December, 2005

With reports this month from Dreamcatcher on being able to respond to injuries offshore; from Moonshadow on the relative merits of 'primitive' and 'First-World' cruising; from Carmelita on a Puddle Jump Reunion at Suwarrow; from Anonymous a report in disgusting cruisers' behavior in Baja many years ago; from Patagonia on a very lucky passage from Cartagena to Curaçao; from Kellowyn on Indonesia; from Always Another Horizon on the jittery start of a circumnavigation; and Cruise Notes.

Dreamcatcher - Passport 42
John Gage & Luise Marchi
Injury Offshore
(Perth Amboy, N.J./Ramona)

If you were doublehanding with a partner or spouse, and he or she became incapacitated, would the other of you be able to singlehand the boat hundreds of miles to port? And if they were in pain, would you have the medication appropriate for the situation?

I ask these questions because I know from firsthand experience that people can become incapacitated offshore. John, the boat's owner, and I, the crew, were just over five days into the passage from New Caledonia to Australia when it happened. We'd been sailing along at seven knots in 20-knot easterly trades with eight-foot seas when a large wave hit the boat as I was getting dressed for the dawn watch. The impact threw me across the cabin and into the companionway steps.

I was able to stand after hitting the steps, but felt a severe pain in the area of my pelvic bone. I was afraid that I might have fractured my pelvis. Slowly I made my way to the settee, where I lay down and kept as still as possible. John hove to in order to rest and evaluate the situation and our options.

When I sat up a few hours later to go to the head, the pain was excruciating. As I stood up clutching the mast, John asked if I was all right. He told me to sit down if I felt I was going to pass out. I said I was fine, but I might not have been, for when I next opened my eyes, I found that I'd slid down to the cabin sole. I ultimately managed to make my way to the head, but by the time I got back to the settee, it was clear to me that I shouldn't try to move again. I never thought that I'd want to ever wear Depends, but if they meant I didn't have to get up to go to the head, I wanted them!

Some good pain medicine would have been very helpful. All we had was codeine. John gave me two, and before long I had dozed off. He then logged onto the SSB Seafarer's Net, informed them of my medical situation, and asked for the weather forecast. It wasn't the most encouraging forecast, as for the next two days it was supposed to blow to 25 knots, and when we approached the coast near Bundaberg in three days, it was to blow 35 knots.

John set up a twice-daily SSB sked, and it gave me some comfort to know that people were aware of my situation and willing to help if needed. I felt that I was going to be all right as long as I didn't have to move, but John was going to have to singlehand the last 400 miles because I was useless as crew. Having gotten the rest he needed, he got the boat underway again.

The forecast proved to be accurate, and we indeed had 35 knots of wind on the beam with 12-foot seas for the last 40 miles. As we neared the coast, we were contacted by the Australian Coast Guard, which stayed in contact with us the rest of the way - and even sent a plane to check us out. We assured them that I was not in any immediate danger, and comfortable as long as I didn't move much. By then I was pretty sure that I hadn't fractured my pelvis, as the swelling had gone down.

Thanks to a good boat and John's skill, we arrived safely. Fortunately, we'd been given the VHF frequencies of a marina and Immigration. The latter actually started our paperwork over the radio. When we arrived at 6:30 p.m., they had an ambulance waiting. The Immigration folks were also on hand to complete the paperwork while the paramedics checked me out.

I was also examined and X-rayed at the hospital. Fortunately, I hadn't broken any bones, and just suffered some bruised ribs and soft tissue damage. Although it would require nothing more than time to heal, the pain was extreme. That first night in the hospital I was given three different pain medications, including morphine. Nonetheless, I could still feel the pain when I moved the wrong way.

Happily, I have since recovered completely. Nonetheless, it proved to me that accidents at sea can happen to anyone at any time. Since most cruisers sail with only two people aboard, it should raise several questions. First, if something like this happened to either of you, would the other be able to singlehand the boat to port? Second, do you have the necessary pain medications aboard? These are good questions to consider before you take off.

- luise 09/12/05

Moonshadow - Deerfoot 62
George Backhus & Merima Dzaferi
Primitive Or First World Cruising

In an October 'Lectronic, you asked cruisers which they preferred, 'primitive' or 'first world' cruising. In our opinion, variety is the spice of life.

Over the years, we've had the opportunity to visit many very interesting remote areas, including the San Blas Islands of Panama, Palmerston Island in the Cooks, Beveridge and Minerva Reefs, parts of the Lau Group of Fiji, the outer islands of Vanuatu, and the Northern Territory of Australia. While it can be challenging cruising in these more primitive areas, there is an indescribable feeling that comes from being so out of touch with the 'real world', and from experiencing those 'National Geographic moments'.

It never ceases to amaze us to see people, who by our standards are living primitively or in sheer poverty, yet are so happy with the simplicity of their lives. It's inspiring to see that it's not 'stuff' that brings happiness.

'Primitive cruising' also tends to be very inexpensive, because the further you are from civilization, the less opportunity there is to spend anything but coconuts.

Since we're avid divers, and few of the best dive sites are near major metropolitan areas, we've had another reason to cruise to primitive areas. Having gotten around a bit, I can report that it's getting increasingly difficult to find reefs that haven't been adversely affected by the impact of humans. Of the ones left, many of the best can only be reached by private yacht.

On the other hand, too much of anything can become boring. Folks laboring away in office buildings in San Francisco may not believe this, but that's even true for white sand beaches, palm trees, azure oceans, and warm weather. So after a few months in the outback areas of the world, we long for a bit of civilization, concrete, and hustle and bustle. As such, I don't think that we could survive without spending a big chunk of each year in the First World, soaking up all the excitement, enjoying the technology, arts, cuisine and nightlife, and not having to do everything for ourselves.

Our solution has been to try to spend about six months a year 'primitive cruising' and about six months a year 'first world' cruising. In some cases, it only requires travelling a few hundred miles. For example, it's not far from the jungles of Borneo and the rice paddies of Indonesia to the beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan and impeccably clean city/island/country of Singapore. There's no shortage of bright lights in Singapore, as seen by the accompanying photo of the 'Little India' area during Deepavali, which is sort of an Indian version of Thanksgiving.

