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Back to 'Changes' Index Changes in Latitudes
January 2008

Missing the pictures? See the January 2008 eBook!

With reports this month from Hawk at Puerto Montt, Chile; from Night Heron on surviving the Caribbean 1500 with not much sail; from Meridian on launching baby turtles in Mazatlan; from Coco Kai on working through Ecuadorian red tape; from Southern Cross on the continuing fun on Fanning Island; from Sea Angel on the passage from Bermuda to St. Martin; from Snow Goose on Thanksgiving at Isla Isabella; and a whole locker full of Cruise Notes.

Hawk — Van de Stadt 47
Evans Starzinger & Beth Leonard
Puerto Montt, Chile
(Annapolis, Maryland)

Evans and I have enjoyed another challenging and rewarding year. In the last 12 months we've sailed almost 12,000 nautical miles, visited four countries and, upon reaching Puerto Montt, Chile, in October, have closed the loop on our second circumnavigation. Since we were last here in Puerto Montt five years ago, we've put more than 40,000 nautical miles beneath Hawk's bottom, a third of that in the Southern Ocean. We've now sailed more than 100,000 miles in our two boats, almost two-thirds of it in high latitudes with Hawk.

To review our last year, we spent Christmas in Mag Bay on the west coast of the Baja peninsula with a wonderful group of new-to-cruising couples, and became good friends with them. We then rounded the tip of Baja, and just after New Year's, stopped at La Paz for a couple of weeks so Beth could refresh her Spanish by taking an intensive course. After that, we enjoyed a six-week winter cruise in the Sea of Cortez, followed by an inland trip to visit the Mayan ruins in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state.

In April we departed the Sea of Cortez for Costa Rica. We took the offshore route, making just one short stop in Zihua to clear Customs and top up with fuel, water and produce. The Gulf of Tehuantepec is dreaded for sometimes strong winds and big seas, but we motored across in flat calms, surrounded by pods of dolphins, dozens of sea turtles, and hundreds of seabirds. Upon arriving in Bahia Santa Elena in the north of Costa Rica, we were serenaded, morning and night, by flocks of scarlet macaws.
We had planned to spend a month or so in Costa Rica before moving onto Ecuador, where the summer climate is much cooler and drier. Unfortunately, the officials in Ecuador make it exceedingly difficult to visit by yacht, so we spent three months, from the end of April to the end of July, in Costa Rica. It was unbearably hot and humid, with almost daily thunderstorms, but the wonderful wildlife experiences more than made up for it.

Ecuador’s new regulations affect the Galapagos Islands as well, so when we left Costa Rica, we sailed nonstop to the Gambier Islands. This is a small archipelago in French Polynesia that's located about 800 miles southeast of Tahiti. We'd always wanted to visit these remote islands, but they'd never really been within reach of any of our sailing routes. It took us 24 days to cover the 4,000 miles between Costa Rica and the Gambiers, but once there, we spent a month enjoying the coral atolls. From there, it was another 3,800 miles — in 24 days — to Puerto Montt, Chile, and included weathering two gales during the last four days of the passage.

We left Hawk at Marina del Sur, the marina where we wintered the last time we were here, and returned to the States for a short visit.

We've just applied for our cruising permit, so, weather permitting, we'll begin a three-month voyage from Puerto Montt to Puerto Williams — the latter 60 miles north of Cape Horn — at the end of the week. We plan to spend the southern winter in the Beagle Channel at the very bottom of South America. In October or November, our intention is to make the passage to South Georgia Island, where we hope to spend a month. After that, we'll head back up the Atlantic, for what will likely be the end of this voyage.

— beth 12/10/07

Readers — During the couple's trip back to the States, Beth received word that her book Blue Horizons had won the prestigious National Outdoor Book Award in the Outdoor Literature category. Her book is only the second sailing book to win in any category, and the first to win in the literature category. Congratulations!

As for deciding that officials had made Ecuador too difficult to visit, there are opposing views later in this month's

Night Heron — Brewer 52
CiCi Sayer, Crew
An Adventurous Caribbean 1500
(Two Harbors, Catalina)

The East Coast version of the Baja Ha-Ha is the Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgins. This was the 18th year, and 69 boats participated. Unlike the Ha-Ha, which almost always has benign weather conditions with light winds from aft, 1500s tend to have periods of much stronger winds and bigger seas, the wind can come from any direction, and you have to cross the Gulfstream. Furthermore, the 1500 is not only twice as long as the Ha-Ha, there are no stops along the way — except for those who seek shelter in Bermuda.

After another summer of driving a shoreboat at Two Harbors on Catalina, I joined owner Jeff Edwards and several others — who all proved to be terrific — for the trip. We started on November 4, just after hurricane Noel had passed Virginia. The passing of the hurricane seemed to create a vacuum in its wake, as we enjoyed sunny weather with light winds for the start. Apparently this is something of a novelty for the 1500, as evidenced by the comment, "We've finally been able to take photographs of a 1500 start!" Over the years, starts have had to be delayed by as much as several days to wait for safe sailing conditions.

Our first three days of sailing were easy, as the conditions were easy. That all changed when a low formed off Bermuda and a front created squalls for the boats — such as ours — toward the back of the fleet. By midnight, the wind was up to 35 knots and gusting to 40, and the seas were running 15 feet. But sailing with the main double-reefed, we were pretty comfortable given the conditions.

At 1 a.m. — when else? — I was awakened by the sound of flailing sails and the watch attempting to further shorten sail. But by then it was too late. With a loud 'Pop!', the genoa exploded in a 50-knot gust. About the same time we were struck broadside by a wave that had enough force to sheer the mounts of the 500-lb, 14 kw generator, jerking her three feet to the side and against the main engine. Our port tank was also ruptured, and we began to lose diesel at a frightful rate. And just for kicks, our high water alarm sounded, setting off a frantic search for the source of the incoming water. It turned out that seawater had been pouring into the chain locker all along, and that the bilge pumps had finally clogged. Shame on us for allowing both of those things to happen unnoticed!

When dawn finally broke, we were able to assess the condition of our sails. The genoa was a total loss, having been completely shredded. But if we were careful, we found that we could still use about 10% of the main. So with just a staysail and a tiny bit of main to work with, you can imagine that we were a little underpowered for the long — and what proved to be very slow — sail the rest of the way to the British Virgins. We thought about diverting to either Bermuda or the Carolina coast, but with bad weather in the way to both those ports, we decided to continue on to the tropics. Naturally we reported our status to the folks at the Caribbean 1500 — and were shocked to learn that a number of other boats were in even worse shape than Night Heron!

