January, 2007

With reports this month from Fleetwood at Hellville, Nosy Be, Madagascar, where the body of a decapitated cruiser was found; from Sereia on not buying into 'pee cures' in Guatemala; from the Cruiser Chili Cookoff in Marina Paradise; from the Wanderer on the pace of construction at the La Cruz Marina; from Serendipity on their return to the Pacific after six years in the Caribbean; from Surf Ride on six years in the South Pacific; from Sea Bear on the passage from Maine to Barbados; and the most Cruise Notes ever!

Fleetwood - Naja 30
Jack van Ommen
Madagascar to South Africa
(Gig Harbor, Washington)

I started my cruise from Gig Harbor on February 10 of '05 by trailering Fleetwood, which I'd raced in the Singlehanded TransPac many years before, to Alameda. After launching her, I sailed across the South Pacific to the Philippines, Vietnam, Sabah, Indonesia, Christmas Island, the Seychelles and Madagascar. I'm writing this log while enroute from Madagascar to South Africa.

I have passed latitude 21°S, which puts me the furthest away from the equator since May of '05. While at Haiphong, Vietnam, last April, I'd gotten as far north as 20°37', and while in Fiji last September, I'd gotten down to 19°S, as far down as I've ventured until today. The water temperature is dropping and, after two years in the tropics, I'm looking forward to some cooler weather. The furthest south my circumnavigation will take me is 35°S at Cape Town, which is roughly the same latitude as Monterey.

I arrived at the offshore Madagascar Island of Nosy Be - also known as Nossi Be - on November 8 from the Seychelles. I then spent 10 days at Hellville, the most popular first port to clear into at Nosy Be. Madagascar, a former French colony, is the world's fourth poorest country. French is still spoken by most everyone, although there is a Malagasche language that is a mixture of Swahili, Portuguese and whatever. The majority of the early population came to Madagascar as slaves from the nearby African continent. There was also a migration from Malaysia/Indonesia several centuries ago. Most of these people live in the central highlands of the main island. A number of Vietnamese fled here after the fall of Saigon in 1974. Some intermarriage with Europeans, Indians and Asians is apparent. Many of the women are attractive in an exotic way.

The cruising guides mention that the check-in procedures and fees can be complicated and expensive at Hellville. But the port captain that I saw was extremely hospitable, and I didn't have to pay anything to stay for a week. The only fee was $7.50 for the quarantine/health clearance.

Hellville is a throwback to the early 19th century, and looks like a movie set for The Three Musketeers or some French Revolutionary period movie. The buildings have not been updated or repaired since Napoleon Bonaparte left for Elba. The cannons of that era are still positioned at the ramparts and in front of the old armory, which is now the local jail. There are probably still a few guillotines laying around here - which brings me to the gruesome story of a yachtsman who was found beheaded on his boat here last March.

In short, the story is about two European adventurer/sailors here in Nosy Be. The victim was Hans Michael Klein, a German on the van de Stadt 50 Doalula. The other individual is Alex Klaar, a Swiss on the aluminum ketch Ice. Both boats returned from a side trip to Kenya in early March. Both of the men are suspected of having been engaged in some questionable businesses to maintain their lifestyles and local families. Reportedly they had an argument shortly before Mike was found at the bottom of the companionway, his severed head laying at his feet.

The police arrested Alex, who was held in the local jail from April until September. But after a team of Swiss police came out and proved that the DNA found on Mike did not have any match with Alex, he was conditionally released. The people who know Alex maintain that he isn't the kind of man who could commit such a hideous crime. I tried to talk to Alex myself, but he was at Mahajanga on the main island when I was at Nosy Be. When I found his place in Mahajanga, he'd left the day before for Nosy Be! I learned he'd gone to Mahajanga to try to get custody of his two daughters. Apparently, it didn't go well. In fact, his ex-wife, a local, managed to get him thrown in jail for another month. There are a number of theories of what happened to Hans, one of them being that he was executed by a drug gang.

There are a number of other boats, mostly French, whose skippers have decided to make Nosy Be their semi-permanent home. Some of them take visiting tourists on charters for a few days to the surrounding islands. Nosy Komba is just a few miles away, and the famous Madagascar rhesus monkeys can be observed here. Alitalia has a weekly flight from Milan to Nosy Be and, next to the French, the Italians are the most regularly seen group of visitors to Hellville. The local vendors have even mastered an Italian sales vocabulary.

- jack 12/10/06

Readers - While we don't like to hear about yachties who've been beheaded, we do enjoy reading about what long and great cruising adventures folks can have on very humble cruising boats.

Sereia - Mariner 36 Ketch
Peter and Antonia Murphy
Pyramid Blues at Lake Atitlan
(Pt. Richmond)

Not all cruising adventures happen at sea. Peter and I recently spent a month traveling inland to San Marcos, a tiny village nestled lovingly on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Actually, we didn't even spend a full month there, just 28 days. And by then the whole town hated us.

I think it started with the pee. We were having drinks with our hosts and some of their friends at the hotel when I started offending the guests.

"Drinking your own urine is very cleansing," one woman announced, apropos of nothing.

"What?" I asked. "Drinking pee?"

"They use it here as a treatment," she continued. "If the child is sick, they use urine to make it get better."

I had to clarify. "What do you mean, they use urine? You mean they make the child drink his own pee, or they pee on the kid?"

She was starting to get annoyed. "Say what you like. I have a friend who claims he cured himself of HIV with urine."

I took a deep breath and looked around the table. "You know, I'm just going to be the one to say it. If I get sick, I'm taking antibiotics. You all can have pee, I'm seeing a doctor."

"Well," she said, pursing her lips. "You should really try it, before you judge it."

Right then they had me tagged for a bitch. And I hadn't even slaughtered the turkey yet.

You see, San Marcos is a community of gringos who cater to the New Age tourism crowd. This means that the paths along the lake are festooned with hand-painted signs that say things like 'Learn about Shamanic Healing!' and 'What is Reconnection? Come inside and ask!' Then when you go inside, they teach you about astrology and numerology and metaphysics, separate you from your money, and send you on your way. If you're lucky. Sometimes, they won't let you out again.

"The culmination of the pyramid program," the pee woman explained, "is an all-night meditation inside the pyramid center. They stay there all night and meditate."

"They don't let you out?"

"You don't go out," she replied, looking mysterious.

"What if you have to pee?" I asked. "They don't make you drink it, do they?"

She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "They don't go out," she repeated.

Apparently, this pyramid thing was on a need-to-know basis.

But I wasn't done. "What if I was meditating there and I set the place on fire?" I persisted. "They'd have to let me out then, right?"

At that point the woman left. I don't know what her problem was, I was just trying to educate myself.

So the next day, Peter and I went down to the pyramid center to see for ourselves. They had a pretty garden with a variety of pyramid-shaped trellises that are apparently for concentrating psychic energy - although they look as though they would work equally well for growing tomatoes. Mystical music was piping through the loudspeakers. It took me a minute before I recognized the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings.

"Look at this," Peter pointed to the information sign. "You can get introduced to your very own animal spirit guide."

