyone pours me a glass of wine, I'll share them.

I want to thank everyone who made my adventure so meaningful and, to me, so successful. Thanks especially to my crews, and to Bob Stringari, who installed my engine and saved me oodles of money on gear. Thanks to Judy and Don Healy for putting me up on visits to San Diego. Thanks to my Mom whose prayers probably kept me safe. Thanks especially to my brother Dan for sailing with me on the hard parts.

Right now I'm sitting at my old table at the Sunset Bar in La Paz, drinking Carlita's special concoction, which is the best margarita on earth. I’m here to watch the sunset and pen this last letter from Mexico. The sunsets over the Sierra Gigantes and across Bahia de La Paz are uniquely spectacular. Tomorrow, I begin the 850-mile drive on the two-lane Transpenisular Highway in my '96 Ford wagon, the Prairie Schooner, up the Baja to San Diego. I hope the schooner makes it. Earlier today I drove past a billboard. There was an intelligent and beautiful woman featured on it. She was looking at me with a smile, asking, "?Quieres trabajar?" No, not really. But it's time.

I hope that my friends and I may meet again to share our stories of the joy of this wonderful life on this enchanting planet.

— jerry 07/22/08

Moonduster — S&S 47
Wayne Meretsky
Bora Bora To Samoa

As Latitude readers know from last month's issue, a number of cruisers had some problems when they got hit by unexpected rough weather on their 1,100-mile passages from Bora Bora to American Samoa. Here are the highlights/lowlights of my singlehanded passage, as well as my first impressions of American Samoa:

Log entry #1: "Oh, this sucks! It's been blowing 25 to 35 knots for over 24 hours, and I'm less than two days into what was forecast to be a reasonably nice trip to American Samoa. The sea state is actually improving a bit, as the waves are starting to mature in shape, meaning they are getting less square and more round. But every few minutes one still washes completely over the boat. Going on deck isn't dangerous, it's silly. I haven't eaten since breakfast yesterday, and I've only got two to three hours of fitful sleep in the last day-and-a-half."

Log entry #2: "I chafed a small hole in my main because I couldn't see well enough — despite the full moon — when tucking in the second reef to make sure the main stayed off the spreader. It's just hard to see when you're getting blasted with salt spray. But I did a 200+ mile day, my first ever. That's miles made good towards Pago Pago, too, measured noon-to-noon. It didn't take flawless tactics, spinnakers, or playing the windshifts. No, it just took a staysail, a double-reefed main, and a cast iron stomach. Unfortunately, I'm still 757 miles from my destination, and the forecast is for the weather to continue to deteriorate. I'm in contact with a slew of other boats, some heading for Raratonga, some for Suwarrow, and some for Aputaki. Some left earlier than me, and I've already passed them. Some left later, but they should have known better. No one is in much trouble at this time. Most are trying to slow down, a strategy that I've always questioned."

Log entry #3: "Another day, another good run. The 176 miles is a bit off the recent pace, but only because there was very little wind from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. I did, however, get hit by a nasty squall. I was roused from a deep sleep by the wind speed and wind direction alarms going off. The wind had shifted direction 90 degrees and the windspeed had jumped from 10 to 30 knots. Moonduster gybed in the resulting melee, breaking my main preventer, and somehow breaking the half-inch Spectra afterguy that had been holding the pole back. Having to go on deck in the torrential downpour added to the excitement. I don't know why I took my headlight, as I couldn't open my eyes in the stinging rain. I finally got everything sorted out, enjoyed the shower, and took great relief in the fact that nothing else had been damaged."

Log entry #4: "I'm really looking forward to the South Pacific Arts Festival — and a coin-op laundry — when I arrive in American Samoa tomorrow. The last time I had laundry done was in Papeete, where a single load of wash/dry/fold was just a tad over $50."

Log entry #5: "I've arrived and I'm in great shape. I covered the 1,100-mile passage in just six days flat, and had a memorable last few hours. I cleared appropriately named Breaker Point around 1 p.m., at which point I noticed that my electronic charts showed I was on the rocks. My radar and eyeballs disagreed, so I quickly decided that this was yet another case of a chart that hadn't been corrected to the GPS model of the world. I'd come to expect such things in Mexico, where the charts are usually off by as much as half a mile, but I was in American Samoa, so I expected more.

The part of Pago Pago harbor reserved for cruising boats is small, has deep water, is windy and crowded, and has a well-deserved reputation for poor holding ground. I won't bore you with the details, other than to say this was the time my fabulous electric windlass decided to take a holiday, and it was only on my third attempt to anchor — and with the help of another cruiser — that I got the hook to get a good grip on the bottom. I was a bit rushed because the talk on the SSB nets had been about how important it was to get checked in before 4 p.m. to avoid hefty overtime charges. So after spending two hours anchoring, I dug out the dinghy, inflated it, put the outboard on, and zoomed off to — drum roll, please — An Encounter With American Bureaucracy.

It was Harbormaster first, then the Harbor Police, Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture. It took me an hour to figure out in which order to visit them. All but Immigration are in one building, but security wouldn't let me in the building because there was a cruise ship tied to the dock and I might have been a terrorist threat. Fortunately, I'd brought my handheld radio and was able to talk my way in. Immigration was a 20-minute walk for a typical Samoan, but a 10-minute walk for a cruiser like me trying to save $100. The officials admonished me for many things, none of them important. I was promised that I'd be charged for my crimes when I left, and was given plenty of stamps, forms, and stern looks. By rushing, I completed the process with nearly 15 minutes to spare. Then I realized America is in the next time zone west from Bora Bora, so I really had an additional hour to check in!

