With reports this month from
Windrunner on Kiribati; from Gallivanter
on a great situation in the Virgin Islands; from Wayne
Meretsky on an emergency haulout in Panama; from Abracadabra
on getting busted for illegally having pearls in French Polynesia;
from Moonshadow on American Samoa;
from Louise Norton on a Panama Canal
transit; and lots of Cruise Notes.
Windrunner - Pearson 385
Martin & Christie Dwyer
We left San Francisco in '98, and have since had many sailing
adventures. We're currently in Kiribati on our way to the Marshall
Islands. The following is Christie's report of sailing here from
"We crossed the equator a couple days ago, which puts two
notches in our belts. After crossing, I looked around, and it
pretty much looked like the rest of the ocean. There were no
big signposts or red ribbon to mark the line. I did remember
being told that the water in the toilet bowl should now swirl
the opposite direction. I put this theory to the test, but found
that ours maintained an anti-clockwise direction in both hemispheres.
I tell you, I just couldn't sleep at night wondering how this
could be possible! I put the question out on one of our radio
nets and was told that our toilet is "genetically predisposed"
to the counterclockwise rotation. Thank goodness many other cruisers
were able to confirm a clockwise rotation in the southern hemisphere,
for I was beginning to wonder what the world was coming to. I
do, however, continue to wonder what effect this might have on
water in the human body.
I had a lot of time to contemplate such important issues on our
last passage. We left the Banks Islands in Vanuatu headed for
Tarawa in the Kiribati, and I figured about eight days for the
1,000 miles. It ended up taking 12. The best phrase to describe
the process is 'exquisite torture'. There was the exquisiteness
of hundreds of dancing dolphins playing with us for hours on
an ocean so blue and calm that we could see them coming up for
air from the very deep. Big flocks of birds showed us where the
fish were, and it was thrilling to see huge tuna jumping and
feeding on the surface. And, it was such an exquisitely calm
ocean that we could gently glide across the surface, with the
night sky full of flaming stars.
The torture part had to do with the light winds fading to the
point that the sails hung limp and annoyingly flapped back and
forth. And with our never being able to hook one of the massive
tuna that jumped all about us. And yes, the fact that Martin
decided to go au naturel without bathing for days on end while
the temperatures were in the 80-90s!
We are now in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. The 'ti' at the
end of the name is pronounced like an 's' because they only have
17 letters in the alphabet, so 'Kiribas' is the correct pronunciation.
Anyway, we got all checked in and the officialdom out of the
way. The people seem lovely, which makes up for the island being
anything but. Unfortunately, the first thing we noticed was all
the garbage floating in the water, and the streets as much as
paved with aluminum beer and soda cans. It's the most amazing
amount of trash that I have seen anywhere! But when you consider
that the density of the people per square mile here is greater
than Hong Kong, you realize there is nowhere for a trash depot!
Efforts are being made to resolve the problem, but in the meantime
we visitors tread lightly.
The other fact that gives us pause is that there are no toilets.
Don't think I am getting a fixation on this subject, but with
a population of 40,000 people on the two main islands of Betio
and Bairiki - which have a combined area of maybe 10 sq miles
- you have to wonder where they 'go'! I was told that everyone
just wades out into the water each morning for their constitutional.
This is a visual we don't want to pursue, but needless to say,
we won't be participating in any water activities in this area.
They do, however, have a great system for getting around - scores
of vans/minibuses that constantly circle the southern islands,
all of which are connected by causeways. Just wave one down,
and away you go for 70 cents Australian - or about 52 cents U.S.
The funny part is that the bus will keep stopping to pick up
more people even when we don't think there is any more room.
On the way home yesterday, we had 21 people on our bus! Everyone
just piles up on laps, and it is quite entertaining - especially
when you think of Martin trying to cram himself into some of
the tiny spaces.
Tarawa was the site of many big and bloody battles during World
War II, and we've been able to see many of the old guns, tanks,
and equipment. There are many war memorials, and November 20
was the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion to take the island
from the Japanese. It's a big deal for the locals, as the Japanese
acquired a hideous human rights record during their occupation.
The outer islands are apparently quite pristine, and that is
what we are looking forward to experiencing here in Kiribati.
In the meantime, we will probably be here for a week or so getting
ready for the next little day hop.
Besides being near the equator, we are also closest to the dateline.
As such, I just want to give all of you out there some small
consolation as you are sitting bleary-eyed over your morning
coffee. We are the first ones up each day. In fact, we have already
been up for hours putting in a full day before your eyes have
- christie 10/15/03
Gallivanter - Hylas 47
Kirk, Catherine & Stuart McGeorge
Transit Of Venus
(Honolulu / St. Thomas, U.S. Virgins)
Since leaving Honolulu years ago, we've periodically updated
Latitude readers about our travels. The latest is a little
overdue, but we have an excuse. On September 17, Cath gave birth
to our son Stuart here in the Virgin Islands. I'm completely
new to fatherhood at age 47, but I guess I'm about as ready as
one can be for such a monumental challenge. Let me tell you,
the first month of our son's life was a real eye-opener, both
figuratively and literally. In many ways it was as fatiguing
as being on a short-handed ocean crossing. The truth of the matter
is that Cath and I weren't really planning on adding a child
to the crew, and we reckon Stuart is directly related to the
fine champagne we enjoyed at the last New Year's Eve party. But
now that he's signed on, we wouldn't have it any other way!
To back up a little, Cath and Aye crossed the Atlantic from the
Canaries with the 'ARG' - Atlantic Rally for Greenhorns - in
2001 after the usual route up the Red Sea and across the Med.
Our initial plan was to just stay in St. Thomas in the Virgin
Islands long enough to get Cath's green card squared away. After
that, we'd head up to the Chesapeake Bay area to settle down
near my family for a year or two, then head out cruising again.
But our gig in St. Thomas has turned out to be so good that we
decided we'd be fools to leave.
For one thing, after seeing all the neglected boats around here,
we decided to trade up to something larger - as in the 45-50
foot range. Ultimately, we fell in love with a rundown Hylas
47. So we put an ad for our beloved Polly Brooks in Latitude's
Classy Classifieds to test the market. The results were immediate,
and in short order we had a contract and a deposit. Based on
this, we immediately placed a deposit on the Hylas, and started
working hard at bringing her back to life. Then the buyer of
Polly fell ill and decided to move to the mountains instead
of sailing around the world as planned. At the very last minute
he cancelled the deal. Bastard!
We're actively trying to sell Polly again, exclusively
through Latitude, I might add. Owning two boats is definitely
not where we want to be, as it's like trying to satisfy two mistresses.
For those of you looking for a great and proven boat to cruise
the world, we have just the thing for you. Although Polly
looks a lot like an Islander 37 pilothouse, she's a vastly improved
custom version built by Bud Taplin of Westsail fame. We bought
her from Carol Post in Honolulu 10 years and 25,000 miles ago.
At the time she was named Beche de Mer - a sexy name for
a sea cucumber - and pretty well known at the Ala Wai. I just
couldn't see myself crossing oceans on a boat named after something
which looks like a turd on the floor of the ocean, so she was
renamed Polly Brooks.