"Hmmm," I said, my beady little eyes looking for things to judge. "And the tarot, which has its origins in Atlantean knowledge."

"Atlantean knowledge?" Peter looked confused. "What's that?"

"You know, Atlanta, dumb-ass. Atlanta, Georgia." Sometimes Peter can be so dense.

Then I saw the sign and the whole thing came crashing down: 'First week of the moon course includes chakras, spiritual bodies and psiquic senses'.

Don't you think if you were going to open a psychic center, you would at least learn how to spell the word? Even if a computer spell-check is too judgmental, you'd think your average psychic secretary would feel a terrible sense of foreboding while typing out that mess.

Actually, I know how it happened. 'Psiquico' is, in fact, how you spell 'psychic' in Spanish, which just goes to show that they are catering to the locals. You see, the New Age businesses of San Marcos are just the ones down near the water. A few steps up the hill there's a grindingly poor village of Mayan peasants living in concrete boxes with dirt floors. Lots of kids don't have shoes, they drink their own pee when they get sick, and I'm sure they're dying to learn about Atlantean knowledge. Well. You know. First they want to learn how to read and do basic arithmetic, then they want to acquire Atlantean knowledge.

Actually, it would just be better for everybody if they'd learn how to behave themselves when they wander down toward the water. It's very distracting for spiritual pilgrims to have children begging for money all the time, and once we actually saw a Mayan woman passed out drunk in a doorway at eight in the morning. How is anyone supposed to concentrate on their spiritual path when it keeps getting blocked by drunks and beggars? They're so negative.

But the roots of my acrimony toward San Marcos really had nothing to do with my sympathy for the poor Mayans. They've already weathered five centuries of cultural attrition, I'm sure they can make it through a few more. No, my problem had to do with the food. There wasn't any.

Specifically, there was no meat. Meat offends the pyramid people. Restaurant menus were fit to burst with tempeh and tofu, veggie omelettes and bread - but no ham. Not a breath of bacon. Not a smidge of steak. After the first week I started feeling a little anemic. My thoughts were confused. I considered drinking my own pee. Then I had an idea.

"Peter," I announced, "If they won't sell us meat, we're going to have to find it and kill it ourselves."

Peter sucked on his Marlboro and eagerly agreed. He'd been chain-smoking since we got there to stave off the hunger pangs.

So that very day we hiked to a remote Mayan village and purchased a live turkey. We snuck it back to San Marcos in a sack. When our boat reached the dock, I handed Peter my sweatshirt. "Here," I whispered. "Put this over his head, I don't want to upset anyone."

We tried to be subtle. We tried to be sensitive to the feelings of others. We smuggled the turkey into a small, private yard behind the hotel. We made discreet inquiries about borrowing a large machete. We poured a couple of shots of liquor down the bird's throat and hung it upside down from a tree. I crouched down and held turkey's head steady, keeping the neck taut for the kill.

Peter stepped back, raised the machete, and swung. Instantly, the turkey started flapping all over the place. The head separated from the body. Blood sprayed everywhere. And that's when the vegetarians came home.

The turkey didn't make much noise when it died. We had it liquored up enough that it couldn't feel a thing. The two young girls, however, let out a bloodcurdling scream so loud they might have revived the dead bird if we hadn't decapitated it, its severed head cradled in my palm. I stood up, fumbling the bloody head like a football.

"Wait!" I spluttered. "It's not what you think!" I wiped a stray bit of gore off my cheek. But it was too late. They'd already fled.

We later found out that the private yard we'd chosen was in fact used by artists staying at the hotel while they made murals of elves and fairies with biodegradable paint in the garden. They were young girls, just out of college. Their names were Star and Wind. And now they hated us.

In fact, the whole town hated us. We'd approach these peaceful, spiritual people on the path and they'd avert their eyes or turn around and walk away. One girl had taken a vow of silence at the pyramid center, so I figured she couldn't say anything bad to us. Then she handed me a piece of paper that read, 'I know what you did.'

"Isn't that cheating?" I asked. But the girl didn't answer. She was silent.

A few days after the turkey murder, life in San Marcos settled back into the old routine. Tourists arrived, meditated on their chakras, learned how to breathe, and left again. Workshops continued in Hatha Yoga, Reiki, holistic therapy and animal spirit guides. People listened to synthesized harp music and ate their tofu omelettes.

Occasionally, young Mayan men would break into a hotel room and swipe a camera or grab a young backpacker and shake her down for a few bucks. The kids kept begging for spare quetzals. I couldn't really blame them. After all, the three-month Sun Course at the pyramid center cost more than $1,200. That was almost a year's wages for the locals. If someone was paying that much money to learn how to relax, clearly they had money to burn.

We spent the rest of our month in San Marcos in relative peace, despite the rancor that had developed in the wake of the killing. I worked on my novel, Peter took lots of photographs, and we began to enjoy the idyllic atmosphere of the village. Meanwhile, this thing kept shitting on my head.

Although we were beginning to relax and enjoy ourselves, I'd wake up every morning and find a small pile of poo on my pillow. We pulled the bed away from the wall, but a little animal was living in the rafters, producing mysterious black pellets that rained down on the floor every night for a month. I couldn't explain it.

Then, after four weeks, it was time to go. On the boat ride out, Peter and I sat next to a Mayan woman and her daughter, both wearing hand-loomed clothing. The little girl was crouched at her mother's feet, eating an orange. She pulled the sections apart carefully, sharing the fruit with her mother, then collected all the peels and seeds and made a little pile of them in her mother's lap. Her mother put one hand over the peels so they wouldn't blow away.

"Why don't you just toss them over the side?" I asked. After all, it was just garbage, and it was biodegradable.

"No," the woman shook her head. "We save it. For the garden."

The boat sped across the lake. I watched the summer homes - elaborate castles built by foreigners on the water's edge - pass in a blur. With three massive volcanoes rippling in its silver surface, Lake Atitlan is a spectacularly beautiful place. It's no wonder people come here, buy property, and build their own personal image of paradise.

And all of a sudden, the shit on my pillow made sense. You can eat your veggie omelettes. You can build your castle in paradise. You can channel your energy and drink your pee and meditate under a pyramid until your butt gets sore. But the tourists could afford to come here because the poverty of this place kept everything cheap. This woman was saving her orange peels, and I was drinking wine, writing a novel, and getting massages for half price. Go ahead and laugh. I know that little animal that was shitting on me was my spirit guide. In his own small way, he was giving me a message. You can go to Guatemala, you can go to San Marcos, you can hide under a pyramid. But for the people who live here, life is survival. Yes, you can go where you like, but you can't get away from the shit.

- antonia 10/15/06

Readers - Always wanted to be a vegetarian but couldn't quite pull it off? It's actually easy to do. Just visit Peter and Antonia's www.svsereia.com Web site and view their killing of the turkey. We don't know if it was a dull machete or if turkeys have tough necks, but it was no clean killing. In fact, it looked like a muffed attempt at a death penalty execution in a U.S. prison. But in all fairness, Peter and Antonia are artists, not experienced butchers.

