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|Pacific Puddle Jump 1999
The Call of the Conch Shell
Throughout this month and next, French Polynesians in the sleepy Marquesas islands will be looking out to seaward, scratching their heads and saying, "Another one?"
It wasn't too many years ago that the number of cruising sailboats arriving in the Marquesas each spring could be counted on two hands. But this year despite the fact that these remote islands themselves have changed little in recent decades a veritable armada of cruisers are making landfall in the fabled anchorages of Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva and others, having successfully completed the 2,800-mile 'Pacific Puddle Jump' from Mexico to the Marquesas.
As you read this, a record number of sailing yachts roughly 80 are either en route or have already arrived. After spending a season or two enjoying the Mexican coast and the Sea of Cortez, they began their westward treks from a half dozen Mexican ports such as Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Mazatlan, Manzanillo and Zihuatanejo. But the largest group was staged at Puerto Vallarta, which is where we caught up with the folks youll meet on the following pages.
Although they come from diverse backgrounds, all of these adventurers share similar dreams of meeting the challenges of open-ocean sailing; making sun-kissed landfalls at palm-fringed islands; and living a simple, healthy lifestyle far removed from the frenetic pace of the American mainstream.
Among the 80 boats that were aware of, there are at least three singlehanders and several families with adolescent kids on board. But the vast majority are couples whove chosen to make the crossing without the aid of additional crew thanks to a little help from autopilots, roller-furling genoas and self-tailing winches. While many captains and their mates are retirees in their 60s or 'early' retirees in their 50s, there are younger players too, who are merely taking an extended hiatus from the rat race or have simply decided to cash out in their 30s or 40s, in order to do their adventuring while they're still young and fit. Like the crews who sail them, their boat sizes vary, of course, too. This year's fleet ranges in size from 30 to 68 feet.
Many cruising sailors tend not to be 'joiners'. But while few of the folks we talked to plan to buddy-boat across the Pacific, most do plan to keep in touch by high frequency radio if for no other reason than to learn about the weather that lies ahead of them.
Each year, groups of would-be Puddle Jumpers swap charts, navigation tactics and other tips in preparation for what may well be one of the longest nonstop crossings on their around-the-world itineraries 20 or more days at sea. Although most Puddle Jumpers have never met in the flesh, many have been getting to know each other via a special South Pacific radio net that began long before the first boat left port. Now, as they move across that vast stretch of open ocean, their sense of community will undoubtedly build through daily contact, and by the time they reach Polynesia, their shared sense of accomplishment will inspire them to greet each other as old friends.
With all this as background, we introduce you to (a portion of) the Pacific Puddle Jump Class of '99. Wish we could have met them all, but hopefully we'll hear from many of the others in the coming months. We've put the word out to the fleet to "Keep them cards and letters and e-mails coming."
The Moore Family, Pt. Townsend
To find Attu in any harbor, just look for the two wooden masts raked way back. On board you'll find bright young Ezra, 11, his sweet little sister Hannah, 8, and their parents Charlie and Gayle.
So far, on their 3-year cruise, the bird sanctuary and pods of whales at Isla Isabella have been the highlight, although the kids really enjoyed Sausalito on the trip south, where they made some close friends.
The Moore's approach to home schooling encompasses more than traditional book learning. Gayle, the teacher Charlie is the principal uses opportunities to learn along the way, from Monterey's Aquar-ium and Walk of History to Mazatlan's bullfights.
From Nuevo Vallarta, the family plans to do the 'milk run' through the islands, with Charlie serving as South Pacific Net Manager along the way having been 'volunteered' by its creator, ex-Air Force officer Jim Hegland of Laughing Buddha. While they're away, Charlie's business, Edensaw Woods, is being run by his partner Jim Ferris, who recently returned from his own 3-year cruise.
Break 'N Wind
John & Nancy Moore, Alameda
"It's hard to believe it can get any better than this!" say John and Nancy. " We've really enjoyed the people and places so far." Apparently they really like Nuevo Vallarta's Paradise Village Resort and Marina, though. Despite the fact they were about to set sail for the Marquesas last month, they couldn't resist buying a condo with a private dock at the resort to come back to.
