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October 2008

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With reports this month from Liz Clark and Swell hauled out at Raiatea; from Geja on Andrew Vik's "best summer ever" in the Med and Adriatic; from the ultra budget cat Manu Rere in El Salvador; from Blue Banana on the passages from Thailand to Turkey; from Magnum on the first two years of cruising; and a plenty of Cruise Notes.

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
Hauled Out At Raiatea
(Santa Barbara)

Having hauled Swell out at Raiatea three days ago, I've finally started to adjust to onshore existence again. I spent my first two days in total shock, shuffling in circles, not really sure where to begin. I didn't really know anyone here yet, and the secretary, the only person who is fluent in English, has seemed a little cold toward me.

Getting set up to work and live out of the water has been a job in itself. I hadn't thought about the fact that I can't use my 110-volt tools with the European 220-volt power on shore — until I plugged in my 110v mini vacuum. It growled fiercely, lurched out of my hands, and plummeted to its death on the cabin sole. A faint plume of smoke rose from it as a farewell salute.

Without a transformer, all my powertools were useless, but that's not been the only problem. My refrigeration system is water-cooled, so it doesn't work when Swell is on the hard. Plus, I get to share one grimy little bathroom and cold shower with everyone else who is hauled out. Then there's some sort of electrical ground problem that's allowing electricity to flow through things that it shouldn't. To get on or off Swell, I have to climb up or down a 10-ft ladder. I butted the ladder against one of Swell's stainless steel stanchions so I could get a good grip while taking that critical first or last step onto or off the ladder. It seemed like a great idea — until I nearly got electrocuted. What's worse, I only get shocked intermittently, so I'm never sure what's going to happen.

Then yesterday morning, I lost my balance on top of the ladder and had to grab the often-hot stanchion. It was live that time, of course, so the shock had me spastically recoiling in the other direction. I fell backwards, but luckily caught the top rung of the ladder with my right hand. I dangled there by one arm, my shower bag in the other. Dazed and grateful not to have ended up with the same fate as the vacuum, I hung there for a moment. Fortunately, Pascal, a local marine electrician, would have to pass me on his way to work.

"Bonjour," I said, my feet still suspended in air. He'd already seemed suspicious of the strange new solitary blonde girl, but my predicament seemed to be further confirmation that I was a weirdo.

But as usually happens when cruising, friends come to the rescue, so I'm getting set up. Teva is going to loan me a sander and a grinder; Aymeric will bring over a cooler this weekend; and Pacome's lent me a bike I can fix up so I can roam as I please on two wheels.

Thanks to new tubes and a little paint, I've got Pacome's old bike hitting the streets with new authority. It felt good to cover ground on my own terms rather than with the use of my thumb — even though I'd met a series of wonderful people hitchhiking. Despite having been on the same route to town at least a dozen times, when I cover it on my bike, it's as though I'm seeing it for the first time. At biking speed, new details become evident everywhere. I saw the marlin tails nailed to the wall of a proud fisherman's house and the budding water lilies lining the drainage ditch; I smelled the fresh baguettes when I waved to the shopkeeper; and I heard the ukulele tune coming from inside a house. I noticed which coconut trees had good coconuts, and saw that the mangoes were getting bigger on the trees. I heard the dogs bark, and felt the strength of the wind as I rode against it. Riding a bike added a whole different dimension to a trip into town. In the last year I'd noticed the same about my life in general. By slowing down, I was discovering things about myself and the world that I might otherwise have not noticed.

— liz 09/05/08

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Wrapping Up In The Med
(San Francisco)

As some readers will remember, while in San Francisco last January, I bought the Islander 36 Geja sight unseen in Pisa, Italy, and have since cruised her from mid-June to mid-September. During the 90 days, I covered 1,700 miles, visited 50 different places, and had 20 different friends — and my mother — join me for parts of the trip. But with the sudden change in the weather — it was in the mid-90s all last week, but it's suddenly dropped to the 60s during the day and is cold at night — I sadly realize that my most amazing dream tour of the Med is over.

What about the future? As I've only taken a sabbatical as opposed to an early retirement, I'm leaning towards passing the Geja torch on to someone else. But it won't be an easy decision, and nothing is final yet. It was the best summer ever, and there is so much more to explore. While Geja is tired, all of her systems work, and she has everything one needs for cruising. Even her old Yanmar motor seems really solid. Further, she sails so well. I never would have bought a plastic classic otherwise, but she's been such a pleasure to sail, with a light and stable helm, and no pounding.

At the risk of going over some of the same ground from my previous Changes, I'll pick up when I was roaming the north coast of Sicily, or more specifically the town of Cefalu, and the amazing Aeolian Islands. The approach to the Aeolians is surreal, as perfect conical shapes project out of the sea, some still letting out an occasional belch of steam and soot. Our first stop was on the island of Vulcano, where my Swedish crewmate Tina and I climbed the crater. We opted to have a guide, who provided us with special gas masks, give us a walking tour through the steaming vents on the crater’s perimeter. The view from the top was stunning, offering views of nearby Lipari, Salina, and even Mount Etna in the distance. Cruising these islands takes some nerve, however, as the winds can be vicious, and even the few marinas available offer poor protection. For example, while at anchor one morning, the wind flipped my 10-ft rigid bottom Avon inflatable.

Plans for a nighttime sail by of the constantly erupting Stromboli were aborted due to heavy winds and seas. Instead, we waited for better weather before sailing downwind to the Straits of Messina, timing our arrival at dawn to navigate the shipping traffic and whirlpools of this fabled region. The shifting winds and need to pay careful attention to navigation were a bit stressful to my Swedish crewmate Tina and me. Nonetheless, we managed to beat our way through the Straits under sail alone, dodging the whirlpools. Actually, the famous tidal rips near Messina aren't that much different from those near the Golden Gate Bridge or Raccoon Strait. By that afternoon we'd completed the 70-mile sail from Lipari to Taormina, almost all under sail, including a screaming 20-mile flat water beam reach a mile off Sicily’s east coast. The winds gusts to over 30 knots at the base of the canyons.

