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January 2010

Missing the pictures? See the January 2010 eBook!

 With reports this month from Sea Bear on the last leg from Maine to the Virgins; from Lagoon 380 sisterships on Banderas Bay; from Antares on dealing with the summer heat on the Rio Dulce; from Wanderlust 3 on having to do an engine fix after an anti-siphon valve failure in St. Martin; from Manu Rere on food shortages at Funafuti; from Le Chat Beaute on losing an escape hatch at sea; from Profligate on Yelapa; and Cruise Notes.

Sea Bear — Whittholz 37
Peter and Marina Passano
Bermuda to the British Virgins
(Ex-San Francisco / Maine)

We arrived safe and sound in the British Virgins from Bermuda on November 30. Our landfall was Anegada, the easternmost island in the group, and home to over 300 shipwrecks.

The weather for the passage was wonderful — for everything but sailing. Although it was late in the year in the Atlantic, we had sunny and warm days with smooth seas. But the winds were light and often out of the south, which forced us to tack a lot — not Sea Bear's strong suit. Marina's stomach liked the conditions just fine.

Normally one would expect to pick up the northeast trades between latitudes 25° and 22°N. We didn't get them until 19°N, at which time we were only 30 miles from Anegada! When we did get them, they were minor league stuff. So by the time it was over, we'd been forced to motor 40% of the eight days and 906 miles. We're pleased to report that the new engine ran like a Swiss watch — and almost as quietly.

A highlight of our passage was seeing a four-foot-long turtle 150 miles from land. Based on the distinctive ridges on its carapace, Marina identified it as a leatherback. When we first saw it, its head was so large that we thought it was a human's.

It was very cold when we left Maine, so we brought along warm clothes. But the day we arrived in Anegada, the air and ocean temperatures were in the 80s. That meant we no longer needed all the long johns, fleece and other stuff. By the time we gathered all our cold stuff, there was a mountain of it! We had no idea what to do with it all, as we certainly couldn't give it away in the tropical islands.

A couple of days after arriving in the Virgins, we took a sail down the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We were surprised to see how many of the charter boats are catamarans these days. I'd estimate there were two cats for every monohull. They were everywhere, mostly motoring around with their mainsails up. A lady from The Moorings explained the popularity of cats to us: "Two screws are better than one!" That kind of brought us up short, but we couldn't disagree.

When we sailed into the anchorage at Coral Harbor, St. John, in the U.S. Virgins, we were taken by the sight of Gaucho, a beautiful 50-ft Colin Archer design built of wood. The next morning, John, the owner of Gaucho, rowed over to admire Sea Bear, and which gave us a chance to chat. He told us that he was the fifth owner since Ernesto Uriburo, but that he and his family — including three kids — had lived aboard for 23 years. Gaucho still has her beautiful shape, and I complimented the owner on how well she'd been maintained. This item will be of little interest to many people, but there are a few old-timers who will appreciate it.

Coral Bay is a very laid-back and funky place. It has lots of character boats — and characters! Besides a number of Colin Archers, there were seven Block Island schooners built here — five of them on top of each other in the same mold!

­— peter 12/05/09

Three Lagoon 380s
On Banderas Bay

Everybody seems to have a different idea of what makes a good cruising boat, which is the reason you rarely see sisterships in the same anchorage. That's why we were surprised to see three Lagoon 380 catamarans together on Banderas Bay during this year's Blast — knowing that a fourth was going to arrive shortly.

The 380s were: Glenn Twitchell's Newport Beach-based Beach Access. He's owned the cat for several years, and for the last two years has done both the Ha-Ha and cruised Mexico. Then there was Mark Sciarretta's San Diego-based Younger Girl, which he's slowly been delivering to San Diego since buying her in Florida a year ago. Mark is one of the few people who has decided that he likes monohulls better than catamarans. His primary complaint — and it's a legitimate one — is that you don't actively steer cats as you do monohulls. He misses that, so he'll be putting his cat up for sale in California in the next few months. Finally, there was the Medina family's Colorado-based Eleganz, soon to be renamed SEA Parents. This wonderful family — Troy, Brady, and daughters Samantha, 9, Ashley, 8, and Emily, 6 — purchased the cat four months ago in Puerto Vallarta and intend to sail her around the world.