I stopped at eight stores trying to track down a pair of CR-123 lithium batteries for my camera, then dashed back across the harbor to get cleaned up for the South Pacific Arts Festival. It was then that I realized Moonduster was a disaster. Six days offshore in rough weather will do that to a boat. I tidied up, had dinner, cleaned up, and then devised a strategy for getting back to shore while still looking presentable on arrival. Said strategy included a raincoat, backpack, two T-shirts, a bottle of water, and two hand towels.

My strategy worked, and I walked into town feeling good about the whole ordeal. Going into the main pavilion, I found a spot up front wedged between Jane, an attractive woman from Western Samoa who goes to college in Costa Mesa, and Kate, who had just come off stage after performing with her Tongan dance troupe. I watched in amazement as the next five or six dance troupes from various islands performed a variety of traditional and more modern dances. Kate, who was joined by her four sisters and her mum, talked me through the fact that most of the dancing is based on traditional movements, but using more modern choreography. She went into quite a bit of detail about how most of the movements are modeled after birds, as it's the birds who taught the Polynesians where to find the fish, crabs — hell, even the islands. Kate pointed out that birds don't move their eyes, but rather their heads, and all of a sudden it all began to fall into place. Either that or the beer I'd been drinking started to take effect.

The crowd was a diverse group of people from age 2 to 80. They were attentive, well-behaved, and very much into the remarkable performances of their cultural heritages. I couldn't help but contrast their heritage to ours in the United States. You know, Britney Spears, the Mouseketeers, People magazine, Court-TV, and reality television shows.
The dance program finished sooner than I'd have liked, but the main attraction was still ahead — a rock band of Samoan natives, now living in Nashville, who had scored a big hit in America. I fancy myself to be somewhat informed on the rock scene in the States, but I'd never heard of this band. Kate and Jane were shocked. There was lots of fanfare as the musicians took the stage. The first song was apparently a somewhat traditional Samoan number, as everyone sang along. The rhythm section was good, and the guitarist — clearly a white kid from Nashville — had some pretty decent chops. For a few minutes I dared to think it might be fun. But the lyrics of the next song were displayed on a huge projection TV behind the band — and I couldn't believe my eyes. This was a Christian rock band! The crowd knew every word, every nuance, every move — as if Jesus Christ were the second coming of Jerry Garcia, and might also soon have an ice cream flavor named after him.

I tried to stay, observe, and be patient with the crowd, the band, and even with myself. But I just couldn't. So I returned to my dinghy, wrestled with the lock for three minutes, then took off across the harbor. Halfway to my boat the outboard died. The wind-driven waves and rain remained very much alive, however. I ultimately discovered that the fitting that connected the fuel line hose to the engine had come off. A few minutes later I was in flight again, a little annoyed and completely soaked.

As I finished putting the outboard and dinghy away, what seemed like the mother of all squalls descended on Pago Pago. It dumped a most remarkable, cow-pissing-on-a-flat-rock deluge of water on the throngs churning away to the latest gospel hits from Nashville to your favorite South Pacific Island. As I washed Pago Pago away in a hot shower, I thought to myself that maybe there was a God after all, and maybe she shared my sense of humor.

If I sound as though I started out pretty down on American Samoa and Samoans, I ended up spending three weeks and came to love the people and place. But that report will have to wait for next month. I'll be departing American Samoa for Tonga in about a week, and then will continue on to New Zealand for a summer of cruising in the southern hemisphere. Later, I'll put the boat on the hard to give her a new rudder. I'm really sick of the unbalanced skeg-hung monstrosity she's got now, and I've got a some good ideas on what to do and where to get it done in New Zealand.

— wayne 08/15/08

Caribbean Soul — F/P Eleuthera 60
Steve Bonner
Grenada, A Slice Of Nice
(San Jose)

When I bought my big sailing cat 27 months ago, my plan was to sail around the world over a five-year period, doing charters as I went along. All the while I would seek the perfect place to throw down the anchor and stay awhile. I started by sailing through France and the rest of the Med, down to Egypt, and across the Atlantic, but have spent the most recent eight months sailing up and down the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Rather than continuing on with my circumnavigation, I find myself still here in the Caribbean, specifically at the verdant, volcanic Grenada, aka the 'Spice Island'. Plans change, don't they? As I've found my Shangri-La, my new plan is to stay in the Grenada area at the bottom of the Eastern Caribbean and develop a much-needed luxury charter business.

It was four years ago that 10- x 20-mile Grenada was forced to change its plans. After not being hit by a hurricane in something like 150 years, they took such a direct hit from Ivan that 95% of all buildings were destroyed. The slow and peaceful island was absolutely devastated. The good thing about not having much to begin with is that you don't have to do much to get back to where you were before you took the hit.

The Grenadians wanted to do more than just recover, however, and decided that tourism would be their vehicle of change and progress. As such, the population of 100,000 — minus a small environmental contingent — is enthusiatically supporting no fewer than 15 major tourism projects, including a Ritz-Carlton Resort. In addition, the 200-year-old British firm Camper & Nicholson bought out the interest of Brit Peter de Savary — who once backed an English America's Cup team — in the massive 364-berth Port Louis Marina project. The idea is to provide the kind of facility necessary to attract large yachts, including some megayachts, to the Eastern Caribbean south of Antigua. Yes, the little island of Grenada is looking to make a big splash.

Many Latitude readers have sailed — or thought about sailing — in the Eastern Caribbean for all the well-known reasons: consistent tradewind sailing, beautiful warm water, tropical temperatures, terrific diving, white sandy beaches, rum, and a more relaxed pace. And it is fantastic. But as veterans of the Caribbean know, there are some downsides to some of the islands. For example, the beautiful and plentiful anchorages in the British Virgins tend to be crowded, the food is indifferent in places like Dominica and Anguilla, the locals can be surly in places like Guadeloupe and St. Vincent, and violent onshore crime can be a serious problem in the U.S. Virgins, St. Martin, and Trinidad.