Approaching Taormina meant approaching Mount Etna, where lava flowed visibly down its slopes. One can get pretty worked up over weather, navigation and keeping the boat and crew safe while cruising. This was especially true for the Messina passage. I needed to switch perspectives for a bit in order to realize that this "kid" from San Francisco — I'm actually '36 going on 26', not 26 as previously reported — successfully piloting his own boat within view of Mount Etna!

The village of Taormina, about halfway down Sicily’s otherwise unimpressive east coast, is a gem. It appears to be impossibly perched on cliffs, and the road up to the village is right out of a James Bond flick. And at around 1 a.m. on Saturday night, the nightlife was really picked. There was an endless stream of girls, seemingly straight from the modeling runways of Milan, filling the upscale bars and clubs.

While in Taormina, Norwegian friends Lars and Grete replaced Tina as crew. Together we sailed most of the 50 miles to our next stop, beautiful Syracuse, where there was no charge to tie up to the town wall. A wall, by the way, that was just two minutes by foot to a cluster of popular outdoor student bars. We had a little after party onboard one night, hosting a handful of local ladies. But the odds took a turn for the worse when the two prettiest ones disappeared to the foredeck — to make out with each other!

We shifted into delivery mode after Syracuse for the 380-stretch under the boot of Italy and across the Adriatic Sea to Montenegro. Robert Aronen, whom I met during the '06 Ha-Ha when he and his wife Christine owned the Rival 36 Nomad, flew down from his new home in Luxembourg for the adventure. During this stretch we saw plenty of dolphins, which we'd seen none of before. We even had two dolphin-sized tuna chasing us for 15 minutes. The winds were mostly light, so we stopped for fuel in Otranto, a humble looking Italian city with a small commercial port. But concealed within the city was a remarkable old town just bursting at the seams with life! The main walking street, just 10 feet wide, was a human traffic jam late into the night, with shops open until about 2 a.m.! As one could imagine, there were plenty of opportunities to make friends and party. By this time it was early August, and the Mediterranean tourist season had been really kicking into high gear.

We left the West behind at Otranto by making the 120-mile crossing of the Adriatic to Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia. I knew little about our first stop, Budva, except that it would be possible to clear in there. I had the sunrise watch, and the view of approaching the Montenegro coast under sail, with the sun rising behind its towering 'black mountains', was awesome. Check-in took five hours of running around between the police, customs and port captain, who assessed a "special tax." Welcome to the East! At least the Montenegro officials were the only ones to appreciate Geja's official rubber stamp, as they allowed me to use it to stamp their documents.

Once we got secure in the marina, I was surprised to find ourselves completely surrounded by shiny U.S.-flagged powerboats, most registered in Delaware! It's apparently common for Russians to create shell corporations in Delaware to avoid paying local taxes. Despite also having a U.S.-flagged boat, let alone a salty older boat with San Francisco clearly shown as her hailing port, none of my dock neighbors ever said hello or even made eye contact. After spending much of the summer in Italy, where nobody is really a stranger, it was a little hard to get used to.

But that first day in Budva was my 36th birthday, and the place didn't disappoint. Most visitors to Montenegro are Serbians, and I soon learned that Serbia has just about the hottest women on this planet! Better yet, it turns out that Budva is like the Ibiza of the Adriatic, and the place was swarming with young people who loved to party. Never before had I seen such a concentration of tall, thin, scantily-clad women happy to be sexy during all hours of the day and night.

After three days and nights of very little sleep, I managed to pry myself away from heaven and continue north into Montenegro’s Gulf of Kotor. From a one-mile opening in the Adriatic, the walled town of Kotor, a UNESCO site, lies 16 miles 'inland', deep within a Norwegian-like fjord. It was one of the most spectacular settings that I had ever seen, especially from the fortress some 1,000 steps high above the town. And the sailing was very nice, with flat water and a consistent afternoon breeze.

The journey continued north to my final destination for the summer, Croatia. Having previously backpacked along the coast, I knew that this was the place to slow down and leisurely sail among its many islands and anchorages. And what great sailing there is! The normal northwesterlies kick in most afternoons, and with numerous long islands paralleling the coast, there is plenty of great flat water sailing to be had. Though places like Dubrovnik, Mljet and Korcula are fantastic, and I did indeed visit them, my hub for the remainder of August was naturally the famous party island of Hvar. The Italians and backpackers were still there in force, but unfortunately, the island had priced itself out of the budgets of most Croatians. And I prefer to mingle with the locals.

During the final night with my last complement of crew, I did accomplish what I believe to be an Islander 36 first. With my all-male Finnish crew, and a few lovely English lasses, we had seven people dancing to the latest hits in Geja’s cabin.

As I mentioned, I'm not sure what the future holds, but my Geja summer was the best of my life.

— andrew 09/05/08

Manu Rere — Polynesian Cat
Glenn Tieman
Exploring the Gulf of Fonseca

After a last foray to the market for provisions, it was already noon by the time Manu Rere and I sailed out of La Union, El Salvador. The timing was awful since the morning land breeze had given way to the contrary sea breeze, and the contrary flood made it even more hopeless. Just as I was preparing to anchor at the edge of the channel, the tide turned so that I was able to make it behind little Zacatillo Island at dusk, where I anchored in three feet of water. Straight into the sea to scrape the bottom but in the opaquely muddy water this was all but impossible. Although the village ashore looked inviting, I sailed with the tide at dawn for the gulf’s outermost island, Meanguera, where more transparent seawater could be expected.

In many ways Isla Meanguera was a beautiful place to visit. There are no cars, so there is a network of trails and roads paved with dry laid slabs of black basalt, the prevalent stone on the island. The roads are used by lots of horses, mules and donkeys hauling farm products. There were also lots of basalt walls forming terraces and fences. Walking along the shore road, I met a friendly young man who walked all over delivering bills. He offered to show me petroglyphs in a remote valley, so we hiked up a steep ravine which cut into the interior and examined the petroglyphs, then came down another way, passing many uncultivated fruit trees, which locals insisted we could forage. By the end of the day I had a bag full of avocados, mangoes and sapotes.
Even though the anchorage was pretty awful, I stayed at Isla Meanguera for about two weeks. The strong tidal current held the boat beam on to the nighttime southerlies that blew strong. Had I been on any other type of boat than a catamaran, it would have been intolerable. There were scores of friendly naval personnel on the island building a wharf intended to attract small cruise ships. One day the officers took me for a lunch cruise on their little patrol boat.