Singapore is a very vibrant city with gorgeous architecture, lots of waterfront wining and dining, excellent food from every corner of the world, great marinas, and an excellent public transportation system. In addition, they've got not one, but two six-story shopping complexes that sell nothing but consumer electronics! No wonder many of us yachties are spending on new toys, with flat screen TVs, AirCon units (a necessity here), laptop computers, and iPods the top picks. It's going to be fun to have them when we're in the wilds of Malaysia before too long.

For the last three weeks, we've been berthed in Raffles Marina in Singapore which, like so many modern marinas in the world, offers high-speed wireless internet access. As such, we've been able to catch up on 'Lectronic Latitude. We're glad to hear that the official clearing procedures seem to have gotten much easier in Mexico, as we're giving some thought to spending another season there in a couple of years. We might even do another Ha-Ha if we ever decide to go north to San Francisco for a summer. Good luck to everyone in this year's Ha-Ha fleet!

- george 10/15/05

Carmelita - Peterson 44
Paul, Carol, and Kate (13) Reid
Suwarrow Puddle Jump Reunion
(Santa Cruz)

This is a little dated, but thought folks might get a kick out of some photos we took while having a Pacific Puddle Jump reunion at Suwarrow Atoll in the Northern Cooks. (The atoll is also known as Suvarov after the Russian who discovered it.)

There were seven of us Puddle Jump boats in the lagoon for the 'reunion', and we were joined by a number of other boats from around the world. Our Latitude 38 Puddle Jump flag is now proudly displayed for the Suwarrow YC - along with another one from the Class of '02.

Suwarrow is a logical stopover point for those boats leaving the Society Islands on the Northern route to Tonga via American and Western Samoa. The atoll is a bird sanctuary for the Cook Islands, and is uninhabited except for seasonal caretakers. John and Veronica were the 'hosts' this year, and very welcoming and gracious to all the cruisers. They hosted a weekly potluck for the yachties that included fish, coconut crabs, and coconut-based dishes. The yachties reciprocated by erecting a volleyball net - made from discarded fishnets - and helping John fix his SSB radio.

The holding at Suwarrow is not the best, and there is thin sand over a coral hardpan and lots of small coral 'bombies'. It's also like the atolls in the Tuamotus in that you have to be aware that a shift in wind direction doesn't leave you on the lee shore of a reef. But the weather in Suwarrow was settled while we were there, so it was fine. The entrance to the pass in the reef is not marked, but it's easy to negotiate.

The fishing at Suwarrow is amazing, And if you're lucky, you'll find lobsters by walking on the edge of the reef at night. There are a number of sharks in the lagoon, so you have to be careful when spearfishing, but the sharks don't bother regular swimmers.

Suwarrow was one of our highlights this year, so if anyone is bound for Samoa from the Societies, don't miss it!

- the reids 07/21/05

Disgusting Cruiser Behavior

The shameful story I'm about to tell is true, although it happened many years ago. Before it was over, neither participant was proud of what they had done. One of them, now deceased, told me that he regretted it for the rest of his life.

The story took place back in the early '70s near Loreto in the Sea of Cortez. This was in the days before the TransPeninsula Highway, when Baja was a true frontier. Cruising was much different back then, as during the summer there were perhaps only a handful of cruising boats in the entire Sea of Cortez. Wooden boats were common, and everone had to navigate by sextant because SatNav, let along GPS, hadn't been invented yet. Nobody had today's common cruiser conveniences such as watermakers, refrigeration, inverters, SailMail, and SatPhones and stuff. The cruising life was less complicated but more challenging.

There were so few boats sitting out the long, sweltering hurrricane season near Loreto that it was very quiet and lonely - maybe even boring. That, combined with the following ditty of the day, perhaps best explains the motivation for the misdeed: "Down Baja way/Where life is sweet/If the meat is tender/You can be sure it ain't beef."

Dying for some good beef, our intrepid 'Great White Hunter' and his friend decided they would get their beef by matching brains and brawn with the most fearsome beast of the parched Baja desert - the cactus-fed, long-horn, free-range Baja cattle. Just because an animal was free-range in Baja didn't mean it wasn't a poor rancher's prized possession - and perhaps his primary asset. But this didn't weigh heavily on the beef-hungry hunters. Besides, they had a plan. Rather than being greedy and taking the full-grown steer, they'd take a baby calf. The fact that calf meat may be easier to chew had also entered their minds.

So the Great White Hunter and his assistant set out during the day to find their prey and get the lay of the land. It wasn't hard to find the calves, as they never strayed far from the small family that owned them. In Baja, the cattle's only natural enemy - beside the heat and thirst - were the coyotes, so they associated humans with safety and weren't afraid. So the GWH and his assistant found a 90-pound calf that would be suitable for their dietary desires, they noted its location and made plans to return after the moon had set that evening.

The thing to remember is that no matter how poor some cruisers might have felt down in the Sea, they were many times wealthier than the poor Mexican family that was trying to scratch out a living there. For what cruisers spent on entertainment was about equivalent to a rancher's household income for the year. While many would call these sailors greedy gringos, or maybe even cattle rustlers, they preferred to think of themselves as 'hunters'. Indeed, the GWH was truly a hunting fool. For example, when this singlehander went diving for lobster, he didn't take just one for his dinner, he took 12. When asked why, he'd say he did it because he could. After all, he was the Great White Hunter.

Anyway, the prey had been chosen, the plan had been set, and the hunters had thought of everythng - right down to shooting the calf with a bow and arrow so as not to awaken the family that owned it. So the hunters rowed their dinghies ashore and flitted through the darkness to the spot where they had last seen the calf. There in the distance was the calf, appearing as a black shape against an even blacker background.

Taking aim, the GWH let loose a single arrow from his bow. Since he was an accurate archer, the arrow passed through the chest of the animal, killing it instantly. As the cruiser-hunters scrambled over to pick up the carcass, they made a horrible discovery - the arrow hadn't killed the calf, but the poor family's prized 1,000-lb bull!