Unfortunately, our list of problems seemed to grow by the hour. Silly me, I'd thought that we could throw our 'to do' list away once we'd left the dock. As soon as the weather settled a little, we transferred our remaining fuel to the starboard tank, using our oil change pump and a water hose. Yes, we'd had to get creative. We finally managed to get the generator off the engine and back where it belonged — but it required using a 5-foot long 2x4 as a lever. The 2x4 was then attached to the stringers to keep the generator from sliding sideways in the still-large seas.

As we continued southeast to our destination, the weather deteriorated each night, so sleep was almost impossible. But we eventually all became so exhausted that we could have slept through a hurricane. Given our badly out of balance sail plan, it was understandable that our autopilot couldn't steer in any gusts or if the wind was forward of the beam. As such, we had to do a lot of hand-steering in all conditions. I'll say one thing for having done this trip, driving in 40 knots doesn't scare me anymore. Fifty knots, yes. But 40 knots is doable.

After five days of sailing to conserve our dwindling fuel supply, and with our generator still out of commission, we began to live by the mantra of most cruisers: Conserve! Conserve! Conserve! On the fifth night after the initial squall, we found ourselves in yet another bout of bad weather, with virtually no control over the boat. Although the pointy end of the boat was headed southeast, Night Heron was making three knots due west! In a 24-hour period, we'd been blown 50 miles off course. It suddenly began to look like we'd have to make landfall at Cuba — no matter what the Bush administration would think. But the weather soon moderated considerably, and we decided to motorsail toward our goal. Then the wind miraculously came out of the northwest, the perfect direction, at a very pleasant 15 knots, which allowed us to kill the engine, make good time, and actually enjoy ourselves. By this time only three of the 69 boats were behind us. All of them had major issues, from water in the fuel to blown sails — and sometimes both!

Before long, the wind came out of the south at a very mellow 10 knots, but by that time we were within striking distance of Tortola, so we fired up the engine once again and made a beeline for the finish. We arrived at Road Town on the 19th of November, having averaged only about 100 miles a day, not bad given our situation. We made quite a spectacle upon arrival, as we'd been unable to lower our shredded headsail, and therefore looked a bit like a pirate ship after a losing battle. Nonetheless, we received a good round of applause by the many folks who had been waiting for us.
Once secure at Village Cay Marina, we reviewed the trip to see what we could have done better. There were many things. While we had reefed early enough, two reefs hadn't been sufficient for the conditions. Heaving to would have been preferable to carrying on as we did. Falling off course and running with the wind may also have been a better option. We also learned the importance of checking the bilges on a regular basis, and not assuming that the bilge pumps would be clear and working. By the way, after 'the incident' we instituted a rule that, whenever the wind blew in excess of 30 knots, two crew had to be on deck, one to keep watch, one to check on the bilges and pumps. On the good side, we also learned that Night Heron sails pretty darn well with handkerchief-sized sails!

I've always believed that it's not a matter of if the world will go to shit, but when. And that when it happens, it will be in three seconds flat. Sadly, I was right in this case. Happily, I can say that the gods of the sea were kind and didn't cause us any harm other than to our pride and the owner's pocketbook.

— cici 12/10/07

Meridian — Tayana 48CC Cutter
John and Nancy Powers & Family
Launching Baby Turtles

After completing the Ha-Ha, we headed up to La Paz for Thanksgiving, then crossed the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan and Marina El Cid. It's nice here. Maybe too nice, as we're getting very comfortable here and our girls, Maddie, 8, and Sophie, 6, are loving the swimming pool.

While listening to the morning cruisers' net the other day, we heard that baby turtles would be released to the sea that afternoon at 5 p.m. on the beach in front of the Aqua Marina Hotel. We didn't know what it was about, but it sure sounded interesting. We grabbed a bus around 4:30 p.m., but couldn't quite get to the hotel because of road detours being set up for some kind of race the following day. So the bus driver, on the advice of several locals, encouraged us to get off at a stop a few blocks from the beach. When we got off, we followed what was an unusually large number of people heading to the beach at that time of day. And once there, we saw hundreds of people — mostly locals — lined up behind a rope that was stretched along several hundred yards of sand.

Joining the masses, it wasn't long before some official-looking guy went through the crowd handing out baby turtles. Maddie and Sophie each got two. We could tell that the girls weren't really sure how to feel about having these squirming little fellas in their hands, but they held on. It was amazing, as these very small very young turtles were absolutely driven to make their way out into the ocean.

The moment finally came for everyone to set their turtles gently in the sand. Then we watched as they raced — we're being generous here, as they are, after all, turtles — toward the water. Some charged full speed ahead without a break, and were gone as soon as they reached the waves. Others seemed to become a little tuckered on their journey to the sea. And a few others pretty much gave up from the git go. Fortunately the turtle herders — or whatever the organizers were called — eventually scooped up the laggards and moved them a bit closer to the water. Contact with the water seemed to revitalize the little guys, and they instantly charged further into the sea. Once the turtles were in the water, they could really move out. Before long, we could no longer see them or their rapidly moving flippers.

Maddie later told me that she thought the turtles were all going to be very large, and that they were going to have to use a crane to lower them into the water. After all, nobody mentioned anything about baby turtles. Well, that would have been fun to see, too.

In the December Changes, you ran an article on the new Singlar Marina in La Paz. We'd like to add some very positive comments about another new Singlar Marina in Mazatlan, which apparently is very similar in layout and facilities to its sibling in La Paz. Located next to Marina Mazatlan, Singlar Mazatlan has beautiful new docks, power, water, diesel, and a combo hot-tub/lap-pool. Future additions include an outdoor bar, a cruisers' lounge, and a small restaurant. The docks receive a weekly cleaning, the grounds are very well-kept, and the Singlar staff has been just great, making us feel very much at home.

Although Singlar Mazatlan doesn't have as many slips as neighboring Marina Mazatlan or the nearby El Cid Marina, it can still accommodate about 25 boats up to 60 feet. And if you need work, it's nice to have a boatyard right there. They have a big Travel-Lift, offer excellent painting services, and it's also the site of Total Yacht Works first-class diesel repair service. As such, Singlar Mazatlan is a smart choice for boats needing TLC.

Our intent was not to write a puff piece for Singlar Mazatlan; we're just satisfied customers who would like other people to know about the resource. The large following seas in the early going of the Ha-Ha convinced us that we needed to beef up the mounting for our autopilot, but we weren't sure we'd be able to find someone to do the work. Boy, were we wrong! We had the work done here at Singlar Mazatlan, and it was very professional, as well as on time and under budget.

— nancy 11/29/07

Readers — Several years ago we participated in the launch of baby turtles near Nuevo Vallarta. What a fantastic experience, as those day-or-two-old little fellas really are cute and full of life. But nature is cruel, for it's our understanding that the mortality rate is over 90% in the first year.

