January, 2006

With reports this month from Catch The Wind on outrageously expensive care for turista in Cabo; from Cheval on a family trip across the Pacific; from La Cruz on the new marina being built in Banderas Bay; from Brisa on a voyage from Oz to Honolulu; from Lariekoek on 13 years of cruising after two Whitbread Around The World Race victories; and perhaps the most ever number of Cruise Notes.

Catch The Wind - Cal 39
Sam Crabtree & Susie Wilson
Medical Care In Mexico

It might be a good idea to alert Latitude readers that the only qualifications 'pharmacists' have at the farmacias in Mexico is that they applied for the job. This was brought home to me in Cabo after the Baja Ha-Ha when I got a case of turista. I visited a farmacia looking for advice. The woman behind the counter brought out three remedies - Imodium, Lomatil, and Tedra. When I asked her which one was the best, she said Tedra, and recommended that I take two tablets every four hours.

After taking two Tedra every four to five hours for about 30 hours, I developed a pain in my upper abdomen that was as bad as the pain when I had acute appendicitis. So I went to a clinic and was diagnosed as having an impacted colon!

The doctor at the clinic told me that Tedra is a good and effective medication - but that only a couple of doses should be taken. He says he prescribes it for patients about to make flights back to the States. But I got two other pieces of significant information from him:

1) There is no career path to becoming a pharmacist in Mexico. Even though many medications can be obtained without a prescription down there, it's best to get a doctor's prescription - unless you know for sure what the dosage is, the effects will be, and any possible bad effects if taken with other medications. This might require being able to read and understand Spanish.

2) The best treatment for turista is to let it run its course, and remember to drink plenty of fluids - such as water, fruit juices, and, I was surprised to learn, diluted Gatorade. The doctor says you want to allow the bowels to remove whatever it is that's giving you turista.

On the very negative side, I was billed nearly $4,000 U.S. for IV medications and one night in the emergency room!

By the way, we all enjoyed the Ha-Ha, even Hunter, the kid who, at the awards bash, announced, "I want to go home."

- sam & susie 12/15/05

Sam and Susie - That $4,000 bill for your one night in the clinic is the most outrageous of any type that we've ever heard of in Mexico. We'd have raised a stink with the clinic, the Tourism Department, the Chamber of Commerce, the local newspapers, and anybody else who would have listened. That was wrong, wrong, wrong.

But thank you for the heads-up on the 'pharmacists'. As we understand it, it's only a little different in France, where the pharmacists, who admittedly know quite a bit about medicines, commonly prescribe medicines based on casual conversations with patients. Perhaps that's why the French consume far more Valium per capita than anyone in the world.

Turista is a fact of life if you cruise Mexico. We eat and drink just about everything, and figure we're going to get nailed once every year or two. We like to believe that we're building up a resistance, but it might just be wishful thinking. In fact, not half an hour after the Ha-Ha awards ceremony, we were laid low by a wicked combination of non-vomiting and non-diarrhea turista and the flu. We could barely move. Standing in line at the airport the next day and flying home was physically one of the hardest things we've had to do in a long time. We know that lots of folks believe in this medicine or that, but we think the doctor at the clinic was right - the only real cure is time. But you do have to make sure you keep hydrated. So you suffer for a day or two, but then those street tacos start smelling pretty good once again.

Cheval - Outremer 55 Cat
Chris & Carolyn Bridge Family
Cruising The South Pacific
(Corona Del Mar)

We're back in Corona del Mar until the end of February so that our children - Tristan, 8, Ethan, 6, and Cheyenne, 4, - can get in some regular classroom schooling. I, Chris, haven't written because I don't feel like anyone would be interested in reading about our family's good times. After all, we're not breaking any records, we're just messing around on the water and having a blast doing it. But maybe there are a few useful things we can pass along to those who will soon be headed to the South Pacific.

We departed Newport Beach directly for French Polynesia in late February, which is quite early in the season. I just wanted to get going, and didn't realize until later how beneficial it was. By leaving early, we virtually had the Marquesas to ourselves - except for the local French cruising boats. And when we got to the quay in Papeete, ours was the only boat! It's true that French Polynesia has been hit by tropical cyclones at that time of year, but very rarely. It's usually happened in El Niño years. The Marquesas, the most northerly of the islands of French Polynesia, have almost never been affected.

Tahiti and Papeete often get a bit of a bad rap, but we found that they have some good things going for them: 1) Excellent provisioning and tax free fuel; 2) Decent boat repairs. API Yachting, for example, can handle most rigging, mechanical, and sail repairs; 3) Hassle free - and tax free - importation of boat parts. (By the way, we learned that FedEx even understands SailMail; 4) Outstanding surf; and 5) Helpful people. While the anchorage off Marina Taina, a few miles from Papeete, can get pretty full, it's convenient to everything. The friendly marina staff will usually find you a place for those days when you need to get in and get things done. And if you can get out again by sunset, they often won't charge you.

In my opinion, many people miss the best part of Tahiti, which is the south coast of Tahiti-Iti. When there - and we were often the only boat - it seems as though you're a million miles from the hustle of Papeete. The luxuriant mountains fall into the sea, subsistence agriculture is still common, and the natural friendliness of the Polynesians becomes evident once again. Thanks to reasonably good navigation aids, you can sail inside the reef safely. While there, you'll also get to see some of the best lefthander surfing waves in the world. For while anchored just inside the pass, you can watch, from the comfort of your own cockpit, the incredible surf at Teahupoo. It's absolutely amazing!

Sure, Tahiti and all of French Polynesia are expensive. But the only real budget killer we found was dining out. And that, of course, is optional. In fact, we think that cruising French Polynesia could be the least expensive way to visit these beautiful islands.

I'll now touch briefly on a variety of subjects:

Family life: Our sons Tristan and Ethan, and our daughter Cheyenne, adapt well to their life onboard, and have become accustomed to our family's annual migrations aboard our catamaran. We once overheard Tristan explaining our voyages by saying, "It's just what we do."

Some of the children's highlights were meeting the chiefs of the outer islands of Fiji, exploring the Bay of Islands of the Lau Group, watching the pros surf Teahupoo, visiting the schools and children on some of the small islands, trolling the reefs for fish, surfing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, and hiking. As parents, Carolyn and I were happy to see them be welcomed by the local families and children everywhere we went. We are also proud of their study habits and the genuine pleasure they take in reading, writing and creating their own entertainment.

Crew: We were again lucky to find another good crewmember - something that's not always easy to do when sailing with a family that includes three young children - in Spencer Kuhner. He came well qualified after a four-year circumnavigation with his own family, and additional sailing after that.

Ground tackle: We carried two primary anchors, a Delta and a Fortress, and a smaller secondary anchor. Both types of anchors were vital to have along for the different situations. Our primary rode was 350 feet long, made up of 210 feet of chain spliced to 140 feet of three-strand nylon. Often the anchorages were 50 to 60 feet, which is deep, but we found that the 210 feet of chain was sufficient 95% of the time. Occasionally, the anchorages were very deep - such as at Raiatea and Tahaa, where we had to anchor in 90 feet of water. Here the trick was to let out all the chain - but only enough nylon to keep clear of the bottom The nylon must never be allowed to touch the bottom or it can be subject to heavy chafe. This system worked well for us, and allowed us to keep some weight off the boat by not having all-chain rode. Naturally we carried extra rodes and various lengths of chain.