It would have been really interesting if Eleganz hadn't been in such a hurry to get going, because yet another sistership — with a 'sistercrew' — was about to arrive on the bay. This was the Seattle-based Conger family's Don Quixote. Veterans of the '08 Ha-Ha, the Congers are similar to the Medinas in that they also have three girls: Jaime, 13, Mera, 11, and Aeron, 9. It's not uncommon to see cruising boats with two and sometimes three young boys, but we can't remember ever seeing a cruising boat with three girls. And this would make two of them.

During last year's Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, we 'borrowed' the hilarious Conger daughters for two afternoons, including the Isla San Francisco to Isla Partida race. And during the Blast, we had a lot of fun with the Medina girls. On both occasions we were flooded with fond memories of the great times we had sailing with our daughter Lauren — now 28 — when she was a similar age in places such as Mexico, Costa Rica, the Med and Hawaii. You never forget memories like that. As girls grow into their teens, identities become more developed and complications arise, so we think pre-teen is a great time to take kids cruising. But you don't necessarily have to do it aboard a Lagoon 380.

— latitude 12/09/09

Antares — Amel 53
Phyllis and Jeff Rapp
The Rio Dulce

Man, is it hot! In June we motored 25 miles up the Rio Dulce to escape the chance of getting hit by a hurricane in the Caribbean. Despite my clever timing of the spring tide at Livingston, which is at the mouth of the river, we still ran aground on the bar. Getting towed into Livingston sideways was fun. But the trip up the river gorge from Livingston was stunning. It's a real jungle, with blazing green vegetation and screaming parrots and monkeys. Once we tied up the boat at Mario’s Marina, we stayed put. Nonetheless, we started everything regularly. For on boats, as well as with people, 'motion is lotion'.

Mario's is located at Fronteras, which is just a wide spot in the river a few miles downstream of Lake Izabel. Someone started a marina here years ago, and now scores of cruisers like us come to stay at the many marinas that cater to boats hiding from hurricanes. There are lots of people to play with here, although many cruisers just leave their boats for long periods to do inland trips to avoid the heat. There are also many restaurants, some places with boat parts, and a real fuel dock. Fronteras is a throwback to the Wild West, as there is one main street along the river with open stalls and markets, but no sidewalks. And, there is the occasional real shooting.

The main reason we chose Mario’s over the other marinas is that it has a luscious, shaded pool. Unlike the water in the river, the pool water is very cold because it comes from springs high in the mountains. But who cares where it comes from, because on blisteringly hot days, it feels wonderful to jump into the pool and freeze your ass off. It’s so hot here on the river in the summer that you get sweaty from doing just a few minutes' work on the boat: making a bed, walking to the pool — or even just thinking about doing any of those things. Jeff, who is well-known for being a good 'sweat-er', sweated so much that he had to install windshield wipers on his glasses in order to see.

After two weeks of living in the oven that is Mario's, we travelled to Antigua, a delightful colonial town in the mountains — and therefore cool. Once the capital, Antigua is quaint and has numerous attractive hotels, restaurants, museums and bars. Plus, there are lots of outdoorsy things to do. For example, we climbed an active volcano. Since Guatemala doesn't have too many lawyers yet, the guides not only allowed us to get as close to the hot lava as we wanted, but even brought along marshmallows so we could roast them over the hot rocks. Unfortunately, one of us got too close — guess who — and crashed through the newly hardened lava, shredding his/her arm. When we threw the blood-soaked tissues onto the hot rocks, they immediately blazed up, giving the incident powerful religious overtones.

Even though one of us hates horses, he/she insisted — "because of extreme fatigue" — on hiring one for the trip up the volcano. On the way down, our guide fell, severely injuring his ankle. He had to be taken the rest of the way down on another horse. Ultimately, we were all stranded, and had to eat the horses in order to survive. But that's another story. The two of us were by far the oldest farts on the trip. We only went because the tour company assured by that "anyone" could do it. Ha!

