January, 2004

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
(San Francisco)

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 Vanuatu:

"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 even opened.

- 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 of desperados.

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 and language.

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 of water.

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 captain.  

P.S. We love Latitude, it's the only 'honest' sailing publication out there!

- kirk, catherine & stuart 10/25/03

Profligate's Progress
Wayne Meretsky
Stillero Nacional Boatyard
(Vacamonte, Panama)

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 even started.

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 hulls.

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 cruising.

- wayne 12/6/03

Abracadabra - Swan 47
Philip Strauss & Anne Anderson
Having Our Boat Seized In Polynesia
(Aspen, Colorado)

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 pearls back.

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 obvious.

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
American Samoa

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 to $115.

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 Samoa.

- steven & jackie 11/15/03

Panama Canal Transit
Louise Norton, Crew
Pacific To Atlantic
(Southhampton, England)

"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 Lock chamber.

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 Canal.

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 with rainforest.

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 blocked.

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 and crew.

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

Cruise Notes:

"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 Polynesia."

"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 earliest convenience."

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 of '03."

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 Christmas."

"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 them.

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 love it!

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 your life!

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