Weather: South Pacific weather, to the surprise of some, is not all balmy and benign trades. In fact, one must really keep an eye open for approaching frontal systems - particularly when cruising places like the Tuamotus, where the atoll anchorages provide little or no protection if the wind shifts. Another regular feature of South Pacific weather is the strengthening of the southeast trades when a large high pressure system passes to the south of the tropics. This can lead to 25 to 35-knot winds in what normally are calm anchorages. These increased winds are the famous maraumus of French Polynesia, but can be felt all the way to Fiji.

Communications: We are thankful to SailMail for providing us access to almost all the weather information we got - gribfiles, saildocs, McDavitt's weather-grams and fleet codes. We got our weatherfaxes through SailMail's Getfax program and received our weather router's correspondence via SailMail's email. We do carry an Iridium satphone, which almost always connected and never dropped a call. But I never had reason to use it for email.

Chart Plotters and Navigation: In the waters of French Polynesia, I believe that a good chart plotter is no longer a luxury, but a high priority piece of safety equipment. I used the MaxSea software on a laptop interfaced with the GPS. The new MM2 charts for French Polynesia proved to be outstanding. I never found myself in an emergency situation, but if I had, I would have been confident enough in the charts and chart plotter to enter or leave a pass at night. I have no knowledge of the accuracy of any of the other navigation software systems, and we still carried paper charts. The latter didn't get much use in French Polynesia, but while on passages I still plotted my position regularly.

It must be emphasized that navigation west of French Polynesia is a whole different story, and Fiji in particular can be dangerous. For one thing, there are virtually no aids to navigation, so you really have to be on your toes. We spent more than two months in Fiji and sailed nearly 1,000 miles, but only made one overnight passage. And for the sake of our three relatively young children, I generally like to sail at night. The Admiralty Charts were all right, and, when available, the Fijian charts are good. However, all the Fijian charts have an offset, so unless - and sometimes even if - this is programmed into your GPS, the reefs are never exactly where they should be! This together with the lack of navigation aids, and the fact that sometimes you have to sail with the sun at the wrong angle, means you always have to be very aware of what's going on and use all the information that's available. But even in Fiji, the chart plotter was very useful - in a relative way.

A GPS feature that not everybody seems to be aware of, and which could save your boat in an emergency, is Track Mode. This can be used with or without a chart plotter, and is simply a feature whereby the GPS remembers your track in through the reefs or pass that you hopefully made in ideal daylight conditions. If you ever have to depart at night or in other poor conditions because of an emegency, the Track Mode is your exit strategy. These tracks can usually be backed up onto a computer if necessary. I always used this feature when exiting a pass at dawn or to confirm my position in unfavorable light conditions.

A few words about the passages:

California to the Marquesas took exactly 17 days, with Spencer and me doublehanding. It was one of my most fun passages ever because it was as much north-south as it was east-west. As such, the weather conditions varied constantly, as we had to deal with winter fronts off the California and Baja coasts, had to skirt the North Pacific High, sailed in the northeast trades, and sailed through the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone and in the southeast trades. The currents and countercurrents were all textbook stuff that fell into place and made it all the more interesting.

Since the California to the Marquesas run is mostly downhill, we flew a spinnaker a good deal of the time. I strongly recommend buying one or two cheap used spinnakers that can be abused and/or left up in too much wind. We generally got much more use out of them than our beautiful new expensive spinnaker that we didn't want to wreck. In fact, I'm heading over to Minney's Marine Surplus in Costa Mesa right now to buy another one or two used spinnakers.

The French Polynesia to Niue-Tonga-Fiji leg is a notoriously uncomfortable one due to the beam seas coming up from the south, and because of the likelihood of being passed over by a depression in the South Pacific Convergence Zone. We didn't escape, and were hit by a front with 35 to 45-knot winds.

The always potentially dangerous Fiji-New Zealand passage was another highlight of the trip. We left Fiji the first week of September, which is very early in the season, and had a very fast passage of 5.5 days to the Hauraki Gulf just off Auckland. Thanks to the routing of Bob McDavitt, we had a best day's run of 240 miles. Our worst was still a credible 194 miles.

I should caution that crossing to New Zealand so early in the season can subject a boat to rapidly changing and severe weather conditions. For example, a few days after we arrived there were 60+ knots of wind in Auckland Harbour, and three lows passed in quick succession. We were also fortunate to be able to maneuver around a large approaching low two days out of Fiji. As a result, we had wind aft of the beam for the entire passage. Although the seas were moderate, it was uncomfortable, as a huge low off to the southeast kept pumping beam seas at us, seas that regularly broke into the cockpit. Nobody needed to tell us that we'd left the tropics.

- chris 12/05/05

La Cruz Huancaxtle Marina
La Cruz, Banderas Bay, Mexico

The following is the interesting take, by the Guadalajara Reporter, on the new marina being built in La Cruz, which is 10 miles NNW of Puerto Vallarta proper, seven miles NNW from Marina Paradise, and 10 miles east of Punta Mita.

"Despite the objections of some residents, Nayarit Governor Ney Gonzalez this week formally inaugurated work on a 50-million-dollar private development in Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Plans for the seafront development include a two-kilometer malecon (boardwalk), a marina with 400 berths, a commercial mall, condominiums and a hotel. Developers promise to respect environmental concerns and do their best not to obstruct views of the bay and access to the seafront. They say the project will be fashioned on the traditional malecon concept as in Puerto Vallarta, rather than Nuevo Vallarta.

According to developers, local fishermen have signed an agreement to be relocated away from the beachfront where traditionally they have berthed their fishing boats. The project is financed in total by the private sector, but Gonzalez is promising to give his full support. Foreign capital accounts for around 45% of the investment. Construction is expected to take three years. Developers say the marina will provide employment for about 800 people."

We stopped by the marina site early in December and were surprised at how cleaned up the area had already become. Previously, the shore had been littered with trash, and there were several derelict boats that had been beached there years before. It looks much improved already. While there are always arguments against development, we think this marina can be of great benefit to mariners - there are no open berths south of Mazatlan and north of Barra de Navidad, let alone in Banderas Bay - and to the local economy. With all the whales nearby, this might become a major center for eco-tourism.

The area just outside the current breakwater has long been one of the most popular cruiser anchorages in Banderas Bay - and even all of Mexico. Tucked into the northeast corner of the bay, it generally has the lightest wind and smoothest water, great access to the mellow little town, and good bus service to Puerto Vallarta proper.

