With reports this month from
Pacific Wind on coming south from
the Northwest; from Swell on nasty
boat jobs in Costa Rica; from Sea Bear
on heading from Maine to the Caribbean; from Cadence
on a cat buy-back in the Philippines; from Witch
of Endor on the loss of Viva! and new boats for Steve
and Bob; and Cruise Notes.
Wind - Sceptre 43
Steve & Lori Dana
South From Canada
After two years of occasional cruising in the Gulf and San Juan
Islands and around Vancouver, we departed Vancouver in late September
for our boat's temporary new home in Sausalito. Fortunately,
we talked J.T. Meade, our friend and mentor from the Modern Sailing
Academy, and Barry Ruff, who currently works for Sceptre Yachts,
and who has lots of offshore experience, to accompany us. In
addition to teaching us a lot about offshore sailing, they were
When planning a trip south from the Pacific Northwest, it's always
a trade-off between sailing well offshore or 'stealing bases'
by harbor-hopping down the coast. Most mariners prefer staying
close to shore and harbors of refuge when northbound against
the prevailing weather, while some southbounders prefer the more
direct offshore route, which has less fog and traffic, but has
a greater possibility of stronger winds and bigger seas.
Thanks to the National Weather Service predicting hazardous sea
conditions, along with great routing recommendations from Commander's
Weather, we delayed our start from Neah Bay by a day before jumping
off for Cape Flattery. And as it would turn out, we ended up
motoring more than we would have liked in order to outrun some
Finding ourselves temporarily weatherbound in Eureka, we took
a cab to a lecture and slideshow by J. Michael Fay and Michael
Nichols at Humbolt State University. The former is a National
Geographic 'Explorer-In-Residence', while the latter is a
National Geographic photographer. The presentation was
of a 2,000-mile "mega-transect" they did of Central
Africa. Thanks to their efforts, over a dozen national parks
have been created in three different countries. Their land experience
was such a counterpoint to our ocean passage.
After the presentation, we did a little exploring ourselves -
of Eureka's rejuvenated waterfront district, which now features
excellent restaurants such as Hurricane Kate's and Avalon, and
some good bars. It turns out that Eureka is a fantastic place
to stop before tackling Cape Mendocino, one of the most unpredictable
spots along the coast.
Because of thick fog, we had to rely on radar to navigate from
Bodega Head south to just before the Golden Gate Bridge. The
fog lifted just as we approached the Gate. The end of our 10-day
trip was an emotional moment for us, as it confirmed the end
of our great cruising in the Pacific Northwest. On the other
hand, it was a gateway moment to our sailing in warmer climes.
For this year we'll be doing the Baja
Ha-Ha aboard John and Christine Graff's Valiant 42 Itsabout.
And next fall, we'll be using the Ha-Ha as the start of our seven-month
sabbatical to the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico. Thanks to
a chance meeting with the Grand Poobah in a sushi restaurant,
we've already been assured that Pacific Wind will be entry
#1 in the '07 Ha-Ha.
- steve & lori 10/01/06
Readers - The Danas are correct. As
long as they confirm their Ha-Ha entry just prior to May of next
year, they will be #1 on the Ha-Ha XIV list. Anybody looking
to be entry number two will have to figure out what sushi restaurant
the Poobah frequents.
Swell - Cal 40
Dad Comes To The Rescue
Ahhhh, Puntarenas, the lovely city by the sea. It's tucked midway
up the armpit of Costa Rica's Gulf of Nicoya, and has a lot in
common with an armpit - it's always sweaty and hot, and there
is usually a pungent aroma. Puntarenas sits on a 50-yard wide
spit of land, with a river on one side and the gulf on the other.
The Costa Rica YC, where I left my boat for the rainy season,
is up the river about three miles inland from the end of the
peninsula. The restaurant and facilities are on one side of the
river, and the boatyard is on the other. Between them float a
variety of moorings and detached docks.
The town itself has a rough edge - more 60 grit than 120 grit.
It's a bustling conglomeration of ferreterias (hardware stores),
street vendors, seafood wholesalers, and an odd amount of both
shoe stores and bars for locals. The only reason tourists come
here is for the ferry that shuttles cars to and from the Nicoya
Peninsula. I've been here long enough to know my way around town,
and I have a favorite hardware store and a favorite lunch stop.
Other than not being able to swim off my boat - the river is
horribly polluted - and the bus drivers who often blatantly refuse
to stop and pick me up, this place has actually grown on me.
It's not the paradise people think of when they picture Costa
Rica, but there's something raw I like about it. I watch the
fishermen go in and out on the river in all sorts of strangely
concocted vessels. The same people work at the marina every day.
I love everyone here except for one sour receptionist and Carlos
Chinchilla, the manager. Nonetheless, I've had my ups and downs
here during the last month.
"Dad?" I said over the phone, straining to hold back
my tears. His voice alone made me feel better. "I'm doing
all right," I lied.
"I'm coming down," he said.
"What?" I couldn't have heard him correctly.
"I'll be there Wednesday night," he repeated firmly.
"I already booked my ticket."
With those words, relief hit me like a wall of whitewater on
a poorly timed duck dive. I was overwhelmed with projects. At
the rate I was going, I'd soon have to apply for residency in
Costa Rica. The thought that my dad would arrive in a few days
revived me, and the next morning I hit the boatyard again with
Dad showed up late on August 30th, having earlier driven to three
West Marine stores in Georgia, and having endured an extra hour
of dead-stopped traffic on the long taxi ride from the airport.
When he walked through the door of the hotel room, I leapt into
his arms with joy and relief that he'd made it safely.
For the next six days we worked like dogs. The combination of
our personalities produces an efficient, yet quality product.
He leaps into projects with speed and confidence, while I more
cautiously calculate and fuss about details. We scribed and taped
the new waterline, painted the first turquoise stripe, then a
blue stripe, and then rolled two thick coats of bottom paint
on Swell's underside. We came up with a more than sufficient
temporary solution to the icebox insulation, and managed to fix
the copper lightning plate to the hull. The work was grueling,
dirty and hot, but dad never complained. Even when both our shirts
were soaked through with sweat and the no-see-ums were swarming,
he'd beam me a grin from his paint-stained face. We'd return
to our hotel room each afternoon looking like two rescued coal
Dad was totally content at the Costa Rica YC, although I felt
guilty that Puntarenas was all he'd see of Costa Rica. It was
more time than we had spent together in as long as I can remember
- precious time that we never seemed to find back in the States.
He told me stories of his childhood, and we shared our thoughts
on the state of the world, love and life. As we watched Swell
descend into the water on the day before he left, I felt we'd
accomplished as much on the boat as we had in our relationship.