We also rented mountain bikes and toured the surrounding area. It was very interesting until the heart attack. Part of the trip was a tour of a macadamia nut factory. They claim to supply the oil for various obscenely overpriced Lancôme products that one of us uses to excess. Before it was over, we'd enjoyed two wonderful weeks in cool Antigua, spending only the Monopoly money that is a time-share exchange. But prior to leaving Jeff started a relationship with a scarlet macaw, despite hotel's many signs warning patrons not to approach or touch the bird. I assume she was in love.

Before Jeff's 91-year-old mom died, forcing us to suddenly rearrange our plans, we'd made plans for a long trip back to the States. American Airlines either couldn’t or wouldn't help. The best we could do was dovetail a completely separate trip onto our pre-existing trip in order to attend the funeral. So after being in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Miami, we had to fly back to Guatemala City for one night, at which time we started our original trip to Miami for a connecting flight to San Francisco! Cruisers beware.

After visiting countless family members and friends in different parts of the country, we returned to Antares with — what else? — two big bags full of boat parts. Unfortunately, we got back in September, the hottest month in the Rio Dulce. It was so hot that we took another trip to a higher elevation, this time to Lake Atitlan. What a joy that was, as it was cool, the water was cool, and the Casa del Mundo was a spectacular but surprisingly affordable hotel. Every room had a perfect view of the then-full moon, surrounding volcanoes, water and sunsets.

We also travelled to Peten Province, which was another success. The best part was trekking through the jungle and getting to see lots of wildlife and flora. We had a great guide who told us all about Mayan culture. For example, we learned that the captain of the losing ball team had his heart cut out. That raised a lot of interesting questions about motivation and sportsmanship. I hate to say this, but to my thinking, once you've seen one Mayan pyramid, you've seen them all. My great idea is that they should completely restore one of the ruins, even if they have to use plaster, paint and new sculptures. This would have the practical benefit of protecting it from the elements, and give the average schmuck an idea of how they really looked. They could even hire living Mayans — or Incas or Greeks — to dress up and hang around. It would be good money for these people, who are often very poor. Maybe they could even stage a ball game, and cut out the heart of the losing captain.

I’m always amazed at the scams being tried on gringos. Millions of years ago we drove down the Baja peninsula where, in the middle of the desert, an old Mexican guy with a vaguely military-looking hat had placed a log in the middle of the highway. We had to pay a small 'toll' to get through. Well, on our bus trip to Flores, the bus stopped about 10 miles from town, at which point a guy got on the bus to inform us that we had to get off and take a mini-van the rest of the way. Naturally, there would be an extra charge to complete our trip. I may have gone for it, except I noticed the guy only gave gringos the news. When I told him that we were staying on the bus, he shrugged and continued on. Sure enough, the original bus took us right to Flores like it was supposed to. Cruisers beware.

Having survived the summer and fall, we left the Rio Dulce in November the same way we entered — on our side, tipped over by a masthead halyard pulled to the side by a fishing boat off our starboard beam. Going out was a lot easier than coming in had been, and we probably could have made it in on our own. But we'd already contracted for the tow which, given the problems on our first crossing, was the sensible thing to do. We're now anchored in a beautiful bay on the other side of the Bahia de Santo Tomas de Castilla from Livingston, the latter being a curious name for a Spanish pueblo. Antares had been moved only twice since we arrived at Mario’s Marina in June. Once was to a shakedown cruise/party to Lake Izabel that was attended by about 15 boats. The other was a pre-departure trip to Texan Bay, closer to the river mouth. True to its name, everyone at Texan Bay “tolks lak thee-is” — and smokes a lot of herb. Once again, the river gorge was stunning.

What to make of our five months up a river? We did it to avoid hurricanes — although this year we could have done that by going anywhere we wanted in the Caribbean. Five months is a long time to stay in one place, although we weren’t even on our boat for half of it. The Rio was beautiful, but did I mention that it was really hot? We made many friends, whom we saw and played with nearly daily. It’s one of the odd things about cruising, that you become better friends with your new friends than your old land-based friends. And then you part, probably never to see each other again. It's sort of like being a schoolkid again.

At this point, I feel a little like I’ve escaped, because I didn't like being 'trapped' up a river. Anyway, our next stop is Belize, home of clear water, thousands of cays, and a huge barrier reef for snorkeling, diving and living on the hook again. We’re ready!