The big question in the minds of many cruisers - such as Sanders Lamont of the Satellite Beach, Florida-based Good News - is what effect the completion of the marina might have on anchoring there. It's a good question, because when we were there in early December, there were 33 boats anchored right outside of what would be the entrance, and usually there are even more during the high season. We're not sure anybody can answer that question at this time, but as many boats have traditionally anchored even much further out, and the water is relatively shallow, we don't see any reason why the practice couldn't continue. If for some reason it wasn't, there would still be the very large and shallow water anchorage at Punta Mita, which is about 20 minutes further from downtown Puerto Vallarta by bus. In fact, on most days it would be comfortable - although not necessarily convenient - to anchor just about anywhere along the north shore of Banderas Bay.

From the looks of things, we think it's going to be a win-win situation for everyone. But only time will tell for sure.

- latitude/rs

Brisa - 50-ft Custom Sloop
Ed & Sandy Martinez
Oz To Tierra del Fuego Via Ha-Ha
(Corte Madera)

After about 5,500 miles of voyaging northwest from Brisbane, Australia, over the last five months, we are now in Honolulu. It was mostly an upwind adventure, as we were at 38° to the wind most of the way, and only saw 50° apparent on one leg. It was a fairly hard trip on what should have been the last 950 miles from Palmyra to Hawaii, as we had to tack east because we were getting set west, which added another 200 hard miles. In the last three days, we did 450 miles to windward in 25-30 knots without our water ballast tanks full. We banged around, but got accustomed to it.

By the time we got to Honolulu, it was too late in the year for coming back to San Francisco. So we're keeping the boat in Hawaii until next June, when we'll sail to San Francisco. Next fall we'll sail to Mexico as part of the Baja Ha-Ha.

For those who don't remember, we lived in Taiwan for a year while we supervised the construction of our Tayana 48, then cruised her for eight years. Then two years ago, we picked up Brisa, which we had custom built in New Zealand. We sailed her to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and then to Australia for the last cyclone season. Since we always planned to go to Tierra del Fuego, but did not want to sail south of 40°S directly to Chile, we decided to come back to San Francisco, see Mexico, and then continue south to Tierra del Fuego. We call it the 'hold the chips, bring on the tacos' route.

Our route from Brisbane to Honolulu took us via the Solomon Islands and the atolls of Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Palmyra. Here are some of the details.

In early May, we left Brisbane and made three 50-mile sails up the east coast to Bundaberg to make sure everything on the boat was working. We then cleared out of Australia, left the Barrier Reef for the open ocean, and made the approximately 1,000-mile trip to the Solomon Islands. We had good reaching conditions in the beginning and made 190 miles on each of the first two days. Then we had no wind and had to motor for three days.

We'd visited Gizo coming from Hong Kong in 1990, and can report that the place hasn't changed much. It's still a backwater western capital with a dusty, unpaved main street. But you can provision there, get ice cream, and do some great wreck and live coral diving. We stayed in the lagoon about 10 days, then made our way east via the Diamond Narrows toward the Morova Lagoon. Along the way we met many hardwood carvers who, because of civil unrest the prior two years, hadn't had any customers. So they were anxious to sell. We had carvers set out 40-piece displays in our cockpit. For several items, we traded batteries, fish hooks, and children's clothes in addition to money. It was fun, as we never knew how the deal would end.

Passing through the famous Marova Lagoon, we visited the carver John Wayne at Talina village. The carvings made there are still excellent, but unfortunately the bay is not the idyllic spot it was 15 years ago. There is now a major logging operation carving up the hills, and the mud runoff is polluting the lagoon.

We then sailed directly to the capital of Honaira, where we stayed for a few days to see the historic Guadalcanal battle area from World War II. We also visited Tavanipupu, another favorite spot from our first trip. It is still one of the most beautiful places we've seen, despite the fact that many more villagers now live around the anchorage.

Day-hopping, we continued down the San Cristobel Islands, ending at the tiny island of Santa Ana before jumping off to the Santa Cruz Islands and Graciosa Bay. Santa Ana is a lovely spot. The people were welcoming but did not pester us with constant canoe visits. The children were also friendly, but did not make us the center of attention.

Graciosa Bay was our last stop in the Solomons. Luckily we'd been told in Honiara that there's no regular customs and immigration there, so we checked out at Honiara and got permission to stop on our way out of the country. All we had to do was report to the police at Graciosa Bay, and there was no problem. The anchorage on the east side of the bay by the mission school provided excellent protection during the two weeks we waited for the right weather window.

At most of the anchorages in the Solomons, we were greeted by friendly villagers who had fruit, vegetables, fish, and lobsters they wanted to trade or sell. We rarely needed to worry about finding fresh food at an anchorage, and often had to turn sellers away. The people were also very happy to see visitors again, and anxious to assure us that it was safe to visit the Solomons once again.

Our next leg, 800 miles to Funifuti, Tuvalu, was our most demanding leg of the trip. First we had to sail southeast from Graciosa Bay to avoid shoals, then we had many ITCZ thunderstorms of up to 30 knots. In addition, we were hard on the wind and were losing 10° to leeway due to the north setting current. It finally worked out, however, as the wind died the last day and allowed us to motor directly to the northern pass.

We very much liked Funifuti, as we were again among the friendly Polynesians, whose ancestors had come from Samoa 400 years before. They played island music on the buses all the time and were easy to get along with. Funifuti is a six-mile long island that's narrow - in some places just 100 yards - but has a population of 6,000. We were able to get fuel and water there, fix our genset's injectors and, since the supply ship had just come in, even buy Australian food. There was even ice cream for a couple of days before everyone bought it up! We stayed at Funifuti for two weeks, resting, fixing the boat, and enjoying the locals.

It was 650 miles to Kanton, Kirbati, the next step on our way to Hawaii. We had a good trip except for one blustery day when we had to tack away from our desired destination because the wind was right on the nose. Kanton is a very large atoll with just 40 inhabitants. Eight people have government jobs, which provides the income for the island. After World War II, Kanton was a stop for the Pan Am flying boats which had started across the Pacific from Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay. The last major development here was a U.S. satellite tracking station in the '60s. Now there is nothing but broken-down buildings and junk everywhere. The people use scavenged wood to build their cooking shacks and shade covers.

Everyone on Kanton was very kind, and gave us lobsters and lots of fish. I went fishing with two fellows one day and caught three fish in half an hour. When we signed their guest book, we saw that another cruiser had commented that Kanton had the best fishing he'd ever seen. The locals had a village feast on our behalf. They gave us shell necklaces while the children sang and danced to traditional island music.

Our last stop was at Palmyra Atoll, which is now partly owned by the Nature Conservancy. They have a staff of seven, along with the visiting photographers and biologists who are studying the coral, turtles, and fish. They were generous with us, and we could swim near the reef, have good walks, and spend time in their 'yacht club' watching current movies. Cruisers are required to get permission to stop, which can be gotten by a request.

All in all, we had a very good trip. However, our welcome by customs in Honolulu wasn't so friendly, as they surprised us with a demand for import duty on our foreign-built boat. It could have been worse, but at least we got it taken care of. It also helped that we hadn't paid $50,000 - like some cruisers - to have our boat shipped from Australia to the States.