Chili Cook-Off is a photo essay in the magazine. Here's the caption for the photos:

A large crowd of cruisers, retired cruisers and locals showed up for the Cruisers' Annual Chili Cook-Off for Charity at the Vallarta YC at Paradise Marina in early December. Clockwise from bottom right; U.S. consular agent Kelly Trainor and her husband Carlos Oceguere. If you get thrown in jail, she's the one who visits you within 24 hours. A couple of lovely young ladies who were attracted by the bright lights and crowd. Two cruisers were so well disguised that we don't know who they are. The four purveyors of Queen's Anne's Revenge, a nasty strain of chili. Teapot Tony and Ronnie 'Tea Lady', who take care of a lot of the boats in Paradise Marina. An unidentified swashbuckler. Harbormaster Dick Markie and his lovely wife Gena. Owen, recreational director, gets pecked by an affectionate wench. And finally, Camilla, looking as hot as her chili. Nice job everyone!

To see all the above photos, pick up a January issue, consider a subscription to Latitude 38 by mail or on our new eBook format. For more information, click here.

Marina La Cruz
Banderas Bay

Nowhere in Mexico are marina slips more in demand than on Banderas Bay, which is why construction is underway on Marina La Cruz, which is located about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. According to the plans, it's going to be a massive facility, with 400 slips, many of them huge. For example, there will be 69 70-footers, 19 125-footers, and eight slips between 150 and 400 feet! The intent is for it to be a world-class marina that will attract the kind of world-class yachts that have started showing up on the bay in the last few years. The marina will also accommodate the more than 100 panganeros who have always operated out of La Cruz. In addition to having wide malecon for strolling on the marina perimeter, there will be a hotel, shops, condos and much more.

There has been bitter opposition to the project by a group of mostly gringos who own homes that previously overlooked the bay, but now overlook the marina site and proposed boatyard. We drove past the houses last month, and almost every one of them is for sale. Despite the threat of lawsuits, work on the marina breakwater continues, and there's been enough dredging so that a handful of cruising boats have snuck inside to enjoy the sheltered waters.

"We arrived at La Cruz on December 10 to find the breakwater mostly completed and just enough room to squeeze Cat 'n About, our Gemini 3000 cat, insider the breakwater along with about half a dozen other boats," report Rob and Linda Jones of Puget Sound. "They're working on the docks and the breakwater, and have five slips completed. We talked to a skipper of one of the other boats, and he told us the La Cruz port captain says it's all right for boats to anchor inside for now as long as they don't get in the way of the dredge. But we don't think that's going to be allowed much longer."

The original estimate for the completion of the basic marina - as opposed to all the shops, condos, hotel and so forth - was the winter of '07. It's hard to know of the project is on schedule. We wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have a lot of slips ready for basic occupancy by the end of the year, but it's clearly going to be years before the entire project is completed.

For folks who haven't been to La Cruz in a year or two, the changes in the once sleepy town and area have been dramatic. Massive condo and housing projects aimed at gringos are going up everywhere, and the scent of rapid change fills the air. It would have been fine with us if the town and area had stayed as it always had been, but that would be unrealistic. All of Banderas Bay, from downtown Puerto Vallarta to Punta Mita and on up to San Pancho, is exploding because it's the best and closest tropical bay and coast to the western United States that has a great climate as well as terrific sailing, surfing and fishing. One can only hope that Marina La Cruz is done with intelligence and class, because, if done right, it could directly and indirectly lead to thousands of much-needed jobs for the locals.

The other thing we noticed is that lots of boats are still anchored outside the marina breakwater, just as they have always been. It's long been one of the most popular - and free - cruiser anchorages in Mexico. The marina developers have said that boats will continue to be allowed to anchor out once the marina is done, and we don't see why that wouldn't be true. In fact, we predict that once the marina is completed, all the conveniences will attract double the previous number of boats at anchor.

- latitude/rs

Serendipity - Peterson 44
Barritt & Renee Peterson
Back To The Pacific
(San Diego)

Having not written or visited with the Wanderer since early '95 at Columbie anchorage in St. Barth, we thought it was time for an update. After almost six years in the Caribbean, we are finally headed back towards Mexico and San Diego. We've had our full share of fun and adventures throughout those years, and the trip back hasn't been any different so far.

Our departure from Bonaire for points west was delayed due to some engine problems, but after getting underway, we stopped in Curaçao for our friend Roy, then headed on to Cartagena. We're heard nothing but glowing reports about the Colombian city, so we were very much looking forward to seeing it for ourselves. On the way - which was a slow motor because the trades had shut down - Roy hooked a huge bull dorado. The fish almost spooled the reel before Roy could slow him down, but eventually he landed him.

Just as we had hoisted the fish over the lifelines, we noticed an American Navy AWACS plane giving us a fly-by - no doubt on a drug interdiction patrol. When the plane came around for a second look, it was only about 200 feet above the deck. Renee grabbed our slack American flag and strung it out, and Roy and I held up the fish. It was very cool, as the pilot of the plane waggled his wings at us and waved as he went by. We sure wish we could get a copy of whatever shots they took of us and Serendipity. Upon our arrival in Cartagena we were met by the Colombian Coast Guard, which proceeded to board our boat. But they were the epitome of politeness and care, using big fenders out of apparent concern for our vessel.

Cartagena was fascinating - and should not be missed by any cruisers passing through the area. It's a city so full of history, interesting architecture and friendly people. And Club Nautico is truly a spot for cruisers, as the staff takes your laundry, your garbage, provides wi-fi, serves inexpensive food and drinks, and is just a block away from a great market. The very friendly - and attractive - ladies who serve everyone are a real pleasure, too. One can easily see why, like La Paz and a few other spots, some folks just can't seem to get away. And their anchor chain and waterlines show the effects.

We then revisited the San Blas Islands of Panama. We thought that we had enough molas from our first trip through, but apparently not. Renee calls it 'Mola Madness', and it can get expensive. Our transit through the Canal was just as exciting as the first time through six years before. The Panama Canal YC at the Caribbean end seems unchanged - which means it looks as though it's about to fold, but it still hasn't. We also visited the new Shelter Bay Marina across the bay from Colon. Although it's a little isolated, it's a nice facility and had the components of a Travel Lift on the ground about to be assembled. Everything that's been done at Shelter Bay Marina so far has been first class. As an added attraction, we were able to walk about 300 yards into some World War II bunkers, where we surprised some howler monkeys hanging out in the trees above us.

We had some more engine problems - a broken damper plate - while awaiting our transit. It's nice that we didn't have that problem during a transit. The Panama Canal YC has a super diesel mechanic on the grounds, and he had our transmission out in less than four hours! The replacement part arrived in time for him to put it in and us to still meet our transit date. Andy is the mechanic's name, and we'd recommend him to anyone.

With Travis, my son, having flown down to do the transit, we were all ready to go through the Canal. We had a little excitement in the first Gatun lock, which is the one that has the most turbulence. Thanks to a line not being quite tight enough, Serendipity got sideways in the lock! The adrenaline sure flowed while we got things back under control. Once we got settled and our heartbeats returned to something close to normal, we continued under reasonably good control.