The only exception to the very friendly people was the large group of young men who constantly congregated, completely drunk, next to the store that sold aguadiente, Central American firewater. There were also a couple of American inner city gangsters, one of whom told me he made his living selling drugs. As I returned from a hike one morning, this guy, looking especially frazzled, threatened to shoot me. "You white guys are all the same," he said, "you think you can do anything." In all my years of sailing pirate-infested waters, the only other time someone said that to me was while I was teaching high school in Los Angeles.

Because of that incident, and because I was out of propane, I had the anchors up and was sailing out of there. As Manu Rere gathered way, a voice from shore called out, "Come back!" But having had enough of the widely reported problems of El Salvador, I sailed nonstop back to La Union, spent one day clearing out of the country, and then headed across the Gulf of Fonseca to Amapala, El Tigre Island, Honduras. I only went to Amapala to clear into the country, so I only stayed a night. Then I sailed around the island and into a wide estuary, which eventually narrowed to a small river through a labyrinth of mangroves.

Ten miles up through the swamp, where the river ends under the mountains, huddles the small town of San Lorenzo. Although small, it's lively because it's the only Pacific port for Honduras, which has a very small coastline. It's full of third world curiosities, too, such as horse-drawn wagons sharing the road with shiny new pickup trucks and swarms of bicycles. And dugout canoes, some of which were propelled by engine, paddles and even black plastic spritsails.

About a third of the stores in San Lorenzo are adobe with red tile roofs, and many have dirt floors. There are also two vibrant public markets, where I found the prices to be half that of California and Mexico. Bananas were 25 cents/lb at the one supermarket, but only 15 cents/lb from a truck that parked along the street. That's a typical marketing situation in Latin America. Other prices included 50 cents for a medium avocado, feta-like cheese for $2/lb, and medium whole fresh shrimp for $1.20/lb. There is a large shrimp packing plant in town, and shrimp ponds all around the mangroves.

Another thing San Lorenzo has in its favor is the weather. It's said to be a mysterious dry spot during the otherwise soaking Central American rainy season. It rained most nights that I was there, but was reasonably dry during the day. I collected enough water off my awning to supply my needs. It's hot in Central America during the summer, of course, but that makes it easy to dive into the tepid river. There are crocs, but only in the more remote areas. Should a hurricane draw near, this would be the best anchorage, as it's surrounded by mangrove bumpers.

There was one other cruising boat here, but having been here for 14 months, he finally departed. The locals are friendly — except for their custom of hurling "Gringo!" in my face with a big proud smile. I'd prefer they just say 'hello'.

During my two months in San Lorenzo, I finally made a proper outrigger for the larger canoe that I'd made before disposing of the shop in Oxnard. This larger outrigger is hollow, unlike all my previous outriggers, and is attached to the crossarms by a method used in East Africa. These new methods turned out well. This canoe is intended to sail as a proa, but I’m still working on the rig.

— glenn 08/15/08

Blue Banana — Gulfstar 50
Bill and Sam Fleetwood
Thailand To Turkey

Last year, during which time we cruised from Thailand to Turkey, was amazing. We'd spent two years in the Thailand/Malaysia area cruising and getting our boat painted, so we were more than ready to head for the Med. We left in January and took our time so we could explore along the way. We spent three weeks in Sri Lanka, our first stop, as it was fascinating. The harbor at Galle was a bit scary, though, as we were fenced in at night by a line of buoys. In addition, the government set off depth charges at night to keep the Tamil Tigers out. They sounded like heavy objects falling on our decks, so it took some getting used to. Thirty thousand people died in Sri Lanka as a result of the tsunami, and everyone we met had lost at least one loved one. But what a beautiful country! There is so much history, and the ruins are from thousands of years ago.

We then sailed to the beautiful, peaceful Maldives — which are Muslim — located south of the southern tip of India, and then made an eight-day passage to oil-rich Oman. While in Oman, we formed a convoy of four boats to sail what we called 'East of Aden' — otherwise known as Pirate Alley near the approach to the Red Sea. Have you ever tried to get four very different sailboats to sail in formation? It's like herding cats. Our only scare was when two fast-moving 25-ft boats roared into the middle of our small fleet and stopped. One of our group calmly offered water and cigarettes, and when it turned out that's all the crews of those boats wanted, we all breathed a big sigh of relief. For the rest of the way to Aden, we had windy, choppy conditions where no small boats would venture out, so we saw nothing else to scare us. We visited Sana, the capital of Yemen, which was founded by Noah's son, before going through the Bab-el-Mandeb and into the Red Sea.

The Bab is no place for cowards. We had 35-knot southerlies and huge seas going through the narrow strait, with rocks on one side and an off-limits military island on the other. Luckily we had timed it right, as it was just getting light when we went through. We sailed on to Eritrea, stayed for two weeks, spending six days in the capital of Asmara. Then we day-hopped through the reefs of Sudan and the marsas of Egypt. These offer wonderful protection, but you can only navigate them by eyeball, and then only before 3 p.m., as after that the sun is too low to see the reefs. The charts for these waters are way off.

Using Abu Tig Marina in Egypt as our base, we toured Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel, and sailed a felucca on the Nile. Since we'd had so much fun seeing the sights, it was late in the season and the wind was blowing out of the north — and on our nose — all the time. And the Red Sea is like the Sea of Cortez, with short, choppy seas that stop a 20-ton boat in her tracks. We waited three weeks for a weather window to proceed to Port Suez at the southern end of the Suez Canal. We never really got a window, and ended up motoring into 25 knots for 36 hours or so. We got measured and paid the fees for the canal transit, and the next morning our Egyptian pilot clambered aboard. He took the helm and got us as far as Ismailia, which is 40 miles or halfway up the canal. We left the boat there to visit Cairo and the pyramids. By the way, riding a camel to the pyramids was a big mistake. Get a horse! For the second half of the canal we had a different pilot who got off at Port Said.