If it wasn't for him, I'd probably still be sitting under Swell
in the boatyard, contemplating whether or not to drill that hole
for the lightning plate. I cried the morning he left, but they
were happy tears. It was a week I'd remember forever. Thank you,
With Swell floating again, there was no reason not to
move back aboard. By the mess strewn about the cabin, it looked
like I'd just survived a hurricane. Nonetheless, I was eager
to sleep in my cozy berth up forward, so I ignored the explosion
of gear and focused on clearing an area to sleep on. I hauled
my board bag and the sails out, and dragged the cushions in.
As I WWF-ed the awkward foam into place, I saw a flurry of ants
run up the bulkhead! There were too many to ignore, so I yanked
the cushions back out again, and crawled up to investigate.
An uneasy feeling came over me as I stuck my finger in the hole
to lift the hatch of the storage area below the berth. The moment
I did, ants of all sizes rushed out in a terrified dash around
me and the cabin! Along with them came the fierce odor of rotten
food, like the smell of a dumpster behind a restaurant. The ants
and the odor closed in around me, and I rose up on all fours
like a frightened cat. Water had leaked into the lockers and
rusted out the cans of emergency food stored there. The ants
had discovered the feast, and had thrown a raging ant party.
After digesting the idea that I would be back in the hotel that
night, I donned some latex gloves and went to work removing the
contents of the lockers. I held my breath while pulling out can
after rusty can of soup, beans, peaches, corn, tuna, and peas,
and tossed their decaying, half-eaten contents into a trash bag.
After systematically removing load after load the awful smelling
stuff, I scrubbed out the lockers with bleach and Comet, and
left the area to air out for the night.
The stench lingered the next morning. I was not about to let
the odor become permanent crew, so my next line of defense would
be paint. I had to remove the holding tank in order to access
the entire area that had been contaminated. The holding tank
stores raw sewage when in an anchorage or marina, where you don't
want to flush sewage straight into the water around you. I'd
been meaning to clean the tank out anyway, as the previous owner
had sold me the boat with a surprise bonus - 45 gallons of his
very own sewage in the holding tank.
The hole where the tank emptied was a flawed design. Being three
inches up from the bottom of the tank, it made it impossible
to ever thoroughly remove the bottom three inches of sewage.
I disconnected the hoses leading to and from the tank, but then
realized that I couldn't remove it without the bottom three inches
of poowater spilling out. So, I dug out my hand-pump and a bucket.
I extracted that last three inches pump by awful pump. At one
point the hose flew off the pump and sprayed poowater all over
me and the floor. It was not pretty, nor was I at the end of
that day. But I succeeded in emptying the tank and laying a fresh
coat of primer in each of the forward lockers. Three days later,
after the second coat of paint had dried, I had sealed the holes
where I believed the water was sneaking in, thoroughly flushed
the holding tank, fastened the wooden cleat back in place, and
repacked the lockers - minus 50 or so pounds of canned food.
Ants wandered throughout the boat, diligently searching out supplies
and a place for their next party.
Having tackled that beast of a project, I needed to surf. Jean
Luc, a friend from another boat in the marina, was nice enough
to let me use his car. So after stalling a dozen or so times
- the old beast died every time the rpms dropped to an idle -
I pulled onto the main road and was off and running towards Boca
Barranca. When I showed up, the waves were barely shoulder high.
A sloppy chop bounced across the milky brown water. A couple
local kids rode up on bikes and we started talking.
"Es mejor allí," the taller kid said, pointing
south across the bay.
"Sí?" I responded, "Quieren ir?"
Without hesitation, they stashed their bikes and loaded their
boards. I knew where we were headed, as I'd surfed there a few
years before, but the local boys would be good company and give
me allies against thieves and creeps. So we drove around the
bay, laughing every time the car died, and exchanging names,
ages, and stories. Jerry, 20, had a tall and lanky frame. What
he lacked in girth he made up for in hair. The bushy puffs of
his curly afro held the backwards hat high on his head. Weiner,
freshly 17, was just a little taller than me, with broad shoulders
and a wiry build. They were your typical surf rats, so we had
plenty to discuss about the local waves and conditions.
I caught my first glimpse of the spot as we crawled up a chainlink
fence to shortcut the walk to the beach. It was twice the size
of Barranca and sheltered from the wind. A small crowd sat where
the swell bounced off the jetty and wedged into a hollow right
peak. I hadn't surfed much in over a month, nor could I even
swim at the marina, so despite floating trash and the muddy color,
the water felt like a baptism. After a few chunky drops, I was
back in my groove.
Jerry paddled over and explained that there was going to be a
local contest that afternoon. About an hour into our session,
a group of older surfers arrived with a cooler of Imperials,
an airhorn, and a stack of colored rashguards. They called me
out of the water and handed me the pink jersey. Honored at the
invitation, I surfed two 20-minute heats against the local boys.
In the second round, everyone was on the inside when a set wedged
up in front of me. I swung around, got in early, and stalled.
The lip fell over me and I pumped toward the light at the end.
I didn't make it out, but it was enough to earn the respect of
the group on the jetty. Afterwards, we toasted with icy cold
Imperials under the pastel swirls of the cloudy evening sky.
Until one persistent guy repeated an invitation to dinner that
I'd tried to ignore in the water, I almost forgot that I was
the only girl among the group of 15-20 surfers. I politely, but
firmly declined. Jerry and Weiner both shot him a glare at once.
When I made it back to the marina, I returned Jean Luc's keys
and excitedly launched into the story of my afternoon. Midway
through my rambling, I lost my balance in a wave of dizziness.
My stomach suddenly rose into my throat, my limbs tingled, and
a cold sweat beaded on my forehead and neck. I rushed up the
steps and just got to the boat's rail in time to projectile vomit
off the side and onto the dock. Shocked, I hosed off the dock
in the twilight and apologized to Jean Luc.
I thought back on the day, and realized that in my rush to go
surfing I'd only eaten a few crackers with peanut butter and
a banana. What could possibly have made me so sick? Before I
knew it, the feeling came again, and I was curled over the wooden
rail of the dock in the pouring rain. Jean Luc was brave enough
to offer me his raincoat for the trip back to Swell. I
made my way through the obstacle course in the cabin with a bucket,
and collapsed in a heap on the berth. Every 10 minutes for the
next few hours, my body would convulse, and I'd violently purge
a dribble of green bile into the bucket. When I thought there
was no way anything could be left inside me, the ferocious sickness
had me hunched over the edge, white-knuckling the pillow again.
Aside from thinking I was going to die, the extreme low tide
left Swell leaning over in the mud, so for the second
half of the night I slept on the wall of the forepeak.
When my eyes cracked open the next day, the sun blazed high in
the sky. I mustered the energy to lift my weak, sweaty body from
the berth, and teetered outside for some fresh air. I squinted
into the brightness of midday and sipped some water. Jean Luc
appeared in his dinghy to see how I was feeling.