The transit from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side is now a two-day affair, as you transit the Gatun Locks in the dark mostly, anchor in the lake, and then continue across and through the rest of the locks the next day. Since our boat was less than 50 feet, it cost $650, plus an $850 deposit for any damage we might do to the cement locks. Yeah, right! You suppose you get the $850 back if you're careful and don't hurt the locks.

Our trip from Panama City to Golfito, Costa Rica, was uneventful - except for the fact we lost the shackle holding the head of the genny to the Pro-Furl roller furling. This naturally happened at about midnight while we were close to a bunch of reefs. One thing we noticed about the Pacific is that there is much more sea life than in the Caribbean. As soon as we got away from the Canal Zone, we started seeing dolphins, fish boils and birds. It's just not like that in the Caribbean, and we really missed it. Everything is a compromise, however, as the tradewinds don't blow on the Pacific like they do in the Caribbean, and we'll certainly miss that great sailing.

We just left a very enjoyable bunch of folks who put on a hell of a Thanksgiving dinner here in Golfito. Some were ex-pats living here in Costa Rica, others were cruisers such as ourselves. It was a very eclectic group, to say the least. However, the highlight of the evening was meeting up with Liz Clark of the Cal 40 Swell, whose reports have been featured regularly in Latitude. What a most engaging young woman! Renee and I had a delightful conversation with her, and were sorry that we wouldn't be staying around longer to enjoy her company. Our plan is to head north shortly and be in Puerto Vallarta not long after the holidays - at least in time for the Banderas Bay Regatta in March.

- barritt & renee 11/15/06

Surf Ride - Valiant 42
Richard Bernard
Where Is He Now?
(San Diego)

Sometimes you meet old friends in the strangest places. For example, we bumped into Richard Bernard at the Reef Restaurant at Two Harbors on Catalina in October, not having seen him since he'd done the last of his three Baja Ha-Has back in '01. He'd just arrived from the Pacific Northwest, having had a windless but nonetheless cold 12-day trip. But he's spent most of his time since '01 in Hawaii or the South Pacific.

"After that Ha-Ha and some time in Mexico, I returned to San Diego, then sailed to Hawaii, where I have a permanent slip at the Ala Wai, Fanning, Suvarov, the Samoas, Tonga, New Zealand, back to Tonga, Christmas, Fanning, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. I'm not sure where I'm going next. Maybe I'll go to Mexico or just back to my slip in Hawaii - although I'd rather do something more fun like sail to the Marquesas or Tuamotus. But I'm just going to tweak the boat a little, then keep going somewhere. Once you start cruising, it's hard to stop."

Having just turned 60, and having had a lot of ocean experience, Bernard feels very comfortable on the ocean, even when singlehanding. "I've been singlehanding about 25% of the time, and usually I don't mind. My attitude is that if I have crew, fine, if I don't, I'll go anyway because it's better than being stuck at the dock. My insurance is probably void if I don't have two crew, but frankly, I don't care. In fact, I don't care if I have insurance or not."

The absentee co-owner of the big Surf Ride surf shop in Cardiff, Bernard, who just turned 60, is still an avid surfer - although he's beginning to feel some pains he didn't when he was younger. "I wrecked my elbow by pulling a sheet too hard while singlehanding," he says. "So now, to me, a successful cruise is one in which no part of me or the boat breaks."

And he's got some good news for older surfers - that the best 'old guy' break in the South Pacific never has any surfers. "It's the entrance to Fanning Island, which breaks just like a Trestles wave - hollow and crisp. Fanning can get so big that the entire pass closes out, so it's best about door high, when you get crisp, thin waves in crystal clear water. It's nice if you have someone else to surf with you, but that's usually not the case. The other great place to surf in the South Pacific is the Tuamotus."

While Bernard doesn't think all that much of boat insurance, he's been very pleased with weather reports and routing from Commander's Weather. "When the grib files all indicated that it was going to blow 25 knots on the way from Christmas to Hawaii, Commanders said it was going to blow 40, so I stayed behind. Commander's was right. And when I left Tonga for Hawaii once, the gribs said 25 knots, so everybody took off, while Commander's said 40 knots, so I waited. The others got creamed while I later had a very relaxing trip in 8 to 10 knots of wind. Commander's has been very accurate."

Bernard's one gripe about cruising is the maintenance. "I'm tired of doing that."

But his Valiant 42 has been a very solid and reliable boat. She's been great, as has been Blue Tango, Walt Schrick's sistership that I did the Ha-Ha on in '02. Those folks are in Fiji now. As much as I like my Valiant, I nonetheless almost bought the Switch 51 cat Willyflippit. But not quite."

After a brief time together, we had to rush out, so we hope to continue our conversation with Bernard soon. Hopefully out at a good surf break. Anybody know where he is now?

- latitude/rs

Sea Bear - Wittholtz 37
Pete Passano & Marina
Maine to Barbados
(Marin County / Maine)

We departed Wiscasset, Maine, on October 15, as planned and, catching the ebb tide, had a fast trip down the Sheepscot. It was a beautiful day with a fine westerly sailing breeze, enabling us to lay our course to the Great South Channel between Cape Cod and Georges Bank. A half hour before midnight the following day, Sea Bear logged nautical mile 100,000 beneath her keel. It happened on a lovely star-studded night just east of Nantucket Shoal. When Marina came on watch at midnight, I asked her to empty my last bottle of Mt. Gay Rum over the side as a token gesture of thanks to King Neptune for all the years of good luck and fine sailing we've had. The bottle was emptied - but not before the skipper poured a celebratory dollop in his coffee. In fairness, it must be admitted that there was hardly sufficient spirit for Neptune to properly wet his whistle. Perhaps my miserly offering was the reason the weather deteriorated from that point on.

When we reached the Gulf Stream, it was blowing a gale. Fortunately, it blew from the southwest, so the seas weren't too bad. It blew Force 7 (28-33 kts) and Force 8 (34-40 kts) for 10 hours and rained like the dickens as a slow-moving cold front moved through. After it passed, we had fair winds for a while, but they soon died out. There was one nine-hour period where we only made a total of 18 miles. Then the wind came back out of the southwest again and blew Force 8 for 27 straight hours. By this time we were getting pretty close to Bermuda. We hadn't planned on stopping, but we hadn't been able to get any tropical storm activity forecasts over the National Weather Service offshore weather forecasts. We later found out that was because there was no such activity. But not being aware of this, I was beginning to wonder what was going on with the weather down in the Caribbean, as technically it was still hurricane season in this unusually quiet year. But in all honesty, we were also a bit tired of all the upwind sailing, so I began to rationalize all the things I could accomplish by stopping. For example, we'd blown out a seam in our light air genoa by leaving it up in too much wind, and we were out of ice. So at the last minute we decided to stop.

We only stayed in Bermuda for four days, and spent the entire time at St. Georges. It was when we learned that a 20-lb block of ice cost $13 that we realized that we couldn't afford to stay. We left on October 26 on the backside of a cold front to take advantage of the favorable wind. A couple of days later, however, we were again plagued by headwinds.