Killing the wrong animal was a disaster on many counts. First, they realized they could never butcher such a huge animal. In fact, they could barely lift one of its hindquarters. Second, they had inflicted a serious economic hardship on the Baja rancher and his family. Calves were sometimes lost to coyotes, but a bull was another story. Third, they had killed something so huge that there was no way they could conceal the evidence by dawn. They had really screwed up, and they knew it.

The original plan called for them to carry the 90-lb calf back to their boats and they would sail away. But since they couldn't carry the bull's half-ton carcass, the truth would be obvious that they were indeed cattle rustlers. And nobody in Mexico likes rustlers, not even the inmates in the jails.

As the magnitude of their stupidity and the severity of the problem sank in, the two gringos were in great dispair. Their 'discussion' about what to do had to take place in near silence, as sound travels a long way in still Baja nights, and the last thing they needed was for the rancher to awake.

After an hour of tormented thinking, the two hunters decided they simply had to make the best out of a very bad situation. They would butcher one hindquarter, bury the rest of the bull as best they could, then get their boats out of the area as quickly as possible. What they didn't count on was how much work it takes to butcher even one hindquarter of such a large animal. Nor did they realize how many rocks it was going to take to bury what they were going to leave. Digging a hole for the carcass was out of the question, as there were too many rocks and they didn't have shovels.

As dawn broke, the two were just finishing about the hardest six hours of labor in their lives. As they threw the last few rocks on the remains of the bull, they know their pathetic attempt to cover the remains wasn't going the hide their crime for long. The vultures would be around quickly.

As soon as the sailors got back to their respective boats, they weighed anchor and left. They didn't want to wait around for the poor rancher to make his dreadful discovery and figure out who had done it. After all, the GWH's arrow was still embedded in the bull's chest.

- anonymous 10/15/05

Readers - To us, the really disgusting part of this story is that the two cruisers didn't work day and night until they could repay the rancher for his loss.

Patagonia - Passport 40
The Klenk Family
East From Cartagena

After spending five months in Cartagena, Colombia, we - Ricardo aka 'Tincho', Gloria, and our daughter Tatiana, set off on October 3 on the 460-mile passage along the dreaded coasts of Colombia and Venezuela for Curaçao. We did so in company with four other boats, Pizazz, Seafari, Von Voyage, and Katie Rose.

We departed Cartagena with a good 72-hour weather window - northwesterly winds of 5 to 10 knots with less than 3-foot seas. This was good enough to get us started, and we hoped it would eventually extend itself for the entire passage. To our surprise, the good weather and conditions not only held for the first three days, but continued for our entire six-day trip. We also had favorable currents up to 1.5 knots for the duration, and the wind was always out of the east or northeast at a maximum of 15 to 20 knots, so we had a lot of good sailing as evidenced by the fact that we only used 33 gallons of fuel!

Our first stop and overnight was at Punta Hermosa, a very beautiful and protected anchorage just 50 miles from Cartagena. Unfortunately, it has a bad reputation because of some violent incidents against cruisers in recent years. The main reason we stopped was to avoid hitting the mouth of the Rio Magdalena after dark. This is very important, as there is a tremendous amount of debris - such as entire trees - that flow out of the river. Although we passed five miles offshore of the river mouth, we still had to dodge all kinds of debris for about two hours!

Our proposed second leg was 67 miles to Five Bays, but as we wouldn't have made it before dark, we stopped at Rodadero, a more upscale resort town on a very scenic bay. Although the anchorage was a little rolly, it also turned out to be a very pleasant stop. We didn't get off the boat, but the town seemed to be alive with people and music. In fact, we could hear the music until the wee hours.

Early the next morning we continued on to Five Bays, anchoring in Guayraca Bay, which is the middle one. We spent the rest of the day there enjoying the water, the quaint village, and the very friendly people.

At 125 miles, our fourth leg - from Five Bays to Cabo de Vela - was a little longer, and took us 36 hours. Due to the westerly winds - the direct opposite of the easterlies which blow almost all the time - we had a hard time finding a protected spot in which to anchor. So we ended up dropping the hook at Bahia Portete, which is 15 miles past Cabo de la Vela. We assumed that we'd be given a hard time because it's a commercial port, but the officials were very nice and accommodating.

After a good night's sleep, we set off for the last leg of our passage, a two-day sail to Curaçao. If necessary, we could have stopped at Los Monjes del Sur or Aruba, but the conditions were so unbelievably good that we did a straight shot. We arrived in Spanish Waters, Curaçao, at 7 a.m. on October the 10th.

Our message is that anyone who is considering going from Cartagena to the ABC's (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao), or even vice versa, is that while it's definitely considered one of the most difficult and dangerous cruising passages in the world, it's not impossible. The key things to keep in mind are that you don't want to be on a schedule, you only want to do it at the right time of year, and you need to be patient enough to wait for a good weather window. If you follow the 'rules', it's possible to complete the passage.

We strongly recommend travelling as part of a group of boats - three or four seems like a good number. We established a radio net for both SSB and VHF, so we knew we wouldn't be alone. We checked in with each other every three hours, and it gave us a lot of confidence.

Even though there have incidents when cruisers and cruising boats have been violently attacked along this coast, and we presume that there will be similar incidents in the future, we don't think it's as bad as most people think. And it's not like there aren't similar incidents elsewhere in the world. We believe that if one takes the necessary precautions and monitors the weather before and during the trip, there is a very good chance of a successful passage.

- the klenks 10/20/05

Kellowyn - F9RX Trimaran
Ben Ronninger, Crew
Bali To Johor Bahru, Malaysia
(Pacific Northwest)

"We're anchored at yet another place I never dreamed I would venture to - Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Judging from what I've seen, this place must feel its competition to stay as clean and modern as Singapore, the mecca across the Johor Strait that the Malaysians lost to independence 40 years ago.

Our sail here from Bali aboard Curtis Nettleship's trimaran was fairly routine, as early on as we plowed through books and games of cribbage while the Indian Ocean sent her winds and swells to push us along the southern coast of Java. We had a big decision to make when we came to the western tip of Java - should we continue along in the Indian Ocean, or should we go northeast between the big islands of Java and Sumatra and on up to the Malacca Strait? Both routes were fraught with perils, whether from the big ocean or from the shallow sea. We chose the scenic route northeast. This took us past Java Head, where the last Javan rhinos live; past Krakatoa, site of the huge earthquake of 1883; past Sumatra's mangroves; and past a thousand islands along the way.