The reason I'm basing out of Grenada is that is has all the good qualities needed for a great sailing experience, but with few of the negatives. The sailing and weather are splendid, of course, but there are also plenty of unspoiled anchorages and beaches. There is good food to be had, although it's not as good as St. Barth or St. Martin. But perhaps the biggest attraction is that the locals are friendly and that the island is one of the safest in the Caribbean. Women tell me they feel comfortable walking alone anywhere during the day — and most places at night — because they don't get hassled.

Unlike St. Thomas, Trinidad, and St. Martin, the people of Grenada have come together as a community to weed out — or at least recycle — their bad seeds. The island mentality on Grenada is for everyone to live positively and do no harm to others. Drug dealers, street hustlers, and beggars are a rare sight in Grenada. When discovered, dealers are dealt with harshly. In fact, the Grenadians might even go a little overboard with law and order, as both camo clothing and homosexuality, as in some other islands, are technically illegal. The government is very strict on criminals, particularly the few who target tourists. There was a minor theft from a dinghy at the north end of the island, and by the next day the police had the four culprits in jail and the stolen stuff returned.

Grenada is one of the few Eastern Caribbean islands with a spectacular jungle rainforest. You can hike up to the various waterfalls and peaks by yourself, or you can hire a guide. Every other week there is a 'hash hike', which is a hike led by a guide but is still free for anyone. About 15 friends and I hired a guide to do the Seven Sisters Falls hike, and we had a blast. The hike was terrific, as we saw wild parrots and other animals, and the guide knew all about the island's plants and history. He even showed us where to jump off the waterfalls — all seven of them. It was a good thing, as that was the only way to get back down. Even the most terrified of us survived, and we were all smiles at the end of the day.

Need one more reason to take a sailing vacation at up-and-coming Grenada? How about the fact that they celebrate Carnival in August? Yes, I know Carnival is all about Lent and Easter, but down in this part of the Caribbean the people aren't afraid to do things their own way.

— steve 08/05/08

Gallivanter — Hylas 49
Kirk, Catherine & Stuart McGeorge
Starting Our New Cruise
(St. Thomas, U.S. Virgins)

We've been on the move for 10 weeks since departing our former home in St. Thomas, and our log shows that we've already visited more than 35 places on 25 different islands in the Caribbean. All have been good, while some have been sensational. Our favorite places have been St. Barth, English Harbor at Antigua, Martinique, Wallilabou, the Pitons at St. Lucia, the Tobago Cays, and our current location inside the lagoon at St. Georges, Grenada.

The folks here in Grenada are among the nicest we've met in the Caribbean. There's a big community of global sailors riding out the storm season here, as Greneda is on the edge of the hurricane zone, so there seems to be a BBQ or potluck somewhere every evening. We survived Carnival — yes, it's August — last weekend. But the music was so loud that it damaged the microphone in my video camera!

Everything on the boat is getting settled in, and we're getting accustomed to our completely refurbished new old boat. Nothing has broken, and things are turning out even better than expected!

There are heaps of good hurricane holes along the south coast of Grenada, so we plan to relax around here a while and do some boat upgrades in preparation for our next leg west along the offshore islands of Venezuela and Colombia. From there, we'll head to Panama.

— kirk 08/14/08

Readers — We primarily ran the Gallivanter report to confirm Steve Bonner's impressions of Grenada, as the former's judgment could have been compromised by his business interests. In an upcoming month, we're going to run Kirk's long account of buying an Islander 37 in Hawaii, sailing her around the world over the course of several years, buying a used boat, and refitting her for their current cruise. Juicy stuff.

Raptor Dance — Valiant 50
Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack
Tips For The Class of '08-'09
(Santa Rosa)

Mexico has gone through a lot of changes since we first arrived here in '04, so we'd like to share some news and thoughts with new and returning cruisers.

Provisioning: Provisioning in Mexico is better and easier than ever. Puerto Vallarta has long had a Sam's Club, but a few months ago it got a new Costco and Home Depot. While the product selection is a little different than in the States, you'll find most of your old favorites. Actually, you'll find big box supermecados at all the major cruising centers — Cabo, La Paz, Manzanillo, Zihua, and so forth. The one place where provisioning remains a challenge is north of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez. When we first arrived in Mexico, it was hard to find things such as quality Washington State apples, good lamb, Balsamic vinegar, Asian sesame oil, high-end chocolates, and chopsticks. All these things are now widely available.

Despite the convenience of the big box stores, absolutely don't ignore the traditional local markets, which have more exotic stuff and are more fun. There are huge daily markets in places such as La Paz, Mazatlan, P.V., and Zihua, but also weekly markets in places such a Jarretaderas and other small towns. The local markets have more interesting things for sale than the big boxes and the vendors are more colorful. Many of them have excellent low-cost places to eat.

It's still hard to find great wines in Mexico, so we recommend that you bring what you like along with you. Nonetheless, you can find 'drinkable' Mexican and Chilean wines that are better than 'Two-Buck Chuck'. The beer and margaritas in Mexico are excellent.

Be aware that some foods will be confiscated at your port of entry. Among them are beef, chicken, and fresh eggs. If you don't pull into a slip at your port of entry — most likely Cabo — your boat probably won't be inspected. Nonetheless, there's plenty of great beef, eggs, and poultry to be had at Mexican big box stores, so why take the chance?

Food and Water Safety: Food safety and sanitary conditions in restaurants seem to be improving all the time. We've yet to come down with a food-borne illness — as opposed to turista — in the four years in Mexico, although I did get food poisoning once in the States. We're reasonably cautious, and because we've done a lot of Third World travelling, feel comfortable eating at most restaurants and street vendors. We do, however, look around first to make sure things seem reasonably sanitary. We wash our fruits and vegetables the same way we do at home, and don't use bleach or fancy chemicals to 'sanitize' them. Interestingly, you can buy some of the same pre-washed salad stuff — greens, carrots, etc. — that you can in the States.