"So, you drank from a plastic bag yesterday," he said
with his thick French accent.
"What?" I winced, confused and not quite ready for
"Did you drink something from a bag yesterday?" he
repeated more softly, after observing my fragile condition. "I
found an empty bag in the car." I then remembered the bags
of cold coconut milk that Jerry had brought out when they'd stashed
their bikes. I'd slurped mine down and thought nothing of it.
"I think that's why you got sick. You never know if the
people wash their hands or what when they prepare those,"
he said. Somehow I felt better for having an idea of where I
may have contracted the nasty bug. No matter how thirsty, I have
been quick to pass on the cold bags of liquid ever since.
It took me a whole day to recover, but soon I was cracking away
again at turning Swell back into a home. The day before
my dad left, we'd turned on the refrigeration system to hear
the compressor make a feeble groan and then die. After a series
of troubleshooting steps and long-distance calls to technical
support, the folks at Glacier Bay insisted upon sending me a
new unit immediately. Despite their timely shipment of the package,
'immediately' in Central America is a grey term, so once again
I conceded that Swell wouldn't be leaving Puntarenas for
Getting the compressor was an ordeal I'll have to explain next
- liz 09/06/06
Sea Bear - Wittholtz 37
Pete Passano And Marina
Heading Back To The Caribbean
(Northern California / Maine)
Think life has to be dull and predictable after you turn 70?
Then you're not like 76-year-old Pete Passano, who along with
Bob van Blaricom, built his Wittholtz 37-ft Sea Bear in
the creek behind the San Rafael Civic Center back in the '90s.
Following the completion of the boat, Passano sailed the Southern
Ocean from New Zealand to Cape Horn, crossed the Atlantic nine
times in eight years, and has cruised up and down the Caribbean,
and as far north as Ireland and Newfoundland. So what do he and
his sweetheart Marina have planned for this winter?
"After 16 months on the beach, listening to the daily horror
in Iraq and the pathetic drivel coming out of Washington, Marina
and I are itching to get to sea again. At least Neptune tells
it like it is. We expect the peace and tranquility will be a
refreshing and welcome change. We are departing tomorrow from
Wiscasset, Maine, heading for the Caribbean. We're not going
down the coast this time, but heading straight in the general
direction of Bermuda, and then on down to somewhere in the Windward
or Leeward Island chain. We're undecided where we're going
to stop, but we'll have plenty of time to make that decision.
You will hear from us again when we make landfall, but it could
be as long as three or four weeks. Sea Bear is ready,
too. A set of new diesel injectors has Tu Lung Bang running with
new enthusiasm. All other systems have been carefully gone over,
and are ready for sea. About three days out, we'll be celebrating
Sea Bear's odometer turning 100,000 miles."
Cadence - Apache 40 Cat
Subic Bay, Philippines
Having a little bit of money and not a lot of time, I retired
this year, got a mohawk haircut, and returned to the sea again.
The first and only time I'd written Latitude - until last
month - was 12 years ago on a passage from New Zealand to Vanuatu.
The topic covered was a midwatch discussion about why seagulls
have such nasty dispositions and the reasons why that Last Supper
would have been a difficult photo op.
Anyway, last month's report came a little bit out of the blue,
so I'd like to provide some historical context and offer a report
on what I've been up to since. Shortly after writing to Latitude
12 years ago, I ran out of money and put my cat up for sale.
When I finally sold Cadence to a friend in Guam in '95,
I had about $50 to my name. Fortunately, I was able to return
to a job I had had in an offshore oil business belonging to a
certain king of a Middle Eastern country. I won't mention any
names, but he was as goofy-eyed as Marty Feldman, and his image
appears on every bit of currency and postage stamp in that country,
and on that national television every night. Perhaps these aren't
very good hints, as they could also apply to three or four other
kings of Middle Eastern countries.
I kept in contact with the owner in the intervening years, and
he kept sending Christmas photos of the boat in exotic places.
As both our circumstances changed, I made an offer to buy the
cat back, and it was accepted. As a result, the former owner,
along with my family and me, sailed from Japan to Guam in November
of last year. The former owner and I then signed the transfer
of ownership papers at the same table at the Marianas YC that
we'd used on my previous 'happiest day'. I'm not sure, but I
think my friend was down to about his last $50 before the sale.
Is there a pattern here?
I'm guessing that there were probably 40 or 50 Apache catamarans
built in England in between '72 and '75. They are a larger version
of the more popular Iroquois 30, one of the earliest production
cruising cats ever built. Both models are simple, strong boats
with strikingly beautiful lines. And like most multihulls, they
are sea-kindly and safe if not overloaded.
We departed Guam in February for the Philippines by way of Ulithi
Atoll and Palau. We found Palau to be a paradise with lots of
challenges. Like most of the smaller Pacific islands, it is being
threatened by development, overfishing and pollution, but politically
it doesn't seem to have a steady hand at the wheel. Some years
ago, the country's official policies explicitly discouraged cruising
boats through high entrance fees and duties. That has changed.
Although the ship of state still seems to lack direction, yachties
are now appreciated as a form of low-impact, high-dollar tourism.
As for the islands themselves, picture an aquarium that is 30
feet deep, 50 miles long, and 20 miles wide - complete with the
treasure chest and sunken ship bubblers. Then add monkeys, World
War II wreckage, pot farms, jellyfish that don't sting, and impossibly
perfect islands for gunkholing. That's Palau.
The cruiser hangout is Sam's Dive Tours, which is located on
the waterfront. When we dinghied in, one of the skippers was
demonstrating the proper technique for drinking tequila. A rather
Rubenesque lady divemaster had volunteered, and was lying on
her back on the bar with a shot of tequila in her navel, a slice
of lime in her teeth, and a pinch of salt in the nape of her
neck. I don't remember how the evening ended.
Thirty-two years of neglect and deferred maintenance for Cadence
pushed us on to the Philippines to seek out a yard in which to
do a major refit. We looked at several marinas and yards, including
Nigel's place at Bonbonon, which is the typhoon hole at the south
end of Negros Island. It was very nice, but a little too remote.
The yard at Mariveles was too industrial, and the one at Mayamaya
was nice but too expensive. We finally hove to at Watercraft
Ventures at Subic Bay at the end of April.
Watercraft is a modest yard on the site of what used to be the
massive U.S. Navy base. Watercraft has the standard 20-foot-wide
Travel-Lift, lots of space, and very reasonable prices. It's
funky in a nice way, meaning it's not so clean that you can't
find a stirring stick or an odd piece of wood, and there's a
derelict boat or two to give it character. In addition, the folks
are friendly, relaxed and helpful, and security - always a concern
- seems to be adequate. The sari-sari store out front sells cold
beer for 50 cents, and it has a karaoke machine outside under
a nipa hut. At quitting time on Friday afternoons, it takes 45
minutes and three beers to walk from the gate to my boat. I like
We assumed that a three-month project would take twice that,
so at this point we're right on schedule. The first thing we
did was open up the blisters on the hull and rebuild the rudders.