For now, though, they're sticking to the plans they made before sailing south last November with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet to be in New Zealand for the America's Cup. Proud members of the St. Francis YC, they can't wait to cheer on Cayard and Co.
Although John, a retired electrical engineer, and Nancy, a former building manager, have laid out an ambitious timetable for the next seven months, their sleek J/130 is certainly up to the task. With any luck she'll probably make one of the fastest crossings in the fleet.
"Moving fast through the islands might not be such a bad thing," says Nancy. "We really don't want to be tempted to buy another condo!" After the A-Cup, their game plan is to spend some time at Australia's Great Barrier Reef, visit the Solomons, then circle back to California on a northerly route.
Cheoy Lee 36
Monk Henry, Sausalito
A man of considerable wit and good humor, Monk explains his reasoning for taking off cruising: "I had a heart attack, my wife left me and the cat died."
A former TV production manager, Monk sailed south with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet last fall he was the guy who undeservedly landed in jail within hours of arriving in Cabo while trying to assist a panga driver. The misunderstanding occurred largely because Monk spoke no Spanish at the time, but we're happy to report that by now he's picked up the lingo quite well.
He's also become totally enamored with the age-old tradition of bullfighting, and has become friends with several matadors. While in Puerto Vallarta, Monk could often be seen in the bull ring himself at the El Cortijo restaurant, where patrons are encouraged to grab a cape and try their luck. Naturally, the all-you-can-drink beverage policy fortifies the courage of the crowd.
Monk will set sail this month or next, accompanied by longtime friend R.J. Palmer. Plans are loose: Just head to the Marquesas, on to Tahiti, then. . . We can't wait to find out what mischief he gets himself into next.
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Larry & Barbara Gilbert, Honolulu, HI
Of all the couples we interviewed, Larry, who hails from Honolulu, and his English-born wife, Barbara, win the prize for the most exotic meeting place: the Maldives Islands. They met while vacationing there a few years back and a spark ignited between them even though she was with another guy. Six months later, she gave up her job in England and moved to the States to join Larry.
In the fall of '97 he quit his job in the computer biz and they got married. Within a few months they began their open-ended adventure of cruising around the world, so, as far as they're concerned, they're still on their honeymoon, and will continue to be for years to come. "We plan to use that as our excuse if anyone accuses us of being antisocial, since we like anchorages where there are no other people," explains Larry. They plan to "avoid the America's Cup and Olympics at all costs." And instead, look forward to visiting off-the-beaten-track destinations like Indonesia, Chagos, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
Germania 40 ketch
The Swirski Family, Alameda
It's tough enough raising five adolescents at home, let alone on a 40-ft sailboat. But after a year and 1,200 miles of cruising together, the Swirski family seems to be doing just fine.
"First I was really psyched about it," recalls 11-year-old Bridget, "but then it got boring, and now I like it again." She and her siblings, Tracey (9), Megan (14), Caitlin (13), and big brother Alec (16), have all had periodic bouts of homesickness, but as their father, Michael, points out, "They've also met a lot of friends that they never would have, and now they keep in touch with them by e-mail." They also keep in touch with their old friends back home. "But our old friends don't really have a clue about what our lifestyle is like," says Megan.
Besides keeping her big brood happy, one of mother Kathleen's biggest challenges is trying to incorporate traditional 'book-learning' into their day-to-day sailing adventures. "With five of them, correspondence courses were just too expensive," she explains, "so we've gathered books and info from several different sources."
Although their around-the-world journey has only just begun, the Swirskis should have little trouble adapting to shipboard life, as the kids have lived aboard in Alameda their whole lives. The eventual plan is to sail to Europe, drop the sticks and explore the interior via canals. Michael looks forward to a big reunion with his family in Poland, who've never met the kids.
Davie & Ziggy Clark, Newport, OR
In contrast to high-strung, fast-living Californians, Oregonians are thought of as laidback, down-to-earth folks and Davie and Ziggy Clark certainly fit the stereotype. Both are bright-eyed, friendly, and instantly likeable.