— phyllis 11/15/09

Wanderlust 3 — Hunter 49
Mike Harker
Do-It-Yourself Diesel Repair
(Manhattan Beach)

How could the failure of an $80 part potentially cause $8,000 in damage to my boat's Yanmar 4JH4 HTE diesel? I'll tell you, so you can keep it from happening to your engine. The $80 part in question was a corroded Vetus anti-siphon valve in the exhaust system of my diesel. If there is a problem with the anti-siphon valve, seawater can be sucked back into the engine's cylinders. Perhaps I would have discovered the problem with the valve if had I more experience with boat diesels. Or if the owner's manual didn't identify the part as not needing any maintenance!

I was spending the summer at Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin in the West Indies. After taking refuge in the Mullet Pond mangroves when hurricane Bill threatened during the summer, I returned to my normal spot in the lagoon. Then, for seven weeks I never started my Yanmar. This was a mistake on my part. I should have run the engine every week, even if just for a few minutes. But as my boat is equipped with three large solar panels, an Air-X wind generator, and a 12-kW generator, I never needed to run the main engine for power. In fact, I used the generator only about three hours a week to top off my battery banks and make water.

What I didn't know, is that during this time the anti-siphon valve at the top of the seawater outlet that cools the intercooler on the Yanmar was corroded. Since the little flap wasn't closing, it allowed seawater to be siphoned back down the hose and into the exhaust manifold — including back through the turbo — and finally into the open exhaust valve of #3 cylinder.

As a result, my Yanmar wouldn't turn over when I finally tried to start it. Puzzled, I put a 14mm socket on the shaft nut near the alternator belt. I had no luck when I tried to turn the engine that way. Stumped, I called for the local Yanmar mechanic to come to my boat. He took off some hoses and the valve cover, then showed me how the #3 cylinder had filled with seawater.

Hoping for some warranty relief, I called the Yanmar distributor in Florida. They told me that the anti-siphon valve "wasn't a Yanmar part." As for Hunter, they said my boat was out of warranty, and in any event the anti-siphon valve was a maintenance problem not covered under warranty. When I asked the Yanmar dealer in St. Martin for a quote to fix the engine, I was told they would need $5,000 in cash — in advance — just to have them look at the damage. This would, however, include their towing my boat to their facility, using a crane to lift the engine out, and having the engine in the shop for three to four weeks. I was also warned that if the turbo had been damaged, or if the head or valves needed work, the total cost could come to over $8,000. All this because of a stuck anti-siphon valve!

I'd grown up in Southern California, where my dad and uncles raced boats and did their own engine work. As such, I’d seen engines in pieces at the launch ramp during all-night Saturday night engine rebuilds before the big races the next day. Based on that heritage, there was no way I could pay $8,000 to have someone else fix my diesel. So I purchased a Yanmar service manual for my engine, and had the Yanmar folks at Mastry Engines in Florida send me all the parts they thought I would need. This included a new piston and rings, injector tips, and all the seals and gaskets for a complete overhaul. Doug Dykens, the service manager at Mastry, was particularly helpful. When the parts arrived, they came with good wishes from the folks there.

As much as I wanted to be self-sufficient, I felt that this wasn't a project that I should tackle alone. That's why I was so lucky to have come across James, a retired diesel expert who had been living on his boat in St. Martin for years. He'd worked on many diesels over the years, including those on old boats and trucks, but this would be the first time he worked on a turbo-charged, four-valves-per-cylinder modern sailboat diesel.

Our first step was to get the heavy diesel out of the bilge and onto the salon floor. We placed a steel bar across the top of the companionway, then used a borrowed chain hoist to lift the engine out of the bilge and onto boards we placed on the salon sole. This required that the companionway steps be removed, which meant for the next week or so, I had to enter and exit my boat through the forward hatch. It wasn't easy, given the injuries I'd suffered to my legs years before as the result of a near-fatal hang gliding accident.