Everybody wonders about the water in Mexico. We fill our water tanks with water from the marina supply — and the watermaker when at anchor — and we do drink that water. However, we have a Shurflo filter going into the tank, and a General Ecology filter on our drinking tap. We really like the General Ecology filter, as it takes up a lot less room than a bunch of bottles of water that some cruisers seem to prefer.

Boat Cards: Many first-time cruisers forget to make boat cards, which turn out to be very useful for helping cruisers remember all the new people they meet. It's especially helpful if people put their picture on their boat cards, as you'll meet so many people it's hard to keep them straight without a photo to remind you of who is who. Make sure the type on the card isn't too small or fancy to read, and that it includes the following information: your name, boat name, boat type, hailing port, email addresses, cell/sat phone numbers, SailMail/Winlink addresses. You can buy business card paper at office supply stores and print your own, but it's often not much more expensive to have an internet printing company do them.

The Dinghy and Outboard: Most first-time cruisers don't appreciate how important these two items are until too late. You're not only going to use these almost every day, but they will be your only way to get between your boat and shore. If you love to explore, you'll want an outboard powerful enough to plane. If you're not big on exploring, you can get away with something as small as 5-hp. No matter what you do, buy a quality dinghy and outboard, and make sure you have a good system for raising and lowering them. Without one, your boat can become something of a prison.

Shade: If you haven't lived outdoors in the tropics, you don't know how powerful the sun is. You'll absolutely want lots of shade, both while sailing and at anchor.

Potluck Tips: When you cruise in Mexico — perhaps the most social cruising area in the entire world — you're going to be participating in a lot of potlucks. After a while, everybody gets tired of the same old common contributions of things like carrots and chips. If you buy an appetizer/potluck book, you'll get lots of ideas for tasty finger foods. Fresh ingredients are easy to find in Mexico, so it's not hard to make an effort.

Learn to Speak Spanish: Unlike French or Russian, Spanish is not difficult to learn. Buy a Spanish Made Simple book ­— spend 10 minutes a day, and you'll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up. Besides, you don't have to be fluent to enjoy the benefits.

Enjoy the Local Culture: Mexico is a fascinating country with a rich, family-oriented culture with great traditions, in music, dance and other things. It has great quirks, too. Unfortunately, lots of cruisers never get away from the cruisers’ culture — and yes, we certainly have one — to sample what Mexico has to offer. And don't forget an inland vacation from cruising to Oaxaca, Copper Canyon, Guadalajara, Colima, Guanajuato — or Tequila!

— bill and mary 07/15/08

Sailor's Run — Baba 40
Jeff and Debbie Hartjoy
Seldom-Visited Honduras
(Longbranch, Washington)

Debbie thought our three-week stay in San Lorenzo, Honduras, went way too fast, and I have to agree. San Lorenzo is one of those spots — and we've already spent seven years cruising the Pacific, so we've been around — that has you asking yourself, "I could live here, so why are we leaving?" The people are that warm and friendly, tourism is limited to Hondurans from the interior, and only six cruising boats visited last year. Fortunately, our friend Dayle was on one of those boats, spent 12 months here, and encouraged us to stop.

San Lorenzo is also one of those places where people are content with their simple lives and won't be inclined to change things anytime soon. As such, when we walked down the street, nobody tried to drag us to this place or that, or to get us to buy something.

Honduras was visited by the Spanish back in the time of Columbus, and the locals were — as was normal back then — robbed of their mineral wealth. The Spanish left after 300 years, but there is still a Spanish Catholic Church in every major town. Nonetheless, the Hondurans see the cross as a 'sword' that was used to rob them. One thing for sure is that visitors don't get robbed in San Lorenzo. Just one U.S. dollar will buy you three of the most delicious head-sized cataloupes that you've ever tasted, a beer in any restaurant, or a large two-scoop ice cream cone. Well, you might have to throw in another 25 cents for the latter.

Dayle introduced us to Armando and Jose, owners of the Porlamar Restaurant Bar, and their kids. This resulted in us getting connected to the community, as Armando's father used to be the mayor and remains one of the most popular people in town. The Porlamar is flourishing, and the food is delicious. Wait, I can't tell a lie — the hamburgers need some help. But the beer, which is so cold that it has ice in it, makes up for it.

Debbie and I were invited to all of Armando and Jose's family events, including daughter Scarlett's 15th birthday celebration, which is and known as Quiñceanera. This is a really big deal, so the parents pulled out all the stops — free food and drinks, live entertainment, a D.J., and a fantastic sound system. Debbie even got a chance to sing. There was lots of dancing, and even though I'm 61, Debbie and I pretty much ruled the dance floor. A great time was had by all.

When we left San Lorenzo, I'm pretty sure we said that we'd be back. Since the price for checking in and out of Honduras is just $2.50, there is no financial reason not to return. Besides, the people made us feel as though they were so happy to have us visit.

The passage to our next stop, Ecuador, was to be over 1,000 miles. And to think that I'd told Debbie there would be no more long passages! "Fine," I said when she objected, "we'll go by way of Costa Rica's Cocos Island, which is right on the way." Deb thought that was great — until I found out it had become such a big tourist site that they now wanted to charge boats $85/night — to anchor! We've seen some nice islands and anchorages in our time, but we'll never pay $85/night to anchor.

Anyway, we set sail on April 15, and managed to get all of 100 yards from the anchorage before the wash down pump blew off at the waterline, pumping 20 gallons of saltwater into the locker filled with toilet paper. Thank God all the TP was in a plastic bag, as only two rolls got ruined. We dried the rest on the deck. Soon everything was fixed again, and with the anchor stowed on deck, we wove our way out the unmarked channel. We never saw less than 15 feet.