As we sailed on to Israel, we dumped our shotgun and all our ammunition overboard. Lucky we did, as the first question the Israelis asked us was whether we had any guns. The Israeli officials didn't stamp our passports, only a separate piece of paper, in case we wanted to visit more Arab countries. We spent a month in Israel exploring everything, including the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and the West Bank. We feared for our safety.

It was an overnight sail to Cyprus, an island with a fascinating history and great ruins. We toured the island by rental car. We subsequently sailed on to Turkey and worked our way west along her coast, discovering castles and ancient theatres, and even an ancient city that's now underwater. We left Blue Banana in Marmaris and returned to California for the winter.

This season we only sailed in the Aegean. There are so many 'stones and bones', aka ruins, and so much history in Turkey and Greece, that even if you're learn-as-you-go historians, like us, you'd be blown away. Where else in the world can you see streets paved with marble and larger than life-size statues of the gods you learned about in the fourth grade? The overriding factor of the whole summer season in this area, however, is the meltemi. This is the northerly wind that blows almost every day from June through late September. It is well forecast but very unpredictable around the islands. One day we sailed to the south tip of an island in light conditions, and planned on going another six miles up the west side to a pretty anchorage. But once around the island, the wind was blowing 30 knots on the nose and the seas were big and short. We could not make it. So we ended up turning left and sailing 50 miles farther with the wind on the beam — with no problem. Other times we found that when it was gusting 30 or more in an anchorage, it was only blowing 15 knots out in open waters, requiring us to undo the double reef in the main.

Where to cruise — Thailand/Malaysia or the Eastern Med — if somebody only had a year or two? It would depend on what a person liked. It's very hot and humid in Southeast Asia, but the sailing is easy, as it's flat water and the winds are usually light. It's cooler in the Eastern Med due to the natural air conditioning of the meltemi, and there's so much to see, but it's a much more challenging sailing venue. If money were a factor, Southeast Asia would definitely be the choice, as it's so much less expensive. With the dollar so weak against the euro, we've been getting killed in the Med. On the other hand, we don't do marinas and we don't dine out much, so those are two potentially huge expenses that we're eliminating. The snorkeling/diving are great in Thailand, while the water is cooler and there is less to see in the Med. The bottom line? How could anyone choose?

— sam & bill 09/15/08

Magnum — Peterson 44
Uwe, Anne and Kara Dobers
Two Years Out
(San Francisco)

It's been a long time since we wrote. You might wonder why; after all, what's there to do on a boat all day long? Since our last correspondence, we've sailed down through the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society Islands, Southern Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji and are now in Vanuatu. Come November we’ll have been out two years, which means we'll no longer be newbies, which means we'll no longer feel guilty about having sundowners most evenings.

We’re still wholly together, in body, at least. And our minds still retain a decent share of equanimity. We’ve lived a lot, learned a lot, cursed occasionally, endured frustrations, met some amazing people and enjoyed some great moments we'll not soon forget. It's safe to conclude we're indeed happy, and other than not being heirs to a huge fortune, have no regrets.

We have taken pleasure in varying degrees from all of the places we have visited. In the Marquesas, we quickly accepted that what the robust, warrior-like collection of islands lacks in white sandy beaches and calm anchorages is more than made up for with dramatic landscapes. I always like to imagine what it is that draws people to a certain place. Maybe for the French painter Gauguin it was the ripe young girls rather than the ripe young coconuts. For Belgian singer Jacques Brel, it may have been the peaceful escape offered by the informal attitude of the locals. Both men have graves in the cemetery at Atuona, Hiva Oa. Marquesans appear proud in a polite sort of way, and are quite unlike their fellow Polynesians farther south. We also found cleanliness to be more important in the Marquesas than in most of the other South Pacific islands.

The low-lying atolls of the Tuamotus are situated between the Marquesas and Tahiti, and couldn’t be in more stark contrast to the Marquesas. The Tuamotus are flat jewels of coral, some of which are surrounded by unbroken circular reefs. The atolls are hopelessly infertile for plants, but have become a big center for cultivating pearls. The Tuamotus may well appear in the tunnel of our deathbed visions, as we fell completely in love with how isolated they are, and how wonderful the blue lagoons are for snorkeling. The three of us spent many days by ourselves, swimming, snorkeling and wandering around under the coconut palms.

We adored the colorful fish of the Tuamotus — except for the one that gave us ciguatera. Actually, it was the fault of an Italian sailor, who, using Pavarotti-like promises, said there was no problem eating the type that got us sick. He'd been eating them all week, and said, "No-ah won a-got a-sick." My mother had always warned me about Italian men, but it took Uwe, a German man, only about half an hour to land his own bright red grouper, cook it, and feed it to his wife and child. The symptomatic results, which took a while to decipher, were most unpleasant and strange: excruciating leg pain, cramps, tingling or numb feet and hands, lethargy, nausea and the other nasty bowel stuff. They stayed with me for about two months! It took another six before I'd eat fish again, and let me tell you, I'm still quite selective. Uwe and Kara, perhaps because of her birdlike appetite, escaped easily enough, experiencing just relatively short-lived reactions. But even now I still experience some numbness after eating certain kinds of fish or drinking beer.

We were a bit disappointed with the Society Islands, and particularly Tahiti, which has always conjured an image of the utopian paradise for me. I had slight expectations of its being a South Pacific meets French Bohemian sort of a place. Instead, I found Papeete to be dull, congested and seedy. A friend from another boat and I went so far as to try investigating where the long white sandy beaches on the brochures might be. We never did find them.

Moorea, however, was pretty, with Opunohu Bay being a decent anchorage with a justifiable beach. Bora Bora was a place we could have skipped. I suppose I was a bit cynical, not merely because I was still sick from ciguatera, but also because we'd just enjoyed the pristine atolls of the Tuamotus. I suppose folks who fly to Bora Bora from a wet and wintry part of the world, and lock themselves up in one of the fancy resorts with the artificial beaches, won’t be disappointed. We found Raiatea much more enjoyable, and Maupiti even more so.