We only sailed during the day to avoid collisions with supertankers, oil rigs, floating bamboo huts, fishing stakes and nets, and local boats that were anchored unlit despite the moonless nights. We made it safely, but just barely. All the days were great, but I'll tell you about one of my favorites.

I awoke before dawn - which comes at about 7 a.m. in these equatorial waters, AND where the days are 12 hours long. We had crossed the equator the day before while off Lingaa Island, where I paid homage to Neptune/Poseidon with a cup of fresh water. (He's gotta be thirsty, don't you think, as there's water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.) I also threw in some seashells, as I'm sure he needs more of those. My final offerings were some sweat and urine - and I had an excess of both. My offerings seemed to work the last time we faced a similarly risky situation.

We hadn't seen any rain on this leg of the passage, so when the skies looked black and ominous, we anticipated 'sumatras' - which are strong rain squalls from the west. They are common at this time of year, and we were actually looking forward to some fresh water. Despite the approach of the first Sumatra, we decided to keep Kellowyn's biggest headsail up for as long as we could in order to clear a small island to the east of us.

When the rain came, it came hard. And then it came even harder. The wind whistled through the rigging as the rain put dimples in our skin. That's when everything started to go wrong. The big headsail wouldn't furl, so I had to go out on the bowsprit to sort things out as the wind began to build to ludicrously high speeds. Curtis eased the tangled line through the choke to me and took over the helm from our autopilot - while the light tri took off in excess of 20 knots! She was surfing down the waves with me perched on a three-inch diameter pole just two feet off the water. I had nothing to hold on to except a little wire and the luff of the headsail.

In retrospect, I should have been scared, but I wasn't. I was too busy being in awe of the sound of the water rushing past the hulls and the speeds that we were travelling. Perhaps it helped that I couldn't see very well, and the tremendous amount of rain hitting the surface of the water created a two-inch higher layer of something that looked like fog. As precarious as my position was, it was the sweetest, most fun ride I think I've ever had. Curtis kept the boat as smooth as possible so I could solve the problems up forward. When I climbed back onto the bow of the boat, I felt a rush of the good stuff. We furled the screecher as much as we could, got it down on deck, and crammed the bag into an ama - as the wind gusted in excess of 60 knots!

While the fury lasted, we had no choice but to sketchily navigate through the hundreds of islands around us. We even nearly claimed one as the tri's permanent home. The wind and rain continued, so Curtis stretched a tarp out in the cockpit, and soon it had filled enough for us to take a proper bath! We'd have been quite a sight had anybody seen us, sailing over the waves at breakneck speed and having a bath as though we didn't have a care in the world.

The squall eventually ended, as all of them do. We anchored for the night just shy of the Strait of Singapore. We celebrated by played hacky-sack on the shore.

The next morning I paddled ashore to a trippy little community of shacks on stilts, seeking gas with jerry jugs. Meanwhile, Curtis sailed in circles in the light air waiting for me. Walking ashore at low tide, I was mesmerized by the community of creatures that live on the reef. I was even more flabbergasted by the cool way these folks live.

Having gotten fuel, we made our way across the Strait. I felt like a frogger, skipping across the busiest part of the busiest channel in the world. We nearly met the Deiulemar - does that mean 'sea duel' in some language? - head on, but then she gave way, all 4,000,000 tons of her to the two-ton underdog Kellowyn. Oh baby!

As we attempted to enter the Johor Strait and thus continue on to Malay Peninsula, we became lost in a complex of jetties and reclaimed land that didn't agree with our charts. Apparently the folks in Singapore just up and reclaim more land daily. And damn if another of those sumatras didn't hit as we were wandering aimlessly through the megatanker anchorage and shipping yards. We were more than a little ready for this sumatra, and came through the blow all right, finally finding our way out of the confounded district and continuing on to good ol' Malaysia.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I love coming through situations such as the one described above. The adrenaline is great, and the laughs when you survive are the best! I guess what I'll miss most about the sailing life is that sometimes Mother Ocean throws some unexpected fun your way, and the only thing you can do is embrace it and ride it out.

Some of you know that I'm giving up sailing for now. After all, I'm more of a mountain man than a salt, and more and more clearly feel the land calling me. Yet sometimes I wonder what I'm thinking, as this cruising is just too interesting and fun. After all, we're basically ambassadors wherever we go, and we're usually treated as such. I can't remember going to a place where Curtis and I didn't fall in tight with an eating or drinking establishment, and truthfully, what more does a man need than a bit of nourishment and imbibery? This was, of course, except when we were in places without such establishments, in which case we had to provide for ourselves. And that wasn't so hard, because we're actually not so bad at it.

Take the place we're at now. We've made friends with the administrator, who owns the juice bar across from the anchorage. He rarely lets us pay for fresh carrot juice, or watermelon, or starfruit, or honeydew melon juice. He watches our inflatable kayaks all day - well, he sits there playing cards, watching the weather, and napping in his gold chains. Plus, he's taking us on a tour of the mountains tomorrow to show us the rubber trees, oil palms, monkeys - and I'm sure a ton of more interesting things he knows about.

Maybe it's the dilapidated, disheveled, disgruntled, and destitute way we look - let's face it, you ain't gonna see us on the cover of Yachting World - that encourages locals to show us, real travellers, as opposed to those who came off airplanes for booked tours - the very best of their village, town, city, or what have you. But yes, I'm gonna put this kind of cruising aside, take to the mountains, and start my own thing.

I've sure gained a lot of knowledge from Curtis in these two years, and because of that I feel as though I can fix anything with what's at my feet. After all, we've kept this toy boat going for two years now - and she's taken a real pounding - with just what we brought along. It's really quite amazing, and I know the problems I face back home will be easier than this. So I'm gonna have to give it a go. Besides, I'll be broke soon.