The next job was to get the bad piston out. James and I took turns whacking at the piston, drilling some holes in it, then whacking it again. It took us a full day to get the seized piston loose and remove all the pieces. I then bought a special honing device that attached to my power drill. Following the instructions in the Yanmar shop manual, we cleaned up and polished the inside cylinder wall. I put the valves into a cardboard box, carefully marking each valve and its corresponding hole in the head. I then took it all to an excellent machine shop that specializes in racing engines. They returned it the next morning looking better than new for $250. I also had James take the turbo over to the airport, where a specialist works on turbines and other specialized equipment. It was returned the next morning also looking as good as new. The cost was $200, including new seals and bearings.

Finally, after seven continuous days of our working up to 10 hours a day, the engine was back in place, the electrics and plumbing reinstalled, and the key ready to be turned. As soon as the key was turned, the Yanmar started and purred like a kitten! I felt a great sense of elation, and a great sense of accomplishment. After four hours of running the engine at idle speed, I changed the oil and filter. The oil was a bit dirty and had some diesel mixed in. After 10 hours of running the engine up to 1,800 rpm while on my way to St. Thomas and back, I changed the oil and filter again. This time it was perfectly clean.

After 25 hours on the repaired engine, I hired one of the off-duty Yanmar service technicians to come to my boat to check the engine out. He was slightly impressed that everything seemed to be working perfectly. Almost as an afterthought, he checked the anti-siphon valve — and it was almost clogged up once again! He corrected the problem by shortening the anti-siphon relief hose to a visible position just above the bilge.

So for about $800 in parts and about 80 man-hours, I got my engine apart, repaired, and back working again. I do not, however, recommend that anyone try to do the same thing without the help of professional diesel mechanic. But if you're desperate, I guess we proved that it can be done. Having subsequently talked to lots of other more experienced boat owners and diesel mechanics, I've learned that plugged up anti-siphon valves are one of the most common causes of expensive engine repairs. Check yours often!

— mike 12/03/09

Manu Rere — 38-ft Polynesian Cat
Glenn Tieman
Wallis and Funafuti

Although Wallis Island — a French collectivity located at 13°10'S and 176°08'W — has a beautiful lagoon surrounded by lusciously wooded islets, I stayed only two weeks. There were three reasons. First, there wasn't a good anchorage that was also convenient. Second, the islanders were — for being Polynesians, at least — relatively inaccessible. Finally, the prices of things were two to three times that of already expensive Tahiti.

What I enjoyed most at Wallis was spending three days daysailing between the pretty islets, and anchoring alone at several stunning spots while I made improvements to my boat's rig. Details such as brailing, I discovered, required lots of trial and error.

I then made a routine one-week passage to Funafuti — routine in the sense that I had some fine conditions, some stormy conditions, and a couple days of calms. When the waves get big enough to make the self-steering a little squiggly, I've learned to set a small drogue consisting of two fathoms of chain. That straightens Manu Rere's course without slowing her noticeably. If things get stormy, I shackle the chain around an old tire for even greater control.

Funafuti is a place I remember fondly from my visit 22 years ago, when I was doing my 10-year cruise aboard my 26-ft catamaran Peregrine. Funafuti was the first atoll I'd ever seen, and it was so clean, bright, windswept and simple that it left a deep impression on me. This is a place where I feel comfortable. Although Funafuti is the capital of the island-nation of Tuvalu, it has less fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, and it's a bit of a shabby village. The locals are very friendly and everything is casual. So casual that the one bank doesn’t accept credit or debit cards!

The only difficulty at Funafuti — apart from the government officials who are still trying to discourage tourism with high fees and other obstacles — is food. There’s always rice, of course, and coconuts. And sometimes fresh fish is abundant and for sale at low prices out of ice chests along the lagoon-side road. Although local produce is sometimes given away, none is for sale. And I have a problem with produce imported from New Zealand.

The food problem prompted me to investigate alternative foods and alternative ways of keeping foods. It's hard for one man without refrigeration to eat even a small tuna before it spoils, so I experimented with a technique for salting and drying fish. Then, after a freshwater soak, I fry it — and it tastes delicious! Fortunately, the sand seabed 10 feet beneath Manu Rere is carpeted with two-inch gastropods. After being well cooked, they are easy to remove from their shells and taste gourmet delicious. On the vegetable side, there is an edible plant called sea grapes that I could find just a short swim from my boat. And many locals have planted bele, which is an edible bush that, when cooked properly, tastes like Swiss chard. There is another kind of bush — I don't know the name — that has fruit sort of like a pear with dimples. I've seen it being cultivated on plantations all across Polynesia. It smells like sharp cheese — not a very appetizing quality in a fruit!