Anyway, at 10 days to cover 1,358 miles, it was a pretty slow passage to Barbados. Normally, one would expect to reach the trades near 25°N, but didn't encounter them until we had crossed the Tropic of Cancer at 23°N. From then on, however, we had smooth tropical sailing. We arrived in Barbados on November 6 about the same time as a smallish - 800-ft - Italian cruise ship. As we were both trying to enter the deep water terminal, I kept referring to her as 'The Wopper'. Marina thought I was being disrespectful when I explained what a 'wop' was. But as it turned out, it was filled with Germans.

On arrival, we were pleased to learn that the U.S. had not declared war on any other countries while we were at sea. Anyway, we happily anchored in Carlisle Bay directly in front of The Boatyard, the famous beach bar. It's different now than it was on my last visit with my kids several years ago, as there is a $5 cover charge when you come in your dinghy to buy a drink. But the reggae music still goes on until 3 a.m. Some people accuse me of being a little hard of hearing, but apparently my hearing is just fine. It didn't bother us the first night because we were so tired we slept right through it. But the next day, when we learned that Carlisle Bay had been voted the noisiest anchorage in the Caribbean, we moved down the beach to the west to get away from the source. We practically had the bay to ourselves. There were a few local boats, but none of the transatlantic cruisers had arrived from the Canaries, and wouldn't for another month.

My first visit to Barbados was back in '66, as my wife Brooke and I, and my brother, arrived on December 16 aboard our 35-ft Akka from the Canaries. Barbados had been granted independence from Britain only two weeks before. We anchored in Carlisle Bay, and the next morning a small rowboat with three splendidly uniformed officials came alongside to clear us in. They were flying the beautiful new flag of their new country, which was blue with a yellow striped field and a black trident in the center. The flag was the size of a bedsheet - or at least a tablecloth. It looked ridiculous on such a small craft, but the officials were all so obviously proud - as well they should have been. In those early days, only a handful of yachts crossed the Atlantic each year, and it was the custom to go into The Royal Barbados YC and sign the book. As I recall, that year we were the 16th boat. These days there are thousands.

We have had a very nice 10-day visit, having visited the Cheapside produce market, the Mt. Gay Rum Distillery, the Sugar Machinery Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Tropical Forest Reserve. In addition, we've been all around the island to see all the sights and enjoy the local flavor. The people here are as nice and relaxed as they come in the West Indies. And now that we've taken care of the most important task of all, which is to replenish the rum locker, we're about to make the short sail to Tobago.

By the way, while in Carlisle Bay we were anchored next to a Bajan fishing boat named Here Fishie. We thought that was a really cool name.

- peter & marina 11/15/06

Cruise Notes:

"We arrived at Coff's Harbor, Australia, on October 25 after a great sail from New Caledonia," report Jan and Ramona Miller of the Northern California-based Odyssey 30 yawl Jatimo. "It was a seven-day trip in mostly southeast trades. After completing much boat work at Coff's Harbor, we departed for Sydney with a good weather window on December 5, and arrived two days later."

Some of you will recall that the couple left Santa Cruz in April of '04, and then sailed to New Zealand by way of Hawaii, Fanning, Christmas, the Samoas, and Tonga. They then sailed back to Fiji, where they left their boat for the last South Pacific cyclone season, cruised some more, and then continued on to Australia in pursuit of their circumnavigation. Bluewater cruising with Jatimo is nothing new for Jan and Ramona. Shortly after they met, they cruised her to Mexico, French Polynesia and Hawaii. The continuing bluewater episodes of Jatimo just go to show you how seaworthy even relatively small but well-built boats can be. Jatimo is hull #8 of the 24 Odysseys that were built around San Francisco Bay. Many years ago Mike Lynch of Tiburon also did a South Pacific cruise aboard his Odyssey 30 yawl, and Ben Wells of Berkeley did a circumnavigation with the sistership Dawntreader. The Alberg design might be something to consider for those of you with big cruising dreams but small cruising budgets.

Some parts of tourist-oriented Mexico are no longer as inexpensive as they used to be. Take Punta Mita, the fine anchorage and surfing spot on the northwest tip of Banderas Bay, which, unfortunately, has become home to a massive Four Seasons Resort and other high-end real estate. Thanks to a new kind of clientele, the palapa restaurants on the beach have all had to/been able to raise their prices significantly. As such, old favorites such as El Dorado, Tino's, Mañana, and Margarita - the latter being the place that from time to time serves as the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club - are a little steep for many budget cruisers. Fortunately, the new La Luna Cafe, just a half block back from the beach on Panga Avenue, is a reasonable alternative. Art, the chef and proprietor, is from Texas and believes in the 'big bang for the buck' dining - specifically, four-course meals for less than $9. He says he's able to do this because he limits the dinner menu to two entrees. We've eaten there several times and have been impressed. The best was the night we had the tuna salad entree - which was much better than it sounded. The first two courses were a cup of savory soup and some spectacular Vietnamese spring rolls. This was followed by the main course, which turned out to be a big slab of fresh seared tuna atop a green salad, and was topped off by rum cake for dessert. La Luna doesn't have a view of the ocean, but it's a charming place, and for $9 for dinner, it's the bargain of the area.

If you're cruising Mexico - or anywhere else - and find a great 'big bang for the buck' place to eat, we'd love to get a few lines and a photo of it. Gracias.

We're still trying to figure out what happened to Phileas Fogg, the Islander 36 that Pierre-Alain Segurel of San Francisco entered in the Baja Ha-Ha. The boat made it to Turtle Bay just fine, but when it came time to start the second leg, he informed the rally committee that he, like several other boats, would be staying behind for a few days. By the time the Ha-Ha fleet was in Cabo celebrating the completion of the event, Segurel had experienced a nightmare. The accompanying photo and somewhat confusing email tell everything we know about the story:

"I woke up on the morning of November 10 as people were screaming like madmen. I realized that something was happening, and looked through the port to see a huge powerboat coming at us. We only had time to jump to the starboard side of the boat to keep from getting hurt. The impact was huge and the damage extensive, but nobody was hurt. The chainplates pulled through the deck, the head compartment exploded, and for a distance of eight feet the hull separated from the deck. It is over. I don't know what's going to happen, but I doubt that Phileas Fogg will ever get back to the U.S."

We were supposed to hear back from Segurel when he returned from France, but we have yet to hear from him. Our heart goes out to him, but at least nobody was injured.

Does your life just keep getting better and better? It does for some people, such as the Winship family - Bruce, April and daughters Kendall and Quincy - who took off cruising in the '00 Baja Ha-Ha aboard the Crowther 33 Chewbacca. And it's not as though their cat is the largest, most luxurious or most expensive cat in the world.

"We've just completed our third season exploring the San Blas Islands of Panama, and life just keeps getting better and better. The winter windy months are upon us, so we are changing gears as we usually do here in the Caribbean in the winter, looking to hang out in civilization, eat ice cream, and catch up on six months of internet and emails. We wanted to stay at the new, first-class Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of the Canal. While talking with the owner of the place, he asked if I would help oversee construction of their new Travel-Lift bay and 100-ton Travel-Lift. It sounded like fun, so here we are, still living in paradise and getting to do some interesting work. It hasn't been that hard on April, as she got to trade her 5-gallon wash bucket for the marina washing machines and a bug sprayer in the cockpit for a bubbling jacuzzi. We aren't doing any snorkeling, there is an adjacent 14,000-acre rainforest to explore, which is full of monkeys and sloths, and is even home to an old Spanish pirate fort. And we're no longer eating the delicious dog snappers, but the marina restaurant does serve a wicked half-pound burger with fries. Can life get any better? Yes, it can, and it will, right after I get done teaching them how to make banana splits.