- ben 06/10/05

Always Another Horizon
Tina Olton
A Typically Tough Beginning
(El Sobrante)

[In 1993, then-Berkeley residents Steve Salmon and Tina Olton began what would turn out to be an eight-year circumnavigation featuring visits to 61 countries. Tina has just published an account of that adventure titled Always Another Horizon, the name of their second Valiant 40. We're excerpting a chapter from her book - available from the usual bookstores and online sources - to prove that challenging and rewarding cruises don't always start smoothly.]

As we sailed between Santa Cruz and Morro Bay, the wind was near gale force, the seas were high, the engine was overheating, Stephen was seasick, the auto-pilot had stopped working, and it was a very dark night. There was also a dense fog. It made the dark night darker than dark. There was no ambient light from the shore or from the sky, so it was impossible to discern the horizon. We couldn't see where we were going, where we'd come from, or if the next wave would swamp us or slip under the hull. It's not unusual to have these conditions along the California coast, but they were not conditions anyone would hope for. I hated all of it.

We were both on deck grappling with the sails to reef them. It was my watch, and I had waited too long to wake Stephen to get his help with this task. The wind was whistling and it was difficult to get the sails under control. We were being flung from side to side by the confused seas. In the dark, we couldn't anticipate the wave action, and were readily thrown off balance. With no horizon to focus on, it was easy to become disoriented - although with all the sea action flinging us about, it was pretty hard to focus on anything.

And then the foghorn boomed off our starboard side. Oh, man! He was close, he was big, he was going fast, and no doubt he didn't have any notion that we were out there with him. We blew our own horn, which resulted in a puny, tinny sound. I rushed to the radar to watch his blip marching closer and closer to our path. Stephen called on the radio: "Ship travelling south at about latitude 35 degrees 52 minutes north, longitude 121 degrees 39 minutes west, this is the sailing vessel Another Horizon off your port bow. Do you copy?" There was no answer.

We had little time to plan a way to avoid the ship. Our usual policy was to assume nothing and get out of the way of any vessel bigger than ours. This ship was definitely bigger; we could tell by the tone of his horn. It was possible that he was blasting away because he did know we were there. But unless we could raise him on the radio to confirm it, we had to steer clear.

We turned into the seas. The sails slatted and crashed, the bow pumped up and down, and the waves rolled over the deck. We were drenched by seawater and at a near standstill. We watched his radar blip slide past us as we floundered in the trough and crashed through the crests of the waves. We never saw even a shadow of his hull. Oh, how I hated this!

The next morning the wind had abated some, but the fog continued to swirl around the rigging in wet tendrils as we approached Morro Bay. We could barely make our bow from the cockpit, the fog was so thick. Because of the shallow water and long breakwaters, Morro Bay is a tricky entrance even in good weather. In the fog, with the sea running, it can be impossible. We called the Morro Bay Harbormaster to ask for their advice.

Was the entrance passable? "Yes," they replied. "The seas are not bad at the entrance." Well, that was something. But we could see nothing, good or bad, as we approached. The radar was on to help us 'see', and the engine was on to give us more control. Stephen took the helm, and I watched the radar. On the radar screen the breakwaters appeared as two eerie greenish-yellow lines with a narrow gap between them. This would be an 'instrument landing'. We surfed down long rolling swells as we came to the gap between the breakwaters. I began to wonder what the Harbor Patrol's definition of "not bad" was. We stared into the grey void as I gauged our distance from the gap on the radar.

"A quarter mile . . . ah . . . less than that."

"How much is less?" Stephen complained.

"I don't know," I replied. "We should be right there . . . now."

"There, there, there!" Stephen yelled. And I could just then make out the gray rocks of the breakwater rising from the gray water, appearing through the gray air. At the last moment, a green marker gave us the key to the channel entrance. I heard a pounding. Was it my heart, or the waves on the rocks?

Slowly we chugged our way up the channel. With the warmth of the land and buildings close by, the fog was less dense, and we could make out the channel markers leading us to a calm berth. With Another Horizon tied at the dock, we both sank into the cockpit. We looked at each other and, I'll have to admit, small begrudging smiles appeared.

We solved most of the problems that had developed on that passage. The engine overheating was traced to a disintegrating pump belt, easily replaced. The autopilot remote control had been switched on somehow without our knowing it, causing us to believe that the autopilot was broken. We vowed that we would learn more about avoiding bad weather as the weeks progressed. And we agreed that we would reef the sails earlier when the wind came up.

Stephen's seasickness, however, would never be solved in the eight years we'd be at sea. It was his cross to bear. And me? At the moment I couldn't believe I was submitting to this way of life. Did I really want to go through more nights like this? I knew it would not be the last, that even with more diligence to the weather, we would have many nights like that - and even worse. Was I crazy? We were only two days into our eight-year odyssey, and I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into."

- tina 10/15/05

Cruise Notes:

Based on the following letter from Chuck Baier and Susan Landry of the Norfolk, Virginia-based Mariner 40 Sea Trek, not all port captains on the Caribbean coast of Mexico are aboard with the new clearing regulations:

"We sailed south from the States in June, just about when the new clearing rules were going into effect. At that time, some port captains on the Caribbean side were still refusing to follow the new regulations. Since then we have spent four months in Guatemala, and are now on our way back north. According to the regional SSB net, the skippers who have tried to clear into Mexico at Puerto Morales are being told they need to hire an agent - who apparently charges $200 and does very little for the money! In addition, the port captain at Isla Mujeres is also said to make cruisers use an agent. Who can we contact to complain about this? We are currently in Belize and heading north whenever the winds will allow. I guess you might say we're doing Mexico's Caribbean Bash."

It's illegal for port captains to require the use of agents or to charge to be 'informed' that a boat has arrived or is leaving port. Please send an email immediately to Tere Grossman, President of the Mexican Marina Owners Association. She will alert Jose Lozano, the Executive Director of the Merchant Marine in Mexico City. The boss of all port captains, he will reportedly get on their case for not following federal law. It's important that cruisers report all port captains who don't comply with the new federal rules.