Raiatea has some tourists, but none of the resorts, so you can still feel a bit of authenticity about the place. Marina Apooiti in Raiatea proved to be a great place for Kara to recuperate after her bicycle incident. She managed to stick her feet between the spokes of the turning wheels, which required that we take her to a hospital in Tahiti for treatment. We were told she needed a week in one place to recuperate, and Marina Apooiti proved to be just the spot. Less visited Maupiti is now what Bora Bora was 20 years ago. Residents have pledged that not a single hotel will be built there. While the entrance to the pass looked a bit scary, the anchorage was perfectly fine.

By this time in our cruise, we'd become sick and tired of the soft, airy texture of the white bread found throughout the entire South Pacific. Even the chewy baguettes didn't taste good to us after a while. A bread snob, I decided to work on my bread baking rather than sailing skills. The first few attempts produced something more akin to a slab of plywood, but were nonetheless met with encouragement and praise from Uwe and Kara. Of course, if you layer anything with an inch of Nutella, what 5-year-old would complain? Over time, the experiments took on a measure of success, but it wouldn't be until we reached New Zealand that I perfected the art. You see, good bread is only as good as the flour used to make it. I eventually decided to buy a manual grinder so I could mill my own flour. This method has a two-fold benefit: the resulting bread has more nutrition, and the bread lasts longer. A rumored third benefit is that the smell of freshly baked bread supposedly induces orgasmic feelings in males. Perhaps that benefit should take precedence over the others.

We had a rolly and uncomfortable four-day passage from Maupiti to Rarotonga in the Southern Cook Islands, but the 35-knots of wind got us there quickly. As is commonly known, the harbor in Rarotonga is not the most ideal, and is completely untenable if the wind blows out of the north.

Our next stop was Niue, a five-day passage. Having read so many good reports in Latitude about the island nation, we were excited to visit — and were not disappointed. You can only tie up to offshore mooring balls because there is no harbor, and this was the source of some excitement. With me at the helm, I missed the loop on the mooring ball, and immediately put the boat into reverse. The only problem was that the engine and drive shaft had become disconnected, so I got no reverse. As we slowly drifted toward the reef, we tried to hail a French diving dinghy. The skipper gave us an uncomprehending look, but eventually he took a line and managed to pull us to the next mooring ball. We are grateful to the French people.

Niue is a rare place indeed, with royal blue water that's remarkably clear. We could see almost 120 feet down. The yacht club, run by a friendly Kiwi named Keith, was our introduction to Kiwi-style hospitality. But we did have something strange happen one moonless night while the three of us were asleep on Magnum. Hearing a loud thud, we jumped up to see the glare of the lights of the mega sailing yacht Skylge, which had been anchored behind us but was now slowly moving away. Half asleep, we didn't really know what had happened. We hailed them on VHF, but nobody answered. We persisted, and eventually a female voice answered: "Yes, sorry that we hit you, did we do any . . ." The woman's voice trailed off as a male with an arrogant tone took over. He informed us that they were on a tight schedule, had to leave, and if there was damage we could contact him later.

Unbelievable! We got the boat name but nothing else as they motored off. The next day we examined the damage, which was just some scratched paint. Nevertheless, we were so irked by the captain's behavior that we filed a police report on the island. The officers told us they'd send the information along to Fiji, the boat's next destination. When nothing came of it, I did a Google search and tracked down the name of the boat's insurance carrier in London, explained what had happened and requested information on the captain. They responded immediately with his email address. Over a period of email exchanges, the captain claimed there was nothing he could have done and that he had not seen our boat, and told us to contact him once the damage had been assessed. He remained arrogant throughout. Not wanting to deal with him anymore, we dropped the matter.

By the time we reached Vav’au Tonga, Kara was about to turn five, and we'd been struggling trying to meet up with other boats with kids. We were nervous about how we would celebrate her birthday with no kids around. But the good spirits emerged as we anchored in Port Maurelle, as there were seven boats from different parts of the world, all with children aboard! We organized a party on the beach, ordered a black forest cake made by the eccentric Austrian baker in Neiafu, had our friend Cedric devise a treasure hunt — and the result was a birthday party that Kara will never forget.

[To be continued next month.]

­— anne 09/05/08

Cruise Notes:

Danger never takes a vacation. Max de Rham, a Swiss citizen with a home in Maui, is about as adventurous a 70-year-old as one could imagine. He cruised a catamaran all over the Pacific for years, during which time he made many difficult scuba dives. And during the winters, he was a very ballsy skier. Earlier this year, he took delivery of Kanaloa, the first Gunboat 66 catamaran. The big and powerful cat was meant to be the culmination of his sailing career. Having missed the winter season in the Caribbean because the yard in South Africa hadn't finished the boat in time, de Rham took Kanaloa straight to the Med — which is where tragedy struck. We don't know any of the details, but we're told that de Rham, while snorkeling off Corsica, was struck by a dinghy or a launch. He survived, but lost an arm, and a month later was still in the hospital.

We don't want to scare anyone about to go cruising for the first time, and there is no way anyone can anticipate all dangers that may come their way, but the more you remain fully aware of what's going on around you, the better your chances are of not getting hurt or killed. One of the big dangers faced by cruisers are outboard- powered dinghies/launches/pangas, both those operated by their owners and those operated by others. Outboard-powered dinghies are fun, but they can be as deadly as motorcycles. The biggest dangers faced by dinghy operators are reckless operation when coming in or out through the surf and over bars, operating at high speeds in crowded anchorages, and motoring at night. Operators should always wear the kill switch cord, for if you go overboard, you need to be sure that prop stops immediately — as opposed to slicing you or members of your crew into shark snacks.

The other danger is dinghies/pangas/launches operated by others. If you've been around, you've seen these being operated with complete disregard for safety by Mexican fishermen, megayacht captains, Joe Cool Italian boat boys, drunken cruisers and clueless bareboat charterers all over the world. Over the years, we've had to report on fatal dinghy accidents that happened at Catalina, Punta Mita, St. Thomas, St. Barth and many other places. All of them could have been avoided by halfway intelligent and responsible operation. So always dinghy defensively — meaning being alert for idiots operating at high speeds and/or who think nothing of suddenly appearing from behind large boats. The most dangerous time is at night, for many dinghies/pangas/launches show no light(s), can be almost impossible to see or hear until they are right on you, and in many cases are being operated by drunks or idiots rushing to shore to get drunk. Always have at least a bright white light with you when operating at night, and wave the thing around, making it easier for irresponsible inebriates to see you.