Once we were clear of the channel, we angled across the Bay of Fonseca for the northwest tip of Nicaragua, which was about 15 miles in the distance. There were many curious fisherman about in small wooden boats who watched us try to fly the spinnaker in dying winds. We finally bagged the spinnaker as six fishermen looked on and wondered what the crazy gringo couple was doing. It had to surprise them even more when Debbie told them we were on our way to Ecuador.

Suddenly the wind piped up on our port beam, and we took off. With the Papagayo winds coming down out of the mountains at 25 knots, we logged 130 miles the first day. By the next day we were 75 miles offshore and had winds to 30 knots. We are pretty comfortable in beam seas to about 12 feet. They got close to that size, but the crests weren't blowing off. Despite the wind dying toward the end of the second day, we managed to cover 144 miles. By the third day we were down to 79 miles. But I didn't feel too bad, as it was my 62nd birthday, and Debbie made me a pizza and gave me a couple of cold ones to celebrate.

Then a patrol boat approached, and later a military plane flew overhead. It's obvious someone is patrolling these waters, but that we aren't what they are looking for. The rest of our passage was pretty much uneventful. Other than having two waterspouts nearby at the same time, the forestay coming down, confronting mysteriously rough seas, and having to dodge lots of ships coming out of the Canal, not much happened. We'll share our thoughts on Ecuador, where there is both good and bad, next month.

Update: We're currently on our way from Ecuador to Callao, Peru. We've been sailing against the Humbolt/Peruvian current for 14 days now. Although the direct sailing distance from Bahia, Ecuador, to Callao, is only 800 miles, we've already sailed double that beating to weather, and still have 150 miles to go!

— jeff 05/15/08

Tawodi — Customized 39
Stephen Mann, Kathleen Torres
Around The World In 7 Months?
(San Diego)

Stephen Mann first lived aboard a sailboat when he was 12. At 17, he and his father sailed to Mexico. After only a few months, his dad took off to join Stephen’s soon-to-be third stepmother in Panama, leaving young Stephen in charge of the boat. "I cruised around for two more years before deciding I'd better come home and get a job," he says.

Few sailors have been immersed in the cruising life so early or so thoroughly. And Stephen was a natural — witty, intelligent, good with his hands, and quick with a smile. He took the ball and ran with it, parlaying those early experiences into a career as a licensed captain and rigger. Based out of San Diego, he now holds a 500-ton Ocean Master’s ticket, has skippered tugboats, and delivers yachts all over the Pacific and beyond — including 18 trans-Pacific trips and countless runs down to and back from Mexico. He also runs his own rigging service, and has worked on everything from weekend warriors to America’s Cup boats. For pleasure, he continues to enjoy his 39-ft sloop Tawodi. All this and he’s still only 37 years old.

Tawodi — it means 'hawk' in Cherokee — was built at Westerly Marine in Southern California. But the boat has been so thoroughly modified that her originally designer no longer wants to claim her. She might as well be called a Mann 39. Among the more visible changes, Stephen molded a new, plumb bow over the old one. This gave the boat more than 3,000 extra pounds of flotation forward — and a nice crash bulkhead. The list of changes to the interior would require a couple of more pages. Basically, he has all the electronic and navigational bells and whistles any modern cruising boat could wish for, as well as a sound system unrivalled in the animal kingdom — and 1,000 CDs to go with it. Performance-wise, the boat has gobbled up more than 100,000 miles under Capt. Mann, most of them cruising, and a fair amount of them singlehanded. Although Stephen doesn’t race much, about 4,500 of the latter miles were chalked up when he sailed the 2000 Singlehanded TransPac and then back to the mainland.

Now Stephen is planning an adventure so unique we almost think it's crazy. Actually, we do think it’s crazy, but in a good way. Starting in October, he'll be sailing around the world — at a "race pace." That means 22,000 miles in only eight or nine months, and with only five stops. Why? "It sounds like fun," he explains.

The project has been percolating in Stephen’s mind for years. The inspiration, he says, came about as a result of his participation in the ‘00 Solo TransPac. "When I returned to San Diego, I got some money — retroactive sponsorship I guess you’d call it — from a friend. He hinted that there might be more if I was interested in doing a BOC (now Velux 5 Oceans) or Vendée Globe. I was very interested, of course, but then came the dotcom crash, and the money went away. But that’s where the seed was planted."

Stephen won’t be flying solo this time, however. Kathleen Torres, his partner of several years, will be coming along as mate, companion, chronicler — and "medical kit." "She's a universal blood donor, so that might come in handy," jokes Mann. Kathleen is also a skilled sailor, and will play an integral part in the project.

The stops Stephen and Kathleen expect to make are not set in stone. But at this stage of the planning, they are: Ushuaia, Argentina, which is near Cape Horn; Cape Town, South Africa; a 2.3-square mile dot in the Indian Ocean called Ile Saint-Paul; "somewhere in Australia"; and perhaps one more stop in the Pacific. Kathleen’s currently lobbying for Easter Island. Stephen also envisions the trip as a 'classic' roundabout, meaning they’ll go west-to-east, south of the five great capes.

Although Mann and Torres would certainly welcome any donations of gear or money, so far the impending adventure is purely on their own dime — and is doable that way. A meticulous planner and inveterate tinkerer, Stephen even plans to grow sprouts hydroponically as they go. These will supplement all the canned, frozen, and dried stores that they will carry.

Stephen and Kathleen had the boat out of the water for one last overhaul and painting in August. By the time you read this, the boat should be back in the water, Kathleen will have quit her job, Stephen will be finishing up any last minute business, and they'll both being saying goodbyes.