When we ask-ed what advice they'd give to others who are contemplating long-term cruising, Ziggy was philosophical: "Travel in hope, with a smile in your heart," while Davie was pragmatic: "Look hard at the people around; make sure you're on the right bus."
Like several other couples in the fleet, they aren't afraid to admit that news of the recent storms on the Fiji-to-New Zealand crossing has affected their planning: "We're basically chicken to make that passage," quips Davie, "so we're going west through the island chains to Australia instead." At that point, they'll decide whether a complete circumnavigation is in the cards.
Although this particular cruise began less than a year ago, the Clarks are probably among the more experienced in the fleet, having cruised off and on since '86.
Louis & Sharon Hunter, Bay Area
"If we can make it to the Marquesas and are still speaking with each other," says Sharon, "then we'll go on to Australia and make our minds up where to go from there."
Before retiring, she and Louis both worked for the Port of Oakland and lived aboard Tin Can at Fortman Marina after they built her, that is. To hear them tell it, years ago, when they started fantasizing about going cruising Louis said, "How 'bout if I build us a boat." Five years later their Bruce Roberts-designed 43-footer was ready to splash. Unlike typical backyard boatbuilders, Tin Can came to life in an Alameda warehouse at the old Nelson's Marine location, so they were able to work on her year-round.
Shortly after leaving the Bay Area in the fall of '97, they and Tin Can had their first big trial, when they met El Nino's wrath en route to Cabo, "We hand-steered for 36 hours with sustained winds of 50-60 knots," recalls Sharon with a shiver.
Since then, it's been smooth sailing, though, which they hope will continue as they head for the tropical latitudes of the South Pacific.
Brett Thompson & Jeanette Woodland, Morro Bay
We tried to tell them, but they just wouldn't listen. . . With a name like Circumdecision, we can picture some very awkward moments dealing with authorities around the world.
No, the name has nothing to do with a surgical operation to circumnavigate or not to circumnavigate; that is the question! And the answer is yes.
Brett, a former pro surfer, and Jeanette, who used to manage a poultry ranch, intend to make a complete circumnavigation in the coming years. Both are only in their mid-30s, making them among the youngest co-skippers in the fleet and we're jealous as hell.
Hans Christian 38
Jerry & Kathy Manifold, S.F.
"We sailed out the Golden Gate on Christmas eve of '97," Jerry recalls fondly. Once they hit Pt. Conception, though, they got beat up by one storm after another on the trip south blame that nasty El Niöo and didn't arrive at Cabo until March.
But since then, life has been good. "We loved the quiet anchorages and the clear water of the Sea of Cortez." Now they're off around the world at a leisurely, 8 to 10-year, pace. Having begun planning for this adventure 16 years ago, "there's no point in hurrying now," says Jerry, a retired architect. Kathy was a hospital administrator.
With that in mind, they'll sit out the cyclone season in Christmas Island after touring Tahiti, the Cooks and Samoa. What places are they most excited about seeing? Bali, Bora Bora and the Seychelles are at the top of their dream list. Mike Passovoy will crew to Polynesia.
Hallberg Rassy 36
Bruce & Jenny Hilton, Gig Harbor, WA
We met Bruce and Ginny last fall on the Baja Ha-Ha, when Bruce posed the question: "Who says there's no such thing as male menopause? Why else would a practical, responsible man leave his career, pull up his roots in a great community with countless friends to sail away on a 36-ft sailboat to who-knows-where?"
By the time we caught up with Orinoco Flow last month, however, the Hiltons were torn by a different dilemma: "It has been a tough decision to make the crossing this year," says Ginny. "We're enjoying Mexico a lot and will unfortunately miss the entire Sea of Cortez." Nevertheless, they realize their cruising kitty is limited, and that Mexico's charms have enticed many a cruiser to linger for years and years.
Although the Hiltons both have plenty of inshore sailing experience Bruce began at age 11 they confide that, "The crossing to French Polynesia will be, by far, the biggest thing we have accomplished in sailing and perhaps in life!"
Pattern Challenger 40
John & Aleta Goodrich, S.F.
One of the biggest challenges of offshore cruising is managing your fresh water supply, but few of us are experts on the subject. So who ya gonna call when questions arise? John and Aleta, that's who. Back in the real world, both worked in the Bay Area 'water biz'.