Coco Kai — 65-ft Schooner
Greg, Jennifer and Coco
Ecuador Red Tape Isn't Too Bad
(Long Beach)

We on Coco Kai are rebellious buccaneers — and very proud of it! If we listened to all the negative comments about places we wanted to go, or when we wanted to go to them, we'd have missed a lot. That includes Ecuador. Since we're always one step ahead or behind the pack, we've enjoyed uncrowded anchorages, no problems picking up moorings without reservations, and travelled inland when it wasn't busy.

Let's focus on our experience with Ecuador. Just about everyone who had been there — and even those who hadn't — tried to convince us not to go. But if we insisted, they warned, we needed to be sure to travel with full diesel tanks because no fuel would be available there. Well, after eight straight days of rain in western Panama, we couldn't take it anymore, and on just 12 hours notice set sail for Ecuador. It was a month earlier than we'd planned, but both we and our schooner needed to dry out. It's true that our 300-gallon fuel tanks only had 20 gallons in them, but I didn't worry about that. And while we knew in advance that the pilot at Bahia Caraquez wouldn't be available for at least two weeks, we figured we could kill the time at some nearby islands. At least it wouldn't be raining there like it was in Panama.

We beat down to Bahia Caraquez in five days, only motoring for a few hours to clear Punta Galera. The last boat we talked to had taken two more days to complete the same passage, so that wasn't a problem. What was a problem was that our Winlink communication system went down enroute — ironically, on the same day that my ham license expired. As such, I lost contact with Tripp Martin, the cruisers' friend at Puerto Amistad in Bahia Caraquez.

So we anchored at Punta Pasado for one night, then sailed south to be able to reach Martin on VHF. He reported that the pilot was expected back in a week, so we went off to Isla de la Plata. The email came back up a couple days later, so I knew they hadn't shut me off. After a week, Martin told us that it would be another week before the pilot returned, so we should go ahead and check in at Manta, and he wouldn't charge us another $150 in agent's fee when we got to Bahia Caraquez. Manta, for those keeping score, is the largest tuna fishing port on the west coast of South America. We were escorted into the harbor by a panga, and directed to anchor in a spot right in front of the yacht club. It was a Saturday, so I waited until Monday to try to check in.

Checking in wasn't too complicated in Manta. First, I, Greg, crossed the street and walked two minutes to the port captain's office, where they told me that I needed an agent. They gave me directions to one down the street. But I went back to the yacht club where I met Martin, who had come to Manta to discuss the problems with the pilot for Bahia Caraquez. After we met, he called the B.O.W. Agency for me, and set up a meeting at the club for that very afternoon. I met with the agent, gave him my paperwork, and he set up an appointment with all the officials to meet at the club the next day. Sure enough, the Port Captain, Immigration, and Customs folks — as well as my agent and an interpreter — showed up right on time. It took them about 40 minutes to fill out the paperwork. A boat stamp would have been very handy, as I had to sign four sets of 11 pages of forms! They took our passports, but left a phone number we could call in case we had a problem and needed them before they had time to stamp and return them. As it turned out, they returned our passports that very night, and we received our zarpe a couple of days later.

In other words, we didn't have to go further than 200 feet to get our paperwork taken care of. The costs were as follows: $150 for the agent; $30 for Immigration — although others have been charged different amounts — and $6.84 for the Port Captain. There is also a light and buoy fee of $.73 a ton, but for some reason we weren't assessed that. On the other hand, when we later continued on to Bahia Caraquez, the port captain there charged us another $6.84 for his services. But big deal.

As things now stand in Ecuador, you are supposed to have an agent to check you in and out of any port that has a port captain — which would mean an additional $150 each time. That's shades of the bad old days in Mexico, but hopefully that will change in the near future. But the thing to remember is that you can have a great time in Ecuador based out of Bahia Caraquez. If you go there, Tripp will be your agent — although you'll still need to either make a $30 cab ride — or four $4 buses — to Manta in order to get your passports stamped.

We ultimately crossed the bar and entered Bahia Caraquez without the aid of a pilot, but only because the pilot was going to be delayed even longer, and because we were given special permission. But crossing the bar without a pilot is something that I wouldn't recommend. As I explained in a December 'Lectronic, I screwed up my mental picture of the turns I had to make in order to get in, and ran aground. Fortunately, it was a soft bottom and we got off easy. We were really lucky.

Former cruiser Tripp and his crew at Puerto Amistad are great hosts. The moorings are just $7/day, and every morning he gets on 69 to ask if anyone needs water — tap is $.50 and purified is $1.75 for five gallons; laundry — $.35 per lb; propane — $6 up to 25 lbs.; gas — $2 gal.; and diesel — $1.50 gal. Everything is picked up at your boat and delivered back. They have a Whaler with a 100-gallon fuel tank, so we had them make several trips and bring us 240 gallons. So much for not being able to get diesel in Ecuador! However, Ecuador is not sure that they should be subsidizing the cost of fuel for American cruisers, so the diesel price might double from $1.50 to $3/gallon in the future.

Speaking of prices, one pleasant surprise is that the price of everything is about half the cost of that in Costa Rica! In addition, you can have a young man clean and polish your boat for $7/day — and he'll be happy for the work. There is also much less theft in Ecuador than in Costa Rica.

Our sailing in Ecuador has been the best we've had in 13 months! It's blown 8-16 knots from the southwest day and night about 95% of the time. As such, we've done more overnighters here than ever before. Instead of rushing to get somewhere during the day, we leisurely do 40 to 70-mile passages at night, knowing it's going to blow all night. It's true that there are a lot of fishing boats, but the unlit smaller ones stay out of your way. As for the fishing, I've had hand lines out everyday we've been underway since California, and hadn't lost a lure in 6,000 miles — until we got down here. Then I lost eight lures in a 40-mile stretch outside of Bahia. Killer fish? I don't know. Someone mentioned that there are lots of swordfish around here, which may explain the frayed steel leader that I pulled in one day. As it is, I'll need to get a new supply of lures before we head across the Pacific. By the way, the surfing season is just starting down here, and I hear the waves are great and uncrowded.

We'll be here until about March 1, at which time we'll set sail for the South Pacific.

P.S. We loved Latitude's response to the 'Annual Ha-Ha Whiner's Letter' in the November issue. I've been sailing the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico since '95, and have logged many thousands of miles on many boats, including doing the Ha-Ha on the Newport Beach-based Moontide in '05 and on Coco Kai in '06. It's been my experience that the 'whiners' are usually the ones "clogging the marinas" and who are doing very little, if any, serious sailing. We love Latitude, so please keep up the good work!

— greg, jen and coco 11/26/07

Readers — Next month we'll have a letter from the Glesers of the Alameda-based Islander Freeport 41 describing their experiences clearing out of Ecuador. It was reminiscent of the bad old days in Mexico, nonetheless, they say they wouldn't have missed Ecuador for anything.