"While anchored off Tigre Island one morning recently, there was a call on the VHF from 52-foot trimaran saying that they were on the reef just off Puyadas Island, about two miles north of us," report Ha-Ha vets Joe Brandt and Jacque Martin of the Alameda-based Wauquiez 47 Marna Lynn. "Knowing how nasty the reefs are here in Panama's San Blas Islands, we got Karl and his daughter Kelsey from the nearby Arclyd II, and headed over to see if we could help. When we arrived, it was clear the trimaran was really stuck. We tried to pull her off a couple of times, but had no luck. But while coordinating our effort over the VHF, friends John and Susie aboard the motor vessel Cabaret broke in and asked if they could help. After I explained the situation, they said they would be with us in less than an hour. The first time, they tried to pull the tri free with a 5/8-inch line from the trim. It broke. So John pulled out a 3/4-inch line. After a couple of pulls, they succeeded in getting the tri off the reef. Fortunately, she'd sustained no real damage, and was able to continue on her way. Nonetheless, it was a typical example of how cruisers - even powerboating cruisers - help each other out. It's our understanding that this wasn't the first time John and Susie have pulled a sailboat off."

If you're reading this issue in a timely manner, chances are the 20th anniversary of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the granddaddy of all cruising rallies, will still be in progress from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia. It started on November 20, and the last boat should arrive 2,900 miles later in St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean no later than December 17. Happy Birthday to the landmark event and its founder Jimmy Cornell.

The maximum of 225 boats has signed up, and probably about 200 will actually sail the course. Organizers made a big effort this year to get rid of the big and gaudy boats in an attempt to return the event to its cruiser roots. Well, it didn't work. So there's an Invitational Division for big Swans and Oysters mostly, an Open Division for the R/P 92 Leopard of London, an IRC Racing Division, and an IRC Invitational Racing Division. There's also a 21-boat multihull division, which may be a record.

In recognition of the 20th anniveesary, Matthew Sheahan of the United Kingdom's Yachting World came up with an interesting feature by determining the 10 most-entered boat models in the last five years. The results were 20 Amel Super Maraumu 52s; 16 Oyster 56s; 15 Beneteau Oceanis 473s; 15 Beneteau Oceanis 50s; 14 Beneteau 40.7s; 14 Hallberg-Rassy 42s; 14 Oyster 53s; 8 Beneteau First 47.7s; 10 Swan 48s; and 10 Westerly Oceanlords.

The most represented manufacturers? Beneteau, 22 models for a total of 96 boats. Nautor Swan, 27 models, 81 boats. Hallberg-Rassy, 16 models, 76 boats. Oyster, 18 models, 75 boats. Jeanneau, 21 models, 57 boats. Bavaria, 11 models, 45 boats. X-Yachts, 13 models, 23 boats. Two companies are tied for 8th place, Amel with 3 models and 22 boats, and Moody with 12 models and 22 boats. Westerly is tenth with nine models and a total of 20 boats.

In any event, we wish them all a safe and pleasant voyage.

"Okay, okay, okay, last month I wrote that I thought the streets of Colon, Panama, were not so bad," writes Kevin Stewart of the 45-year-old Arthur Robb 35 woodie Vixen. "That was on Saturday. On Sunday I went into Colon and everyone looked at me as if it was dinnertime at an anteater's house and I was an ant. I took a cab back to the yacht club, and am now thinking Colon isn't so nice after all.

"By the way," Stewart continues, "freaking Bonaire - way to the east in the Caribbean Sea - raised their mooring rates to $10/U.S. a day. The shopkeepers are the ones who are going to lose. I first arrived in Bonaire in '63, a purunchi-faced boy with a peeling nose. The island has changed since then. As you might know, all the waters around the island are a marine park, so there is no anchoring. My bitch is that the mooring fees have been doubled to $10/night, which for me is the difference between visiting and not visiting. So far there has been a decline in the number of boats that have visited, so doubling the price didn't double the park's income. And the local stores have lost a lot more. Bonaire is the island where you use your car horn to greet friends in the street - and then you also do it 10 minutes later when you pass them again. P.S. I anchored in Sausalito for 15 months, and I can tell you the water in the Caribbean is a lot clearer."

Susan Meckley of the Alameda-based Challenger 32 Dharma is not your average female senior citizen. In addition to being one of the leaders of last year's Puddle Jump, she did a solo 34-passage to Hawaii. But that was just the beginning of the 73-year-old's cruising aspirations. An enthusiastic amateur radio operator, she plans to broadcast from 23 seldom-visited locations in the Pacific. Meckley spent the summer in Pearl Harbor Navy Marina, and was a volunteer on the USS Missouri 'radio central' almost every day. And now she's received permission to visit Johnston Island, which just last October was abandoned by the U.S. Air Force in preparation for being turned over to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. We can remember when William F. Buckley sailed to Johnston aboard a chartered Ocean 71, and figured his friendship with the then-President would be enough to have him welcomed to the restricted island with open arms. To the eternal credit of the local commancer, Buckley and his crew were told, metaphorically speaking, to suck some sea slugs. Anyway, Meckley reports that everything on Johnston has been torn down and even the swimming pool was filled in. But the center of the channel, which is wide enough to tack a sailboat in, is still clear. "I should be arriving there around December 7 for a solo ham 'DXpedition'. I expect to remain on the island for a week or so before continuing on to Kwajalein."

"We're finally headed south from Rhode Island for the Bahamas and then on to South America," reports Christine Watson of the Wickford, Rhode Island-based Cal 36 Clarity. "It's been a tough year for heading south from New England, as more often than not, the winds have been out of the south at a pretty good clip. The only window we could get was a 35-knot northwesterly accompanied by near freezing temps. These were not the greatest conditions for regaining sea legs after a long period of working rather than sailing on the boat. Nor was it a good offshore introduction for my mate Curtis Garren, who joined me from inland Oregon. My two harbor-bound Jack Russell terriers Dodge and Aspen were less than impressed with conditions as well. Luckily, that first leg of open ocean sailing was not much more than 200 miles. The gale abated after 36 hours, enabling us to finish the passage with bright moonlight, calm seas, and a spectacular sunrise. Fortunately, we managed not to lose any limbs to frostbite, and my mate and dogs were troopers. But if anybody had asked at that point, I think they'd have said they'd rather live on land. My Cal 36 performed beautifully. I'm glad I've had the opportunity, means, and the know-how to restore such a classic. We're currently in the northern Chesapeake, visiting my family scattered along the length of the bay, working our way south. I'm trying to be patient, but can't wait to bury the long underwear and put on my birthday suit next to some balmy beach. Having left home, I'll miss my regular dose of Latitudes - but at least I'll be one of those people out there living the dream rather than sitting around the harbor reading about it."