We did get a berth in the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor for a month, and saw great surfing in our 'front yard'. The 'back yard' featured Manhattan-like tall buildings. The slip fees at the Ala Wai were low, but there was poor protection at the transient dock and, as transients, we could only pay for two weeks at a time. We were told we might have to leave at any time if they needed room for another permanent tenant whose berth got condemned! Therefore we moved to Ko Olina Resort Marina on the southwest tip of Oahu. It's a safer and quieter place to leave our boat while we're in California.

- ed & sandy 11/15/05

Lariekoek - Custom 39
Aedgard Koekbakker
Cruising With The Flow
(The World)

The way Aedgard Koekbakker sees it, the high point of his life was probably 24 years ago. It was 1982, and he was one of the crew aboard Cornelius van Reitschoten's Frers-designed maxi sloop Flyer II when she won the third Whitbread Around-the-World Race. The event was then the zenith of offshore sailing, and it was the second victory in a row for Reitschoten with Koekbakker aboard. The second win was different, however, because Reitschoten and Kiwi Peter Blake had made it a much more competitive event.

There were an astonishing 28 entries from 15 countries in the '82 race, while this year's Volvo Race, the latest incarnation of the event, has but seven entries. Almost all of the '82 Whitbread entries were genuinely amateur efforts. For example, many of the boats had professional chefs cooking sumptuous meals, carried countless cases of beer - and, most shocking, often took their spinnakers down at night. Further, many of the crew were described as "useless" by those with more than a little sailing experience.

But Reitschoten was determined to not just win the race, but to win all four legs. So he and the brash young Blake, who was going to do everything in his power to beat the Dutchman, put together two of the first almost professional offshore racing programs. And once they got on the water, they competed ferociously.

For instance, when Reitschoten suffered a heart attack in the middle of the Southern Ocean, he not only didn't seek treatment, he forbid his crew from letting anyone know. He feared that if Blake got the news, he would be inspired to push his crew even harder. "The first time Blake's boat should learn of my heart attack is when they sail past my body bag," said Reitschoten, who apparently had a bit of a competitive streak. By the end of the leg, the Dutch industrialist had recovered enough to resume taking his tricks at the helm.

When Reitschoten and the Flyer crew triumphantly returned to Amsterdam, there was pandemonium. "For a small country like the Netherlands, our victory was as good as if we'd won the world soccer championship," says Koekbakker. "There were parties and girls for days and days."

But all good things must end, and soon it became decision time for the members of the Flyer crew. Many of them would go on to become notable figures in the world of sailing as top-flight racers, captains of megayachts, or stalwarts of sailing businesses. Perhaps the best known is Grant Dalton, who went on to set around-the-world racing records with maxi catamarans and monohulls, and who is now leading the Kiwi Emirates New Zealand effort to win the America's Cup.

The Whitbreads had the opposite effect on Koekbakker's ambition. "Those races ruined me for a normal life with a career. They made me realize that I didn't want to work forever just to get a full pension upon retirement, and then try to start cruising at age 65. I'm 62 now, and if I had to start cruising three years from now, I'm not sure I'd be able to do it."

So, having already sailed around the world four times, twice racing and twice on deliveries, Koekbakker decided to sell his house, build his own boat, and cruise the world on his own boat and on his own terms. He's been fulfilling that wish for the last 13 years.

Koekbakker - the name means 'cake baker' in Dutch - was born in Amsterdam and learned to sail in a nearby area he calls "the San Francisco Bay of Holland". The Netherlands was also home of the Frans Maas yard, which was building steel boats drawn by the world's top designers. Koekbakker did a lot of drawings for the boats they were building, and once they were launched, did a lot of sailing on them. After a few years, he migrated to Green Marine - started by a fellow from Sonoma - in England, which is still one of the top yards in the world. It meant that when it came time to build his own boat, he had the proper background.

A friend drew him a 36-ft ultralight with a three-ft sugar scoop. "I was very much influenced by Bill Lee's concept of light and fast boats, and particularly the Santa Cruz 50. Light boats give you more boat and fun for the money, plus you can sail when others have to motor." But, unlike Lee's designs, Koekbakker's 9,000-lb boat got a lift keel and a fractional rig. He built the boat at Green Marine over a period of several years. For a guy who professes to love wood, there is precious little to be found on his boat. "Just two bits is all - one on the handle for the oven, and a little in the companionway."

"No," was his answer when we asked if he recommended that other people build their own boats. It should be noted, however, that he admits to "perhaps being a little lazy."

He launched his boat in '90, christening her Lariekoek, which is both a play on his name but also means 'gobblygook', 'nonsense', and even 'bullshit' in Old Dutch. A year later, at age 42, he, with his girlfriend, cruised Ireland and Scotland, and the following year did the Baltic countries. His young girlfriend, having already sailed around the world, was a good sailor, but wanted children. Koekbakker was all right with the idea, but warned, "I'm not going to stop cruising so they can go to school." That pretty much ended that relationship.

Koekbakker left England in '93 to cruise the Med with friends, and that winter sailed to the Caribbean. "Except for the occasional woman", he's been cruising singlehanded ever since.

From '94 to '99, he leisurely sailed around the Caribbean, often visiting Cuba. "I was only allowed to stay for two months at a time, so I constantly had to leave for places like Florida, the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala before returning. During those five years he noticed a lot of change in Cuba. "There were a lot more cars, the economy seemed to get a little better, and the food improved significantly." But other things stayed the same. "The workers only earned $10 a month, and it was easy for a European man to meet and date Cuban girls."

Koekbakker maintains that Cuban girls are unlike girls in other countries. "They're different because they just love to party, party, party - and often with foreigners. It's not like they are doing it for the money, it's just that when they are that age they just love to dance and party. Although it's true that if a European man invites a Cuban girl to go to Europe, she'll go if the government will let her - and never return. Similarly, Cuban girls look to marry European men in order to escape Cuba."

When Koekbakker talks about "Cuban girls", he's referring to ones as young as their middle teens. In fact, at age 56, he married a girl who hadn't yet turned 16. "We were married for 17 days," he says with a chuckle. "The thing is that it's traditional for Cuban girls to have a party celebrating their 15th birthday, but this girl didn't get to have one because her family didn't have any money. So by our getting married just before her 16th birthday, she got to have her party."

[Just so everyone understands Latitude's position on this issue, if any 56-year-old man had tried to romance or touch our daughter when she was 15 years old, we'd have cut off his dick and then cut off his head.]

Koekbakker insists there is nothing unusual about what he did. "The girl's siblings and parents didn't think anything of it, nor did the Cuban boys and men. It's just the way Cuban girls are." This is a position that's supported by Christopher Baker, author of Mi Moto Fidel, who also had a number of relationships with young Cuban women.

"When you sail, you stay young," laughs Koekbakker, "and when you sail around Cuba, you stay even younger." He didn't think the Cuban girls and women fared as well. "They become old quickly," he said.