Southern Cross — Angleman Ketch
Rob & Lorraine Coleman
More Fun At Fanning
(Honolulu, Hawaii)

We continue to be very active and having the time of our lives at Fanning Island, which is 900 miles southwest of Hawaii. On Friday night we went to the party at the Norwegian Cruise Line compound, where they served BBQ steaks and potatoes! And wine! You don't normally find that stuff on Fanning. Then we dove the pass with the delivery crew of the 59-ft Free Range Chicken, during which time we saw manta rays, barracuda and other fish. We also had to hurry up and give a box of mail to Chicken to take to Hawaii for us. While doing this, we got 'stuck' having fresh tuna dinner with them and hearing great sea stories.

Kawai, the cargo ship from Hawaii, also arrived today and started unloading, so there was a frenzy at the dock. We're going to wait a day or two until that's over. But they've offered us water, which is a good thing. It hasn't rained here since July.

This weekend we attended the grand opening of Maneba, the Norwegian Cruise Line School. All the grammar school children sang, danced, and did skits. It was wonderful! We were the invited guests, and had the front row 'seats' — meaning new hand-woven pandanus mats on which we sat yoga style. When the presentation was over, the mats were gifted to us.

At noon there was a feast/feeding frenzy. Everyone brought a dish to include with all the others. Kathy and Jeff from Bold Spirit gave us 10 pounds of instant mix with which to make 200 pancakes, so we cooked them up the night before grand opening with our Kiribati family. We started with an open fire over an old stainless steel fuel tank, which turned out to make a very good griddle. When we served the pancakes the next day, they were gone in five frantic minutes. In addition, there was all the usual island food — fish, rice, octopus, and chickens. The chickens were gone in two minutes. One woman put a whole chicken on her plate! In addition, there were both fried and boiled breadfruit, corned beef, babai and, because they were in season, lots of papayas. Then it was time to twist — Kiribati rock 'n roll. Everyone — big, little, young, old — dances. We danced every dance and were quite the spectacle, so everyone wanted to dance with us. The dancing went on for two hours, at which point it was time for everyone to go home. So everyone climbed into the back of open trucks and rode down the copra road to the ferry landing. Then it was time to cross the pass in the overloaded 'ferry'. The ferry is an old aluminum landing craft powered by a 40-hp outboard, so it's not the kind of ferry people commute on across San Francisco Bay. The front of the ferry is broken, so the water rushes in over everyone's feet. That's quite an experience the first time, but we'd gotten used to it. There was singing on the ferry, just as there had been in back of the open trucks.

Borau, our adopted Kiribati child, had a sleep-over on Southern Cross recently. He got to sleep in a sleeping bag in the cockpit on our new pandanus mats. Big fun! Borau eats our different food, does chores with us, swims and dives with us, loves listening to our music, and is experiencing a very different life on our boat. It's quite an education, as, for example, he found out that a boat is always work. We don't sleep all day! Yesterday Robbie caught another barracuda, while Borau and I dove in the pass with our spears. Borau and I speared the first lobster. He then climbed three trees to get drinking coconuts. The guys drank one on shore, then schlepped the rest back to the boat. By then I had the fish filleted and the lobster cleaned, and it was time to eat. Delicious food! After lunch, Borau fell asleep, Robbie worked on the computer, and I did dishes and other chores. This was followed by another beautiful sunset. Borau would have loved to spend another night on Southern Cross, but it was time for him to return home as he had school the next morning.

There is no Thanksgiving Day in Kiribati, but Robbie and I are thankful every day to be well, healthy and peaceful. We're out of bananas and are hoping to get some more, but that's about our biggest worry.

— lorraine 12/06/07

Sea Angel — Peterson 44
Marc Hachey
Bermuda To St. Martin

It's sooooooooooo good to finally be back in warm weather!

After sailing my boat from California to the Caribbean, then cruising six months a year here for many years, I decided to sell my boat last year. But when she hadn't sold by June, I decided to sail up to New England for the summer. It can be cold up there!

The last leg of our trip back down to the Caribbean was from Bermuda to St. Martin. It's 860 miles, and we covered it in 5.5 days. That's pretty good for Sea Angel, but the wind averaged 25 knots, except during squalls, which either caused the wind to increase or decrease for brief periods. But 95% of the time the wind was on our beam or aft of the beam — and mostly aft. As a result, we had mostly following winds and following seas, which made for fantastic sailing. The only downside was the 8 to 12-ft seas, which caused the boat to do a lot of rocking and rolling. Periodically we had waves break on the beam — and you wouldn't believe the explosive sound it made inside the hulls! If I didn't know how stout Sea Angel was built, I might have been a little worried.

Other than the autopilot overheating one night, which resulted in an accidental jibe, we didn't have any damage that required repairs. I always put a preventer on when we're in following seas such as we had, so there wasn't any damage. But I'd been down below and off watch when it happened, so I had to come on deck and straighten things out. The autopilot wouldn't work anymore, so we hand-steered for an hour in order to let it sort out its circuits. When we tried it again it worked fine — and did so all the way to St. Martin. That's a good thing, because the autopilot is our best crewmember. Anyway, it was great to make the passage without having to add to my existing 'fix-it' list.

Upon our arrival at St. Martin, and before we were able to get the anchor down, an unlit local Coast Guard inflatable roared up alongside us. Then a boarding party of four men and one woman, in full uniform and wearing big black boots, boarded us. I especially hated the big black boots, as I have a 'no shoes to be worn on the boat' policy in the tropics. Naturally they wanted to check my paperwork, at which point three of the others started 'inspecting' my boat. One of the officers who was down below with me began asking about our safety equipment, and wanted to see whether my flares were current. Fortunately, when I prepared to sail north from St. Thomas last June, I was given several flares, still in date, but just barely. The officer and I had a laugh, as their expiration date was November 30th, which meant they'd be out of date the following morning!

The boarding party found everything to be in order on my boat. While they were fairly pleasant, and were done and gone in about half an hour, I nonetheless always find it stressful to have strangers go through my things. After they left, Robert and I proceeded to devour an entire ready-made lasanga that we'd started microwaving on our way into the bay. A short time later, we were crashed out in our bunks, sleep deprived after a somewhat stressful week of 'E-ticket' sailing.

But like I said, it feels soooooooo good to finally be back in warm water. Now I can continue to chip away at my project and repair lists. With the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers fleet having recently arrived in St. Lucia, I may sail down there to try to find some crew for the winter.

— marc 12/3/07

Snow Goose — Mapleleaf 50
Cherie Sogstie, Crew
No Turkey On Turkey Day

Having been anchored aboard the Mapleleaf 50 Snow Goose for a week at Isla Isabella, the 3.5-million-year-old bird sanctuary 75 miles north of Banderas Bay, the three of us — owner Mike McIntyre, my boyfriend Greg, and I — decided that life aboard a boat revolves around activities and things that start with the letter 'S': sailing, snorkeling, snacking, and sunsets. I don't know why 'hiking' doesn't start with an 's', because we did a bunch of that, too.