Fortunately, there are two libraries at Funafuti — which is twice as many as I ever saw in French Polynesia. While doing research in one, I learned about noni. It's a stinky fruit that Americans are apparently willing to pay high prices for in health food stores. After I collected the noni fruit from wild bushes, the juice ran out of the fruit and fermented. It was reasonably tasty.

Speaking of fermentation, a gallon of water mixed with 2/3 kilo of sugar and three teaspoons of yeast starts to get interesting after only three days. The yeast dies off after another two days and settles, leaving a strong, clear alcoholic beverage. It's barely palatable, but it is dirt cheap. I first encountered this very inexpensive way to make alcohol while aboard the boat of Henry Wakelam, a great sailor and author. I also saw it in Malayasian Borneo after the rice wine and sago wine had all been consumed.

Meanwhile, I've been dining with volunteers and diplomats from Taiwan, swimming at the old wharf with the kids, working on the boats, and sailing my proa dinghy. Funafuti is a perfect setting for sailing a proa, as there are miles of flat water and tradewind breezes. I finished off my proa’s mast step and other details after much experimentation. The big breakthrough was adding a windward side mast strut. Having completed it, I now have a fun, super exotic — and carbon-free way — of scooting about the lagoon.

Manu Rere is currently anchored safe and sound inside the lagoon on the warm and bright green water. Two yachts may pass through here in the busiest week of the year, which is now, the start of the South Pacific cyclone season. These boats are heading north, instead of south to New Zealand, to avoid cyclones.

— glenn 12/03/09

Le Chat Beaute — Privilege 42
Paddy Barry and Dave Surridge
A Hatchless Passage
(Vancouver, Washington)

We left the Chesapeake bound for the Virgins on November 1 under cloudy skies and in light rain. The wind was blowing 20 knots and gusting to 25 out of the northeast — brisk conditions. We were carrying a full genoa with three reefs in the main, making 8+ knots in 6-to-9-foot beam seas. The forecast called for 15-20 knots with six to nine-foot seas once we got to the Gulf Stream. These weren't ideal conditions in which to start a trip to the Virgins, but thanks to hurricane Ida developing in the Gulf of Mexico, we weren't going to get another decent weather window anytime soon. So it was either head for the warmth on November 1, or be cold for weeks.

We had just about made it across the Gulf Stream at 35°N, 74°25'W, and were roaring along at 9.5 knots, when I looked down into the salon — and saw a three-foot tall column of water surging up through the bridgedeck and into the boat!

Most catamarans have escape hatches on the bottom of the bridgedeck or the inside of the hulls so crews can escape in case of a capsize. On Le Chat Beaute, there are two escape hatches, covered with teak grates, that are part of the main salon floor near where the bridgedeck meets the hulls. In calm conditions, they are 30 inches above the surface of the water.

Anyway, I rushed to the starboard side escape hatch, thinking it had come open. But no — it was gone! Having a hatch-size hole in the bridgedeck just 30 inches above the tempestuous seas meant that we took on water fast. Before long, the inside of the starboard hull was awash, and the bilge pumps were going full bore.

I always keep plywood on my boat for damage control, so I grabbed some of it along with the screw gun and screws. I then started screwing the plywood down to the salon floor. Meanwhile, I had Dave steer the boat downwind to stop the beam seas from ricocheting between the hulls and coming up through the hole where the hatch had been. Needless to say, it was a scary time.

After I covered the hole, I disconnected the shower pump on the starboard side, and stuffed the hose in the bilge above the bilge pump. The hull was awash for maybe 15 minutes before the two pumps removed most of the water. Interestingly, I couldn't detect any difference in performance between when the hull had lots of water and when the water was all pumped out.