We've found living, working, and sailing in the Virgin Islands
to be very rewarding. After 22 months of sailing here from
Guam - America's other territory - our kitty was tapped, and
we were in need of stability and employment. We pretty
much hit the dock running, and went straight to work. Cath started
flogging grog at the marina pub, and brought home phenomenal
tips. I scored a position driving a classic motor yacht
for a super nice family who are part time residents, and who
enjoy nothing more than cruising around the most picturesque parts
of the Virgin Islands while savoring gourmet meals and fine
wine. They love us and treat us like family. It's sweet! Cath
eventually graduated from behind the bar to the marina office,
and hopes to return to her air-conditioned desk after a few more
months of maternity leave.
I have no idea how the Virgin Islands compare with 15 years ago,
but can report that we're astounded at how quickly we settled
into the best cruising and liveaboard scene we have
ever found - anywhere! Sure, we have our share of the typical
problems one finds in any harbor town - petty crime, corrupt
politicians, and unscrupulous taxi drivers. And we do seem
to have what appears to be a thriving drug trade and, an
overabundance of 'lagoonatics', and even some of the most desperate
On the other hand, we have also found some of the best
friends and sailing/liveaboard facilities we could ever
hope for. Most of the people we know down here are here simply
because they don't want to compete in the 'Upper 48'. As such,
they are happy to overlook the short-comings for the benefits
of clean and easy living in this very beautiful piece of
paradise. The vast majority of the sailors we know
started out from either the East or Gulf Coast, and stopped here
after cruising the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and so forth.
Many venture 'down island', sometimes as far as Venezuela, while
others are content to sail the few miles over to Foxy's for the
weekend. As for ourselves, we enjoy the fact that St. Martin
is just over the horizon and that Puerto Rico is visible on a
clear day. Even just a daysail brings you to a different culture
For folks familiar with the U.S. Virgins, they're about to tear
down Yacht Haven, aka Rat Haven, to build a new marina/hotel/shopping
facility in Charlotte Amalie. But you can still always go
stern or side to along the downtown waterfront for free. Crown
Bay is convenient for the airport, and it's also close to where
the Dockwise Transport ship loads and offloads yachts. One
can also anchor for free across at Water Island, which is close
to the airport too.
We live aboard at La Vida Marine Center at Independent Boat Yard
on the east end of St. Thomas. They have about 100 berths
and a Travel-Lift for hauling out - and they don't charge marina
residents for lay days! The marina is located deep within Jersey
Bay, which is definitely the best protected lagoon in the event
of a hurricane. There are also about four other marinas within
this lagoon, and you can anchor right across from our floating
sushi barge! We also have the world's funkiest little pub right
in the marina, which you can visit by dinghy. The bar itself
was built from the hull of an old wooden sailboat. The deck now
serves as the bar counter where we spill our drinks.
Over the hill is American Yacht Harbor and Sapphire Marina.
You can also anchor for free right outside American Yacht Harbor.
Most all of the anchorages located around St. John have moorings
maintained by the U.S. Park Service, and are free of charge.
Moorings throughout the British Virgins, which are as little
as a quarter mile from the U.S. Virgins, usually cost $20-$25
per night. The charter business is thriving on St. Thomas, although
most of the fleet is now based out of Tortola.
In the two seasons we've been here, we've been very fortunate
in the hurricane department. But the Virgins have been hit hard
in the past. About the only thing I can really complain about
is that water is expensive. Rum, on the other hand, is cheap,
cheap, cheap! In fact, it pretty much makes up for the high cost
With the arrival of Stuart, our new plan is to work hard, sell
Polly, make our new boat seaworthy, and build
the kitty until Stuart gains his sealegs. We'll head for
Panama in four or five years, join the Slow League of the Pacific
Puddle Jump back across to Australia, and then settle in
again near Catherine's home in the Brisbane area. I've
kept my Australian license current, and hopefully I'll find
somebody there who wants to hire a grizzled old boat
P.S. We love Latitude, it's the only 'honest' sailing
publication out there!
- kirk, catherine &
Stillero Nacional Boatyard
When one saildrive failed on Profligate 50 miles short
of the Panama Canal, we needed two things. First, a place to
haul a 63-ft catamaran out of the water. This was no small request,
as even in the States there are few yards that can handle boats
with a 30-ft beam. Second, we needed to get two replacement saildrives
from the States to Panama.
Furthermore, we needed both these things done quickly - ideally
in less than four days. For if the repair project turned into
a week or weeks, the reinforced trades would likely have settled
in before we could cross the Caribbean Sea. This would be bad,
for it would almost surely mean that Latitude's 25th Anniversary
Cruise to the Caribbean would have to be called off before it
Sarah Owings, one of the six terrific crewmembers on Profligate
since Cabo San Lucas - and a retired Canal pilot - came up with
the first solution. She suggested that the Astillero Nacional
Boatyard in Vacamonte, a Panamanian port of entry 10 miles west
of Balboa, might be able to do the job.
I went out and inspected the facility the next morning, and from
what I could gather, it's quite a self-contained operation. They
build and maintain fishing boats, leasing them out to independent
captains. They also land the fish right inside their breakwater,
then clean, pack, freeze, and ship them. Basically, they turn
steel plate into canned tuna on the spot. It's a rather tidy
operation for Central America, with various shops from an ice
factory to the shipyard to the onsite packers. There's also a
restaurant and several stores selling marine-related goods. The
shipyard itself has a well-stocked chandlery with everything
from flax packing to - literally - the kitchen sink.
While the yard had the power to haul Profligate on their
240-ton Syncrolift, I had to make sure the beam wasn't going
to be too great, and that the crew was competent. It was going
to be very close, but it had to work because the other options
were all terrible.
Alejandro Gerbaud de la Gerente, the yard manager, is a soft-spoken
Panamanian graduate of Georgia Tech. He was very helpful and
most concerned that everything went well for us. If anything,
he was more conservative than I would have been. The only disagreement
was that the Wanderer wanted all the cat's weight to be on the
bottom of her bridgedeck, as that's the way she's always been
hauled in the past. Alejandro wouldn't allow it, fearing she
would slip off the tall supports. He insisted that the cat come
out with her weight resting on the bottom of her hulls. "Don't
worry," he said, "we'll put soft wood between the hulls
and the car." After the cat was hauled out, the yard welded
up some adjustable supports to take much of the weight off the
As for the saildrives, after scores of calls to a number of Yanmar
experts - who initially had conflicting opinions as to whether
the new SD-40s could replace the out-of-production SD-31s without
major modifications to the engine bed - a very helpful Mike at
Mavex in Miami determined that there were two of them available
at a distribution center in St. Pete, Florida, and that only
minor modifications would be required. This was on a Thursday
afternoon. Fortunately, a friend of Doña de Mallorca's,
and a veteran of many sails on Profligate, is a Tampa-based
wine distributor. Juan insisted that he be allowed to take care
of rushing the saildrives to Miami on Friday in time to get the
paperwork done for the cargo flight to Panama that night at 6
p.m. Remarkably, the whole complicated plan - right down to rushing
the saildrives through Customs by freight forwarder Alberto Burgos
of Aerocasillas Panama - succeeded without a hitch. The saildrives
were delivered to the Vacamonte yard on Saturday at noon - less
than two days after being picked up in St. Pete.