"Bula!" write Kurt and Katie Braun of the Alameda and New Zealand-based Deerfoot 74 Interlude. "We're now on a passage from Fiji to Kiribati and reading up on all the World War II history. Almost 6,000 Japanese and Americans died in four days on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll. The losses were similar to Guadalcanal, but they happened over a much shorter period of time and in a much smaller area. Betio is only half a square mile! We had a lot of fun while in Fiji and made two new movies about kava drinking. The first is Grog Day Afternoon, the second is the Night of the Vagona. Just kidding."

Girls Gone Wild Island exposed as a fraud! If you have a television, you've no doubt been assaulted by ads for the Girls Gone Wild videos. You know, the ones where alleged college girls on Spring Break, fueled by alcohol and dying for attention, shed their inhibitions and clothes for the cameras. Unable to sleep at 5 a.m. the other morning, we flicked on the television to see nonstop ads for a title called Girls Gone Wild at Girls Gone Wild Island. The pitch was, "Ever dream of having your own private island full of hot young girls battling each other for your viewing pleasure? Well, dream no more. You're invited to the Girls Gone Wild Island where absolutely anything goes with the hottest, sexiest young girls you've ever seen!" Well, after following the bouncing breasts and butts for a few minutes, our eyes drifted to the background - and we had a revelation. Girls Gone Wild Island isn't an island at all, but rather the north shore of Banderas Bay, about a mile east of Punta Mita. We know because it's our favorite anchorage/surf spot in Mexico. That GGW guy should be ashamed of himself, trying to mislead his audience like that.

We don't know that we've ever met Robert Case, and we aren't sure where he's from, but we're pleased he decided to advise us that by reaching Noumea, New Caledonia, he's completed a circumnavigation aboard his sloop Lala Salama. "Not too bad for an old girl and an even older boy," he writes. His best 24-hour run was 174 knots, his top speed was 12.4 knots, and he averaged five knots while underway. Well done!

Whenever possible, dear readers, try to include the boat name, boat type, hailing port, and full names of the principles in any report. It makes the reports more precise and authoritative when in print. But trust us, we know how hard it can be to get the full information. For example, we've been in frequent contact with a woman at the Hidden Port YC in Puerto Escondido who always just refers to herself by her cruising names of 'Connie' and 'Connie SunLover'. When we asked for her full name, we got a short story in response.

"I can understand why you'd be confused," she responded. "I am Connie SunLover, but when I came down here nine years ago I wasn't married. I got involved with the Hidden Port YC, then met Elvin of the 42-ft Cross trimaran Western Sea. We eventually got married in the States, and again here in Juncalito Beach with all our friends. Then we got a panga, which Elvin uses in the harbor. But while we were using the panga to rescue all kinds of boats after hurricane Marty, the panga started to sink. So when there was an alert broadcast over the VHF that "Western Sea is sinking", five dinghies rushed over to our tri. But it was the panga that was sinking, not the tri. So now Elvin uses "SeaLover", a combination of Western Sea and SunLover. But my real name is Connie McWilliam Schultz."

If you're still as confused as we are, have Connie clear it up for you in person when you get to Puerto Escondido for Loreto Fest in early May. She says it's going to be really big this year.

Speaking of really big, on November 19, Panamanian President Martin Torrijos announced to officials from the States, Europe, and Asia that Panama would be building a megaport at the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal. This has long been expected, but if you think it bodes well for cruiser anchorages and small boat Canal transits, think again.

What's the market for berths like in Cabo San Lucas? Let's put it this way: they are charging between $3-$4 a foot per night for transient berthing, and having no trouble getting it. What's more surprising is that Victor Barreda, who has been a ship's agent in town for 40 years, says it was as crowded as he's ever seen it in the marina over the summer. Fortunately, there's a big and lovely anchorage in the bay, where you can drop the hook for free - and where you won't be asphyxiated by several hundred sportfishing boats at 5:30 a.m. each morning. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if the 500-berth marina being built down the road at San Jose del Cabo will have an effect on berthing prices in Cabo when it opens next year.

The other place in Mexico that is dying for berths is Banderas Bay. For years people have been threatening to build a marina at La Cruz, which would be an excellent site. The word is that construction has begun on a facility that will one day accomodate 300 boats. We'll believe that when we see it, which should be by early December, and we'll give you a report. If things are as advertised, Banderas Bay would clearly become the sailng center of Mexico, as it would not only have the most consistent wind and flat water, but have four terrific marina/anchorage bases around the bay - Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, La Cruz, and Punta Mita.

The completion of Marina Costa Baja in La Paz doubled the number of berths in that southern Baja town overnight. What's the effect been on older marinas such as Marina de La Paz? "We've got 10 Ha-Ha boats coming up from Cabo," Mary Shroyer told us, "and when they get here, we'll be completely full."

"Can you hear me now?" Some of the folks in the Ha-Ha were saying that familiar phrase into their regular old cell phones at very remote places - such Bahia Santa Maria and as much as 90 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas. And they were getting good reception most of the time. Depending on what billing plan they had, the cost could be very low. The Grand Poobah, for instance, has a Cingular plan - reportedly no longer available - in which a call from the wilds of southern Baja to Sausalito is a regular call, just like one from San Francisco to Sausalito. That's telecommunications progress!

Speaking of modern communications in Mexico, we received the following report from Jay Hall of the Punta Gorda, Florida-based Pacific Seacraft 37 Orion: "Much to our surprise, we've been getting very high-speed WiFi out here at the east end of the Cabo anchorage. It looks as though the router is from the hotel just up the beach. It's fast, and the price is right - free!"

If you're cruising around Mexico and get WiFi at an anchorage, please send us an email and let us know where. We'd like to pass the news along to other cruisers.