When the rains started in June, we moved to the interior.
It rained and rained and flooded through July and into August.
These were torrential rains that lasted for hours, and came down
like the hardest bathroom shower you've ever taken. The rain
brought down trees, knocked out the power, and flooded streets
- all of which is normal for the Philippines during rainy season.
Then, on August 28, it seemed as though someone turned the faucet
off and it's been mostly sunny ever since. The locals, however,
don't think the rain is over, but rather that we've having an
Indian summer kind of interlude. Just the same, work is continuing
feverishly on Cadence.
If anyone is considering having boat work done here, I would
like to advise them of a few peculiarities of the place. First,
there is widespread poverty. Subic was a prosperous place until
the U.S. Navy pulled out in '94. The circumstances of the departure
of the largest employer in the country at the time are still
being debated in the newspapers. "Sovereignty? You can't
eat sovereignty", is a typical line of argument. Subic Bay
now has a threadbare look to it, as the bright neon lights of
the discos and bars on Magsaysay Street have long since been
turned into storefront dental offices, seedy internet cafes,
and headquarters for evangelical groups of various persuasions.
There also seems to be a market for recycled inkjet cartridges
and massage therapy. The Economist magazine uses the 'Big
Mac Index' as a measure of a country's economy. Here a Big Mac
- not including the Meal Deal - costs about $1.30 U.S. By constrast,
it would be $5.80 U.S. in neighboring Japan.
Epoxy resin, fiberglass cloth, fillers, bottom paint and marine
plywood are all reasonably priced at about one-half to two-thirds
of California prices, as these things are manufactured here.
Boat fittings, engine parts, instruments and everything made
overseas is twice the California price or needs to be shipped
in. Shipping isn't that big a deal if it can be sent via FedEx,
as they have a big hub at the Subic Bay free port, and several
vendors will accept your 'duty free' package for a small fee.
This fee is usually less than the sales tax you'd have to pay
back home. Anything that can't be mailed - namely hazardous materials
such as your favorite bottom paint and replacement EPIRB batteries
- or is oversized can be a problem.
But the biggest bargain here, and the biggest draw for doing
a refit in the Philippines, is the cheap labor. The daily wage
for an unskilled worker is about $6 - a day! A skilled carpenter
or painter might make twice that. Why this should be the case
was discussed late one afternoon when a power outage shut off
the karaoke machine. The most sensible explanation offered had
a Marxist slant. When the nation-state replaced the feudal dukedoms
after the plagues ravaged Europe in the 1300s, each man became
a free agent to sell his labor. But modern times have shown this
freedom is incomplete, as each man is still a serf to his nation
because his labor is confined by his nation's borders. Today,
the components of the Big Mac can move freely between the slaughterhouse
in Costa Rica and the restaurant in the Ginza. And capital can
move even easier. But every Filipino needs a passport and a visa
- very significant hurdles - in order for his labor to reach
a free market. Perhaps this is why the anarchist types show up
at the IMF and at the World Bank meetings.
Speaking of karaoke, if it ever becomes an Olympic sport, you
can bet the Philippines is in for the gold, silver and bronze.
The karaoke machine is everywhere. You drop your 5-peso coin
in, take the microphone, and for the duration of whatever sappy
love song you wish to torture, the audience is yours. I've heard
so many sad renditions of I Did It My Way that I could,
well, walk out. And whoever the whiny little bastard is from
the '70s who sang "a total eclipse of the sun . . . when
we touch, the honesty's too much" - he should be shot on
sight. Just the same, I've seen the work crew, after hours, drinking
beer and singing karaoke in the pouring rain. With all the puddles,
it's a wonder nobody gets electrocuted. Finally, Abba, Kenny
Rogers and the BeeGees are popular here, not because there's
a retro revival, but because they never went out of popularity.
An unfortunate sideline to the depressed labor market is the
sex industry. Nobody asked me but, personally, I'm a libertarian.
I think most of the sex is sordid and farcical, but I also believe
that shutting it down causes more problems than it creates. Without
question, though, the pedophile business is abhorrent and criminal.
Unfortunately, this industry is open and thriving on some remote
island resorts. And for the equal rights folks, I can confirm
that even businesses catering to lesbian pedophiles are thriving.
It's been said that the Filipino culture is the result of "500
years in a convent, and 50 years of Hollywood." There is
more truth to that than one might think.
But back to boat business. The crucial point of a refit in the
Philipines to hire the right workers. I asked around and hired
a fellow named Victor on a recommendation. He's a quiet, unassuming
guy who has had an impressive career on some high-profile jobs,
notably with the U.S. Navy shipbuilding facility for 17 years
and later with the Clipper Challenge around-the-world
fleet when they put in here to have their keels reattached.
I was a bit apprehensive when Victor showed up the first day
with his cousin Joe. Between them they had a small bag of tools,
including a couple of chisels, a saw, screwdrivers and a Skilsaw.
I thought it was a good sign that they arrived five minutes early.
With a rough idea of the decking, bulkheads and cabinetry to
be built, he gave me a list of materials to go buy. While I was
gone, they went through the scrap pile and built a table for
their Skilsaw out of my old icebox and a piece of plywood.
Electrical power was a bit of a hurdle. With 110-v on the boat
and 220-v in the yard, we have a duplication of tools and power
cords all using the same U.S. style plug. It's been a challenge
to keep them separate. I can tell you getting the power cords
wrong is about as bad as putting a 12-volt battery charger on
a 6-volt battery. My major worry, though, are the power cords
themselves. A hundred feet of the skinniest 16-gauge wire is
supplied by the yard as a drop box. It's casually placed into
service to drive a grinder, a radio and a fan. What's more, it
is cut and taped in several places, and the plug gives a bit
of a shock when it's plugged in. My neighbor has had one electrical
fire already - amazingly, the grinder kept working the whole
time - with no sign of a circuit breaker tripping.
Despite the obstacles, Vic does amazing work, and he's accustomed
to doing more with less. He built a beautiful scarf joint in
a 2' by 3' piece of half-inch plywood rather than let it go to
waste. And his joinery work, done with a chisel and a router,
is as tight as any machine-made joint.
Haggling here in the Philippines is a life skill to which most
of us from the U.S. are unaccustomed. However, it must be mastered
in order to get anything done. I'm still learning the tricks,
but have been developing a style where I smile a lot and tell
the seller they don't have exactly what I'm looking for. "I
might be able to make it work if the price was a little less,
maybe (insert here less than half of what the initial offer was)."