While ashore the previous day and about to start a hike, we ended up having front-row seats at a big fight. It was a battle between iguanas. Two of the huge lizards sank their jagged teeth into each other's necks, then tried to rip through the other's scaly-skin. The winning iguana celebrated his victory by thrusting his head high to bask in the glory, and opened his mouth to reveal . . . a piece of the other iguana hanging from his lip. Ugh! The alpha iguana then gave me a look that said, "Don't mess with me, chica." I heeded his silent warning.

With that, Capt. Mike, Greg, and I took off walking to Crater Lake and the far side of the small island. Once on the other side, I jumped into the warm Pacific and bobbed up and down in the warm, clear surf. I wore a smile that had come from somewhere very deep inside. While I was cooling off, Greg explored the beach, and found a jumble of stinky lines intermixed with plastic bottles. By the smile on Greg's face, I could tell that he might as well have stumbled upon a treasure chest.

I was put on spider watch for the walk back to the other side of the island. My job was to lead our crew through the bush with a stick and displace any spiders blocking our path. Mike followed in the rear as the official Greg-untangler. Greg's new booty got caught on every other tree, and for some reason he seemed powerless to dislodge himself.

Believing that I was doing such a good job of keeping our path spider free, I slipped into complacency. I was soon punished for slacking off by walking face-first into a web containing a spider that, based on the damn thing's red spikes, must have had a feature role in Arachnophobia.

"Get that spider off me!" I screamed.

"The spider's not on you, it's on your hat," Greg replied, giving me that lame look all guys give their overreacting girlfriends.

"Get it off and we'll discuss the details later," I snipped.

I was vigilant for spiders the rest of the way back, which is why I suppose a bird was able to crap on me. Given the combination of the high humidity, the spooky spiders, and the foul-smelling bird shit streaked across my face and neck, you'd have thought that I'd be over that island. But Isla Isabella is such an incredible place that I thought it was worth enduring such small annoyances.

When we finished our hike by the fish camp, Greg presented the fisherman with his tangle of old line. They gave Greg the same kind of confused look I'd given him when he presented me with a lint-remover for Valentine's Day. I presume that Greg thought they'd be elated and would thrust freshly caught tuna in our hands. Alas, they just mumbled a confused, "Gracias". As we walked away, they probably shook their heads in bewilderment. I think I heard one of them softly say, "Loco gringos."

Tired from the hike, we nonetheless couldn't resist a quick snorkel. We were quickly rewarded with the sight of a spotted eagle ray gliding by. As if that wasn't enough, thousands of small fish swarmed beneath us, so tightly schooled that they obscured our view of the bottom.

A while later, we visited Neil Kaminer and the other folks on his Delaware-based Farr 58 Tribute. I was telling them a story of how we'd been given three red snapper by the local fishermen. Even though the fishermen didn't want anything in return, we handed them 20 pesos and a Costco-size bag of Halloween candy. Each fisherman took one small treat and then handed the bag back to us. "No, no," I said. "Todo es para ustedes." Their smiles betrayed a mixture of shock and delight, as they realized that all the candy was for them. Our smiles were just as big, for all three snapper were just for us.

As I was telling this story to the Tribute crew, one of them quietly interrupted me. "Excuse me," he said, "but there's a whale breeching behind you." Here's the thing — whales trump everything. They are a wake-everyone-up, interrupt-the-Pope kind of thing. You don't have to be polite when announcing a whale, because they are simply magnificent on every level. After all, you really have to marvel at an animal that has a penis that's bigger than my entire body.

We weren't the only ones anchored at Isla Isabella. Among the others were Wayne Hendryx, Carol Baggerly and Mary Forrest on the Brisbane-based Hughes 45 Capricorn Cat; John Forbes, Shirlee Smith, and Martha Marie on the Sceptre 41 Solstice; David Addleman and Heather Corsario on the Monterey-based Cal 36 Eupsychia; Glenn Burch and Rick Laska of the Seattle-based gaff-schooner La Sirena; and Deloris and Lynn Bolkar and Steven and Jayce Flower of the big ferro ketch Endless Summer.

As it was Thanksgiving, we gathered for a feast that none of us will soon forget. A lot of people think you can't have Thanksgiving without a turkey. Well, we had fish and enchiladas, and fish and crab, and fish and fish, and more fish. We also had freshly baked bread, delicious brownies and other stuff, but the one thing we didn't have was turkey. Big deal.

At sunset, the crews — varying in age from 22-year-old Heather of Eupsychia to 70-year-old Lynn of Endless Summer — gathered on the bows and tramp of Capricorn Cat and, one by one, explained what they were most thankful for. Members of our group said they were thankful for everything from "finally" getting a watermaker to work to beating cancer. The meal and confessions brought us together as though we were family.

While our families back home may have been squabbling about who brought the best pie, who forgot the mashed potatoes, and the suitability of somebody's fiancée, the crews of our six boats at Isla Isabella stretched our arms toward the star-studded sky and gave thanks for simply being alive in such a place.

— cherie 11/30/07

Cruise Notes:

"We made it! We finished the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers a little after dark on December 12, the 101st of 227 boats that completed the 2,700-mile crossing," exalted James Eaton of the Belvedere-based Hallberg-Rassy 43 Blue Heron, the only West Coast boat that participated. "Our last day was wild and fast, as the wind gusted to 40 knots. We completed the event without any malfunctions or breakage — which is remarkable given the conditions. But then just after crossing the finish line, we had a malfunction with the roller furling, and had to drop the genoa on deck! Once we tied up at Rodney Bay Marina, we just had to take long showers and have dinner in a restaurant. To be honest, the food wasn't any better than we'd had onboard — but at least we didn't have to do the dishes!

"Unfortunately, there was a tragedy in this year's ARC," continues Eaton, "as John Thompson, the owner of the Oyster 41 Avocet, was hit in the head by the boom during a jibe, failed to regain consciousness, and died in a Barbados Hospital. He'd been rushed there by a diverted cruise ship. Avocet is due to arrive today with the owner's son and other crew still onboard. What a tragedy. Yesterday we had lunch with the Dutch captain of Scorpione dei Mari, a beautiful Jongert 95 that was sailed by the owner and three guests, plus a professional crew of four, and crossed the finish line first. The captain, who has sailed around the world five times, reports that they destroyed about $140,000 worth of sails on the crossing. Now that we've been in St. Lucia a bit, we've heard many stories of blown out sails, broken booms, and other damaged equipment, so we weren't overstating how rough the conditions were some of the time."