Rick Carpenter advises that he reopened Rick's Bar, which is cruiser central in Zihua, on October 31. "Yes, internet WiFi is up and operating, but we won't have the exterior antenna up until next week to provide high-speed to the boats on Zihua Bay. We have formed the Zihua Cruisers Club. The $50 annual membership gets you free use of the Internet system, dinghy valet service on the beach, and I'm mounting a remote camera for surveillance of bay and boats. I just need a little time to get it all done."

Like most yachtie centers in Mexico, Rick's will be having special dinners on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and will be having a raft of activities during the Zihua SailFest February 1-5. SailFest is an outstanding fundraiser for the school for indigenous children, so if you're in Mexico, we encourage you not to miss it. We expect to be there with Profligate, and hope you'll join us in raising money for the excellent cause.

"My wife Cheryl and I will be shuttling from our Nashville home to our 53-ft sailboat Blue, which is our second home, in Mexico this winter," writes Ken Sears. "We hope to be seeing as much of the Mexican "Gold Coast" as possible. We already have reservations at Marina de La Paz for our first hop. We've stayed there before and love the staff and marina patrons. Do you have suggestions for any similarly cordial, safe marinas further south? We've never liked the cost or feel of Cabo as much as La Paz. We draw 8.5 feet, so our access to Paradise Village in Nueva Vallarta is typically limited to one passage over the bar per 24 hours."

The 'Gold Coast' of Mexico is generally considered to be between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo on the mainland, a distance of 175 miles. The only marinas within that area are Isla Navidad Marina at Barra Navidad, and the small one at the Las Hadas Resort. The Gold Coast is mostly a place for cruising on the hook, with Tenacatita Bay the most popular spot. There are two marinas at the north end of the Gold Coast, Marina Paradise at Nuevo Vallarta, and Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta. They will be absolutely packed during the high season, so get on the waiting list as soon as possible and work on your groveling. The closest marina north of the Gold Coast is Mazatlan, the closest to the south is way down at Ixtapa.

Chris and Carolyn Bridge and their three young children - Tristan, Ethan, and Cheyenne - of the Corona del Mar-based Outremer 55 Cheval report they made it across to New Zealand. They are now back home for a few months so the kids can enroll in regular school. The Bridges bought their cat from the factory in southern France, sailed around the Med, and sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean where we first met them. Subsequently, they sailed to the Canal and as far north as San Francisco. After returning to Newport Beach, they cruised all the way across the Pacific. C'est bon! as the French would say.

Each time about this year, a group of Southbounders begins to form, these being the folks who have been in Mexico and are continuing south to Central America. Ten years ago, the Southbounders were outnumbered by Puddle Jumpers heading across the Pacific. But with Central America no longer having civil wars and having opened up in ways older cruisers never would have imagined, and with the cost of living so low, many sailors are heading south instead of west. If you're part of the organization of this group, please be advised that we at Latitude would like to recognize you. To do that, we need the name, type, and hailing port of each boat, and the full names of the skipper and first mate. When you've assembled a pretty complete list, we'd be happy to publish it the way we do the Puddle Jump List.

"I recently spent five weeks in Puerto Vallarta, during which time I visited dentist Dr. Adan Michel," reports Ken Robinson of Petaluma. "Dr. Michel was mentioned in a recent Latitude letter where a reference was made to "cheap dental work". At age 75, I've seen a lot of dentists in my life, both here and in Ireland where I was born, but Dr. Michel is without a doubt the finest I have come across. I discovered him after buying a condo in Puerto Vallarta several years ago. He speaks perfect English, having done much of his training in Marin County. "Cheap dental work" has a negative connotation. It would have been more accurate to associate his name with 'inexpensive dental work'. His wife is also a dentist. Their office is just a short distance from Marina Vallarta. Any taxi driver could take patients to Aldanaca 170 Colonia Versalles, Puerto Vallarta. His phone number is (322) 224-97-61. When dialing from the U.S., first dial 011-52. He can also be reached by email. If a person needs dental work done, they can actually save money by flying to Puerto Vallarta to get it done."

While in Turtle Bay during the Ha-Ha, we were approached by three men in uniforms who introduced themselves as being from Semarnap, which is the National Ecology Institute of Mexico. They explained that Turtle Bay was part of a national marine park, and as such they were required to sell user bracelets to all visitors at a price of $20 pesos - about $2 U.S. - per day, per person. The law regarding this had been in effect for four years, they told us, but in previous years they'd always missed the Ha-Ha fleet. In fact, they'd gotten the dates wrong this year and driven four hours over a washboard road to find the 500+ Ha-Ha sailors wouldn't be coming for another week.

There are a number of these park and preserve areas around Baja and the mainland. For instance, all of Baja's islands are a part of one, as is the reef at Los Frailes. The truth of the matter is that you can usually visit most of these places and not have to pay for the simple reason that there isn't an efficient system for collecting the fees. It's hit or miss. Some cruisers seek out Semarnap offices in towns and buy their bracelets in advance, while others make appropriate or even larger donations when they return. In any event, these guys and the charges are legit - assuming they have the badges, bracelets, and brochures. We think $2/person/day is a small price to pay to try to preserve these valuable resources. According to the pamphlets, the fees collected are used as follows: 50% for signs and rehabilitation of public services and information programs; 25% to increasing the number of park rangers; and 25% to conservation and sustainable development projects.

"This is a letter of thanks," write Jerry and Kathy McGraw of the Newport Beach-based Peterson 44 Po Oino Roa. "First, thanks for us being able to come south with the Ha-Ha Class of '99, and then again with the Ha-Ha Class of '04. Having enjoyed a great summer in the Sea of Cortez, we're now starting our fourth winter season in Mexico. We also want to thank the Poobah for leading a new group of cruisers in the Ha-Ha on the start of their new life of adventure. Right now we're sitting in La Paz with some of the just-arrived Ha-Ha folks, and it's wonderful to see the smiles on their faces as they settle into the new lifestyle. Their smiles bring smiles to the faces of those of us who have been here awhile, for it means it's time for us to get moving over to the mainland and then stike out for new cruising grounds further south and/or west."

All we can say is that you're very welcome, it was our pleasure. Here's to hoping everybody has a great cruising season. We encourage everyone to make the best use of it by being curious and mentally active. You have a great opportunity to see and learn new stuff. Use it!

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