Always expect a counter-counter offer, and if you can agree at
about half or a little more, consider it an honorable deal. Then,
when you realize you are bickering about pennies for the sheer
sport of it, consider yourself a master. I myself am far from
it, as I don't have the patience. I was told by a British yachtie
that Americans tend to upset the local pricing scheme by failing
to haggle properly, or even, god forbid, by tipping for service.
I don't mean to disparage the fine people of the Misty Isles,
but a local told me later not to worry because, "Brits are
so tight that when they fart only dogs can hear it."
If the weather holds, we may just get back in the water in a
couple weeks. From there, we'll leave Subic Bay with the dry
season coming on, but with only the vaguest plans. An easy sail
away are Palawan, Borneo, and the bizillion islands of the Sulu
Sea. My best guess is we'll be staying in this neck of the woods
for a while.
- frank 05/10/06
Endor - CT-41
A Year After Hurricane Beta
It's been an eventful year for me and The Witch, as well
as my cruising buddy Bob Willman and his late Islander 37 Viva!
Not all of our report from a year ago was published, so I'd like
to take this opportunity to flush it out.
Bob and I spent quite a bit of time with our boats in Cartagena,
Colombia, having fun and getting a bunch of yard work done at
reasonable prices. Then we had a pretty nice sail - only the
last half-day of it was bumpy - up to Isla Providencia, where
we anchored off Catalina, the island's main town. It's a most
The wind blew out of the west for about six weeks, which the
locals said was very uncommon, because they are usually subject
to the very reliable easterly trades that blow across the Caribbean.
We kept looking at the weather charts, and there was a low right
over us, day in and day out. We got used to it, and it wasn't
really a problem, as the normal anchorage was just a little more
rolly and choppy than usual. And the unusual weather didn't stop
us from enjoying the town, the island, and the people. By the
way, we were initially greeted by LCDR German Guzman, the port
captain, who is head and shoulders above all of the rest of the
port captains we've ever met. Actually, he's tied with the port
captain at Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Guzman and his staff were
most accommodating, and in view of the ensuing events I'll soon
describe, very helpful. For one thing, he allowed us to use his
dedicated internet link to stay in touch with the folks back
Near the end of October, the weather charts showed the low in
place near Providencia one day, gone the next day, and back again
the third day. 'What the heck?' we thought to ourselves. Then
came hurricane Beta! This was pretty strange, as Beta formed
way down in the southwestern corner of the Caribbean Sea not
all that far from the Panama Canal. Not many hurricanes form
down there. We couldn't run and take refuge at Boca del Toros,
Panama, because it would have taken us through the center of
the hurricane. And we certainty didn't want to run north around
Gracias a Dios, which is where Beta - if it followed hurricane
'rules' - would be headed.
Beta originally put her sights on Isla San Andreas, but then
gave it a reprieve - and center-punched us at Isla Providencia!
We did what we could to prepare, putting out a bunch of anchors
and stripping all the stuff from our boats before going ashore.
We were taken in by a local family - Casimir, Ludsmilla, and
their sons Dustin and Dulstin - at the dry end of the town muelle.
I left an anchor light burning on the Witch so we could
watch - with white knuckles - as the wind and waves built. When
dawn broke, there were only two of the three boats left in the
anchorage - Vaquero, a CT-41, and the Witch. Tragically,
Bob's Viva! had gone up on the rocks.
It wasn't until that first light that we also realized that a
couple of local bad boys had gone out in the height of the storm
to loot the grounded Viva! As she pounded on the beach,
they stripped most of her electronics and other portable stuff.
The local cops eventually busted two of their accomplices, but
nothing ever came of it. All we were able to recover for Bob
were a couple of tool boxes and a bottle of soy sauce. The authorities
were proud of this recovery, so they even made Bob sign for the
We removed whatever else could be salvaged from Viva!,
which was not insured, then Bob signed her over to the Colombian
Navy. We loaded the stuff into the Witch and Slowpoke,
another boat headed for the Rio Dulce. When we got to the Rio
Dulce, Bob sold some of it at a swap meet, and put the rest in
the Witch for shipment to Florida and ultimately to use
in whatever boat he got next. While we were in the Rio Dulce,
a broker in St. Maarten advised me that a Vagabond 47 I was interested
in down in Carriacou was finally priced right, so I bought Mystique,
and would soon rename her Witch of Endor. The plan was
to bring both the new and old Witches up to Jacksonville,
transfer my gear from the old boat to the new boat, sell the
old one in Annapolis, then continue cruising on the new one.
I want to let everyone know that the folks of Isla Providencia
- except for the looters of Bob's boat - were the kindest, friendliest,
most supportive folks I have ever met. Their island, their homes,
and their daily lives were turned upside down by hurricane Beta
- they hadn't been hit since '61 - but they still had time to
help Bob in his time of need. The locals cared about the wildlife,
too. For example, the folks who ran the little local restaurants
put out boiled rice and bread for the birds who flocked to town
because the hurricane had blown away all of the seed pods from
the trees they had previously lived in. I can't say enough about
the people of that island, and therefore strongly recommend a
stop to any cruisers headed north or south in the Western Caribbean.
So much for old business, here's what we've been up to in the
last year: Bob and I flew to Carriacou, brought the new Witch
to Fort Pierce, Florida, by way of St. Maarten and the Dominican
Republic, then returned to the Rio and brought the old Witch
to Florida by way of Belize, Isla Mujeres and Key West. Bob got
off my boat in Florida, found a catamaran - I don't know what
kind, as they all look alike to me - in the islands, and bought
her. At last word, he was cruising the islands of Venezuela.
I took the old Witch up the ICW to Annapolis, where she
is laying at the Bert Jabin Yacht Facility and listed for sale
at Noyce Yachts. My new Witch is on the hard at Indian
River Boatworks in Fort Pierce getting some much-needed TLC after
spending her life in the harsh tropical conditions of the Caribbean.
I expect to launch her in the spring, then head down to Cartagena
to get her painted. After that, I'll work my way back to the
Canal, the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and Central and South America.
It's been a very active year for Bob and me. Prior to that, our
pace had been very slow, as in something like a month at each
island we visited in the Perlas Islands being just right.
- steve 10/05/06
"Cruising is a great plan for retirement," writes Betty
Truce of Los Gatos. "Our cruising life started at age 65
when we bought a new Maxi 9.5 from Pelle Peterson we named Odyssey,
and took delivery of her in France. We spent 12 seasons doing
coastal sailing in the Med, our longest passage out of the sight
of land being four days. Our season would start in late April
and end in October. We'd spend the winter months at our home
in California. There is so much history in the Med, from the
castles of Spain, to the Greek and Roman ruins, to the Turquoise
Coast of modern Turkey - the latter being a cruisers' dream.