By that time, we'd removed both engines from their beds, and
both saildrives from the boat. Working hard all day on Saturday,
including making some minor modifications to the engine beds,
we got the saildrives to fit like a glove! By that evening, they
were all but installed.
But there's always surprises, aren't there? Although the splines
on the new saildrives were the same as the old ones, the threaded
part of the end of the shaft was larger in diameter - so the
spinners for the fixed props we'd been using for the delivery
didn't fit. Fortunately, the new saildrives came with nuts that
worked just fine, so we were temporarily in business. We later
learned that Flex-o-Fold makes special nuts for the SD-40s to
fit their feathering props, so we'll also be in business once
we put the feathering props back on in the Eastern Caribbean.
And then there was another surprise. The supposedly identical
Volvo three-blade fixed props weren't identical. Crewman Paul
Biery, who sails the Catana 431 cat New Focus out of Emeryville,
had to make spacers for one to eliminate the slop.
Given the fact that Vacamonte is located at 9°N, the weather
was quite pleasant. The four days we were there - we couldn't
launch on Sunday - were a mixture of sun and overcast with an
occasional sprinkle. We did get a major downpour on Saturday
evening that lasted for 90 minutes. During that time, several
of the Profligate crew and I went around the boatyard,
packing yards, and piers hoping to find a kilo of camarones with
which to make dinner. "Since it's Saturday night, you'd
have an easier time finding pot than shrimp," one entertaining
captain told us.
All we needed on Sunday was to have the yard fiberglass up the
bottom of the cavity that the saildrives sit in. Alejandro didn't
hesitate to provide us with laborers on the weekend, days his
employees usually have off. The father of four, he was careful
to consult with them prior to making a commitment to us, however.
On Monday the cat was back in the water, with a Canal transit
scheduled on Tuesday. On Monday night, we had one last surprise
- seawater coming up through the old engine mounts! What the
hell was that? After much thought, we decided that it could only
be one thing - that while in the process of removing the old
sail drives, the yard workers had somehow punctured a previously
sealed area between the saildrive cavity and the inside of the
fiberglass engine bed. Once the inside of the engine bed filled
with water, it started weeping through the holes, now covered
with a shim, of the old engine mounts.
There was only one way to positively and permanently fix the
leak - haul the boat again. But there were downsides to it. We
weren't crazy about the way Vacamonte lifted the cat out on her
own bottom; there would be a large fine for not keeping our Canal
transit time; and any delay across the Caribbean could possiby
make our lives very difficult. After consulting with the other
boatowners on the boat, and the Wanderer, it was decided the
leak would be all right until the next haulout.
Before we left, I learned that Astillero Nacional has a lot more
skills than I had initially realized. They can lift boats up
to 115 feet and regularly pull sail and motor yachts, as well
as fishing boats, tugs, Panamanian coast guard vessels, and the
like. They have workers skilled with steel, aluminum, and fiberglass,
and they have factory-authorized mechanics for several brands
of diesels. For further information, check them out at www.astilleronacional.com.
We transited the Canal the next day - waving to the Wanderer
who was watching on his computer as the webcam followed us through
the Miraflores Lock - with no problem. As I write this, we've
made 800 of the 1,100 rough miles across the Caribbean Sea, and
out-of-season Tropical Storm Odette has just kicked up to the
west of us with winds to 55 knots. Had we been delayed a couple
of more days to rehaul the boat, we could have really felt the
effects of it. The engines and saildrives are working well, the
very slow leak hasn't increased signficantly, and we've almost
completed our 3,500-mile delivery.
Postscript: As it turned out, the leak got progressively worse
once we got to Antigua. Unable to get the cat hauled there, the
Wanderer hauled her in St. Martin a week later. An inspection
revealed that the fiberglass guy at Vacamonte had put way too
much catalyst into the resin, so rather than sealing everything,
it came out like porous cottage cheese. It was an easy repair
that shouldn't have been needed in the first place. But that's
- wayne 12/6/03
Abracadabra - Swan 47
Philip Strauss & Anne Anderson
Having Our Boat Seized In Polynesia
Our Swan 47 Abracadabra was seized by Customs in Papeete
early last July, and we were accused of trafficking in black
pearls. We thought it was ridiculous, as we have our two small
children aboard - Anneleize, 2, and Jabez, 9 months. Anyone who
cruises with small children knows that diapers are the only thing
you move around in quantity.
Philip and I have been sailing for many years, first on other
people's boats, and now on our own. We left the States a little
more than a year ago as part of the 2002 Ha-Ha, and had the distinction
of having the oldest crewmember, my 85-year-old father, and the
youngest crewmember, Jabez, then just a month old. We also participated
in the Puddle Jump across to the South Pacific, although unofficially,
as we didn't get around to registering.
While still in Mexico, we stocked up on trading goods such as
backpacks, hair-clips, school boxes with pens and pencils, and
water toys, having heard through the grapevine that we could
trade them for the black pearls that are farmed in the Tuamotus.
We wanted to get as many pearls as we could, because we wanted
to start a business.
Our first stop in the Tuamotus was at Kauehi, where we were happy
to drop the hook after 12 hours of 35-knot winds. Trading for
pearls was easy there, as the locals came out to "make trade".
We were even given some pearls. When we left, we had a bag of
about 350 pearls of mixed size and quality. Nobody said anything
about trading for pearls being illegal, nor had we read anything
to that effect.
We stopped at other atolls, but it wasn't until Apataki that
we did more trading. Our last stop there was the anchorage in
front of Mr. Assam's pearl farm, about 10 miles from the entrance
to the lagoon. We sat down with some friends from another boat
and the Assam family, when somebody asked, "Which is the
boat with two children?" When we said it was ours, they
dispatched someone to take some fresh coconut bread out to the
children. Then Mr. Assam brought out a bag of pearls and placed
them on a low table underneath the coconut trees.
We started picking out pearls from the pile, but when Mr. Assam's
son said that they were $40 U.S. each, we pushed the pearls back
into the pile, stood up, and said our merci beaucoups. Since
we'd had good success in trading rather than buying, we weren't
interested in buying. Besides, the Assam's pearls seemed to be
of modest quality for the asking price.
We were in Papeete a week before two Customs officers stopped
by our boat and asked us to open our safe. Later, they searched
our boat locker to locker. If they were looking for pearls, they
needn't have looked so hard, as we had them in a Zip-Lok bag
in the clothes closet. We weren't exactly hiding them. But when
Daniel Dauphin, Controleur Principal, and Tinihau Quesnot, Controleur
Des Douanes A La Brigade De Surveillance, found the pearls, they
became very excited. They told us we had committed a very serious
offense and that they were confiscating the pearls. We were to
come with them to their office to be interrogated.
While in their office, Dauphin documented everything we said.
We asked to see a copy of the law they said we had broken, which
took them a long time to find. Even then, it wasn't anything
specific to what we'd done. Dauphin completed taking our statement
and asked Philip to sign it. Since it was in French and Philip
doesn't understand French, he declined, asking for a translated
copy. Dauphin responded by taking the title to our boat! He told
us our boat was seized and that we were not to leave Papeete.
We were taken back to our boat and asked for $5,000 U.S. in bond.