For a point of reference, it's common for cruisers to take three to five years to do a circumnavigation. But we've known several who have done it in less than two years, and last year Mike Harker did a mostly singlehanded circumnavigation — using the Panama Canal — in 11 months with his Hunter Mariner 49 Wanderlust III.

— latitude/jr 08/16/08

Cruise Notes:

One thing almost all cruisers learn is, when shit happens, you've simply got to breathe deep and deal with whatever problems have arisen. That's exactly what a group of westbound cruisers did after getting hammered by unexpectedly strong winds on their way from Bora Bora to Suwarrow on July 18-20. As reported in the last Latitude and in 'Lectronic, both the Seattle-based Bristol Channel Cutter Little Wing and Steve and Wendy Bott's Seattle-based J/44 Elusive suffered substantial damage in those rough conditions. Little Wing's mast was totalled, and Elusive suffered a cracked gooseneck and torn main. Now for the good news. According to John and Renee Prentice of the San Diego-based Serendipity 43 Scarlett O'Hara, the folks at Forespar have modified their production schedule so they could immediately start work on a new mast for Little Wing. In fact, the mast should be on the way to Little Wing in American Samoa by the time you read this. Little Wing was able to make it to American Samoa thanks to donated jerry jugs of fuel from other cruisers, and because the folks on Fearless volunteered to escort her. As for Elusive's main, it was damaged badly enough to have to be shipped back to the States for repair. And Hallspars, which made her original gooseneck fitting, is sending a replacement. Scarlett O'Hara escorted Elusive to American Samoa. "The one good thing about all of this," notes Prentice, "is that both boats can be repaired in American Samoa which, because it's part of the United States, has excellent shipping and is serviced by the U.S. Postal Service. That speeds up things as opposed to trying to get things repaired or replaced in Tonga or Fiji. The other thing to note is how the cruising community has once again stepped up to her cruisers who were in need."

If you're planning to 'commuter cruise' out of the La Paz area — or just about anywhere in Mexico — this winter, you should act immediately to secure a slip. Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz reports that they've had higher than normal occupancy for the summer, which means they'll be "all but filled up starting November 1." Harbormaster Garbriel Lay at Costa Baja Marina reports that their 250-berth marina has been running at 85% occupancy during the summer, and will quickly fill up at the start of the season. "Right now I've got 12 40-ft slips, six 35-ft slips, and a few 50-footers, but that's it. And that's even with the new prices, which mean 40-ft slips are $16.80/ft/month, not counting the 10% tax. Folks with 150 to 200-ft boats — and we've had 160 boats that are 100-ft + in the last three years — pay over $40/ft/month. If you build a marina in the La Paz area, the boats will come. Even the Fidepaz Marina — which is way down the bay and as yet without channel markers for its tricky channel — has a number of larger boats now."

And to think that the number of slips in La Paz has doubled in just the last three or four years. The good thing to remember is that you can anchor for free all over Mexico, and in many instances just outside a marina. So how does that help if you have to leave your boat to fly home? In the past, many skippers who did the Ha-Ha became such good friends with other skippers, that the friend would watch over their boat while they returned home for a period — usually relatively short — of time. We're not recommending it, just pointing out that it's not uncommon.

In other La Paz news, Palmar Marina, which is next to Marina de La Paz, is getting a second, larger Travelift to handle the greater number of larger boats cruising the area. As for Marina de La Paz, they're putting in a new 240-ft dock/floating breakwater that will add 10 side-ties — "unless a mega yacht comes and takes up most of the space." This new dock, to be in place in October, will come off the end of the existing 160-ft outer dock at a 22 degree angle, and will therefore also protect the marina's inner docks from northerly chop. New and returning mariners to the La Paz need to be reminded that the channel markers at the entrance to La Paz Channel have been moved south to permit the tankers to tie up perpendicularly at the Pemex refinery. This makes entering the channel a little tricky, as it's completely different from before, and requires a 90-degree turn near Marina Costa Baja. This makes it very easy to confuse the third red buoy for the second red buoy, and for skippers to drive their boats right up on the sandbar. Moving from the water to the air, Aero California is no longer flying, so it's good to know that La Paz is now being served by two Tijuana-based airlines, Alma and Volaris. They have promotional tickets for as low at $80 each way.

In last month's Changes, we featured 26-year-old Andrew Vik of San Francisco, who purchased the much-travelled Islander 36 Geja in Italy earlier this year, and is now cruising the Med. When we asked him what he's been doing for the last month and how things are going, he replied as follows:

"My God, where do I begin?! I last wrote from Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Since then my whirlwind tour has taken me to Sicily, the Aeolian Islands, through the Straits of Messina, past — and up to — Mt. Etna, down to Syracuse, and around the boot of Italy. I'm finally in the Adriatic, where my journey will end sometime next month. I stopped at Budva, Montenegro, which was completely off the graph, as it was swarming with Balkan babes in bikinis. I've never seen anything like it! Why our government makes it difficult for these women to get tourist visas is beyond me. As for Montenegro's Gulf of Kotor, it's awesome — like sailing through a Norwegian fjord, but warmer. It's August as I write this, and since all Europeans go on vacation in August, I haven't been getting much sleep. I finally managed to pry myself away from Budva, and work my way up to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I'd hoped to send some new photos of my voyage, but good internet access is surprisingly hard to find, even here. Besides, I've been too busy sailing and partying. The good news is that all my passages and the notorious straits are behind me. The bad news is that I'll have to leave the boat here in Croatia in less than a month. I've had six different crews so far, including Rob and Christine Aronen, who I met when they sailed Nomad, their previous boat, in the '06 Ha-Ha. They now live in Luxembourg, and before my cruise is over, will have joined me on Geja on three different occasions. Most of my other crew are friends and acquaintances from the Nordic countries and Germany."