Both are also careful planners: They took the first step of this journey back in '85, when they bought Holding Pattern with the intention of circumnavigating after 10 years of saving their pennies and making preparations. "Which explains why we have the oldest boat in the fleet," jokes Aleta.
They left the Bay Area in September of '97, and spent last summer exploring the Sea of Cortez. "It's still pretty much untouched," says Aleta, "and the northern islands are especially beautiful." Both she and John are avid scuba divers with a compressor on board so, naturally, they can't wait to get to the crystal-clear waters of Fiji and other fabled diving destinations.
(N.Z.) Peterson 44
Peter & Diane Bain, Hamilton, NZ
Yacht designer Doug Peterson couldn't ask for a better testimonial. After researching a wide variety of cruising sailboat designs, New Zealanders Peter and Diane Bain decided the Peterson 44 was the boat for them. Trouble was, there weren't any for sale on their side of the planet.
However, a sailor friend aboard Daq Attack had a copy of Latitude 38, from which Peter gathered the e-mail addresses of West Coast brokers so he could expand his search. In the end after exchanging a ream of faxes they settled on a boat that was lying in P.V. While Peter closed the deal, Diane sold their house and most of their possessions. Last April they took delivery, then bashed north to San Diego to fit her out for cruising.
Even though the Bains are longtime powerboaters, they're modest about their sailing experience. But hey, they're Kiwis it's in their blood. From the Marquesas, they'll make a beeline through the South Pacific islands, then back home to N.Z.
Custom 45' cat
Blair & Joan Grinols, Lakeport, CA
Blair says he started dreaming about long-distance ocean voyaging 20 years ago, and he knew then he wanted a fast boat. So with Joan's blessings, he built this custom cat four years ago.
Since then, these two easygoing retirees have put many miles on their twin-hulled home, including two Baja Ha-Has and a dog leg to Hawaii en route back to the Bay.
While many Puddle Jumpers have ambitious plans of racing through the tropics to New Zealand and Australia, the Grinols' approach seems much more realistic and rewarding. They'll spend the first season in French Polynesia, then sit out the cyclone season in the Line Islands. Season two will be in the Cooks and Tonga, escaping the threat of cyclones afterwards in the Marshalls. They'll explore Fiji during season three. If we could all be as fit and cheerful in our 60s as Blair and Joan, it would be a happier world indeed.
Larry & Grace Kent, San Diego
"While vacationing on Bora Bora years ago," recalls Grace, "we looked out at the boats anchored off the Bora Bora Yacht Club and said, 'Someday we'll be aboard one of those boats.'" Now others land-bound vacationers are probably idolizing them.
Larry and Grace have the dubious distinction of being the oldest couple in the fleet he's 67 and she's not telling but the sailing life has kept them young at heart. For 13 years they lived aboard in San Diego and now that they are actively cruising, they confirm, "This is a much more fit lifestyle than being retired at home. But it is physically demanding."
After a leisurely two years in Mexico, they plan to "take it slow" in the South Pacific also, leaving Eagle on the hard at Raiatea during the first cyclone season.
John Sloboda (solo), Oxnard
At 67, John Sloboda is tied with Larry Kent for the title of oldest Puddle Jump skipper, but when in the 'colorful character' category, he takes the cake. (See Sightings next month.)
Suffice it to say that John first made headlines in Latitude in 1991 when he was fished out of the blue Pacific by crewmen aboard a passing cruise ship. He'd fallen off Joliga wearing nothing but a T-shirt.
Later that year, he and Joliga got caught in the throes of Hurricane Nora, yet survived. But after nearly dying last year due to a collapsed lung, the devout singlehander figured, "What the heck have I got to lose," and started making plans for the Puddle Jump. He bought Joliga new in '78 and has lived aboard ever since; he's been cruising since '88 and doesn't intend to quit any time soon.
Rob & Patty Castle, Victoria, B.C.
If the fleet hears the lilting sound of a penny whistle dancing on the tradewinds in mid-ocean, it'll be a safe bet that Calypte is somewhere close by.