By '00, Koekbakker had had enough of the Caribbean and the tropics, so he sailed up the East Coast of the United States, and then up the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes. He's spent the last four winters in Canada at places such as New Brunswick, Toronto, and Vancouver. With ice up to four feet thick around his boat in Toronto, it wasn't anything like his previous winters in tropical Cuba.

His last winter in Vancouver was mild compared to the others in Canada, but last fall he entered the United States, determined to work his way back toward the tropics. "I cleared in at Port Angeles, Washington. It took 24 hours for officials to check everything out, but it wasn't that hard. The U.S. has a reciprocal agreement with the Netherlands, so the annual cruising license only cost $19. The irony is that while my boat can officially stay in the country for one year, I can only stay for six months before I have to leave. Then I have to hope I'll be allowed back in to get my boat!"

"Things are also a little different than when I came up the East Coast pre-9/11, and when I was on the Great Lakes. Now I'm supposed to check in, usually by phone, every time I get to a new port. It makes me feel as though I'm on probation. This rule has always been around, but it was rarely enforced and often not even known. When I tried to check in at Chicago, for example, I got yelled at because they didn't know such a requirement existed."

We visited with Koekbakker at the San Francisco YC shortly after he arrived from Vancouver. "I like what I've seen of the United States so far, because it's like Canada and not overpopulated." It just goes to show you what a different view you have of the country when you see it from a boat rather than a car.

"Having been to many of the most famous ports in the world," he continued, "I have to say that San Francisco is one of the very best. Only Sydney has comparable sailing. The people have been very friendly to me, and the yacht clubs such as the St. Francis, San Francisco, and Golden Gate have been very accommodating."

Having been out cruising for 13 years now, Koekbakker says it was pretty inexpensive the first five years, but inflation has since reduced his spending power. "Food, boat and medical insurance, trips back to Holland, and new sails and gear every now and then, I spend about $25,000 a year. I don't regret doing what I did, but I am slowly running out of money. I may have to marry a rich woman," he said with a smile.

Cruising is not only a relatively inexpensive way to live, but it's also interesting. "How can you be bored when there are so many new places to visit and there is so much to do? In addition to all the stuff to do on the boat, I ride all over on my bicycle, take walks, read lots of books, and surf on people's internet connections. But the most important thing is meeting people, which is easy to do."

Koekbakker viewed this July's West Marine Pacific Cup to Hawaii as a last great opportunity to see his boat shine. "She's hit bursts up to 20 knots and can average 10 when it's blowing hard." But the expense of an SSB, flares and other required equipment has dampened his enthusiasm. So he may go to Mexico, Hawaii, Japan - he's just not sure. He knows that someday he'll make it to New Zealand.

You can imagine the number and variety of boats Koekbakker has seen over the years. "The most unusual was a 50-ft Dutch-built ferro-cement boat built in the shape of a whale." Somehow she had managed to make it all the way to the Caribbean.

What wisdom has the former top-flight racer turned cruiser acquired after all these years on the water? "Don't go too late in life, don't go too fast, and don't think you have to go all the way around. There are a lot of people enjoying very slow cruising, many of them with kids."

- latitude/rs

Cruise Notes:

The Winship family of the Alameda-based Crowther 33 catamaran Chewbacca reports that a terrific new marina on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal is nearing completion. According to the Winships and the marina's website, Shelter Bay Marina, when completed, promises to be a world-class facility, offering every conceivable amenity to cruisers awaiting their turn to transit the canal - or just wanting to keep their boat in secure storage. Nestled at the edge of a 14,000-acre rainforest, Shelter Bay is also tucked behind the main ship channel breakwater, affording unparalleled scenery and excellent protection from swell and chop. Ultimately, the marina will be able to accommodate 160 boats up to 220 feet in length and up to a 25-foot draft. While only a handful of slips are in service now, by January the available facilities and services will include showers, laundry, pool, gym, and chandlery. A restaurant/bar will be housed in the nearly finished clubhouse. All slips will eventually have water, power, high-speed internet, phones, TV, and dockside pumpout. There is even going to be a concierge service. Future plans are even more impressive, calling for a six-acre dry storage area to accommodate upwards of 200 boats to be hauled out with a 65-ton hydraulic trailer. A Travel-Lift will be able to haul cats with up to 33-foot beam. Located on the opposite shore of Cristobal, the marina plans to make arrangements for transportation to Cristobal/Colon as well as to Panama City. This new marina will have a major beneficial effect on cruising in Panama. For details, visit www.shelterbaymarina.com.

With wireless high speed internet connections available at more marinas all the time, working from one's boat in distant countries is becoming more common. For example, when Bill and Karen Vaccaro of the Chico-based Moody 44 Miela did the Ha-Ha in '04, Bill, who had sold his seed company after 25 years, got to stay with the boat in Mexico. Poor Karen had to return to Chico, where she does the financials for a start-up. Since the company has ignored the notice she gave a year ago, Karen has been trying to work 9-5 aboard Miela in Paradise Marina. But she finds she still has to fly home from time to time.

Most of the boats in Paradise Marina get their wireless internet service from the Vallarta YC, which charges $50/month. But the Vaccaros find the yacht club's service too slow at Dock A for their needs, plus it's not encrypted. Their solution has been internet access from Rob Ladner, who swallowed Sweet Thing's anchor a few years ago, bought a condo across the channel from Paradise Marina, and beams a wireless signal down to the marina. "We pay just $30/month, and we're getting about 819 mips, which at about half the speed of T1 is pretty darn fast," says Bill. "In fact, thanks to my big antenna, I was able to watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News.com on my Mac by wireless."

Rick Carpenter of Rick's Bar, cruiser central in Zihua, reported there were 50 boats in the bay as of December 15th, and 27 more expected in time for the Cruiser Christmas Party. He says return visitors should prepare themselves for lots of changes. "We have lots of new housing and restaurants, and have seen many improvements to the infrastructure - such as new sewers and streets. Most people view the changes as an inevitable mixture of good and bad."

Carpenter has set up the antennas and repeaters to beam high speed internet out into the bay, but so far has only had mixed success. "If I had a geek to help me for about three hours, I think I'd be able to get it to work consistently. We're also going to set up a remote camera near La Ropa Beach so folks can monitor their boats!" In other cruiser services, Rick reports that Nathaniel and his family are back at the foot of the muelle to provide dinghy valet service. They work for tips during the day, and Rick's Bar pays them to work 6 p.m. to midnight.

The new port captain in Zihua is said to be a mellow guy - but he's nonetheless requiring that everyone stop by his conveniently located office to inform him of their arrival. It's quick, easy, free - and there's none of the old business of having to also go to Immigration and then wait in line at the bank for two days. Cruisers also have to let the port captain know they are leaving, at which time they are assessed a onetime fee of about $2.60 for . . . well, Carpenter isn't really sure.

One reason the Zihua port captain is making all the cruisers check in is so he can confirm they have Mexican liability insurance. You may remember that a cruiser from Long Beach abandoned his Mariner 35 ketch Freedom on the hook in Zihua a few years ago, and she eventually ended up sunk on the beach in front of the Navy base. It cost the port captain a small fortune to have it removed, and he wants to see proof of insurance so he doesn't get stuck with similar bills in the future. The port captain also feels that requiring boats to check in allows him to keep track of undesirable people. For example, he was able to arrest a fugitive from the United States trying to get by on a fake passport. In fact, he was nabbed in Rick's Bar hoping to find a berth on a cruising boat!