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the granddaddy of all cruising rallies, continues to sell out each year. The 2,700-mile event from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean reached its maximum of 225 entries as of April 29 — more than six months in advance of the November 23 start! And unlike the Ha-Ha, it's not inexpensive to enter. Despite the increase in the value of the euro for most of '08, the United States will be represented by 11 boats this year, up from seven last year. The American entries are: Frederick Stelle's J/145 Ace; John Kennell's S.J. 48 Amulet; Jose de Yturbe's Hanse 630 Ayachucho; David Harris' Norseman 43 cat Gone Native; Joseph Barnette's Island Packet 40 Hope and Glory; Philip Stolp's Hallberg Rassy 53 Souverain; Lurelle Verplank's Oyster 82 Sundowner; Dana and Glenn Meyer's Centurion 40 Mahalo; Bill Dwyer's Pearson 424 Overdraft; and Hardy Good's Amel 54 Patti G. Unfortunately, we don't know how many — if any — of these entries are from the West Coast. As some of you are aware, the European economies are widely expected to take a later, longer, and deeper dip than the U.S. economy, which would likely result in the dollar increasing upon its recent 8% gain against the euro. If such a trend continued — and we're not suggesting that you bet your cruising kitty on it — boats and cruising in Europe would become less expensive than they've been, and U.S. participation in the ARC might return to what it was 15 years ago. We know that we'd love to do another ARC.

As of August 17, the Caribbean 1500 Rally, which departs Hampton, Virginia, on November 2 for the 1,500-mile distant British Virgins, reported 32 paid entries. All of them are from the East Coast.

"We've been most distressed to learn that the British Virgin Islands, where we hoped to cruise on our way south to Isla Margarita, Venezuela, this winter, has decided to institute harbor fees, which are to be in addition to all their other fees," report Ed and Sue Kelly of the Iowa-based Catalac 36 catamaran Angel Louise. The couple, who are currently on their boat in Connecticut, note that the BVI government has proposed charging private yachts not owned by citizens $1/foot for the first day in the islands, 75 cents/foot the second day, and 50 cents/foot a day for every day after that. Ouch! The Kellys figure it would cost them about $800 a month in harbor fees alone to enjoy the BVIs. "That wouldn't make sense to us, so we guess we'll take our money and go elsewhere," they write. Others have speculated that these fees would make the British Virgins one of the most expensive places in the world to cruise. Ralph T. O'Neal, the Premier of the British Virgins, was undeterred by such sentiments, saying the harbor fees were a source of tourism revenue that the BVIs could no longer afford to not collect, as all steps needed to be taken to put the country's financial house in order. Boats were to be subject to the new fees on July 15.

Government officials the world over, of course, think the solution to every financial problem is impose to a new tax. Business people know that's often counterproductive. So before the new fees could go into effect, O'Neal and other government officials were given a lesson in Economics 101 by members of the country's marine and tourism industries. The business people explained that the new draconian fees would destroy the BVIs' competitive advantage over other cruising destinations, and the result would be lower net revenues for the government. O'Neal and the legislators have good ears, so the proposal for harbor fees is now dead, and the government is searching for someone else to tax.

By the way, the Kellys report, "we sold our house and all our stuff, and have been cruising 18 months now — due to dreams Latitude ignited in us two Iowans." Well, good on you.

"The secret to happiness is freedom," wrote the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. And there's some compelling data to back him up. Since '81, 350,000 people from 90 countries have been asked how happy they were. Despite all the apparent gloom in the United States, close to 80% of the respondents for which data had been collected for more than 10 years said they have become happier. There are two reasons. First, for many millions of people, the threat of starvation has greatly diminished. It's hard to be happy if you and your family are starving to death. Once food and basic shelter have been taken care of, the greatest predictor of happiness is income. All right, all right, we're just kidding. The second best predicator of happiness is actually freedom. More people are freer on this planet than ever before, and as a result, more people are happier. Does this mean that you should quit the job or relationship to which you've become an unhappy slave, buy a boat, and chart your own course to freedom? Only you can answer that.

"Does Latitude have a database of DIY (do-it-yourself) boatyards in Mexico?" wonders Peter Hartmann of the Blaine, Washington-based 52-ft DeRidder sloop Ahaluna. "If there was such a list, it would be great if there could be ratings by cruisers who have used them."

Unfortunately, we don't have such a list, but we threw Hartmann's question out to the 'Lectronic readership. The following are two of the responses, with more to appear in the October issue Letters. If you have a DIY yard in Mexico to recommend, we'd love to share your input.

"Last winter Heather Corsaro and I hauled my Cal 36 Eupsychia out at Marina Ixtapa near Zihua," reports David Addleman of Monterey. "It was the most pleasant boatyard experience we've ever had — although the bar is pretty low in that industry, isn't it? Heather and I had earlier bought all the paint and supplies we needed at Zaragosa Marine in Puerto Vallarta. The yard staff at Marina Ixtapa was very professional, their Travelift is large and new, access was easy, and the prices were about the same as in the States. The marina has security, and we were able to stay on the boat. We shared the gravel yard with a few large powerboats. We did all our own work, although there seemed to be plenty of skilled local talent available. Well, actually I did the work while Heather read, flirted with the yard crew, and chilled beers for me. The best part is that the other yard workers shared their lunch with us — ceviche and such made on the spot! One night a foremen took us to his home in Zihuatanejo for showers and a fried fish dinner. He had earlier taken Heather to a local soccer match, where he offered to make her a happy Zihuatanejo fishwife! Another attraction of the yard is that large crocodiles are common in the marina. Both Heather and I are impatiently waiting for the October 27 start of the Ha-Ha to sail down to Mexico again."