Both Patty and Rob are musicians he plays guitar and bouzouki who used to play with a Celtic-rock band. "We'll be rockin' and reeling our way across the Pacific," they say.
Having sailed extensively in the Pacific Northwest since '85, Rob and Patty are ready and eager to get on with their open-ended cruise. Their only plan is to be in New Zealand by November. Yes, they did have day jobs too: He was a biologist and she worked as an engineering 'draftsperson'.
Bill & Debbie Marman, Seattle
Bill and Debbie are also Ha-Ha '97 veterans. But that wasn't their first trip to ol' Mexico. In '93 they played hookey and did a loop from Seattle to Mexico and back via Hawaii.
They went back to work for three years, then set off again in the fall of '97 on an open-ended cruise. Serious engine problems inspired them to take Romance north for repairs last year, but now the South Pacific beckons.
Bill's nautical career is more varied than most: he's run landing craft for the Army, served in the Merchant Marine and worked as an engineer on Washington State Ferries. Debbie's dad taught her to sail in Puget Sound when she was a teenager. With young Mike Lucarelli along as crew, their plan is to keep plans loose until Tahiti, then decide to continue around the globe or head home via Hawaii.
Southern Cross 39
Fred & Beda Stewart, Juneau
It's amazing how many Alaskans you meet in the tropics. We met Fred and Beda last fall in the Baja Ha-Ha and learned how their love of sailing was spawned as youngsters in southern Alaska.
Since retiring in '97 they've cruised extensively and now intend to make landfall in New Zealand by November. But that's just 'Plan A'. "We really can't make decisions until we get out there," says Fred sagely. Being a retired Superior Court Judge, he should have no problem making the tough choices.
John & Patty White, Bay Area
Here's proof that sailing school classes really do pay off. After reading Tania Aebi's Maiden Voyage, John and Patty got the sailing bug. They both took lessons at Spinnaker Sailing of Redwood City in '92, earning their Bareboat certifications. Then John continued with Offshore Cruising classes at Club Nautique, where Escapade was a fleet boat.
They eventually invested in a charter boat in The Moorings' BVI fleet, and for the next four years, spent every vacation at Moorings charter destinations. So without ever going cruising before, they've sailed in the BVI (five times), Grenada, St. Lucia, Tahiti, Tonga and the Sea of Cortez (out of La Paz). The Whites are now off on a five-year circumnavigation via the Cape of Good Hope, to round out their worldliness, so to speak.
Other atypical things about John and Patty's story is that they trucked their boat from the Bay Area to Pt. Townsend to equip her for cruising, then began their cruise to Mexico last May by first sailing up to Alaska!
(U.S.), MacGregor 65
Doug Hawkins & Bette, San Francisco
Ironically, one of the biggest boats in the fleet this year is owned by one of the youngest skippers Doug's only in his 30s.
He crewed on another boat in the Ha-Ha this year, serving as the 'local knowledge' guy, since he'd been cruising in Mexican waters for the past two years with his cruising mate, Bette Flagler.
Doug is undoubtedly the only Puddle Jumper that can say he taught sailing in the U.S. Navy. He's been sailing since '75.
Bette and Doug plan to do the SoPac milk run en route to New Zealand, and take it from there.
Mel & Rebecca Shapiro, Hawaii
You might say Mel and Rebecca have come full circle. "We first went cruising in the '70s, at the tail end of the 'hippie cruising' era," recalls Rebecca.
To hear them tell it, back then, everyone was bashing around the oceans in tiny production boats, home-built catamarans and backyard ferrocement monstrosities with minimal equipment. At sundown the folks they knew then were more likely to fire up a joint than tipple a glass of vintage wine and they were mostly in their 20s and 30s.
With those memories, it's no wonder Mel and Rebecca, now in their mid-50s, used to think they were too old to cruise. But as they've gotten older so has the typical age of vagabonding sailors. And while the original Ricka, an Ericson 36, was one of the biggest boats on the cruising scene, the current incarnation is a roomy Taswell 43. As they begin an 8 to 10-year circumnavigation, they'll be joined on the crossing by Rose Herrera and Ric Elhard.