It was a curious amount, as it's the same amount of U.S. dollars
they had found in our safe during their search. And could they
have the 460 euros they'd seen in our safe as well? So they not
only took the title to our boat, but our cruising kitty as well.
The timing was ironic, because that day I had an appointment
with a pearl wholesaler to discuss doing business together. Customs
phoned the wholesaler to confirm that we had an appointment,
but it didn't improve our situation.
The officers came back five days later and told us the pearls
had been valued by the Service De La Perliculture export control,
and that our fine was $5,000 U.S. - again, the amount we had
in U.S. dollars. But they did return our 460 euros.
Philip asked to meet with the head of Customs to discuss the
charges and fine. Three days later we were seated in the office
of Georges Labarde, Directeur Regional, Chef du Service des Douanes
de Polynesie. A translator was also present. Labarde told us
that commerce by foreigners in French Polynesia is illegal, and
trading is considered commerce. Further, that our trading goods
were imported items, and therefore subject to duties and taxes,
which we had neither claimed nor paid. We were also in possession
of some low quality pearls, which are illegal to export. He informed
us that all pearls are taxed in French Polynesia, and we had
not paid taxes. Lastly, he told us that all pearls must also
be accompanied by a receipt and/or certificate of authenticity.
Although Labarde was a very kind man, he explained that there
are very strict regulations concerning the export of black pearls
from French Polynesia. He noted that all pearls are x-rayed by
the Service de la Perliculture export control. Any pearls with
less than 0.8mm nacre surrounding the nucleus are destroyed,
insuring a high standard of quality, keeping the price stable
on the world market.
Of the 486 pearls of ours sent to the Service de la Perliculture
export control, some 147 had been confiscated for being below
export quality. The remaining pearls had been valued at approximately
$3,000 U.S. Labarde decided that $3,000 should be our fine. In
addition, he decided we were to pay taxes on the pearls at $2/gram
U.S. Thus the taxes would be an additional $1,014 U.S. If we
agreed to these terms, we could have our boat and the remaining
We explained that while we understood that ignorance is no defense
in a court of law, we hadn't seen or read anything about rules
relative to black pearls. How, we asked, could there be such
strict regulations when nobody - not even the locals - knew about
them? All we really wanted was to have our boat title back and
be finished with this pearl business. But if we didn't agree
with their terms, it would mean having to get a lawyer and going
to court - and that could really get expensive. So we agreed
to their terms.
With that, our meeting with Labarde was concluded. He took us
back to Dauphin, our newest best friend. He brought out our pearls,
took out all the "bad quality" ones - where they went
we never knew - and made us sign for them. He then presented
the original statement for Philip to sign. Philip asked why the
director's name on the statement was not the same as Mr. Labarde.
With that, Dauphin exploded.
"I am tired of your questions!" he said. "There
have been enough explanations to you! You must understand this
is not a banana republic! I am a Customs officer in French Polynesia!
If you do not sign, I can take your boat and your money. If you
try to leave, I will throw you in jail!"
Sensing our boat title about to slip away, Philip signed the
statement. Dauphin handed us the boat title, and away we went
to the bank. He stood behind Philip while the money was exchanged,
leaving Philip feeling like he had a loaded gun stuck in his
back. We then went to the parking lot so he could 'officially'
give us a receipt for the money. We were then free to go.
We later spoke with a pearl farmer at length. He told us when
he takes his pearls for appraisal, less than 1% are confiscated
for being of inferior quality. Out of his 2,000 pearls taken
in, 16 were said to be bad. But of our 486 pearls, 17 were taken
out, almost double the normal percentage.
We also wonder at the 'official' handling of the entire production
- the taking and giving of our euros, the amount of the fine
being so close to what we had in our safe, and what happened
to the inferior pearls. When we later learned that anyone reporting
illegal pearl activity gets 10% of any fine, we didn't wonder
why Customs had come to our boat in the first place - it was
Fortunately, there are wonderful places in the South Pacific
that remind us of how cruising should be. In Suwarrow in the
Northern Cooks, Papa John and Baeka, the two wardens, made us
feel so welcome. They really went out of their way to include
us, and the other cruisers, in atoll living. We are now in American
Samoa, and again, pleasantly surprised at how warm and friendly
everyone, including the officials, have been. These people seem
genuinely glad to have cruisers visiting their country.
For future reference, there is a website, albeit in French, which
does cite the laws governing pearls in French Polynesia: www.tahiti-blackpearls.com.
And just as a rough guide, here are the laws we know of concerning
all black pearls for export: they must be accompanied by a receipt,
must be taxed, must be appraised by the service de la perliculture
export control, and must have the accompanying paperwork. Further,
more than 10 pearls per person - loose, not set in jewelry -
are considered commercial use and must be x-rayed, then sealed,
by both Customs, and the service de la perliculture export control,
before being exported.
- anne 8/15/03
Moonshadow - N/A
Steven & Jackie Gloor
Two Different Samoas
After a nice sail from Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, we made
landfall in the beautiful harbor of Pago Pago in American Samoa.
The initial impression of beauty - impressive mountains rising
up from the harbor to create a nice backdrop - was soon overpowered
by sights, sounds, and smells inside the harbor. One side of
the harbor has a bustling container ship dock, and across the
way are the smelly tuna canneries and the fishing fleet. It doesn't
help that the noisy power plant is located at the water's edge.
American Samoa is a group of six Polynesian islands 14° below
the equator. It is known as the 'Heart of Polynesia', because
if you drew a triangle between Hawaii, New Zealand, and Tahiti,
Samoa would be in the center. Samoans arguably represent the
largest population of Polynesians, and retain a strong native
culture. American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the
United States, having become an Unorganized Territory in 1900.
Nearby Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa, is an independent
country with a nearly identical culture.
We'd received reports that the holding was poor in Pago Pago
Harbor - and found that they were accurate. Some people claim
the only way they could get their anchor to set was to deploy
two anchors in series - the purpose of the first one being to
clear a path in the debris so the second one could set! Although
our boat, like a lot of other boats, dragged the first time the
wind came up, we managed to get away with a single anchor at
the end of 250 feet of chain.
What bothered us the most during our stay in American Samoa was
all the litter in the streets. Clearly nobody cares about the
areas surrounding the harbor. Outside of the harbor area, especially
towards Tula, it wasn't quite so bad. But the locals don't seem
to take much pride in their surroundings. It might have something
to do with the fact that the U.S. pours huge amounts of subsidies
into this small island territory, and has created a welfare state.
With a population of just over 60,000, American Samoa has over
4,000 government employees. Despite the large number of employees,
not much seems to get done. And when it comes to communications,
not much works. There was only one working pay phone in the harbor
area, and aside from the library, there were only three computers
with Internet access - and one or two of them usually didn't
work. As for the library, in the 10 days we were there the Internet
system was only functional for 15 minutes!
Given the downsides of Pago Pago, you might wonder why anyone
would want to stop in American Samoa. We had several reasons.
First, because it's a U.S. Territory, the U.S. Postal Service
delivers boat parts in two or three days at prices much lower
than express shipping companies. Pago Pago is also a good stop
for provisioning, as there were lots of goods we hadn't seen
since the United States. Finally, diesel is comparatively inexpensive.