It's not always easy sailing in the Med, as the winds aren't
as constant or as predictable as in other parts of the world,
but our years of racing and cruising the Bay aboard our Ranger
23 Betty Ann were great preparation for the unexpected
blows. The Med is a great place to cruise for those who aren't
really interested in long distance bluewater sailing. My husband
and I liked the fact we could always have a drink aboard at 5
p.m. followed by a meal ashore."
Betty and her husband are both 90 years old now. They continued
to sail on the Bay until five years ago, when her husband was
stricken with arthritis. Betty has promised to put together some
tales of their adventures in the Med. We're looking forward to
publishing them, as we believe she's correct. For those who don't
mind the crowds, and know how to live simply, the Med is a fabulous
place for retirement cruising.
You'll note that in one of this month's Changes, Pete Passano
and Marina of Sea Bear didn't seem to have any qualms
about sailing a course that will take them through the center
of the Atlantic /Caribbean hurricane zone - despite the fact
that hurricane season won't be over until December 1. It might
have something to do with the fact that the Atlantic/Caribbean
has had a very quiet hurricane season this year - five hurricanes
and four tropical storms - far below what was predicted by all
the experts. Furthermore, none of the hurricanes were over category
3. We don't know about you, but when experts can't accurately
predict the severity of a hurricane season two months in advance,
it rattles our confidence in their ability to predict what the
weather and climate will be like in 50 years.
For the record, Mexico has had nine hurricanes - including two
category 4s and one category 5 - this season, as well as six
One of the really crummy things that can happen to you after
completing 2,992 miles of a 3,000-mile passage from Mexico to
Hiva Oa in the Marquesas is your mast falls down. Unfortunately,
that's what happened to Jessica Stone and Mike Irvine, who were
just eight miles from landfall aboard Stone's Seattle-based Morgan
Out-Island 41 Blessed Be!, when the mast folded in half.
The cause of the failure was a chainplate bolt that had corroded
through. Stone had had the rig checked by professionals twice
in recent years, but neither could have seen the damage to the
bolt because it had been fiberglassed over as part of the original
Stone was able to limp to Dominique Goche's Raiatea Carenage.
In six weeks, Dominique and his crew were able to drop Stone's
Perkins 4-108 diesel engine onto concrete from eight feet in
the air - oops! - replace the bell housing that had gotten cracked
in the fall, and sleeve the mast to stronger than new. "Dominique
and his guys are wonderful," says Stone. With provisions
aboard, the engine running, and Stone ready to set sail again,
the engine suddenly developed some other severe problems. As
a result, Stone had to return to her writing and teaching at
the University of Washington. Now that the engine is repaired
and Blessed Be! is ready to go again, Stone is unsure
about what to do next. Should she sell the boat, continue cruising,
or sail the boat back to Seattle? If you've got any advice, she
says she'd love to hear from you by .
By the way, a little corrosion can lead to major and expensive
failures, so no matter if you're about to set off on a long passage,
or have just completed one, now would be a good time to look
around your boat for rust in the wrong places. As for critical
bolts that have been fiberglassed over and are weeping, you may
want to consider biting the bullet by digging in and finding
out what you've got under the fiberglass.
"The cedar boardwalk at Hot Springs Cove, Vancouver Island,
looks like a serious northern rival to the famous breakwater
at Horta in the Azores," report 'accidental cruisers' Lance
Batten and Susie Bowman of the Berkeley-based Beneteau 40 Eaux
Vives, which is in the Caribbean. "The boardwalk is
decorated with carved boat names, carefully crafted boat art,
and visiting dates. The walkway extends for over a mile through
the rainforest to the hot springs on the point. The park is only
accessible by boat or seaplane, but is a popular stop for those
traversing the chilly west coast of Vancouver Island. Frances
Brann brought Snow Dragon II down from Alaska to her new
winter port of Victoria - in front of the Empress Hotel and across
from Parliament, no less! - and borrowed us, the crew of Eaux
Vives, for the Port Hardy to Victoria leg of the trip. Although
it was the polar opposite of the Caribbean cruising that we've
been doing for the last several years, it was good fun hiking
in temperate rainforests. British Columbia is a fabulous cruising
area with much wildlife, plenty of isolated anchorages, and some
very good sailing along the Pacific coast. It just requires a
touch more in the way of clothing than does the Caribbean."
The Dockwise Yacht Transport's Spring 2007 sailing schedule has
just been released. The route that's probably of most interest
to Latitude readers is the one from La Paz to Vancouver
in May. It would allow you to enjoy a full winter season of cruising
in Mexico, and then have your boat waiting for you in the Pacific
Northwest at the start of the summer season up there. Since space
is limited, we recommend that you contact Dockwise now at www.yacht-transport.com
to make a reservation. There's also a La Paz to Vancouver run
in early March, but that's just when the Sea is starting to get
good, and up in the Northwest it might as well still be the middle
of winter. Many Latitude readers have used Dockwise's
service. Generally speaking, they've been quite pleased - except
for what they consider to be inadequate pre-pickup communication
between Dockwise and the customers.
"El Cid Marina in Mazatlan is a very safe and secure hurricane
hole," report Phil and Jana Graves of Sea-Mint. "Due
to the high buildings surrounding the marina, the winds were
less intense than elsewhere during hurricane Lane in September.
The marina was built with heavy weather in mind, so the pilings
are higher than at most other marinas in Mexico, making them
less susceptible to storm surge. We also want to thank Harbormaster
Geronimo Cevallas and the marina security for their careful preparation
in anticipation of the storm. They went from boat to boat checking
lines, tightening lines, and even adding lines for absentee owners.
In addition, anything moveable that could cause damage - trash
containers, resort chairs, and so forth - was moved into storage.
Dock box lids were tied down, dock gate doors were tied open
for emergency access, and the number of security staff was doubled.
As 20-year veterans of cruising in Mexico, we recommend El Cid
for a safe summer home."
"We're going to have to pass on the Baja
Ha-Ha this fall," report Randy and Ramona Garrett of
a boat we believe is named R3, from a hailing port we're
not sure of, "as we still have a couple things to fix on
our boat. But we're thinking about leaving the area in the spring
to cross the Pacific, and have talked to a few other people with
the same idea. Have you given any idea to organizing a Puddle
Jump starting up here in the States?"
Although most Puddle Jump boats start from Puerto Vallarta, there's
no set time or place from which to begin. As such, you can start
from anywhere on the West Coast from Vancouver to Ecuador, and
it won't be a problem. As next year's group starts to get organized
in January and February, we'll make sure we let everyone know
how to contact the group organizers to be part of all the radio
skeds, news and other fun.