After I got the leak under control, I had to decide on our next course of action. We were just about out of the Gulf Stream on the east side, which meant were about 90 miles from the Chesapeake, something less than that from ports on the south side of Hatteras, and about 1,180 miles from the Virgins. Although going back to the Chesapeake was only 90 miles, it didn't seem like the best option, as it would require sailing into the wind and seas. I discarded that idea because I didn't think my repair could withstand all the pounding while going to weather. Heading for the south side of Hatteras didn't look like such a good idea either, as the weather along the entire East Coast was getting worse by the hour. So even though it was 10 times farther to the Virgins than back to the Chesapeake, I decided that it would be safest to press on. My decision was helped by the fact the wind was forecast to moderate to 10 to 15 knots over the next 24 hours.

As we left the Gulf Stream, conditions settled down to 20 knots out of the north, gusting to 25. While these would have normally been ideal conditions for heading to the Virgins, we had to keep our boat speed down to six knots. If we went any faster, the wave action would assault my repair, and water would fill the starboard hull again. The bilge pumps easily contained the inflow of water after my plywood repair, but they would still come on every 15 seconds. One of the pumps eventually failed, so I had to replace it.

If conditions had ever gotten calm or even light, I might have been able to attempt a repair from the outside of the hull. But conditions remained vigorous. After putting 100 screws into the plywood sheet over the floor, I was able to keep most of the water out.

But the ocean eventually gets her way. When a 17-ft swell came under my cat and slapped the plywood sheet, it broke the cabin floor loose and left it raised about six inches! All of the sudden I was able to look right through the bridgedeck floor again and see the Atlantic Ocean, just a few feet down, in all her glory! After more screws and blocks in the walls to jam the floor, we were off again! But by that point I had reason to worry about running out of lumber.

When we finally reached 'Highway 65' — 65° longitude, which is where everyone makes their turn south to the tropics — we made our turn. Thanks to a north wind, along with more sun and rising temperatures, the damaged main salon floor in my cat actually dried out. The rest of the trip was generally mild — although we did have 30 knots gusting to 40 out of the northwest for 30 more hours. But it was from astern, so it was mostly a wild slide down the 15-ft swells. Dave was amazed at how much better the conditions were with 30 knots of wind than 20 knots of wind. The stronger wind established a more consistent swell pattern, and the wind waves had less impact.

Until this point, I'd never been in any rough weather on a cat. Like many ex-monohull skippers, I'd always wondered about cats in bad conditions. But after this experience, I would go anywhere in a cat. Even though I had to spend lots of time with my head in the bilge, the cat's more gentle motion kept me from getting more than mildly seasick. Had I had to do the same thing in a monohull, it would have been a battle to make repairs and keep my lunch down.

The wind came out of the south at 5-10 knots the day before we arrived at St. Thomas, so we were forced to motorsail. It had taken us 10 days to reach the U.S. Virgins, as we'd slowed Le Chat Beaute down to six knots for almost the entire passage in order to minimize damage to my temporary repair. It actually would have been a great trip, and the passage time acceptable, had I not been suffering from a high level of anxiety. But at no time did conditions prevent Dave and me from enjoying meals. In fact, we BBQ'd for half the trip. I talked to some sailors on 60-ft plus monohulls who arrived before us, and was told that when they ate — which wasn't often — it was out of cans. So in even the worst of conditions, life on a cat seems all right to me.

Dave Surridge had never been on a sailboat before this trip, and I can't say that he'll ever get on one again. But he did a good job, as he stood all his watches and was there when I needed him.

— paddy 11/25/09

Profligate — Surfin' 63
A Short Stop At Yelapa

Banderas Bay is a place with many charms, one of the most interesting being the muy, muy tranquilo pueblo of Yelapa. Nestled in the southernmost cove of what is claimed to be the seventh largest bay in the world, Yelapa has long been a mecca for those wanting to drop out. The attractions were that you could get there only by boat, so there were no cars or traffic; there was no electricity or phones; 'no shirt and no shoes' was no problem at the restaurants; and neither was firing up a big spliff.

A few things have changed in Yelapa. While it's still easiest to get there by boat, there is now a road of sorts. Quads have replaced donkeys for transportation and hauling things up the cobblestone trails. And not only does Yelapa now have electricity and phones, there's even an Internet cafe.