According to the ARC website, Scorpione dei Mari was actually the 21st boat to finish, and in a rather pedestrian 15 days, 11 hours. In fact, Eaton's time with Blue Heron — 17 days, 9 hours — was much better by comparison. The first boat to finish, in fact, was Bruce Dingwall's Southern Wind 80 Matelot, which crossed in 12 days plus a few minutes. The first of the 23 multihulls to finish was Julien Roudat's Lagoon 67 Perle Noire, which finished in 13 days, 1 hour, the fifth boat overall. That's quite a surprise given the fact that she's an older and heavier Lagoon. The last of the 227 boats to finish was Greg Feijen's Hallberg-Rassy 42 Cadans, which took 22 days, 8 hours. For an interesting look at what kinds of boats the Europeans are rallying across the Atlantic — the smallest of which was Henry Adams' Ariel, a 25-ft Nordic Folkboat — google 'Atlantic Rally for Cruisers'. It makes for interesting reading.

Earlier in Changes, we had a report on November's Virginia to British Virgin Islands Caribbean 1500 from Cici Saylor of the East Coast-based Brewer 52 Night Heron. Now, for the rest of the story. This year's 18th annual fleet included 69 boats, perhaps a little smaller than it would have been had they not established a new minimum length for monohulls of 45 feet. According to organizer Steve Black, the winds were a little light all the way for the fastest boats, a little heavy all the way for the slowest boats, and just perfect all the way for the middle boats. "All things considered," he laughed, "good weather." Boats in the 1500 rally are allowed to motor and take a penalty, and it was interesting to note that, on the average, they motored about 75 hours. A few used the iron donk much more than that. Gil and Joy Smith's Connecticut-based Farr 50 pilothouse Joy For All was the first boat to finish, and well she should have been, as they motored 121 of her 178 total hours (7 days, 11 hours). She corrected out poorly. The fastest boat on corrected time was Alan Coren's New York-based Jeanneau 43DS The Four C's, which finished in just 214 hours (8 days, 22 hours), having motored just 34 hours, one of the lowest amounts in the fleet. Well done! Although they weren't in the same class, there was an interesting cruising catamaran battle between Hammer, Tom Robinson's Virginia-based high-tech, all carbon Gunboat 48 that rated -48, and Phil Gilihan's Virginia-based Parallax, one of the very few Corsair 3600 catamarans ever built, and which rated a much slower 78. Despite having motored 45 hours more, the inherently much faster Hammer only finished 15 hours in front of Parallax. It would be interesting to know what happened to the Gunboat, as one of the crew was Bill Biewenga, who in addition to being a great guy, is an excellent sailor — and an even better weather router.

"We recently heard from Kanji and Mieko Suehiro, who, like us, did the very first Baja Ha-Ha back in '94," write Rob and Mary Messenger, who did it with the 45-ft Maude I. Jones. "Believe it or not, Kanji and Mieko have been cruising their Alameda-based Fuji 36 Blue Fantasy ever since! The boat is now in Malaysia. The couple decided that Blue Fantasy had gotten a little tired, so they just bought a Pacific Seacraft 37 in Annapolis, and are having it trucked to San Francisco Bay. Here's what they wrote to us recently:

"Our new boat is supposed to arrive this week, but meanwhile we've been spending an alarming amount of money at West Marine. Other than nautical stuff, Mieko is busy getting household stuff ready so that we can live aboard. But it's really a waste, since we have all this stuff on our other boat! Nonetheless, we just can't wait for our new-to-us boat to arrive. We're like kids waiting for Christmas. It's a feeling we haven't had for a long time, and I thank God that we're lucky enough to be experiencing it again."

"As for Rob and me," continues Mary, we're on Chub Cay in the Bahamas working on boats for the foreseeable future. Jimmy Buffet is on the island for two days with a couple of his buddies."

You know how bad whales' breath is? Well, take it from Jeffrey, Patti and Phoebe Critchfield of the Brickyard Cove-based Beneteau Oceanis 423 Paxil, there's something much worse. "While the whale was rubbing against our boat, he'd exhale out his blowhole, showering us with water and the stench of dead fish. But then he took a dump — it was much worse — and by far!"

"Rumors are flying around in the back of the pack of boats making their way down the coast of Baja that there are anchoring fees of up to $160 at Cabo San Lucas," write Emmy Newbould and Eric Wilbur of the Zephyr Cove, Nevada-based Flying Dutchman Nataraja, who are headed to the South Pacific for the second time with the same boat. "Now that sounds outrageously wrong, but for some reason wouldn't surprise us. We know the slip fees are way up there, and that there is a fee to pick up a mooring, but to anchor?! We'd planned to stop at Cabo to check in, but if we had to pay to anchor, we'd probably continue on to La Paz. Can you tell us if this report is true?"

Like a lot of rumors on the cruising circuit, it's absolutely not true. Some of the developed ports in Mexico have APO port fees, but they're only about $1 a day. And because the clearing procedures have been changed, there isn't always a way for officials to collect such fees in all ports.

Want affordable health care? Go cruising in Mexico. Gillian, who did the Ha-Ha this year with her husband John Foy on their Alameda-based Catalina 42 Destiny, developed a badly infected and inflamed elbow after sailing from Cabo to Punta Mita. Having gotten a look at it, we urged her to get treatment at a Puerto Vallarta hospital immediately. You never want those infections to get systemic. After a 'ranch doctor' attempt to drain the infection using a 'sterilized' hunting knife, Gillian took our advice the next morning. There are several good U.S.-style hospitals in Puerto Vallarta, and she chose Amerimed next to Marina Vallarta. To say that she was thrilled with the facility, the doctors, and the treatment — and to not have to wait for hours as in an American hospital — would be an understatement. The doctors took an X-ray, drained the wound, tested to see what kind of infection it was, gave her antibiotics, and bandaged her up. The toal cost? Just $90, or about the price of an aspirin at a stateside hospital.

"We spent last winter in the Virgins, then sailed via Haiti — which was great — to the northwest Caribbean to get away from what we thought would be the majority of the hurricane threats," write Mike and Karen Riley of the Coronado-based Dickerson 41 ketch Beausoleil. "What a joke that strategy was! But if anyone is coming this way, they should put Isla Vache, Haiti, on their 'must visit' list. In return for $20 worth of pencils and pens, plus a basketball, they filled our cockpit with veggies and fruit. Oh yeah, we fixed the town pump for them, too. But if you do visit, don't even think of clearing into Haiti. And don't worry, the locals will tell you where to hide on the other side of the island. We'll be leaving for the Canal soon, and it will be great to be back in the Pacific — and the land of Latitude 38!"