We also spent some time exploring the rest of Tutuila - the biggest
of the six islands that make up American Samoa - by bus, which
made us realize there is more to the Territory than Pago Pago.
For example, in 1993, a fairly large part of the island was set
aside as a national park, making it America's newest. We also
hiked through a dense rainforest to the summit of Mt. Matafao.
On the way, we were treated to beautiful views of the entire
island. Near the peak, we saw Samoan flying foxes, which are
actually bats with a wingspan of up to three feet. Some of them
were hanging upside down in trees, while others coasted in the
thermals like hawks. Although we paid for it with sore muscles
the next day, the hike was a highlight of our stay.
We did not stop at the Manua Islands, but were told they are
a nice stopover for boats approaching from the east.
Here is some basic practical info:
Check-in: Call the Pago Pago Harbormaster and request permission
to enter. You will be asked to tie up at the wharf - where the
resident cruising boats are anchored - and wait for Customs,
Health and Agriculture to come to you. Then go to the Port Captain's
office on the top floor of the container building. The last stop
is Immigration - assuming they've not come to your boat - located
in the three-story building next to the library about a 15-minute
walk from the Port Captain's office. The total of our fees came
Fuel: There is a commercial fuel dock, but there have been reports
of overcharging, so check the numbers before they start pumping.
We, however, arranged for a fuel truck from BP to come to the
container dock and filled up that way. Either way, the duty-free
price is just $1.10/gallon. You can also jerry jug from the gas
station, but it was 79 cents/gallon more.
Provisioning: Cost-U-less and CS Market are past the airport
and can be reached on the Tafuna bus. Both have a very good selection
- except for fruits and vegetables. If you are going to continue
on to Western Samoa, buy as little fruits and vegetables as possible
until you get there.
Beer, Wine and Liquor: All three can be purchased much cheaper
in Western Samoa where it is duty-free.
Restaurants: There are a number of lunch places near the harbor,
but not much for dinner besides Evie's Cantina, a Mexican restaurant.
There are a number of resident cruisers who are more than happy
to answer any other questions. Next month we'll report on Western
- steven & jackie 11/15/03
Louise Norton, Crew
Pacific To Atlantic
"That 27-foot thick wall of unreinforced concrete is 100
years old," said Alex Cabellero, the Canal Advisor with
us aboard Profligate for our late November transit.
"Now he tells me!" I thought to myself, as the water
bubbled up from the bottom of the concrete chamber, pushing the
63-ft catamamran to a thick wall on the other side of the Miraflores
I'd been to the Miraflores Lock before, in fact just the day
before, but then I was safely tucked behind a rail at the Visitor's
Center. The center has bleachers so tourists can watch huge ships
and small yachts rise up in the chamber from out of sight. But
this time was different, as now I was inside the Miraflores Lock,
surrounded by those ancient unreinforced walls.
How I, a 24-year-old Scottish girl, came to be aboard Profligate
is a little bit of a story. I'd raced competitively out of Southhampton,
England, and even did the 600-mile Fastnet Race. More recently,
I had crewed aboard the custom 70-ft ferro ketch Dreamspeaker
II from Vancouver to Panama. As it happened, Profligate
tied up behind us at Flamenco Island Marina Fuel Dock. Keen to
see the Canal from the water, I bullied the Profligate
crew into letting me transit with them as a line-handler.
Our transit day started at 5:30 a.m., when we cast off from Flamenco
Marina. We then drifted in a pastel sunrise for at least an hour
in the Pacific, waiting for pilot Alex Cabellero to step aboard
and guide us under the Bridge of the Americas, then through the
Profligate was very lucky to have had Sarah Terry as one
of the crew who made the passage from Cabo San Lucas to Panama
in 12 hurried days, for Sarah really knows the Canal. She first
arrived in Panama in the '70s after singlehanding her sailboat
down from the States. After she arrived, she began to work for
the Canal. Until she retired just two years ago, she had been
a Canal Pilot, guiding the maximum sized ships through the Canal,
and a Port Captain on the Canal. Given her extensive background,
she was an excellent tour guide, complete with stories about
life at this major crossroads of the world.
With the help of Sarah and Alex, we made it up through the Miraflores
and nearby Pedro Miguel Locks, waving at the folks watching from
the Visitor's Center. We also waved to the webcam, so the boat's
owner and various parents back in the States could watch the
transit on their computers.
After the Pedro Miguel Locks, we followed the ship traffic past
the Continental Divide at the stepped cliffs of the Gaillard
Cut. This is the highest point of the Isthmus, and it was here
that thousands of lives were lost to landslides during the excavation
of the seven-mile cut. By the way, we were travelling to the
northwest, which seems odd when going from the Pacific to the
Atlantic, but look at a map and you'll see why.
After the narrow Gaillard Cut, the waterway opened onto 20-mile
long Lake Gatun. When this lake was created in 1913 by damming
the Chagres River that flows into the Caribbean Sea, it was the
largest artificial lake in the world. During this stretch, Profligate
glided over partially and totally submerged hills and jungle,
so we saw tree branches and low islands popping up here and there.
Sarah told us that Canal employees were previously allowed to
dive in the lake to hunt for old bottles in drowned garbage heaps.
The operation of the Canal is totally dependent on rainfall.
In April, at the end of the dry season, the water level of Lake
Gatun is at its lowest. At that time of year many more tree stumps
break the surface of the water. But since it was November and
the water was deep, Alex took us through channels that only smaller
boats can use, then through Monkey Gap between islands covered
When we arrived at the first of three Lake Gatun locks - each
of which would lower us 30 feet on our way back down to sea level
- there were a number of huge container ships and smaller but
faster refrigerated fruit ships waiting to go through. Fortunately,
we didn't have to wait long, as we were allowed to enter the
chamber ahead of a huge car carrier.
The car carrier was a Panamax ship, which means she was designed
to be absolutely as big as the Canal locks would allow. That
meant there was only two feet between the sides of her hull and
the concrete walls! To take maximum advantage of space, the upper
part of her hull tapered outward over the sides of the chamber.
As such, our view of the gates closing behind us was completely
Locomotives on rails along each side of the chambers keep such
Panamax ships in position in the center of the lock. As the water
went out of the lock to lower the cat and the car carrier, it
almost looked as if the overhanging part of the Panamax ship's
hull would crush the locomotives. Apparently, they'd figured
this out in the design process, as there was no damage. In any
event, it was intimidating to have to descend three locks with
the bow of a huge ship looming over our heads.
Downlocking was easy for us, as Profligate was side-tied
to a tug, whose crew took care of all the lines. With nothing
to do, Alex and Sarah had time to catch up with the tug's captain
When the gates of the last Gatun Lock opened, we were back at
sea level, but this time in the Caribbean/Atlantic. There were
palm trees along the shore and rum-drinking cruisers in the nearby
Panama Canal YC. It felt great to be back in the Atlantic, for
it's the waves of that same ocean that break on the beaches of
my homeland of Scotland.
Alas, I didn't have long to muse over it, as I had to rush to
catch a ride back to Flamenco Marina. I would soon be leaving
for Peru, then back to England for more sailing. As for the crew
of Profligate, they quickly took on a little more fuel
before resuming their dash to the Eastern Caribbean, eager to
beat the onset of the reinforced trades. I hope to see Profligate
again during Antigua Sailing Week, where they hope to put together
an unofficial race for cruising catamarans.