Rick and Jenna Fleischman of the Alaska-based Catalina 50 Bob
report that their sailing season has ended, and that they have
headed to Baranof Wilderness Lodge, 90 miles from Sitka, where,
for the third year in a row, they will be the winter caretakers
of that facility. "We had another great summer of sailing
in Southeast Alaska," the couple report, "although
it was one of the wettest summers that we can remember. Nonetheless,
the fishing and wildlife were great. In fact, it was an exceptional
year for viewing bears, as many of them were working the beaches
and streams." The couple have just completed the first year
of a 10-year permit that allows them to take charter guests into
Glacier Bay National Park.
"Once again the major fundraiser for the Club Cruceros/Fundación
Ayuda Niños La Paz, A.C. will be held in the parking lot
of Marina de La Paz (as usual) on Sunday, December 4, from 9
a.m. to 3 p.m.," reports Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz.
"This bazaar and auction - locally called the Subasta -
raises money for the programs of Fundación Ayuda Niños.
For example, it provides breakfast three days a week for 60 kids,
lunch five days a week for 100 kids, and helps cover the cost
of keeping 150+ students in junior and senior high school. We
accept donations of all kinds for the bazaar and auction, as
well as money and labor on the day of Subasta. If you have room
in the bilges for things like chewable vitamins, toothbrushes
and toothpaste, kid's underwear, or small gifts for the Christmas
The Subasta is a great cruiser cause in La Paz, and we encourage
everyone to support it. Lauren Spindler, Honcho of the Ha-Ha,
has donated $1,000 to the Subasta in the name of this year's
Ha-Ha participants. Other great causes getting $1,000 donations
in the name of Ha-Ha participants will be Zihua SailFest in Zihua
at the end of January, and the Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run
at Punta Mita in March. One of the great things about Mexico
is that just a little bit of money can make a big difference
in the life of a child.
Shari Bondi, a former Canadian cruiser who married a Mexican
fisherman who lives at Bahia Asuncion, which is just south of
Turtle Bay, has some advice for southbound cruisers:
"Remember to keep your radio on Channel 16 in case a fisherman
wants to warn you of a drift net or something. But don't chat
on 16, as everyone on the coast monitors it. Also avoid channels
10, 12 and 14, as these are used extensively by the fishermen,
at least in the Asuncion area. The upper channels - such as 68,
69 and 72 - are good for cruisers, as they aren't used much.
I also want to remind everyone that it's a serious offense for
fishermen to trade or sell lobster, and they can lose their jobs
if they do it. So if you do buy lobster from them, please be
fair to these hard-working guys, as each lobster they give you
costs them $3 out of their own pocket. So be generous, but never
mention such transactions on the radio! What to trade for seafood?
I suggest things like lures, hooks, line, old Beatles and Creedence
Clearwater Revival cassettes, and Spam - they love it! But please,
no porno, as Mexican women have enough problems as it is. When
you ask what the fishermen want in return for seafood, they usually
won't come right out and say anything, other than to maybe ask
for a beer. It's just not their style to bargain, so remember
that it's up to you to be generous and make the trade fair."
We're glad Shari brought up the subject of lobster. Although
it's illegal for someone other than a Mexican to have a lobster
anywhere but on a plate in a restaurant, this law is broken about
as often as the California highway speed limits. Let your conscience
be your guide as to whether you want to participate in the trade
- you'll be approached - and that you are paying a fair price.
In fact, once you've come to an agreement, always throw something
in "para los niños".
Bondi, a big booster of Asuncion, also had this to say: "The
best place to anchor at Asuncion is close to the pangas anchored
just inside the west point. Nose in toward the cliff just inside
the bay from the pangas, and drop your hook in 20 feet of
water fairly close to the bluff. This is where the pangas unload,
and it's a calm and safe place to land and stow your dinghy.
The GPS coordinates for this spot are 27.07.810N and 114.17.371W.
If you are coming in at night, just call us on the radio and
we can help guide you in. If you are late leaving Turtle Bay,
another anchoring option is San Roque, which is just north of
Asuncion. There is a deep, sandy bottom close to shore, it's
easy to get in and out of, and there is an excellent place to
land the dinghy - again, where the pangas unload their catch.
Just watch out for lobster traps, as they are all over the coast
- up to seven miles out and in as much as 240 feet of water,
especially in November."
can answer all your questions about Asuncion.
As we've reported several times, Singlar, which is part of Fonatur,
Mexico's tourism development agency, is developing 11 small marina
and boat support complexes, mostly in Baja, but also as far south
as San Blas, which is halfway between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
According to Jack Grenard of Carefree, Arizona, Capt Norm Goldie,
the somewhat polarizing American ex-pat who has been living in
San Blas for 30 years, gives the project high marks. He paraphrases
Goldie's review as follows:
"It's a small marina, with only 17 slips, although it's
capable of accommodating boats to 100 feet. It's being constructed
of the finest materials, and the concrete foundations and footings
are complete overkill. And I know something about excellent construction,
having been in charge of building structures to 60 stories in
New York City. The bathrooms are beautiful, and the hot water
showers will be near the dockside. Other services and amenities
will include a private marina pool and a jacuzzi, a restaurant,
store, fuel dock and stringent security. In addition, there will
be a launch ramp, a 50-ton Travel-Lift, and repair services for
hulls, engines and boat systems. I have been assured that the
slip fees will not exceed 10 pesos - about 92 U.S. cents/ft/night.
The marina has been built primarily for cruisers in transit,
whose crews would like to rest and enjoy the oldest port on the
west coast of all the Americas. Vessels have been active here
since 1530! In addition, there are many good side trips available,
and lots to see here in 'the Tahiti of Mexico'. The marina will
be operated by Lic. Rodrigo and Lic. Ana Karina. They will do
all possible to make everyone's stay a pleasant experience. The
beautiful marina was built for cruisers, and I hope they will
Earlier this year we visited San Blas for the first time in about
10 years. It's a charming but somewhat isolated little place
with a unique history and great wildlife. But it was looking
more ragged than we remembered it from previous visits. Based
on Goldie's report, and the work we've seen being done on some
of the other 10 new Singlar facilities in Mexico, no expense
is being spared. In the case of San Blas, it sounds as though
the marina could be a little showplace for the region. Our only
concern is whether there will be enough demand for the slips
and services to sustain the facility. We can imagine that there
would be some demand for 17 slips, although at close to $1/ft/night,
we fear that many cruisers are going to elect to anchor in the
river or down at Matanchen Bay - just as they always have. But
we're not convinced that there will be anywhere near enough business
- or skilled labor - for the Travel-Lift and the engine and boat
repair services. But you never know, for if the locals can generate
an entrepreneurial spirit toward services such as painting, both
above and below the waterline, woodwork, and other basic boat
work at the ultra competitive prices that are found in some other
parts of Mexico, it could actually become a boatwork destination
of sorts. In any event, we hope the little marina will turn out
to be a big success for San Blas, creating jobs and generating
If you're headed toward San Blas, you can contact Norm Goldie
by for information.