"In response to the editor's request," Mike continues, "I'll review our sailing history, as I realize that it's been a few years. My first circumnavigation was aboard my engineless Columbia 24 Tola. Sounds radical, doesn't it? It wasn't. I lowered the cabintop 15 inches — it was the Weekender model — before I left Coronado, then extended the cabin into the cockpit — an easy modification — to increase the room down below and reduce the volume of water the cockpit could hold in the event of a knockdown. I would later add a four-foot-long bowsprit in Sri Lanka. I met Karen in Rabual, Papua New Guinea, where I was hiding from tropical cyclones and she was teaching school. We fell in love, married in Australia's Northern Territories, sailed across the Indian Ocean, went up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal, and had our son, Falcon, in Malta. We continued across the Atlantic and Caribbean, and came up through the Sea of Cortez, where we briefly met the Wanderer/Publisher of Latitude at Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. That was the year he was on his Olson 30 Little O, wrecked his back, and had to be flown home on a stretcher in the back of an Aero Mexico plane. We eventually sold Tola in Hawaii and, after nine months of serious hard work, purchased our Dickerson 41 Beausoleil. We took our new boat around the world via Panama and the Cape, three years of which we spent 'em-bayed' on the Eastern Shore of Maryland while Falcon — how time flies — completed high school. During that time Karen worked for Hinckley Yachts and I drove a car ferry. Falcon is now attending college in San Diego and, as I mentioned, we're on our way to the Pacific. We plan to head up to the Sea of Cortez. We're still on Beau and very happy with her, even after being rammed by a whale, enduring the eyes of several Category 5 hurricanes, and all the normal wear and tear. In the meantime, life is good out here, but we need more parties. So our advice to everyone is, drop those dock lines and come and join us!

We're hoping to see the Rileys at Sea of Cortez Sailing Week once again, as we've reviving that in early April. See Sightings for details. And by the way, we don't care what Mike says, we still think circumnavigating with a Columbia 24 Weekender, modified or not, is pretty radical.

"Three crew and I departed El Cid Marina in Mazatlan on December 1 to bring my Out-Island 41 Bronco back to Northern California," writes Nels Toberson. "The best sailing we had of the whole trip was the first night and day — we even got to use the spinnaker for about eight hours. It got pretty rough the night before we arrived in Cabo, and that was it for Christina, who got off. She thought we'd be doing a nice daysail each day and then be in port at night. After taking on fuel and water, the three of us remaining set out for 420-mile-distant Turtle Bay. We had a few hours of wind and waves, but it was mostly a good motorboat trip. The crew wanted to spend some time in Turtle Bay, so we did — four days. With the cell phone and internet reception, we got enough good weather information to make the next 360-mile leg to San Diego. We left Turtle Bay and, against my wishes, travelled up the back side of Cedros, arriving at the north end in the afternoon. The little anchorage had several mooring buoys and one panga. We spent a rolly night there. But we didn't get bad weather until 100 miles from San Diego, when the wind and waves on the nose slowed us and gave us a rough ride. With one of the crew not able to recover from a cold, I spent a night at the San Diego Police Dock, during which time I noticed that there was a weather window to San Francisco. I made the scary decision to try do the last 444 miles to San Francisco by myself. I was to have two anxious periods. The first was halfway from the Channel Islands to Conception about dark, when the wind came up on the nose. I had a long and difficult rounding of Conception, but was rewarded with good weather passing Pt. Sur. Then, while I was west of Monterey Bay in the middle of the night, the wind came up to 25 knots and gusted to 40. This was isolated wind that came without warning or reason. By morning the wind was light again, but there was still a large swell. The rest of the passage to the Golden Gate was quite good, and I made it to my berth before the most recent storm hit. I only had a few problems with Bronco. Right after I left El Cid, the AC generator would shut down right after it was started because it was getting hot. This was potentially serious, as Bronco depends on AC power. I will never go to sea again without a backup inverter. After several hours and trying many fixes, we got it running fine again and it still runs great. We just don't know why. Then the main engine couldn't run on fuel from the main tank — meaning there were 60 gallons we couldn't use. Then I discovered an air leak in the suction side of the tank. I replaced the hose and the problem was solved. I also had to replace a galley light. I'm happy that Bronco and I are home, but I'm very tired. Nonetheless, my 'house' is moving, so I need to go out in the rain and tighten the docklines."

"Debby and I just got back from a land trip to Zihua, and can report that everything is still grand," writes Tim Tunks of the Marina del Rey-based Islander 37 Scallywag. "We stayed at the Sotovento Hotel, where some 15 years ago, Latitude's Ocean 71 Big O spent an entire spring moored in their 'front yard'. From our vantage point we had a good view of arriving cruisers. Two I recognized were Neriad, a Hans Christian 43 ketch that had been our berth neighbor in La Paz one summer about a dozen years ago, and a junk-rigged Colvin schooner, sistership of the beautiful Joss and Migrant. One summer, John Kelly, who is now cruising the South Pacific aboard his Seattle-based Sirena 38 Hawkeye, and I helped the owner, a retired dentist named Bill, sail Migrant from Tonga to Fiji. Bill and I continued to cruise Fiji for another week or two where, in return for his pulling a tooth or two at small family villages, we were treated like kings. Oh, the great memories! The great news in Zihua is that there's a big sign that reads, 'No', to the construction of a cruise ship pier that has been proposed to extend from the fisherman's beach near the zocalo far out into the center of the bay, which would ruin the very thing that makes Zihua so appealing. It's hard to tell, but the protests may have been successful.

Also reporting from Zihua is Jim Carpenter of Rick's, which is the cruiser center in Zihua. "Although it's early December, about 10 cruising boats have already trickled in," he writes, "with another 30 on their way. A bunch of them were held up by high winds in the Sea of Cortez, so maybe next year's group will learn to head south a little earlier. Anyway, the weather here has been awesome, and we're ready for the cruisers. Nathaniel, the dinghy valet, is back on duty for the season, offering his much appreciated services. Our wifi is up and running, but we had to impose restrictions yesterday because so many people with wifi phones were locking it up. Cruise ships are coming in at the pace of two a week, saving the butts of local merchants until the cruisers arrive in force. Naturally all the locals have been up in arms about the proposed cruise ship pier, and I suspect the government won't go against their wishes. As soon as a few more cruisers arrive, we'll put together a committee for SailFest and get started on that."

Let's make sure that nobody cruising south of the border forgets that Zihua SailFest is the big cruiser fundraiser in Mexico, and that this year's 7th annual SailFest will be from January 29th through February 3rd. Last year cruisers raised an astonishing $47,000, which, thanks to matching funds, climbed to almost $95,000, most of which went to the construction of the Nueva Creaciones School and 12 other local school projects. In addition to cruisers doing hands-on work at the schools, raising money, and enjoying many social activities, there's also a fun pursuit race. Don't miss it. Zihua SailFest depends on an almost entirely new group of cruiser volunteers each year, so if this is your year, please don't forget to step up to the plate. Once you see what you've helped do, you'll never forget it. For more information and photos from previous years, visit

What a difference 300 miles makes — even in Mexico during the winter. With other commitments preventing Bill Lilly from being able to bring his Newport Beach-based Lagoon 470 Moontide down to Banderas Bay for the Pirates for Pupil's Banderas Bay Blast, he reported that the high temperature in La Paz on a day in early December was just 60 degrees. Northers can really drop the temperature everywhere in the Sea of Cortez. Meanwhile, down in Banderas Bay, it had consistently been 85 degrees during the day and 75 at night — meaning no sheets were necessary. The evening temps on Banderas Bay dropped to requiring a light blanket at night by mid-December, but the days were still as warm as anybody could want.