- louise 12/1/03
"I've enclosed a couple of photos of my crew that I took
while in the Marquesas," writes Mike Harker of the much
travelled Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 466 Wanderlust.
"The first is of 22-year-old Lena from Virginia, who is
seen free diving. She earned a stupendium from her university
to study in Ecuador for six months, and met the President of
Ecuador on the plane down - he'd been in Washington, DC, looking
for money - and was invited to stay with him in Quito! And then
she stayed with an admiral friend stationed in the Galapagos.
But she became disillusioned with the bureaucracy in the Galapagos,
as she was unable to go anywhere without a paid guide. So she
started sailing with us. She likes sailing, is eager to learn
more, and is a terrific help - so she sailed with us to French
"My other crewmember is Fabio, 38, from Sao Paulo, Brazil,"
continues Harker. "I met him in Colon, Panama, when I was
looking for crew to replace Carla Hildebrant, the red-headed
beauty from Namibia. A licensed captain, Fabio will sail with
me to Hawaii. In the photo, he's holding what's left of a tuna
we caught on the north side of Nuku Hiva. Just as we were about
to land it, a big shark took all but what you can see in one
bite! We got four more tuna in 30 minutes, however, and later
traded them at the marché in Taiohae for fruit and vegetables."
If you've already read this month's Sightings, you know
that Wanderlust subsequently lost her rudder some 500
miles into her passage to Hawaii, and had to jury rig a rudder
for the trip back to the Marquesas.
"There was a fire on our boat on August 28 at Puesta del
Sol Marina in Nicaragua while we were back home," report
Lee Morgenstern and Dee Anderson of the Seattle-based Liberty
458 Serafin. "Fortunately, the marina had just installed
fire extingushers on the docks, and the owner's wife and some
others were sitting out there and noticed the smoke. After some
negotiations with Lloyds of London, we have bought the boat back
from our underwriter, and will have Dockwise Yacht Transport
ship her from Golfito, Costa Rica, to Fort Lauderdale for repairs.
The folks here at Marina Puesta del Sol have been incredibly
kind to us, so we're so sad to leave. By the way, it was wonderful
to see Doña de Mallorca and the rest of the Profligate
crew roar in for a couple of hours to get fuel. But holy smokes,
your delivery crew is fast!"
"Having been cruising Mexico since '98, we have finally
made it to Central America," reports Howard Biolos of Nintai
m.a. "We just spent two weeks at the nearly completed
Puesta del Sol Resort & Marina in Nicaragua, and had a great
time. When finished in a couple of months, it's going to be a
one-of-kind first class resort and marina in Nicaragua, with
hotel, pool, restaurant, slips, and moorings. There were eight
slips when we were there, with 12 more under construction. By
next summer they expect to have 32 slips with water and electricity,
as well as moorings, which would make it a good place to leave
a boat for the season. The entrance to the estuary from the ocean
is well marked with a large red/white striped buoy, and it's
safe to get in and out. We'd been having problems with the wooden
floor on our dinghy, so Roberto Membrano, the owner of the complex,
as well as owner of the San Diego based Peterson 44 Puesta
del Sol, got wood for us and had one of his carpenters fabricate
a new floor. I'm embarassed to tell you how little it cost. Membrano
and his staff have been teaching their employees English, as
well as boat skills such as how to clean bottoms, do varnish
and woodwork, and so forth."
"The big news," Biolos continues," is that the
hotel and marina will be hosting the first annual Puesta del
Sol Regatta - the first ever in Nicaragua - during the second
week of January. The regatta is being planned by Gene Menzie,
whom you may recall started the Banderas Bay Regatta. Menzie,
who has been instrumental in the building of the marina, will
be in charge of all aspects of the regatta. No reservations are
needed, but we suggest
Puesta del Sol if you plan on attending."
We're pleased that it's Roberto Membreno, assisted by Gene Menzie,
who are the ones putting in the first hotel and marina complex
in Nicaragua, for these guys care at least as much about the
local people as they do about profits. We've talked to Membrano
a number of times, and he's giddy about the project in a large
part because of the employment and educational opportunities
it is and will afford the locals. As for Menzie, Banderas Bay
folks know him as the guy who consistently won his class with
his Tartan 33 - not with a crew of hotshot sailors, but with
a crew of local kids who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity
to go sailing.
"Last year we spent most of our time on our two yachts,
Neeleen, our 45-ft sailing home in Fiji, and our Pace
Arrow land yacht based out of California - but we also spent
four months in our cottage at First Landing Resort in Fiji."
So report Ralph and Kathleen Neeleen, who also have a home in
Gardnerville, Nevada. "The gypsy lifestyle still suits us,
so we will continue to enjoy it until we get bored or too old.
By the way, last year we paid all the duty on Neeleen
and imported her into Fiji. She's still a U.S. documented vessel,
but now registered in Fiji - which means we now have the freedom
to sail Fijian waters without any restrictions on our stay. Importing
a boat into Fiji is not cheap, as they assess 27% of the valuation
of the boat plus 10% VAT. However, Fijians aren't very knowledgeable
about the value of yachts, so there is lots of room for bargaining.
If a boat is being imported for use as a business - such as for
charter or a resort - the duty is only 10% and the VAT is returned.
Folks who like crusing Fiji but don't want to import their boat
need to sail their boat out of country for 90 days every 18 months.
But that's not bad, as it gives them the perfect excuse to cruise
Tonga and Vanuatu."
"I'm preparing for a circumnavigation," writes Jennifer
Trandell, "and I'm concerned about visa requirements. I've
found the general information for visas, but are there differences
for visitors who arrive by boat? Where could I find more information
about this?" Most countries require a visa for each person
who visits the country, and some of them also require a temporary
import permit or cruising permit for the boat. Jimmy Cornell's
World Cruising Handbook is the best source of information
on this question, as he lists the answers country by country.
We don't want to be overly critical of our amigos to the south,
but when it comes to making life difficult for visitors by boat,
few countries do it better than Mexico. Jose Villalon, Commodore
of the Mazatlan YC, reports that the Mexican government now wants
visitors to pay approximately $2/person/day to go ashore at the
wonderful bird reserve at Isla Isabella. That wouldn't be so
bad - if they didn't make it so incredibly difficult to pay the
stupid fee. Villalon explains:
''Rather than pay the money to the staff on the island, the government
wants you to do the following: 1) Go to a papeleria on the mainland
and buy three copies of form SAT #5. 2) Fill in the blank spaces
- using nothing but a typewriter! 3) Go to the bank and pay the
fee. 4) Fax a copy to the government offices in Tepic. 5) And
finally, deliver the original copies to the biologist on the
island when you land. If you can find a typewriter, this process
should take about half a day. I wish I could say I was kidding,
but I'm not. Fortunately, there's a grace period, so cruisers
will still be allowed on the island without prepaying the fee
- as long as they promise to do the correct paperwork at their
Right. How many of the even best intentioned cruisers are going
to spend half a day running all over town to fill out forms in
order to pay a $2 fee? The idea behind not paying the money directly
to the staff on the island is to make sure they don't pocket
it. But this poorly thought out system will do nothing but encourage
cruisers to slip $10 to the island staff to forget they were
ever there. Ridiculous! Unfortunately, this is the same kind
of market savvy that believes 50,000 Americans want to bring
their boats to Mexico each winter, which will insure that the
Escalera Nautica will be a success. Well, they don't, and it
won't - particularly not with such user unfriendly policies.