Another good idea is to use Google
Maps, prior to entering the river, to view San Blas from
overhead. Indeed, printing out Google Maps for all the places
you intend to visit, and putting them in a binder, is a great
Mike Wilson, marine engineer and refrigeration expert in Mazatlan,
tells us he's walked by the Singlar facility in Mazatlan that's
been under construction for the last year or so, and that he's
impressed. "The facility they are building is absolutely
world-class - really excellent. In addition, they've got a 100-ton
Travel Lift. They are really doing it right."
Wilson, like Antonio Cevallos of Marina Mazatlan, says people
won't believe what's been happening to the Marina Mazatlan area
at the north part of town, as development has just exploded.
"Adjacent to our marina, they are starting a Crown Plaza
Hotel, the first nine holes of a golf course, a 30-acre shopping
center, and a gated complex for 400 houses. About 80% of the
condos in the towers that have gone up behind the marina have
been sold, and the inertia is such that local and foreign investors
have started building more condos near the marina complex but
outside of its boundaries. From where I stand, I can count seven
high-rises as tall as 25 stories."
It's not your father's Mazatlan, is it?
And lest we leave out La Paz, Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz
says the 40-slip Singlar Fidepaz in that city also seems to have
been done right. "With the government having spent $4 million
for just 40 slips and the other facilities, it better have been
done right. I even heard a rumor that the place has a rooftop
"Talk about an email a long time in coming," writes
Kay Rudiger, who did various jobs for Latitude, "we've
been here two years to the day and only now got around to it!
'We' being Jeff Ames, myself, and Native, our Freya 39.
What prompted me to write is your report that the late Richard
Steinke's Isobar is coming to Seattle from Thailand. You
may remember that I joined Steinke and some others aboard Isobar
for a cruise of the 'lost coast' - north of San Francisco - back
in about '89. It was an unbelievably wonderful trip. So I'm looking
forward to seeing the boat again, and helping Jessica, Richard's
daughter, with her in any way that I can. As for Jeff and me,
we live in Edmonds, which is sort of a Southern Marin kind of
place, with artsy folks, a big marina, a big ferry terminal,
and a great view of the Olympic Mountains. The Seattle area has
really grown on us as a wonderful place to live and explore."
Circumnavigator Tom Scott, who is originally from Menlo Park,
and who did a long singlehanded circumnavigation about 10 years
ago aboard his Folkes 39 Nepenthe, was briefly back in
town from Malaysia recently. Alas, we never got a chance to see
him. Nonetheless, he wants his old friends to know that "I'm
alive, well, and living the life of luxury and ease on Langkawi,
It won't be until the December issue that we'll be able to run
Merrill and Lee Newman's report on their trip aboard their Santa
Cruz-based Valiant 40 Jenny Wren from California to the
Western Caribbean. But at the end of their Changes they
wrote: "We plan to leave Guatemala's Rio Dulce in January
and head for the Eastern Caribbean. It seems reasonable to assume
that we can sail to Grand Cayman Island or perhaps Jamaica, but
from there would it be best to go through the Windward Passage
in order to work the north side of the Dominican Republic to
the Virgin Islands, or to stay on the south side of the Dominican
Republic and then head for Antigua and Guadeloupe?"
Our response was: "When it comes to a 2,000-mile trip from
the Rio Dulce to the Eastern Caribbean in January, you've got
three things going against you: 1) You'll be going directly into
the wind and seas almost the entire way. 2) There will be a strong
current against you almost the entire way. And 3) January is
perhaps the worst month of the year to attempt such a trip, because
historically it's when the 'Christmas winds', aka the reinforced
trades, tend to blow the hardest and most often."
But just to be sure about our response to the inquiry, we contacted
Canadian Herb Hilgenberg, who has been the guru of weather routing
for cruising boats in the Atlantic and Caribbean for countless
years, and posed the question this way: "A couple in a Valiant
40 want to try to make it from the Rio Dulce to the Eastern Caribbean
in . . . gulp . . . January. They want to know if they should
try to make it to Jamaica and then up through the Windward Passage,
or to the DR and then try to lay Antigua or Guadeloupe. I know
the latter notion is just plain nuts, and they'll probably end
up in Aruba. But do you think they'd be better off riding the
Gulfstream up to Florida and then either try to circle above
the trades or do the 'Thorny Patch', or should they simply try
to work the south coasts of the DR and Puerto Rico?"
Hilgenberg's response: "I agree with your assessment. I've
known of large motoryachts having problems getting from the Western
Caribbean to the Leewards during the winter months. Anything
is possible, but as you stated, if somebody has lots of time,
there can be one and two-day windows for short runs between Caribbean
island anchorages of Cuba, the Caymans, Hispaniola and Puerto
Rico - but they might have to wait weeks between the windows.
Going via the Florida passage, and then the Bahamas, would probably
be the more enjoyable route, with many more opportunities for
"We're thinking about going through the Panama Canal, and
then the Atlantic to the Med, at some point in the future,"
write Doug and Jo Leavitt of the San Francisco-based Jeanneau
43 Jenny. "Can you tell us the best time to go through
the Canal, and which route is the preferred one to the Med? We
assume that the Azores would be a good place to stop for refueling,
resting, and so forth. We'll be heading to Zihua for SailFest
in February to help out there again, but may want to take off
for the Med in the next window after that."
You can transit the Canal any time you want, the issue is getting
across the Caribbean Sea. Assuming that you leave Mexico in February
or March, the best time for you to cross the Caribbean Sea would
be in either June or July, the beginning of hurricane season,
or November and December, the end of hurricane season. While
you could get across via the Western Caribbean and the routes
suggested two paragraphs above by Herb Hilgenberg, if we were
you, we'd make our way to Cartagena, enjoy that great city, and
then, when a huge eastbound window opened up, sneak around the
north coast of South America. Once you get to Venezuela, you
can harbor and island hop to Trinidad, then start working your
way up the Eastern Caribbean to your ultimate jumping off point
for the Azores, which would probably be Antigua or St. Maarten.
There is only one way across the Atlantic, and that's via the
Azores, starting about in May. The real issue is going to be
whether you want to try to cross the Atlantic in May of '07,
or May of '08. If you wanted to force the issue, you might be
able to do it in '07, but it could be a grueling pace. If '08
were fine with you, you could enjoy a very leisurely cruise,
having plenty of time to explore all the great places along the
way - such as Central America, Panama, Colombia, South America
and the Eastern Caribbean.
The winter cruising season of '06-'07 is finally here! Have a
great time, but be safe, and don't forget to