The cruiser event of the year in Zihua, of course, is the Zihua Sail Fest Feb. 1 - 5. This tremendous cruiser charity benefits the Zetzahualcoyotl School for indigenous orphans and other young ones in great need. We plan to be there with Profligate to have fun and help support the good cause - and hope you'll be there, too. For a complete schedule of the activities, go to www.zihuasailfest.com. Organizers expect as many as 100 cruising boats to participate.

Talking about wireless high speed internet access, the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club hopes to be offering that service to boats in that Banderas Bay anchorage by the end of January - right after they have the meeting to found the club. The antenna will be located at Margaritas Restaurant, which is one of the palapa eateries on the beach. Details haven't been finalized, but hopefully the service can be free to those who buy a round of drinks or dinner once a week. Some of the costs will be offset by Latitude, as we like to maintain a floating office at that important cruiser crossroad during part of the winter.

By the way, our tastebuds tell us that Margaritas serves up some of the best fish tacos in the Americas. Rather than the typical small piece of artery-clogging, deep-fried fish folded up inside a tortilla, these fish tacos feature big pieces of sautéed tuna mixed with peppers and other stuff. You get two of them, plus beans and rice - and a great view of the anchored boats, surf, and islands - for about $5.

Thanks to the presence of the huge gated Four Seasons Resort complex and other high-end vacation accommodations on the north shore of Banderas Bay, about half of the palapa restaurants on the beach at the Punta Mita anchorage have gone upscale. We've enjoyed some sophisticated meals and excellent live music at Chef Roger's Mañana, which has a very pleasant European ambience. We also had a great dinner at a table on the sand with Renne Waxlax and Anne Blunden of the Swan 65 Casseopia at Tino's Mariscos, probably the most elegant of the palapa restaurants. If you're looking for a nice dinner ashore south of Mazatlan, this is the place. By the way, all the jetties in front of these palapa restaurants are subject to either removal or extension - whatever it will take to bring back the sand that disappeared when the government built the jetties in '95. In addition, the rather unsightly parking lot-bus depot behind the restaurants is to be turned into a pedestrian plaza. As one resident said, "The next three years are going to see radical changes at Punta Mita." Fortunately, few of those changes should be to the detriment of cruisers.

"After three months away, J.R. and I are back aboard our Catana 47 cat Moon And Stars at the very nice Marina Tortuga on Guatemala's Rio Dulce River," reports Lupe Dipp of Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. "Once we got to the airport in Guatemala City, it was still a five-hour drive, so we took a private car for $45/person. You can save $10/person by taking the bus, and if you're on a real budget, take the 'chicken bus' - along with the chickens and other stuff - for just $5/person. The marina charges us $190/month plus electricity for our 47-ft cat, which isn't bad. We had no idea how beautiful this place was going to be when we arrived. We're also surprised at how much European blood has mixed in with the locals. We'll spend a month around here, then head on to Panama. Thanks for the information in 'Lectronic about Shelter Bay Marina at the old Fort Dickson site in Panama, as that's where we'll leave our boat next. We won't immediately transit the Canal as we want to spend more time in the Caribbean. In late April, we're going to fly to Antigua with a group of 12 fellow Mexicans to compete at Antigua Sailing Week aboard a chartered Swan. We're going to be proud to represent our country. P.S. I'm loving every minute of being on our cat!"

"We're at Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand, which you will remember was badly damaged in the December 26, 2004 tsunami," reports George Backhus of the Sausalito-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow. "The area is still not completely rebuilt, but it's definitely up and running, as beautiful as ever, and begging for more tourists. The diving at nearby Koh Phi Phi Le is excellent - despite quite a bit of diver impact."

"Hey, it's Miguel from St. Barth, but now I'm at Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand," writes sometime Profligate crew Miguel. "While at the Ao Chalong YC the other day, I picked up last February's Latitude and read about New Year's Eve '03 in St. Barth. You even had a little blurb about me! Anyway, I came here last September with Fast Eddy of Eddy's Restaurant in St. Barth, and immediately fell in love with the place. It's still nice, even after planeloads of rather large Scandinavians have taken to lining the beaches. I love the beaches, the waves, the Thai food - and accommodations are still reasonable. Next week - I'm writing in early December - is the King's Cup, which is the largest sailing regatta in Southeast Asia. There are going to be about 100 boats competing, and I'm hoping to catch a ride aboard a cat. Many cats are being built right here by a company called Latitude 8. After the King's Cup there's going to be a megayacht regatta, and I've got a ride aboard the 130-ft schooner Yankee 2, which I know from the days when I sailed my small boat across the Pacific. But I'll be back in St. Barth for the Bucket in March."

Thanks to their response to the Latitude survey in
'Lectronic, we've learned that Bill and Sam Fleetwood of the Monterey-based Gulfstar 50 Blue Banana are in Thailand also. "Even though we're now on the other side of the world, we haven't missed a Latitude. We get them come hell or high water - meaning tsunamis." The couple - Sam is a woman - met through a Crew List ad, did the Baja Ha-Ha in '97, the Puddle Jump in '99, and have been cruising ever since. By the way, their favorite Latitude features are Letters, the responses to Letters, and the Latitude interviews. And yes, Bill and Sam, we can still remember the last time we chatted - it was '99 and we were at the little outdoor restaurant next to the Opequimar Boatyard in Puerto Vallarta. You and Blue Banana were about to head across the Pacific, and Profligate was about to return to California."

There were some hair-raising snarls coming out of Marina Paradise Harbormaster Dick Markie's office when we stopped by in early December. No, they didn't come from Gina, Dick's wife, who radiates vibrant health from all her energetic morning workouts. They didn't even come from Eugenie 'the walking chandlery' Russell, who heads up the J/World Sailing School based out of the marina. No, the snarls came from Lola, a two-month-old mountain lion that Markie cares for. He claims he's raising her as a domestic pet, but we're not buying it. If anyone spills a drop of oil on the docks a couple of months from now when Lola is a little bit older, we fully expect to see the feline come charging down the dock to claw a chunk out of the perpetrator's thigh. Markie takes that much pride in running a clean marina.

"We're not going to be able to make it to the big New Year's celebration in St. Barths again this year," report John and Cynthia Tindle, with Mattie the boat dog, of the Hermosa Beach-based Jeanneau 45 Utopia. "Cynthia is taking the grandkids to the Rose Bowl instead, so she won't be able to join me in Puerto Rico until January 4. By that time I'll have the boat back in the water ready to resume our cruising between Puerto Rico and Martinique. We'd go further down island, but too many of those islands have restrictions on dogs. After all these years in the Caribbean, this may be our last, as we're thinking of sailing to Maine and then Florida. Our long term goal is to bring our boat back to Paradise Marina. Old friends will remember that we previously cruised our smaller Utopia in Mexico for three years."