Finally, as the tragic case of Max de Rham proves, you also have to be very careful when swimming or diving. For when you're in the water, you're very hard to see, even by sober and sane operators. Indeed, the day we got the news about de Rham, a diver from a big dive boat was nearly run over at Harbor Reef, Catalina. Some swimmers in the Caribbean have taken to swimming with a small helium balloon tied to their body. The balloon floats a few feet above them, making it easier for them to be seen. It may sound and look a little silly, but if it works, it's smart.

As this issue hits the streets, we're only a month away from the start of the cruising seasons in Mexico and the Caribbean, and based on the 180 paid entries for the Ha-Ha and heavy reservations at marinas all over Mexico, it's going to be a busy one. Here are some of the noteworthy dates and events:

Baja Ha-Ha, October 27-November 8. It's going to be another huge fleet with lots of new sailors to meet on the way from San Diego to Cabo, so get ready to have fun. But never forget, safety and responsibility always come first.

Subasta, late November or early December. Although the date hasn't been posted on the Club Cruceros website yet, this is their big cruiser fundraiser and has been very successful over the years.

Thanksgiving, November 27. There are cruiser Thanksgiving celebrations all over Mexico, but particularly in La Paz, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

Banderas Bay Blast, including Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run, December 3, 4, 5. This is a joint effort of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and the Vallarta YC. It's three days of 'nothing serious' destination racing on Banderas Bay, with socializing each night. The Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run is for charity. There is no entry fee!

Vallarta YC Chili Cook-off, December 6. It all happens at the Vallarta YC at Paradise Marina, and is the big P.V. cruiser fundraiser for charity.

Christmas, December 25. A natural cruiser get-together, usually with new cruising friends, all over Mexico. It's often the first big cruiser social event of the year in places like Tenacatita Bay, Barra, and Zihuatanejo.

Zihua SailFest, February 3-8. One of the biggest and most successful cruiser charities in Mexico, this one helps the local schools, especially schools for indigenous kids. There are fun social events and a pursuit race.

Banderas Bay Regatta, March 17-21. The most organized of the 'nothing-serious' cruiser regattas in Mexico is organized by the Vallarta YC and sailed out of Paradise Marina. There could hardly be a better venue for cruiser racing, as the winds are moderate, the seas flat, and the facilities fantastic. All this and no entry fee.

Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, April 1-6. We revived this La Paz and out-at-the-islands event last year, and it was a smash, with 30 enthusiastic entries. So let's do it again. There is no entry fee!

Loreto Fest, May 1-3. A largely cruiser and landlubber music fest, with lots of sailors participating. Held at Puerto Escondido. There is no entry fee, and all proceeds go to local school programs.

If you're going to be in the Caribbean instead of Mexico, don't worry, there are plenty of events for you also. In fact, there are so many we can't even begin to list them all, but here are some of the bigger ones:

St. Barth Around The Island Regatta, New Year's Eve. Some of the greatest and largest yachts in the world participate in this 22-miler, which is technically a 'parade', and the boats are sometimes looking for crew. Smaller yachts do it, too. In fact, last year Jimmy Buffett endured up to 30 knots of wind on the nose in full tradewind conditions with his 30-ft Groovy — and still managed to sing and play guitar with the band until 3 a.m. No entry fee, but lots of free champagne and canapes.

Carnival, February 23-24. This one happens all over the Caribbean. Trinidad has the big one, but it can be a little dangerous in Port of Spain if you end up in the wrong part of town. Some of the much smaller Carnival celebrations are even more fun, and there's no reason why you can't be a part of it.

Heineken St. Martin Regatta, March 5-7. Now in its 29th year, it will feature excellent racing off St. Martin for more than 200 for world class racers, local boats, charter boats, and beach cats. Got a week? Do three days of racing at St. Martin, then head 15 miles over to St. Barth for four days of recovery.

B.V.I. Spring Regatta, March 30 - April 5. This is the big one in the British Virgins, and charter boats are encouraged to participate. It's not just racing, but lots of other fun, games and social events, too.

Antigua Classic Regatta, April 16-21. This is nothing less than the world's greatest classic yacht regatta. Crew positions are often available, so look sharp.

Antigua Sailing Week, April 26 - May 3. This is the one that started all the fun in the Caribbean, and it's still going strong after more than 30 years. Over 200 boats, with everything from world class yachts to local boats to charter boats. Discounts at the Betty Ford Clinic for all participants after the regatta.

Early in September, Australian officials reported that up to 21 planes were searching the coast off Queensland, Australia, for the Morgan Out-Island 41 Blessed Be. The yacht had been purchased in Tahiti earlier this year by Aussie businessman Bruce Glasson of New South Wales, who had been a passionate sailor for more than 40 years. Crewing for him was Graeme Woodhouse, also of New South Wales, who had retired as a Qantas 747 pilot only in July. Not only were these guys seasoned and competent sailors, the boat was equipped with an EPIRB, liferaft and satphone. Blessed Be had arrived safely in New Caledonia, and as late as August 23 called their families to report everything was fine. It's a real puzzler. If the name Blessed Be rings any bells, it's because she was previously owned by Jessica Stone of Seattle. In the spring of '06, Puddle Jumpers Stone and crew Mike Irvine were just 10 miles from Hiva Oa in the Marquesas when the mast folded over during a 3 a.m. squall.