"We're still having a great time 'commuter cruising' in Mexico," report '04 Ha-Ha vets Jeannette Heulin and Anh Bui of the Emeryville-based Bristol 32 Con Te Partiro.

"We're in Nuevo Vallarta now, having spent two years enjoying the Sea of Cortez. But now we have to wait for our next vacation to continue further south. The problem with commuter cruising, of course, is finding places to leave our boat for two to three months at a time. We started this season by leaving Mazatlan on October 28th, which is a bit early, but we wanted to beat the Ha-Ha crowd to Banderas Bay to get a berth. We had an idyllic two-week sail down. We spent three days at Isla Isabella, and also visited San Blas, Punta Mita, and La Cruz before settling in at Nuevo. We never saw another boat the entire way. Did you know that there is a French restaurant in La Cruz that, if you ask, will prepare a proper steak tartare? It's Le Rêve — which means 'The Dream' in French — Restaurant, Café and Concert Venue at 66 Coral. It was formerly the Hikuri Cafe. And as we're French, we're glad to see those crazy Frenchmen are back at chasing the singlehanded and crewed around-the-world records once again."

Neither fish nor fowl. Ray Durkee of the Alameda-based Tartan 37 Velera got a job as a harbormaster at Castine, Maine, and had two years to get there with his boat. "The trip was okay," he writes, "but I didn't really have the right attitude or schedule. Since I'd given myself two seasons to get from San Francisco to Maine, mine was a cross between a cruise and a delivery. And as you surely know, those are different mindsets that are in complete conflict with each other. As a result, every time I'd come to a really great place — Chacala, Mexico, the beaches near Huatulco, Drakes Bay in Costa Rica, the Perlas and San Blas in Mexico — I'd seem to get a really great weather window and would have to get some miles behind me. It's a baaaaad concept for cruising. Anyway, the highpoint was a month I spent in the San Blas Islands — even though I didn't have a watermaker! But it was a great experience, and I want to thank Latitude for its part in inspiring it. I've been reading the magazine since you started it as sneakaboards at Clipper Yacht Harbor in Slezalito. Jimmy Buffett's sailboat was in our harbor here at Castine again for the summer, but I never did see him. But Eric Clapton is a regular. The swimming sucks here because the water is so cold, but with the possible exception of the San Blas Islands, we have the best cruising that I've ever seen."

In the past, we've gotten good reports about Polynesia Yacht Services, and a lot of cruisers heading toward French Polynesia wonder if their fees — which aren't cheap — aren't nonetheless cost effective. For their fee, PYS has someone meet your boat in the Marquesas with all the paperwork — including the visas and port captain papers. That's a very nice convenience. In addition, those who use the company's services don't have to post the bond, which for some boats can be thousands of dollars. And you always lose money on that exchange. But perhaps the biggest money-saver is being able to buy fuel at $3.50/gal. as opposed to the regular price of $7/gal. If you're going to be topping off with 150 gallons, that's a $300 savings right there. For more details — and mind you, Latitude is not necessarily recommending them — google 'Polynesia Yacht Services'.

Mike Harker had hoped to make it around the world in time with his Hunter Mariner 49 Wanderlust 3 to attend the New Year's Eve festivities at St. Barth, French West Indies. Alas, the determined sailor, whose Lake Arrowhead home burned in the recent wildfires, ended up running behind schedule and won't make it in time. Nonetheless, the daughters of some local friends threw him a little party for his 60th birthday just a few days before setting sail up the Atlantic. Harker should finish his circumnavigation, much of it singlehanded, by early February, which means his boat will be displayed at the Miami Boat Show.

"The Roatan YC in Roatan, Honduras, is decent, the docks are all right, and the staff is friendly," reports former-Alameda-then-St. Martin resident Jerry Blakeslee of the St. Maarten, Netherland Antilles-based NAB 38 Islomania. "The place is currently undergoing a change in ownership, so the bar and restaurant aren't open. But there are lots of fringe benefits that come with the $250/month berths — including cable tv, free wireless internet, a swimming pool, a pool table, and free ice, water, and electricity. They do, however, charge extra for electricity if you have an air-conditioner. Unlike most of the Caribbean, they have full-length docks, not the Med-moor arrangements you see at most places. Space is limited, so contact them via email well in advance if you're looking for a slip. The marina is also conveniently located near the largest super mercado on the island, as well as banking. About the only downside is that the water in the marina is sometimes dirty with oil, thanks to the fishing and other commercial boats in the general area. After another 10 days here, Cay Hickson and I will be off to Guatemala's Rio Dulce for a haulout, bottom paint job and some other minor repairs."

"I'm writing this on my 61st birthday, but January 4 will be my 27th Alcoholics Anonymous birthday," writes a reader from Mexico. "My demographic is all over Mexico, both cruising and fueling the real estate boom. Most of these people are truly responsible with alcohol, nonetheless, booze has been a problem for a certain percentage of people since the beginning of time. I'd like to let everyone know that there are AA meetings where English is spoken all over Mexico. For example, they have them at the El Patio restaurant in Melaque on Wednesdays and Sundays at 5 p.m., at the Rincon restaurant in La Manzanilla on Fridays at 6 p.m., and many, many other places. Just ask around. The meetings are well attended, both by newcomers and people with years of sobriety. I've been to AA meetings all over the world, and these are some of the best."

It's been our observation that the number of cruisers with drinking problems in Mexico has dropped dramatically in the last 15 years or so. Nonetheless, it can still be a real problem for some, as it's easy for drinking to find too great a role in the cruising life. Just to be on the safe side, we suggest that all drinkers take a two-week or so break from alcohol from time to time, just to make sure it's not getting away from you. As for those of you who attend AA meetings, we have the highest respect for you.

The last photo in this month's Changes is of something we hate to see — the apparent death throes of a vessel. "We've seen the converted tug Justine doing charters down here in La Paz for the last year," writes John van Strien of the Edmonton-based Christensen 55 Western Grace, "but as you can see, as of early November she was in big trouble. Many locals think she'll never float again. Apparently she'd become stranded close to shore a few weeks before during a very low tide, which made her list. Then she filled with water on the incoming, most likely as a result of a very leaky hull above the waterline. She's been flooded ever since."

Missing the pictures? See the January 2008 eBook!


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