For the record, the San Blas Islands are most popular in the winter, but pretty much abandoned in the rainy summer months, so the Winships have been doing things backwards.

Antonio Cevallos, the outgoing Harbormaster at Marina Mazatlan, reports that the season got off to a great start in that part of Mexico. "On November 18, we had 135 cruisers from all the local marinas participate in our very successful Margarita Welcome Party at the marina's new Cruisers' Lounge. It was sponsored by Costa Marinera restaurant, which supplied the finger foods and margaritas. A '50/50 draw' game was played to raise money for one of the orphanages in the area, and a pot of $1,460 pesos was raised. Half of the money went to the winners, Kim and Sharon Barr of Georgia J - who promptly donated the money back to the orphanage. A week later we had our traditional Thanksgiving festivities, which start with a mass, followed by a priest going all around the marina in a panga blessing the fleet. In the afternoon we had our dinner dance with a great band, fireworks - they spelled 'Thanksgiving' correctly this year - lots of dancing, and great traditional food by Panama's Restaurant. We had another '50/50 draw' game that raised another $1,260 pesos. Winners Chris and Heather Stockard of Legacy also donated their half back to the orphanage. Today a group of cruisers came with me to the orphanage to delivered the monies raised, together with the portion donated by Liana Buchanan from the proceeds of her Cheers Mazatlan Cruiser's Guide, some foodstuffs brought in by Marina Mazatlan cruisers, and the Bee costumes that the guys wore at the Baja Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party in San Diego.

There was considerable alarm among cruisers in the Indian Ocean's Chagos Archipelago, as well as anyone else considering going there. This included Richard Clark and Jennifer Eaton of the Alameda-based Catana 44 Mystic Rhythms, which is currently in Australia. According to the first BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) announcements, on January 1 the price for a visitor's permit was going to be raised to £1,000 - nearly $2,000 - an increase of 2,700%. Fortunately, things have changed somewhat for the better. "We just received another email from the BIOT," report Clark and Eaton. "We wonder if enough people complained, or if Tony Blair actually got our email. Not likely. Anyway, here's the gist of new policy in the Revised Notice To All Mariners of new procedures for yachts visiting the BIOT:

"New procedures for obtaining permits in advance and the increase in mooring fees will come into force from 01 April 2007, and not 01 January as previously advised. The re-scheduled start date should accommodate the difficulties faced by some yacht people who are currently visiting or who have made plans to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in the next three months. After 01 April 2007, anyone wishing to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) by yacht will need to apply for a permit in advance from the British Indian Ocean Territory Administration (BIOTA) in London. On receipt of a request for a permit (sent by email, fax or post), BIOTA will send a Visit Permit Request form. Once the completed form and mooring fee (by bank transfer) have been received, the BIOTA will issue a Permit, Laws & Guidance for Visitors with charts and co-ordinates showing where yachts may be moored. Under BIOT law, any person who enters the Territory, including its 3-mile territorial waters, without a permit is liable to imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to £3,000. A mooring fee will be charged of GBP £100 for one month, payable in advance from 1 April 2007. (However, if payment of USD 100 has been made to the BIOT Customs Officials for a 3-month permit in February or March 2007, the new fee will not take effect until the end of that 3-month period.) Mariners are also reminded that BIOT Customs will continue to enforce BIOT's "The Imports and Exports Control Ordinance 1984" and "The Misuse of Drugs Ordinance No.5 of 1992". The BIOT drug dog will be deployed on all future BIOT patrols of the Territory. Any breach of these Ordinances may result in a fine or imprisonment. The Island of Diego Garcia and surrounding territorial waters remain prohibited to all unauthorised vessels. Any vessel entering Diego Garcia territorial waters is liable for interdiction and boarding."

Some of you may know that all the locals in the Chagos were displaced in the late '60s and early '70s by the British so the Brits and the U.S. could build a strategic military base at Diego Garcia, which is the largest of these most remote islands in the world. Cruising friends of ours who arrived at the archipelago back then tell us that some of the atolls were like the Garden of Eden, with houses, crops, workshops and such looking as though people had just walked away from them. But others who were in the military at Diego Garcia say that everything was taken from that atoll. In any event, it's one of the more unusual places in the world of cruising. Recently the Illos, the French name for the displaced people, have won court cases in England that ruled they were illegally displaced. It's unclear if they'll be returning soon, but if they do, it won't be to Diego Garcia, for neither the Brits nor the U.S. are about to give up the military base.

The waters of the Sea of Cortez can be deceiving. Much of the time they are about as calm as calm can be, with scarcely a ripple. But all of a sudden, it can start blowing pretty good. It happens with the coromuel out at the islands at night, and it particlarly happens all over the Sea when a Norther comes down. So don't be lured into complacency.

"Thanks for all the 'Lectronic Latitudes, as they make me feel as though I'm still part of the West Coast sailing gang, even though Lupe and I are here in Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama," writes J.R. Beutler of the Puerto Vallarta-based Catana 47 Moon and Stars. "There are several boats here that did one of the Ha-Has, and we passed several others that were headed to Florida and then the Med. My main reason for writing is to alert everyone to the FNMOC weather maps, which have proved to be fairly accurate in the Western and Northwestern Caribbean. It's best to pull it up through Google at www.fnmoc.navy.mil/PUBLIC/WXMAP [Webmistress's note on 4/27/07: this page is not currently active]. For those - like me - who have trouble understanding such stuff, there is even a tutorial section. The site has weather for the entire globe, and anyone with Internet access can get the information. Lupe and I have been very happy down here in Panama, and we plan to cruise here some more, as it's an amazing area studded with reefs and small to medium-sized islands. For those headed to Florida from Panama, don't miss the Bocas del Toro. In addition, the Bocas YC and Marina is quite nice. We should be coming through the Canal in late February or early March, after which the boat will be headed up to Banderas Bay. Hopefully she'll be there in time for the March Madness - including the Banderas Bay Regatta."

Can anybody tell us why the panganeros in the photo above would want to drag a bull out into the surf? Is there some kind of bull bodysurfing contest in mañanaland that we haven't been told about?

Early November's Caribbean 1500 Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgin Islands attracted a record fleet of 71 boats from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. After a two-day delay of the start because of bad weather, the fleet made its way across the Gulfstream, after which they faced two weeks of generally light and shifty winds, often on the nose. That's all except the three boats that made pit-stops of various lengths in Bermuda. Because the 1500 is a rally, boats are allowed to motor, although they were then assessed a penalty when they did based on how much they did it. Gil Smith's Farr 50 Joy For All was the first boat to finish, although her elapsed time was not disclosed. Ray Dionne's Pacific Seacraft 40 Hi Yo Silver was the overall corrected-time winner. The best performance by West Coast sailors was turned in by John and Anne Burnett, whose San Francisco-based J/46 Folie a Deux took second in Class A. All the other West Coast boats competed in the cruising division, in which times are not recorded so their insurance isn't voided because they were 'racing'. These included Tom & Diane Might's Phoenix-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Between the Sheets, the largest boat in the fleet; Mark Burge and Adriana Salazar's Reno-based Bristol Channel Cutter Little Hawk, the smallest boat in the fleet; and Bob and Linda Masterson's Beneteau 473 Villome from Laguna Beach. Presumably they'll all be spending the winter enjoying the warm and clear waters of the Caribbean, so maybe we'll cross paths with them.