"We just sailed to Mexico's Isla Isabella aboard Renne Waxlax's
San Pedro-based Swan 65 Casseopia," reports Gerg
Retkowski. "It's just as fabulous as it was two years ago
when I visited aboard my Morgan Out-Island 41 Scirocco.
The mile-long volcanic island is 20 miles off the mainland coast
not far from San Blas, and is a bird reserve with no permanent
residents. The beaches are strewn with shells, volcanic rock,
and lumps of coral. The scraggly volcanic rock juts up from the
sea, and the former cinder cones make for idyllic - if somewhat
exposed - anchorages. There are so many frigates and boobies
who come to the island to mate, that there seems to be a constant
black cloud overhead. Just as amazing is what's below the water,
as there are fish boils, where young tuna thrash around chasing
food. If you're headed south, don't miss it."
"Suzie and I have sailed our Wylie 39 Punk Dolphin
to New Zealand," reports Jonathan 'Bird' Livingston of Pt.
Richmond. "We'll be leaving her here until the tropical
cyclone season is over. We've got lots of good stories and photos
to share later on. While in New Zealand, we saw Roy Disney's
new Pyewacket - she's got a canard rudder and canting
keel, and is scary fast!"
"We''ve just rejoined our boat in San Carlos, Mexico, where
we're continuing the process of renovations and upgrades to make
the onetime commercial halibut longliner into a serious cruising
boat," report Christopher Emery and Dawn Rehbock of the
Alaska-based 38-ft Atkin's Ingrid cutter Alaskason. "After
we bought the boat in Alaska, we shipped a Yanmar diesel to Alaska
and installed it. Then we brought the boat down to Seattle and
parked her on Lake Union for two years, where Christopher redid
just about the entire boat, from the interior to the rigging.
We were 200 miles off the coast of Oregon on 9/11, and had to
continue all the way to Channel Islands Harbor - a 13-day journey
- because all the ports had been closed. We spent another year
there. After finally entering Mexican waters in October of '02,
we made minimal stops on our way to Zihuatanejo, where we became
two of the main organizers for the Second Annual Zihua SailFest.
That incredible event was loads of fun - but more importantly
raised over $20,000 for the school for orphaned Indian children,
helping them learn Spanish so they can get jobs. We enjoyed Zihua
so much that we were one of the last boats to leave at the end
of the season. We're anxious to get back on the water cruising
and to make it back to Zihua for the Third Annual Zihua SailFest.
Check it out at www.zihua-ixtapa.com/zihua/sailfest/
- and if at all possible, join us!"
The dates of this year's Zihua SailFest are January 29-February
1. We at Latitude think it's great fun and know it's a
great cause. We'll be in the Caribbean this winter, so we'll
miss it for the first time, but we'll certainly be there in spirit!
Les Sutton, who cruises the Northern California-based Albin-Nimbus
42 Gemini with Diane Grant, recently stopped by our office
to report that they - after some bad lightning damage in Costa
Rica - had finally made it to Panama. On the way to Balboa, they
stopped at Isla Seca, where they spotted Guy and Deborah Bunting's
Vista-based M&M 48 catamaran Élan on the hook.
The Buntings weren't aboard, but during a subsequent VHF radio
conversation, Guy reported he'd been doing construction and other
work on the island.
"We've enjoyed wonderful sailing in Panama, and are looking
forward to lots more," says Sutton. "And there are
lots of great places to visit - the San Blas Islands, the Bocas
de Toro, the Darien Jungle, the Perlas Islands, and much more.
We plan to be here awhile. The only thing that might drive us
away early are the 'arcs and sparks'. We read that every square
mile of Costa Rica and Panama gets an average of 35 lightning
strikes per year!"
A problem for Sutton and Grant was where to leave their boat
in Panama while they flew home for the holidays. While some folks
recommended Pedregal, which is located inland near David, the
country's second largest city, others said there were problems
with theft. Marina Flamenco, not far from Balboa, wasn't an option
because it was full. Ultimately, the couple settled on the Balboa
YC, where they pay $14/day to keep Gemini on a mooring. For folks
not leaving their boats, Sutton recommends the Flamenco Anchorage,
which is free - except for the $5/day you need to pay to use
the dinghy dock.
As mentioned before, cruisers aren't required to clear into Panama
until they get to Balboa. When Sutton and Grant did, they hired
ship's agent Enrique Plummer, a former electrical engineer from
New Jersey, to do the work for $30. Some ship's agents charge
much more for exactly the same service, so it's worth shopping
around. There's also a low cost option - have an in-the-know
cab driver walk you through the process for $8/hour, cab fare
included. Similarly, there are tremendous differences in what
people charge to do the paperwork for getting a boat through
the Canal. Some do it for as low as $30, while others charge
over $500. Once again, it's worth comparing what you get for
what you pay.
"My wife Allison Thompson and I are both sailors and radio
producers," reports Scott Fratcher of Whatever in
Panama. "We have produced a one hour program on how to bring
a sailboat up the Darien river system on the Pacific Coast of
Panama. You can listen to this program for free by going to www.yachtwork.com and scrolling
to the bottom of the page, where you should see a link to the
program Panama's Darien Region, Area in Conflict. The program
has four guests who tell their stories; one a small catamaran
sailor who went into the area; another a French boat that was
taken over by pirates and forced to sail for Colombia; another
a sailor who dumped his boat and spent 18 months in a dugout
canoe; and yet another group that hired guides and had a great
experience. For anyone considering entering the exciting Darien,
this is a valuable resource that was just completed in October
What a coincidence! Until we ran out of editorial space this
month, we were going to run Bob, Tina, and Seth Mongrain's story
about taking their Sunnyvale-based Lagoon 410 catamaran Far
Niente up the rivers of the Darien. If you want different,
you'll find it there! The article will run in the February issue
for sure. By the way, we just received a note from the Mongrains:
"We came through the Panama Canal a few weeks ago, went
to the San Blas Islands for a couple of weeks, and then came
back here to the Panama Canal YC in Colon. Just before dark yesterday,
Profligate came roaring into the fuel dock, refueled, and took
off again. But not before we were able to say 'hi' and bag Doña's
last copy of the most recent Latitude. We're sorry they couldn't
stay a little longer, and hope the cat can spend more time in
Panama when she returns in May. In any event, we hope the crew
missed the strong winds and heavy rain we've had since they left.
We plan on going to Bocas del Toro and staying there through
"After 30+ years at our regular jobs, Evelyn and I will
be heading to our Kirie-Feeling 446 Aquarelle at St. Lucia
in the Caribbean," writes Terry Drew of Santa Cruz. "We
plan to spend three months in the area before returning home
in May to concentrate on Evelyn's art business. By the way, in
mid-November I got a call from Pat Appley of the Santa Cruz-based
Cal 43 Cricket down at Bahia del Sol Marina in El Salvador.
He reported hearing Profligate on the radio as your crew
hurried on their way to Panama. So the jungle drums still pass
along the news."