Those are all the P.V. Puddle Jumpers we met. The following folks checked in from other jumping-off points via e-mail.
Summer Alden 32
D. Villepique & B. Bernasconi, S.F.
Doug and Bruce are two 'vild und crazy guys' in their mid-30s that we met on the Ha-Ha last fall.
"We'll have to go back to work at some point, but hopefully the cruising funds will hold out for at least a couple of years," they surmise. No serious plans apart from getting to Australia next winter.
They've really enjoyed their short time in Mexico: "The weather is perfect every day, and there are so many beautiful anchorages and great little villages to visit."
48' Townsend cutter
The Burger Family
Gary and Caryn Burger and their kids, Ryan (16) and Nathaniel (13), have been sailing together aboard their wooden classic since the boys were infants.
Now at the end of a 10-year plan, they broke into the cruising life long before leaving the States, by "living like cruisers" on the hook in San Diego for the past six years and home-schooling their kids.
Caryn's advice to others: "Start living 'the life' as soon as possible. It's a lot easier to get used to doing things on a boat when you're not also being hit with 15-foot waves and 40 knots of wind." Gary says: "Get, and stay, physically fit and bring lots of duct tape and epoxy!" And young Nathaniel adds: "Integrate with the Mexican people. Don't just hang out with cruisers." Sage advice all.
Brian & Rolande Lawson, Edmonton
Although they lived in landlocked Alberta, Brian and his wife Rolande have been sailing in the waters of British Columbia, as well as foreign destinations, for 15 years. They liquidated their assets in the summer of '97, and headed for the southern sunshine, hoping to catch up with Rolande's brother Albert Bergerson and his wife Terry on Northern Summit.
They finally rendezvoused six months later and have cruised the Sea of Cortez in tandem for the past year. Both boats are now en route to the Galapagos, where they'll spend some time amongst the blue-footed boobies before island-hopping through the South Pacific. A complete circumnavigation is the eventual goal, but after a decade of anticipation and planning neither boat is in a hurry.
Summit 39' Folkes cutter
Albert & Terry Bergerson
Albert and Terry hail from Vancouver Island, B.C., but have every intention of sailing in sunny climes for the forseeable future. Buddy-boating with Ghost River, they plan to cruise "as long as health and money hold out."
Devotion Beneteau 500
Tim Modders & Cynthia Wilkes
Tim has been an avid sailor since he was a teenager, competing in many Bay Area racing programs. Having completed a 20,000 mile circuit that included Hawaii, French Polynesia and Mexico, he knows what to expect on this planned 4-year circumnavigation via the Suez.
Cynthia started sailing just five years ago, taking classes at Spinnaker Sailing. But both of them are equally excited about what promises to be an amazing voyage. They'll be joined by Derek Mauer on the Puddle Jump, who is a highly experienced Bay Area sailor.
Star of the
Woods Cooper 416
The Bacon Family, Victoria, B.C.
The Bacons are all avid sailors whose longtime base of operations has been the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. Father Hugh is an ex-Canadian Navy officer who's wanted to sail around the world since his childhood. Mother Joyce and adult daughter Stephanie who's an avid racer will be along for the joy ride, as will family friend Klaus Schmidt.
The ultimate goal is to circumnavigate, but phase one will take Star of the Woods only as far as New Zealand where she'll stay on the hard for a season while the family briefly rejoins the real world.
Buddha Hans Christian 41
Jim & Nancy Hegland, Ft. Walton, FL
Last but not least, we would be greatly remiss not to acknowledge Jim and Nancy. They not only organized the SoPac net which will help shepherd the fleet across the big blue, but were very generous in sharing their fleet info with us so we could share it with you.
Ha-Ha '96 veterans, both Jim and Nancy are former air force officers who will be spending the next decade enjoying their early retirement in exotic destinations. As their boat name implies, they are both fun-loving characters.
For now, that's all we can tell you about this year's fleet. But we'll check in with these folks and others after they reach Polynesia, and we hope to bring you a wrap-up report filled with tall tales and insights. In the meantime, dream on. It could be you out there someday.
© 1999 Latitude 38