There's better news to report in the case of Ron and Linda Caywood of Portland, who for many years cruised their 30-ft Catalac catamaran Spindrift in Mexico before having her trucked to the East Coast and sailing to the Caribbean. We were contacted by Al Cannon of Li'l Chickadee of Luperon, Dominican Republic, who reported that the Caywoods had left there August 31 bound for the Caicos Islands and, ultimately, Georgetown in the Bahamas. Cannon reported that the Caywoods may have headed right into the path of hurricane Hanna, and since none of their friends had heard from them, and nobody could find them on the cruising nets, there was widespread concern that the Caywoods might have been lost. The good news is that the Coast Guard eventually discovered that the couple were safe and sound in Tampa, Florida. So good on them — and Cannon and all the others for caring about fellow cruisers.

"Those who know me understand that when I'm passionate about something, I jump in with both feet," writes Dick Drechsler of the Long Beach-based Catalina 470 Last Resort. "While in San Francisco on our way from Southern California to Alaska, Sharon and I stopped in San Francisco, where we realized that we needed some kind of personal transportation. After searching for a solution for several weeks, I finally discovered the Go-Ped® electric scooter. Having now used it extensively for almost six months on our cruise to Alaska, I can attest to the fact that it's everything it's advertised to be — and more. What's really put me over the top is that the company announced the introduction of new lithium-ion battery technology that extends the range on a single charge up to 28 miles! For details, visit As for Sharon and me, our wonderful season in Alaska is over, and we'll be wintering over in Sidney, British Columbia."

Kirk McGeorge, who has just begun his second long cruise with his wife Catherine and son Stuart aboard their St. Thomas-based Hylas 49 Gallivanter, has some bad news from a part of the cruising world where bad news has been all too common. "A French catamaran skipper was shot dead during an attack aboard his boat on the night of September 14 while anchored outside Marina de Caraballeda, which is between La Guaira and Cabo Codera, Venezuela. El Universal, the big Caracas newspaper, reported that four robbers attacked French yacht Chrisalide, having gotten to her using a pirogue. In the course of resisting the attack, skipper Philip Armand Leudiere, 61, was shot in the head several times. Catherine Marie Therese de Leudiere, Philip's wife, was held captive until the robbers had finished their looting. The robbers took an undisclosed quantity of money and equipment. The pirogue driver apparently got scared upon hearing the shots, and fled, leaving the robbers/murderers to swim to shore. Mme. de Leudiere alerted police by firing a red flare after the robbers had left. This is not the first robbery or attack on a boat near Marina de Caraballeda, which is home to frequent petty theft from boats, and where cruising crews have occasionally been injured during robberies. But this was the first cruiser killed. Alfredo Penso of Irie, currently waiting for repairs to be finished to his yacht in Marina de Caraballeda, advises the following; "Never, under any circumstances, anchor in the bay of Marina de Caraballeda for overnight stays. Please call VHF channel 16 to speak with the Marina Commodore or his assistant and ask for help in anchoring. They will probably assign you a slip, or even allow you to anchor inside the marina where they have security personnel." Marina de Caraballeda is state-owned and for public use, but it was officially closed for repairs due to the damage suffered during the '99 landslides. Nonetheless, a lot of boats remain in the marina waiting for work to be finished."

The disturbing part of this tragedy is that most of the previous violence against cruisers had occurred on the northeast coast of Venezuela, while this murder took place just down the hill from Caracas. Given the history of violence toward cruisers on the Venezuelan mainland — it's as bad as anywhere that we can think of in the world — we can't imagine why anyone would want to cruise there.

"We have sold our truck and have gone out of the business of trucking boats from Mexico back to the States," Kiki Grossman, Manager of Marina Seca, San Carlos, told Latitude in a telephone interview on September 11. Marina Seca was the only 'truck your boat back from Mexico' game in town. For an average of about $2,300, they would haul out boats to 50 feet, remove the mast, truck the boat and mast to Tucson, and transfer them to the truck and trailer of an American carrier. They've been shipping about 80 boats a year to Tucson, almost all of them in the spring. So what went wrong? "Getting across the border became a real pain," explained Grossman. "U.S. Customs suddenly started to require much more of our driver, and was basically looking for ways to make life hard for us. For example, they started to demand proof that duty had been paid on foreign-built boats, something they don't do if boats are sailed back. In several cases, boatowners had to pay duty a second time. And with just one truck and one driver, and all the deliveries being wanted during just three months of the year, it no longer made business sense to offer the service. As a result, we sold our truck. We did keep the trailer, however, and there is a possibility we'll be able to offer the service again sometime in the future using a third party trucking company."

In other Marina Seca news, five multihulls were damaged after heavy rainfall in late August caused the cinderblock wall of an adjacent school to fall onto the hauled out boats. The school maintains it is not responsible for its unsupported wall's tumbling onto the boats.

The many cruising friends of Terry Bingham, owner of the much travelled Seattle-based Union 36 Secret O' Life, were shocked to learn that he passed away in late October in a Bolivian hospital as a result of acute pancreatitis. Bingham and Tammy Woodmansee, his partner of 13 years, had been cruising the west coast of Central and South America for the past few years, and had made it as far south as Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. They would occasionally leave the boat to travel inland, and were on such an adventure in La Paz, Bolivia, when Terry began to experience debilitating stomach pains. After normal treatment didn't help, surgery was performed, revealing that he was also suffering from sepsis, a severe blood infection. Treated with antibiotics, he seemed to be recovering when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Bingham was extremely well liked in the cruising community and will be greatly missed.

What's it like trying to bring boat gear across the U.S./Mexican border by car? Bob Black, who will be doing the Ha-Ha aboard his Bodega Bay-based Newport 33 Lapdancer, tells us he made six round-trips to southern Baja this year to help a friend furnish his house on the East Cape. On each trip down, his vehicle was loaded with household stuff, and on one occasion, two motorcycles — all of which would seem to be subject to import duty. But Black tells us he wasn't assessed anything at all. This doesn't mean that you won't have to pay import duty on boat gear you drive across the border, just that the chances you will don't seem to be very great. Mind you, a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for your boat might help. But then it might not; you just don't know how Mexican officials are going to react. Anybody else want to share experiences driving — or flying — boat gear into Mexico?