"We did the '99 Ha-Ha aboard our Jeanneau 40 Utopia,"
reports John Tindle, "and cruised Mexico until 2002. We
then sold that boat and bought a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45 in Martinique,
naming her Utopia also. From January to May, we - including
my wife Cynthia and Mattie the famous boat dog - sailed in the
Bahamas. I'm now in Ft. Lauderdale getting the boat ready for
our trip down to the Caribbean via the Dominican Republic and
Puerto Rico. We hope to be sailing with Neener3 and Mistral,
a couple of other California boats. We'd hoped to join John Haste's
Perry 52 cat Little Wing and Profligate in St.
Barths for New Years, but we don't think we're going to make
it. We'll try for Antigua Sailing Week this year and New Year's
at St. Barths next year."
Unfortunately, it's not just government agencies in Mexico who
sometimes make life unnecessarily difficult for cruisers, but
also folks in the employ of private companies. While in Antigua
last month, we spent a night with Richard Booker and Grace Spencer,
veterans of the 2000 Ha-Ha, aboard the Winnipeg, Canada-based
Mystery Cove 38 catamaran Crocodile Rock. Booker told
us that two years ago they were dismasted in the Gulf of Tehuantepec,
but nonetheless managed to drag the intact extrusion back to
the port of Salina Cruz. Once there, they ordered parts to fix
the mast. Everything went fine until the parts got to DHL in
Mexico City, where the employees refused to release the stuff
until they got a substantial bribe! Booker assures us the problem
was not government customs workers, but DHL employees. The couple
refused to pay, and ultimately left for Panama, leaving their
old extrusion and replacement parts behind! While in Panama,
they installed a replacement rig. In more recent news, Richard
and Grace cruised up the East Coast of the United States last
year, but had a rough - no wind or too much wind - 17-day passage
back to the Eastern Caribbean. They plan to spend the next year
in the Eastern Caribbean.
In other shenanigans affecting cruisers and their gear, one cruiser
told us that he recently had to fork over $300 to Costa Rican
customs officials to get his duty-free gear out of the airport.
If you've had similar problems anywhere, we'd like to hear about
Two other Ha-Ha vets still out cruising on a relatively small
cat are Dave Howell and Judy Hayden of the Camano Island, Washington-based
42-ft Freebird. Doña de Mallorca crossed paths
with them in Panama. The couple, who did the 2002 Ha-Ha, said
they had a great time cruising Costa Rica and Panama, and will
be heading across the Pacific in February. They expect to arrive
in New Zealand by November.
"We left the Canary Islands yesterday on the start of the
Atlantic Rally for Cruisers to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean,"
wrote Mark Bernhard of the Northern California-based Catana 58
Aurora on November 23. "We had a great summer in
Croatia on the boat after my brother David and Jenn's wedding,
so we didn't leave Dubrovnik until the middle of October, leaving
us only five weeks to make it to Las Palmas for the start of
the ARC. After a hot and calm summer, the Med claimed its revenge
on our way to the Canaries. Having sailed back and forth across
the Atlantic with this cat last year, we didn't feel the apprehension
we felt before the start last year, and were able to enjoy the
parties a lot more. We're still planning on Christmas and New
Year's in St. Barths, then slowly working our way up to Florida
where we'll most likely sell the boat. It's now six days after
the ARC start, and it's really starting to warm up. The water
is over 80°, but the winds are still light. We haven't taken
the kite down in five days except to land a fish. We've had an
average of 10 to 14 knots of wind, but that's not enough to get
moving at a good clip with our heavy tradewind kite. But there
are good spirits aboard, as we caught four dorado yesterday and
this morning got our first flying fish - a sure sign of the tropics."
Aurora eventually finished in 15 days, 21 hours, the fifth
catamaran overall, and 34th out of 215 boats. We hope to have
more details on their crossing next month.
"We crewed on the Kelly-Peterson 44 Angelita for
the Ha-Ha and down to Puerto Vallarta," write Dave Cort
and Carol Armitage of San Pedro, "and it seems like just
a few weeks ago that we watched Profligate leave Cabo
for Panama and the Eastern Caribbean. We followed their 3,000+
mile journey closely on 'Lectronic, and are amazed at
how quickly they got there. What a trip! We're writing to let
you know that we've been invited to sail on a friend's Los Angeles-based
Swan 46 Le Reve in St. Barths for New Year's, so we'll
wave when we see you - and hope we'll get a chance to say bonjour
in person. We're looking forward to our first time in St. Barths."
The Profligate crew did a hell of a job on a very long
delivery trip, and we're extremely proud of them. As for St.
Barths on New Year's, it's the Wanderer's favorite time and place
of the year. "Me too!" shouts Doña de Mallorca.
St. Barths is a small, safe, beautiful island, with great beaches,
terrific sailing, and many of the world's most magnificent yachts.
It's a madhouse on the days leading up to New Year's Eve, but
then many of the people clear out and it becomes wonderfully
tranquil again, so you get the best of both worlds. You're gonna
Event organizer Steve Black has provided us with more detailed
information on this year's West Marine Caribbean 1500. A total
of 34 boats, ranging from 34 to 75 feet, from the U.S., Canada,
Mexico, and Italy, participated in this year's 14th annual event
from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgins. Overall
honors went to Dr. Ian Gordon's Bethesda, Maryland-based Tayana
65 Bravado, which finished in 8 days and 1 hour. The use
of engines is allowed, so we don't know the average sailing speed.
This was the fifth year in a row that Gordon has done the 1500,
but his first win. Professional weather routers urged the boats
to favor an easterly course. Passing so close to Bermuda, 10
of them elected to stop for fuel. While the bulk of the fleet
continued on in mostly light upwind conditions, those who stopped
in Bermuda became trapped by two deep lows. Delayed by almost
a week, this group became known as the Bermuda Stopover fleet,
and enjoyed pleasant reaching conditions for the last 850 miles.
The only big multihull in the fleet, Aldo Pigni's Wormwood 55
catamaran Avalon, suffered the biggest misfortune, as
her wing mast tumbled down. But get this, it didn't break, and
he was able to motor back to the States with it intact on deck!
Other division winners were David Heaphy's Island Packet 485
Dancing in the Dark; Hector Reyes' and Francisco Tischener's
Dehler 41 Andante from Mexico City; 78-year-old Phil Clappison's
Jeanneau 40 La Bella Mae; Ron Lipscombe's 76-ft schooner
Raindancer; and Robert Brown's Brewer 41 Island Mistress.
We're delighted to report that it was another successful year
for Subasta, the cruiser-sponsored auction in La Paz. Over $9,000
was raised at the bazaar booths, and another individual chipped
in $5,000 for a total of $14,000. In addition to paying for gifts
for the poorer kids and those in an orphanage, the money went
to a rehabilitation center for kids with physical disabilities
or cerebral palsy, the boarding house for the general hospital,
and the elementary school at San Evaristo. But the largest part
is used for day-to-day supplies at the breakfast and lunch programs,
transportation for junior high school kids from the same poor
neighborhoods, and for certain medical care for kids - the latest
example being a lens transplant for a six-year-old girl who is
nearly blind. Terrific!
It's a new year everybody, make 2004 the best cruising year of