"My boat is currently on the hard at Marina Seca in Guaymas," reports Leonard Bisgrove, who did the '06 Ha-Ha with his San Diego-based Endeavor 40 Vallee Cachee. "l’m having a new aluminum fuel tank fabricated, as well as major fiberglass work done to the hull. When I return to the boat in November, I'll be putting on a new barrier coat, new primer, and new bottom paint, and doing lots of other small jobs. The work that has already been done, has been done well, and at a lower price than I would have paid in San Diego. You can live aboard in Marina Seca as you work on your boat for $5/day for the utilities and Wi-Fi. The yard fee for my 40-ft boat is $120/month. The yard has its own lift, and my cost for in and out is $100 each way. Although the amenties at Marina Seca are a bit primitive, the yard has 24-hour guards and is secure. The nearby city of Guaymas has everything anybody would need to do boat repair, and the chandlery in San Carlos can order whatever other marine gear anyone might want from the States."

Folks cruising to Mexico often want to know what kinds of things they should bring as gifts to pass out on their way to Cabo as well as elsewhere in Mexico. We put the question to Mary Shroyer who, along with her husband Mac, created Marina de La Paz. Now more than a quarter of a century old, it was one of the first marinas in Mexico.
"My suggestions are school supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, colored markers, colored construction paper, scissors, and so forth. And if somebody has bunches of stuff, they should try to get it to elementary school teachers in Mexico, who often have to buy supplies from their own limited salaries. Folks might try to locate a retiring elementary school teacher in their hometown, as they often have boxes of leftover supplies. Also good are toothbrushes and sample-size tubes of toothpaste, as well as shampoo and lotion, such as is provided in hotel rooms. Children's shoes, socks, and underwear are always needed. I know that kids down here love candy, but from an early age they eat too much of it, as well as drink too much soda. By the time first-time cruisers reach La Paz, they will start to get an idea of stuff they brought but wish they hadn't. Fortunately, the Club Cruceros de La Paz holds a fundraiser at the end of each November for their charitable foundation, and would be glad to accept anything you want to get off the boat. Another thing many folks have found that makes their cruise more satisfying is joining a 'good works' project in Mexico, such as helping in schools, building shelters, and the like. There will be plenty of opportunities."

"I'm planning to singlehand around Cape Horn in December," reports 62-year-old Jeff Hartjoy of the Longbranch, Washington-based Baba 40 Sailors' Run. Earlier in this month's Changes, Hartjoy reported on his and his wife Debbie's stop at seldom-visited San Lorenzo, Honduras. Hartjoy mentions that his wife doesn't plan on making the 4,500-mile passage around Cape Horn to Buenos Aires, Argentina, but will work for a few months, then rejoin him in Argentina. The Hartjoys, one of the most energetic cruising couples you'll ever meet, did the Ha-Ha in '99 to start a seven-year, 35,000-mile circle of the Pacific. After coming home for a few months, they took off again as part of the '06 Ha-Ha, and have been out ever since.

Rob and Lorraine Coleman, formerly of the East Bay and more recently of Honolulu, report that they, plus Borau, the boy they sort of 'adopted' from Fannng Island, arrived at Apia, Western Samoa, aboard their gaff-rigged Angleman ketch Southern Cross. "It's the first time we've had internet and water to our boat in 18 months," they write. "We're in a small new marina that has electricity and cold water showers. The cruisers here are mostly from Europe, so we're in an international crowd again. Most American cruisers go to Pago Pago, American Samoa, which would have been more convenient, but we just didn't want to go there. Apia is a nice city with most conveniences, and — except for the marina fees — is very affordable. It's not big or fancy, however, as there are only a few buildings as tall as six stories. The people of Western Samoa are very pleasant and speak both Samoan and English. We haven't been swimming in weeks, and miss our Fanning Island swimming hole. There is a place where we could swim about five minutes from here, but we think you have to wear a clothes or lava lava. The people are very religious, which is why doing anything productive on Sundays is considered disrespectful. We're walking our feet off, usually putting in about four miles a day."

"We did the '08 Puddle Jump, spending most of our time in the Marquesas," report Ralph and Glenda Johnson of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Hans Christian 41T Our Country Home. "We then continued on to Fakavara in the Tuamotus before heading to Papeete. We're now hauled out, and unless we can get a visa extension for next year, will leave the boat out until April '09. We plan to return to the Tuamotus to see more of them, sail around the Societies, then continue farther west."

Yes, we have no fuel. When the Mexican government decided to change the name of their Singlar marinas in the Sea of Cortez — including at Puerto Escondido — they forgot to get new paperwork to Pemex, the government agency that sells them fuel. As a result, Puerto Escondido was out of fuel for a full month, and some mariners had to pay big bucks to have it delivered from 30-mile distant Puerto Escondido.

It's been a pretty busy hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific — meaning the Pacific Coast of Mexico — so far. Between the official start of the season on June 1 and August 17, there had already been five tropical storms and five hurricanes. So how come you haven't heard about any of them? Because like most Eastern Pacific tropical storms and hurricanes, they've moved off to the north and west, and therefore out to open waters. Secondly, none of them have been particularly powerful hurricanes. But since the season doesn't officially end until November 1 — and for some people not until November 15 or even December 1 — we're not out of the woods yet. In fact, September has historically been the most dangerous month, so let's be prepared and keep our fingers crossed.

While no tropical storms or hurricanes have hit land in Mexico this season, they've nonetheless made life miserable because they push lots of moist air north, jacking up the already high humidity. So from Puerto Vallarta to La Paz, the complaint has not been about the high temperatures, which are normal, but the humidity, which has been much higher more often than in previous years. It even rained four out of 10 days in La Paz in August, which should make for a greener than normal winter on the islands.

Missing the pictures? See our September 2008 eBook!


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