They travelled halfway around the world to find the boat they wanted. "We're Robert and Deborah Parker of San Diego, and are currently in Aruba with Gioconda, our Grand Soleil 52. She's an Italian-built boat, and because she was designed by German Frers, is sometimes referred to as a 'Spaghetti Swan'. We identified the model as the one we wanted, and it turned out we had to travel all the way to Italy to find one! We left San Diego for Rome in January of '07, and after a sea trial, purchased her. Two months later we sailed across the Atlantic to Trinidad. For a number of reasons we've delayed our return to San Diego, but we'll be leaving Aruba for the Canal and California very soon.

Earlier in Cruise Notes, we listed some of the big upcoming events in Mexico and the Caribbean. What, you might wonder, about in Southeast Asia? The two big 'regular sailor' events there are the Raja Muda Cup, which starts in Port Klang, Malaysia, and runs from November 16-24. The event is hosted by Regatta Patron High Royal Highness the Sultan of Selangor, and includes two overnight races and day racing. The other is the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, with day racing only, in Thailand. The dates are November 29 - December 6.

Doug and Sara know what it's all about! When Andrew Vik — see the Geja Changes earlier in this section — arrived in Pisa, Italy, in June to see the Islander 36 he'd bought sight unseen six months before, this is what he remembers: "Geja is certainly not the prettiest girl at the prom, and is quite possibly the opposite. After seven months of her being sealed up on the hard, my first look at Geja, a very jet-lagged first look, was that I faced an overwhelming task. She was going to take lots of organizing and cleaning to bring her to a cruise-ready state. And her interior and exterior were so cluttered with cruising equipment that I could hardly climb inside. But as luck would have it, the tiny Arnovecchio Marina was then also home to another U.S.-flagged boat, the beautifully maintained 41-ft Mindemoya, owned by retirees Doug and Sara of Traverse City, Michigan. Within minutes of my arrival, they extended a dinner invitation to me, and a short time later offered to let me sleep in their very clean and comfortable boat. As the week wore on, Doug and Sara invited me to every meal, and continued to house me in their 'living room'. In addition, they either lent or gave me needed tools and supplies, as well as lots of helpful advice."

And we bet the couple had a blast being such a help to Vik, too.

Last month we reported that the berthing situation in the La Paz area was going to be quite tight for the upcoming season. Paradise Marina Harbormaster Dick Markie, who came to Alameda for the Ha-Ha Crew List Party, says things are going to be tight at his marina at Nuevo Vallarta on Banderas Bay, too. "The economy doesn't seem to be affecting our business at all. In fact, we're already ahead of last year's bookings. We've done some major expansion to accommodate our megayacht clients, but it will not affect any of our regular customers."

If it seems as if the number of megayachts doesn't stop surging, that's because it hasn't. Defined as yachts over 100 feet, 87 megayachts were delivered in '98. Last year 257 of them were delivered, and the average size was much larger. Experts believe that 90,000 people can afford megayachts, but currently there are only 3,500 of them, so despite the crumbling world economies, this market — particularly at the upper end — has remained very strong. About 80% of the megayachts being built are power, but the percentage of new build mega sailing yachts has increased in the last year or so. Experts say it actually has something to do with it now costing about $160,000 in fuel to bring a large motoryacht across the Atlantic.

The good news on Banderas Bay, where two years ago you couldn't get a berth to save your life, is that the number of slips has increased dramatically. The big addition has been the Nayarit Riviera Marina over in La Cruz, which has room for more than 400 boats. The even better news is that the slip fees will be lower than last year. For example, on a monthly basis, it's 65 cents/foot/night for boats between 30 and 49 feet. If our math is correct, that's about $750 a month for a 40-footer. We're also told that the fuel dock and boatyard will open by the time the first cruising boats arrive in November. In addition, Marina Nuevo Vallarta is being entirely rebuilt, with hundreds of slips. However, only the slips over 80 feet will be ready by the end of the year, with the smaller ones not expected to be available until April or May of next year.

After two years of cruising in Mexico, Central America and French Polynesia, Jennifer Sanders, daughter Coco and Capt. Greg King of the Long Beach-based 65-ft schooner Coco Kai have arrived in Hawaii. We'll have a more in-depth report next month, but here are the things they were most looking forward to back in the "ol' English-speaking U.S.A." for the following things 'civilization' has to offer: "steak burritos, crunchy rolls, burger/fries, mixed green salads — and being able to buy ready made things like bread and tortillas. "We enjoy the pioneer life-style," the three write, "but it will be nice to be able to go to the grocery store and just buy the stuff for a change!"

A Bermuda Triangle in the South Pacific for cruising boats? Earlier in Cruise Notes we reported that the Morgan Out-Island 41 Blessed Be had gone missing between New Caledonia and Queensland, Australia, despite being well equipped and being crewed by two capable sailors. In July, 75-year-old German Eric Pohlmann was headed from New Zealand to New Caledonia aboard his 32-ft sloop Motu, but never showed up. A month later, his boat was found drifting, but nobody was aboard. Last year a Kiwi-crewed yacht washed up on Rarotonga some two years after she'd gone missing. The message "Help 2 p.o.b." was painted on the barnacle encrusted hull, but there was no sign of the crew. And finally, in '06, a catamaran was found northeast of New Zealand, with the sails set and table laid, but no sign of the six crew. What happened remains a mystery. To keep this all in context, there are several thousands of boats cruising in the South Pacific.

If you're going cruising, or maybe just crewing on the Ha-Ha, you're going to want to take a digital camera. The good news is that there are so many great, inexpensive point 'n shoot cameras on the market that it's hard to go wrong with any recent model. The new cameras come with many millions of pixels, as much as 10 times optical zoom, and in some cases are both shock- and waterproof. For most sailors, the wider the angle zoom, the more useful the camera. A long telephoto sounds great, but isn't that useful. We shoot with both a point 'n shoot camera and a bigger SLR-type Nikon digital camera with interchangeable lenses. The SLR types are much less convenient to carry, but they offer two big advantages. First, they have no discernible shutter lag. Second, they do a much better job on panoramic shots. And why not, as you can't expect a tiny lens on a point 'n shoot to compete with the much larger and complicated lenses on SLRs. Nonetheless, for most cruisers the much less expensive and much more convenient point 'n shoots are the way to go.

Missing the pictures? See our October 2008 eBook!


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