"I'm in Bequia headed north," reports John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 37 Sanderling, "and looking forward to being in St. Barth for the New Year's celebrations once again. When I wrote you in early June predicting a robust hurricane season here in the Caribbean, little did I realize that we were headed for a record year. On December 7, we had Hurricane Epsilon - the 24th named storm and 14th hurricane of the Atlantic season - defy predictions by maintaining strength and heading south! And I can't count the number of tropical depressions that came through while I was in Trinidad this summer, as it always seemed that there were at least two tropical waves to the east of us."

The odd thing about the record Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season is that there was virtually no damage to the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. It was also a quiet season along the coast of Mexico.

On December 12, we received the following email from Warwick 'Commodore' Tompkins and his wife Nancy of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl: "We're 650 miles from New Zealand's Bay of Islands and going south like a freight train, about halfway through our passage from the South Pacific islands to Opua. The weather conditions are superb, with 18 to 22 knots over the port quarter. We're broad-reaching with a double-reefed main and my special red blast-reacher, thinking that this is what sailing is all about. What a blast! The weather forecast is for good weather all the way in to port. This is the first time we have used a weather router, but since it's cyclone season, we're glad to have the help."

And on December 16, we got an updated report. "Just this minute we're motoring into the Bay of Islands, having arrived from the tropical islands of the South Pacific. The North Island of New Zealand is the 18th island we've visited since leaving California - and it's the first one without palm trees. We're excited to be here, although it's gray, drizzly, and cold - a bit like we expect it is back in Northern California." As Commodore and Nancy only left California in June, they had one of the faster passages across the Pacific this season.

While in Banderas Bay, we bumped into Blair Grinols who, for the first time in nine winters, isn't aboard his 45-ft Capricorn Cat somewhere in the tropics. He and his wife Joanie built a new house in central Oregon, but apparently didn't realize how cold the winters are - and Blair hates to be cold. "At the last minute we were going to do the Ha-Ha," Blair said, "but then I had a little problem with my heart. Everything is really great except for a little electrical problem, so they put a pacemaker in just to be sure. "But you can count on Capricorn Cat doing the Ha-Ha again this fall."

"I'd like to 'clear my name', as it were," writes Sam Thayer of the Seattle-based Hans Christian 33 Pegasus. "In a late November 'Lectronic, you wrote that after I left the tow by Vicky Plett and her Seattle-based Hans Christian 38 Inspiration At Sea to run back to Cabo from Los Frailes, that I ran out of wind and demanded another tow. The facts are that Inspiration had towed me toward Los Frailes because several days earlier my motor mounts sheared off, leaving me without an engine. In order to continue the buddyboating with Inspiration - something we'd been doing since Neah Bay, Washington - Vicky offered to tow me to La Paz. But then we ran into a storm near Los Frailes. Unable to safely tow me any longer, Vicky turned my boat loose, and took off for the shelter of Los Frailes. Unfortunately, she was dismasted a short time later. I sailed over to make sure she was all right, and in the process blew out my main. I informed her that I was going back to Cabo for help. Let's see, no motor, no sails, 35 to 40-knot winds, and nine-ft seas. I requested a tow from the Mexican Navy - which showed up in 30 minutes and towed me to Cabo. There my engine mounts were repaired. I did not, nor ever would abandon my vessel. Your article implied stupidity, which I resent. I've since motored to La Paz, where I am waiting for Dockwise Yacht Transport to deliver my boat back north in March. I request that you print a correction, and welcome any questions."

While at the Cruisers Thanksgiving Dinner in Mazatlan, several skippers who had just arrived from all the activities around Frailes told us that you'd "left" or "abandoned" your boat in Cabo. Since that's not true, we're more than happy to print your correction. However, we want to caution cruisers never to expect to be given a tow in Mexico, particularly by the Mexican Navy. That they showed up in 30 minutes and actually towed you to Cabo are what we would classify as two significant miracles. While cruising in Mexico, we assume that we'd never get help from anyone but other cruisers - because that's usually the case.

Since you invited questions, we can't help but ask a couple. First, why didn't you get your engine mounts fixed the first time you were in Cabo? We can't imagine asking somebody to tow a disabled boat 100 miles into the prevailing weather just to be able to continue buddyboating. Second, one of the Profligate crewmembers - a very experienced boatowner and skipper - was puzzled as to why you requested - actually, he said you "demanded" - a tow when you could have sailed downwind with a headsail.

In any event, we're glad that you and your boat are safe. We're also glad that Inspiration At Sea wasn't dismasted while towing you, because that surely would have resulted in heavy guilt. We're sorry for Plett, who along with her boat, was slated to join Pat Henry's women's sailing program in Puerto Vallarta this winter. Plett says her boat is insured, so we hope she can get her back in action quickly.

"After doing the '04 Baja Ha-Ha, we spent the winter on mainland Mexico travelling southeast to Zihua," report Mark and Debra Wilson of the Long Beach-based DownEast 45 Seangel. "As we headed up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer, we stopped at Santa Rosalia - which is not to be missed! The town was founded by the French, who were mining copper there, and even now isn't a tourist town. We love it.

"As for the loss of the Newport 30 Sea Ya on the way in to La Paz," Mark continues, "there is a sandbar, not a reef, that runs parallel to the entrance channel for about two miles. The sandbar can't be crossed, and you have to enter the channel out by the Pemex fuel tank farm, leaving all the red buoys to the right. By the way, I found it a shame that the owner/skipper of that boat said it was a crewmember who veered off course and into shallow water. As a licensed captain who ran commercial vessels for many years, I can't imagine turning control of my boat over to anyone while approaching a new or unfamiliar harbor - let alone doing it at night."

The folks on Sea Ya had had a very rough trip up in high winds, and were reportedly exhausted when entering the channel to La Paz. As we write this, we're not familiar with the exact circumstances and states of mind of the crew at the time, but we can certainly imagine circumstances in which it would be most prudent for the skipper to give the helm to the crew - such as if the skipper were hallucinating from fatigue. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but perhaps the best solution would have been to have pulled into the safe harbor of Pichilinque before even getting to the crooked and somewhat confusing channel into La Paz. By the way, we realize that the hazard next to the channel into La Paz is composed of sand, but we consider all 'raised ledges', not just those made of coral or rock, to meet the general definition of 'reef'.

Bruce Winship of the Alameda-based Crowther 33 cat Chewbacca says that, with their two daughters getting older, they needed to increase the number of 'facilities' on their boat. He sent us the photo at left to depict their solution to the problem. The question is whether they are joking, or whether they have been out in the salt air too long.

In recent years, Beneteau-owned Lagoon has introduced a line of catamarans - including the Lagoon 440 - that have the helm located on a second level above the main cockpit. Although Lagoon claims the primary market for these cats is private ownership, we've always felt they would be hugely popular with charterers. In any event, a skipper of one of these multilevel 440s in the recent Atlantic Rally for cruisers (ARC) reported hitting over 27 knots! A 44-ft cruising boat loaded down with stores for a transAtlantic crossing doing 27 knots - that fits our definition of 'really flying'. We're pretty sure that the skipper quickly ordered a reduction in sail - and a change of shorts.