And while we're in that part of the world . . .

"This will be a little dated when it comes out in Latitude, but we plan to be at St. Barth for New Year's again, and hope that the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca will there once again also," write John and Cynthia Tindle, and the famous boat dog Mattie, of the Redondo Beach-based Sun Odyssey 45 Utopia. "We'll be spending the winter in the Eastern Caribbean in search of warmth and blue skies. But we can see that it's going to be more expensive than ever, as the euro is at a high, and even Puerto Rico enacted a 7% sales tax. The prices in St. Barth should be out of sight! You probably know this year's Antigua Sailing Week will be the 40th, so we're going to do that, too. Peter and Jean Ryan of the Santa Cruz-based Catalina 42 Neener3 will be with us, so it should be a blast!"

Unless the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca are in a hospital or dead, they'll be in St. Barth for New Year's - it's their editorial obligation. The seven-mile by three-mile island fulfills all the requirements for coverage in the Caribbean: all the great new yachts, terrific tradewind sailing, clear and warm water, great beaches, wonderful bodysurfing, and lots of riff-raff friends. So the heck with high prices, we can live on baguette sandwiches and cheap drinks at Le Select. We'll see you there, as well as John Anderton of Sanderling, and hopefully all the other cruisers from the West Coast. We'll be on the Leopard 45 Petit Profligate anchored beneath Fort Oscar, so please stop by.

As for this being the 40th anniversary of Antigua Sailing Week, we're fully aware of that. Having not done one in 10 years, and noting they are permitting multihulls once again, we think we're going to do it, so we hope to see you there, too. In fact, we've already contacted Jol 'Voice of Antigua' Byerly, and requested permission to enter our boat renamed Caribbean Spirit of Jol Byerly in the great character's honor. The cat would be captained by the Wanderer, and would have an all-women crew wearing the same uniform the all-women crew always wore for Sailing Week on Byerly's boats - nothing but bikini bottoms. If you're a women sailor who would like to crew in Antigua in a way to honor Jol, send your resume to .

No matter if you'll be chartering the Caribbean for a week or cruising it for six months on your own cruising boat this season, here are what we consider to be the most important dates and events:

January 18-21 - St. Martin Classic Yacht Regatta, a relatively new classic regatta at the half-French, half-Dutch island that has become the yachting center of the Caribbean.

February 20 - Mardi Gras, all over the Caribbean, especially at Trinidad. You'd better start limbering up that booty and working on your rhythm.

March 1-4 - Heineken Regatta, St. Martin. Three days of tradewind racing for everything from charterboats to the hottest racing machines. 'Race hard, drink hard, shag hard' at one of the premiere fun regattas in the world.

March 26 -29 - BVI Spring Festival, a fun race to the Bitter End YC to play with all their toys and get ready for the BVI Spring Regatta which follows immediately afterwards. Great fun for folks chartering or cruising.

March 30 - April 1 - BVI Spring Regatta, slightly more serious racing, but still great fun for cruisers and charterers in the flat and salubrious waters of the British Virgins.

March 31 - St. Barth Bucket. Gentleman's racing for folks with boats between 100 and 200 feet, but limited by space to the first 30 to sign up. It's great spectating on the water and on the quay, and the island itself is so sweet.

April 5-9 - Bequia Easter Regatta, great fun racing at a charming little island. Not a suitable venue for those opposed to subsistence whaling.

April 19-24 - Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the great classic yachts from around the world gather for one of the premiere classic regattas in the world. It's at least as much fun for spectators as participants, and many spectators are asked to crew.

April 29 - May 4 - 40th Stanford Antigua Sailing Week. This is the event that inaugurated the concept of sailors racing, drinking and flirting in the hot and humid Caribbean. Great for everything from charter boats to racing machines. This year multihulls are being welcomed once again after being banned for 25 years after D. 'Bad Boy' Randy West t-boned Mistress Quickly with his multihull. The event is not appropriate for people who don't like crowds or rum, and/or who don't have the stamina to last for an entire week.

May 25-27 - Foxy's Wooden Boat Regatta, Jost van Dyke, B.V.I. Nobody has been doing it better for longer.

If you're looking for something a little more ambitious, try one of the Club Transcaraibes events - especially if you speak French:

Feb. 10-20 - Tour du Carnaval, from Guadeloupe to Trinidad.

March 16 - April 8 - Guadeloupe to Cuba, with stops at St. Martin and the D.R. along the way.

June 15 - July 7 - Route des Tepuys, from Martinique to Grenada to a bunch of Venezuelan islands to Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Be nice to President Hugo - or else!

"We thought you might like to see a photo of the only three skippers from the '05 Baja Ha-Ha who made it all the way across to New Zealand this year," writes Chris Mellor of the Pt. Richmond-based Norseman 447 Sensei. "The three of us are Dave Kane of the Seattle-based Beneteau 405 La Vie, Russ Novak of the Fairbanks-based Westsail 32 Kabuki, and my family and me from Albany. It sure seems like more than a year."

It also sure seems like fewer boats are sailing across to New Zealand than before. We think there are two reasons. First, fewer people are doing circumnavigations because of the political problems in the Red Sea, and because Central America, which is close, cheap and requires no long passages, has become so much more yachtie friendly. In fact, if you're part of this year's Southbounders group, we'd love it if you collected the boat name, boat type, skipper and mate's full name, and the hailing port, as we'd love to run that list in Latitude. But please, partial information - such as 'Joe from Moony Nights' - won't cut it.

"We're on the fast track to Z-town, then Ecuador by May," report Rob and Linda Jones of the Puget Sound-based Gemini 3000 Cat 'n About. "Our 20-year-old Gemini cat has worked well in Mexico for 2.5 years, but it's time for us to be on the move again. You folks at Latitude do a great job of encouraging folks to cruise with the boat folks have. Sure, we'd love to have a bigger cat, but we're giggling our way south with what we have and life is great!"

While in Mexico in early December, we listened to three different cruisers complain that they'd gotten traffic tickets while driving rental cars, and ended up having to pay mordida of $60 to $100. But we're wondering if they really had to pay. A fourth cruiser got a ticket, and when the officer said he was confiscating the guy's driver's license until he came to the station to pay it the next day, the cruiser agreed. The following day he drove to the station, was fined $10 by the woman behind the counter, and got his driver's license back. It was quick and simple, and entirely above aboard.