Speaking of the 20th annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the November-December 2,900-mile event from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean didn't have the best weather this time around. There was a terrific fleet of 224 boats, including a record 20 multihulls, but the sailing conditions were substandard. Shortly after the November 20th start, everyone had to deal with Delta, a tropical storm completely unexpected so late in the season and so far east. The more northerly ARC boats ended up having to sail to windward, while the more southerly boats bobbed around in hot and windless conditions. Soon the less performance-oriented boats were diverting to the Cape Verdes for fuel. The ARC is known for great tradewind sailing, but this year even some of the faster boats were at sea for 11 days before they got into that good stuff. But then after just a couple of days of nice sailing, much of the fleet got hammered by strong trades blowing 30 knots and squalls gusting to 40. That's the kind of wind that was needed to propel the previously-mentioned Lagoon 440 to her nearly 30 mph burst.

The first boat to finish the ARC was Mike Slade's R/P 92 Leopard of London, which reached St. Lucia in a pedestrian time of 13 days and 5 hours. She was under charter to a group of eight Russians, whose watch schedule was an uncommon one hour on, seven hours off. The thought of a single charterer sailing one of the biggest and fastest racing/cruising yachts in the world must have prevented Aussie skipper Chris Sherlock from getting much sleep. Dada V, a Lagoon 57 catamaran, was the first multihull to finish, in a time of 17 days, 6 hours. As it was a difficult race for even the big fully crewed boats, you can imagine what an enduro it must have been for Bob and Gill Tetley of the Hallberg-Rassy 53 Alter Ego of Chichester, the first doublehanders to finish.

As one would expect with a huge fleet crossing such a wide ocean, there was plenty of excitement and several mishaps. On November 30, for example, the two-year-old Sweden 42 Caliso had to be abandoned because she was leaking badly around a cracked keel box. She had apparently suffered damage in the keel area before, and it had been inadequately repaired. The six crew, comforted by the many ARC boats standing by to help, were taken off on a ship headed to Philadelphia. Many of the ARC boats had gear damage and ripped chutes, and there were a couple of broken bones and a million bruises. But for those who persevered, there was plenty of sun, rum, music - and a great sense of accomplishment - to be savored upon arrival at the Rodney Bay festivities.

The other big rally in the Atlantic in the fall was early November's West Marine Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgins. The 16th running of the event attracted 51 entries from 32 to 62 feet, including a record six multihulls. It's noteworthy that 22 of the boats had done the rally at least once before. The fleet had three days of light air followed by a number of days of brisk winds with larger seas. Rex Conn and Celeste Conn's Newick 50 trimaran Alacrity used the latter conditions to reel off 300-mile days and finish in 6 days, 5 hours. We're happy that Alacrity did so well, for the last time we saw Conn was two years ago when his brand new tri raced our cat in the St. Martin Heineken Regatta, and he dropped the rig - in spectacular fashion - early in the first race. He was understandably bummed out. The 1500's handicap winner was Charles Cunningham's Park City-based Hylas 54 Agua Dulce. Her victory was interesting because she - along with two other 54-foot boats - had lost her rudder and needed to finish towing a warp for steerage! Steve Black, the rally organizer, speculated that the three rudders were lost due to a combination of powerful autopilots - which don't sense the stress they are putting on a rudder - and steep seas. Another unidentified boat lost her mast after a spreader failure. Most of the boats finished in under nine days, which made this one of the faster Caribbean 1500s.

It's hard to believe that a rare late November tropical storm in the eastern North Atlantic would affect more than a couple of boats from California, but that's exactly what happened.

"While on our way from our Aromas (California) home back to our boat in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we tuned into the Weather Channel and were surprised to see Tropical Storm Delta heading right for the Canaries!" write Joe and Susan Altman of the Wauquiez 45 Suzy Q. Since the storm was due to hit Monday, the next day, there was nothing we could do but hope for the best. When we arrived at the airport on the south end of Tenerife on Tuesday night, there didn't seem to be any damage. But the locals told us the storm, with winds to 80 knots, had hit hardest up north by Santa Cruz de Tenerife - right where our boat was! As we travelled north by bus, we began to see downed trees, parts of transmission towers on the side of the road, and lots of power outages. Anxiously making our way down to the marina, we found Suzy Q looking to be in good shape - at least in the darkness. In the light of day, however, we found a cracked teak toerail, two bent stanchions, and one lost fender. We were fortunate because our finger dock held together - it was the only one in our area that did. All the rest were either dangerously bent or floating upside down. The failed finger docks created a domino effect when they broke loose, taking the docks and the boats attached to them, and smashing them into the docks and boats to leeward. The jagged edges of the dock wreaked havoc on fiberglass hulls. Fortunately, no boats were lost and nobody was hurt or killed. Most everyone here is still preparing to cross the Atlantic, but now we're all keeping a careful eye on Tropical Storm Epsilon."

David Berke of San Francisco, crew aboard John and Nancy Settle's San Diego-based Roberts 58 Amor Fati, reports they were also in the Canaries when Delta hit. But they were at Rubicon Marina at Playa Blanca on the island of Lanzarote. "We recorded 61 knots on Amor Fati, and the marina recorded 75 knots at their building. There was mostly minor damage to boats, and no sinkings. The most damaged boat was the French high-tech foiler trimaran Hydroptere, which is financially backed by Airbus. She was extensively damaged. It was a helluva night, and naturally the strongest winds were between sunset and 3 a.m. This is a nice place, so we're sorry we have to leave on our 18 to 22-day passage to Barbados tomorrow."

"Andy and Jill Rothman of the Tiburon-based J/44 First Light will have begun an Atlantic crossing in late December that will all but complete their circumnavigation," reports Bruce Ladd of the Peninsula, who plans to crew for them. Ladd first met the Rothmans at the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts in 1996. He was cruising aboard his Valiant 40 Mo' Betta, and they'd just come down from Annapolis with their new J/44 and were about to head west around the world. Prior to going cruising, Rothman had won the Express 37 season championship on San Francisco Bay with Spirit, the first Express 37 with wheel steering to do so. The Rothmans' circumnavigation hasn't been a rushed one. For example, they spent one entire summer in Croatia. And Ladd reports that after getting their boat out of storage near Rome this year, they continued on to Italy, France, and Spain. They were clobbered by very confused seas on the way to the Canary Islands, their jumping off point for the Caribbean. And when they got to the Canaries, their boat was hit by the same tropical storm winds that nailed Amor Fati and Suzy Q. But she came through unscathed. The Rothmans and Ladd expect to make landfall at or around Tobago, after which they'll do some cruising in the Southern Caribbean.

When you read this, the 2006 winter cruising season will be in full swing. If this is your year - or one of your years - to enjoy it, make a vow to do so to the fullest. Cruise with passion! Meet lots of new people. Go to lots of new places, or better yet investigate familiar ones. Live!

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