John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions report that their Friday Harbor-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare "is in a big boat shed in Sweden getting her 107,000 mile check-up. We're excited about sailing back up to 80°N above Spitsbergen this summer. I know the Wanderer thinks we're nuts, but can you imagine three months of 24 hours a day brilliant sun, polar bears, reindeer, walrus and maybe even beluga whales? So much to see and do!"

"Yachties checking into Mexico at Ensenada are now being asked for a list of serial numbers off their engines, dinghy motors, generators and so forth," report Pat and John Raines, authors of the Mexico Boating Guide. "In our book's document checklist, we say that this is sometimes required, because it's long been an optional requirement at the discretion of the local Aduana. Well, now it's no longer optional - at least for Ensenada, and at least for now. The Aduana's purpose is to discourage theft from yachts, and if something is ever stolen, to help you get it back as quickly as possible. It's a smart move. In our guidebook, we suggest numbering everything you can, even if it didn't come with a serial number. Use an engraving tool and indelible marker if you have to, and plaster your boat's name on your dinghy motor, oars, fuel tank - anything that could 'float away' while you leave your dink ashore. Give a copy of your serial number list to your insurance company, and keep copies onboard."

"By the way, the new edition of Cruising Ports: the Central American Route will hopefully be released in January, which would only be about - blush - four months late. We'll take a few dozen copies down to La Paz in February. This sixth edition will start off at the Mexico-Guatemala border - where our Mexico Boating Guide leaves off - and covers the Pacific and Caribbean sides of all the Central American countries, as well as northwest Cuba."

The other cruising guide to Central America that we've been waiting for is Eric Blackburn's Cruising Central America. He's been living down there for several years now, doing extensive research, so it's high time the book got to the printer.

"We've read every single issue of Latitude from day one, so thanks for being an inspiration for just short of 30 years," write Wayne 'The Mango Man' and Carol Baggerly of the Brisbane-based Cross 42 tri Little Wing. "You have reinforced our decisions regarding many sailing vacations, excursions, deliveries and simply 'messing around in boats'. Thanks. We're planning a vacation to Puerto Vallarta again, and remember that cruisers had written in to rave about a number of excellent but inexpensive dentists there. With so many cruisers down there for the season, we think a lot of folks would love to hear about those recommendations again. If possible, we'd also appreciate it if Don Sandstrom of the sistership Anduril might be willing to contact us, as we've love to visit his boat again, borrow some design ideas, and pick his brain. We can be contacted by ."

If you've got a dentist in Pueto Vallarta - or anywhere else in Mexico - that you'd highly recommend, send us an email, por favor.

Don't hold your precious breath waiting for Europe's Galileo GPS system to get up and running. Money has always been a problem, and it's still not solved. But now there are also serious differences between what Donald Rumsfeld famously called "old Europe" and the "new Europe". Fearing that a Galileo headquarters in an eastern European country could be a security problem, the French would like the system headquartered in Strasbourg, France; the Germans would like it placed in Munich, Germany; and the Brits would like it sited in Cardiff, UK. Every country thinks it's all about them.

Les Sutton and Diane Grant of the San Francisco-based Albin-Nimbus 42 Gemini didn't believe it until it happened, but Palmira Marina in La Paz really did honor their pledge to give 40% discounts on berthing to Ha-Ha participants in the month of November. Les and Diane also signed on for another month, two weeks of which they are taking now, and two weeks of which they'll be taking in June on their way to the Sea of Cortez. As for Singlar's new Fidepaz Marina near the end of the Bahia de La Paz estuary, we're told that everything seems to be in place, but it's still not open. Sutton worries that the channel to Fidepaz is going to have a never-ending problem with silting.

There's sad news out of Puerto Escondido, as Willie of Willie's Tienda was found dead on the highway, his wallet and money from his store having been stolen. A fund has been set up to help his wife Marlana, who has two children in college. Checks can be made out to Connie McWilliam-Schultz and Elvin Schultz, and mailed to them at Box 99, Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico. Or, if you're in the Puerto Vallarta area, you could simply donate cash.

Ever since Fidel Castro fell seriously ill, there's been a quiet and somewhat unusual battle going on for the soul of Cuba. At the extreme right and left, you have President Bush and his arch enemy, newly-reelected President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Both are trying to curry favor with Raul, who is currently running Cuba. Castro's brother is a bit of an enigma, on the one hand giving indications that he's even more authoritarian than Fidel, but on the other making quiet overtures about 'normalization' of relations with the United States after, what, about a billion years. Ten U.S. lawmakers, six Democrats and four Republicans, travelled to Cuba to see if they couldn't jump start some kind of dialogue with the bigger-than-Florida island to our southeast. We wish them luck, but think Galileo will come online first.

Mike Harker of Manhattan Beach tells us that Wanderlust III, which will be hull #17 of the new Hunter 49s, but the first with all the Offshore Mariner options, including a taller mast and deeper and heavier keel, will be shook down by the designers, engineers and sailmakers off Florida in early January. She'll then make her debut at the Miami Boat Show from February 15 to 20. After that, the guy who learned to sail during the '01 Ha-Ha with a Hunter 34 will take off around the world.

"I learned a lot on my last 28,000-mile voyage, including that Wanderlust II, my Hunter 466, was outfitted almost perfectly. In fact, she and her new owners, David Madera and his partner Monica, are in Cabo now about to sail to Puerto Vallarta in anticipation of doing the Puddle Jump, and they've made few, if any, additions since the boat was launched for me in '02. My new boat will be even more extensively outfitted - more on that next month - and I personally will be more prepared, as I'm now a licensed master with a sail endorsement. The speed and route of my circumnavigation are being defined by the productions I'll be doing for ZDF, the German television network. My choice was between an east-around circumnavigation, with the America's Cup and China Sail Olympics being major stops in the two-year trip; or a one-year west-around circumnavigation, with major stops at the Sydney Boat Show and Hamilton Island Sail Week. Because I've also gotten work with VW, which owns Audi, the sponsor of Audi Hamilton Island Sail Week, the decision to go west-around was a no-brainer. The reason I'll be able to circle the globe in one year is that I've already spent six months in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Europe, so I can zip right through those areas."

Following a near-to-death-as-you-can-get hang-glider accident in the ocean off Grenada many years ago, it's a miracle that Harker can even walk. Nonetheless, he did much of his last trip singlehanded, and when he can't get crew this time, will do the same. We expect to have a feature from the photographer/filmmaker every month during his rapid circumnavigation.

"About 30 boats at Los Frailles had an impromptu bonfire potluck party on the beach in mid-November and reminisced about the Baja Ha-Ha most of them had just completed," reports John Thompson, who was crewing aboard the Tiburon-based Ericson 39 Calou. "The partying continued as everyone made their way up to La Paz. And tonight, about 20 boats are anchored in the extremely calm Los Muertos anchorage. It's so calm here that we will stay another day before making our last push to La Paz. It doesn't hurt that the free wireless/satellite Internet connection in the bay can't be beat. It's hard to know where it comes from, as there is no town and just one restaurant."

Having seen the bonfire photo and report, Rowan Fennell of Emeryville was prompted to write: "I can't quite figure out why those folks had a bonfire. It doesn't look as though they were cold, and it was still light outside."

We suspect they built the bonfire because bonfires are just plain fun.

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