But much hasn't changed. It's still surrounded by a magnificent jungle, it's sleepy before the tourist boats have arrived and after they've gone, and credit cards are useless. The anchorage is still dicey because the bottom is so deep right up to the edge of the beach. That's why we were going to pay Bully $10 to use a ferry mooring for the night. We would have paid him, too, except he disappeared before we could hand over the cash. We'll get him next time.

As many cruisers who have visited can attest, Yelapa Cove can still get rough and sloppy. We arrived on a Monday afternoon when the cove was flat and calm. But the swell and chop came up during the night, creating a cove full of heavy slop. Although Profligate's 30-ft beam tends to keep things smooth, one crewmember who never gets sick, did get sick.

We think the most fun destination at Yelapa is the waterfall. It's a short and gentle uphill hike, and in November, right at the end of the rainy season, there is still a lot of water free-falling from a height of 150 feet or so. Rumor has it there's an even higher waterfall farther up the mountain. In any event, the water tumbling down the lower waterfall is fresh and cold — the perfect thing for those who have overdosed on saltwater and humidity.

Yelapa may not have as many dogs, hippies and mystics as it once did, but it's still a stop you don't want to miss.

— latitude 12/09/09

Cruise Notes:

"I would like to send a huge 'thank you' to the editors, staff and the folks who send letters and articles to Latitude," writes Chris Juhasz of Southern California. "Although I don't currently own a boat, I — like many others — fancy myself a sailor based on my past — and hopefully future — sailing adventures. Because of Latitude, I recently had one such trip. I had read that singlehanded circumnavigator Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Wanderlust 3 sometimes takes crew along on certain legs of his adventures. I applied, and before I knew it, it was November 3 and I was meeting him on his boat on the beautiful island of St. Martin. What followed was just shy of three weeks of an amazing Caribbean adventure. My trip started with my learning some very important lessons about the cruising life. First, even rather new and well-maintained boats such as Harker's Hunter 49 can have issues. For when I got to the boat, the engine was lying on its side on the cabin sole, not looking as though it was going to propel us anywhere soon. I also learned that when things need to get done 'out there', you must take things as they come — if and when they come. For if a part from the States was mistakenly flown to the wrong island, there would be no progress that day, period. It was a huge lesson in patience for me, and Mike was a great teacher. Soon enough — but not a day late — the engine was fixed and we headed off to the British Virgins.

"Once underway," Juhasz continues, "I was treated to some glorious sailing. The highlight was our overnight passage to Peter Island, during which time I learned much about sailing through squalls on black nights. We got hit by the hardest one just as we made our way past Round Rock at the entrance to the Sir Francis Drake Passage. It was very exciting stuff for me, and I loved it. Also exciting was the good-sized lightning storm that started to crack away at the hills surrounding the bay we anchored in. The next week was spent moving from one amazing anchorage to another, and seeming to find an even more beautiful snorkeling spot at each location. The time passed so quickly! Once again, I'd like to thank Latitude and all the contributors for giving me the push I needed to get out sailing again. After my 'Hangin' With Harker' adventure, my plan is to buy a new boat and start sailing to Two Harbors, Catalina, again. And eventually sign up for a Ha-Ha."

Frenchman Tom Blancart and his Aussie mate Kim report that their ketch Karaka was boarded by four men carrying machetes and guns late on the afternoon of December 2. They were transiting the Boca Chica Channel to Cartagena, Colombia, at the time. Already inside the bay, Karaka was about five miles from the city itself when the apparently well-orchestrated robbery took place.

"The pirates managed to get us under control before we could call for help," Blancart wrote in his blog, "and they took their time searching our boat for valuables. The experience was quite unpleasant, but nobody was hurt. However, lots of valuables — including electronics, computers and money — were taken. Once the pirates left, we called the police. The friendly officers arrived about half an hour later, but were fairly complacent about the whole affair. But they did escort us into the harbor."

The consensus around Cartagena is that the Boca Grande entrance is safer than the Boca Chica entrance, and thanks to the red and green buoys that mark the underwater wall, it's easy to navigate, too.

Cruisers, who generally love Cartagena and feel safe there, also report that there has been a recent spike in dinghy thefts around the Cartagena anchorage and surrounding areas. However, all the dinghies that were stolen had apparently been left unlocked in the water. It's incomprehensible to us — having had a dinghy and outboard stolen there after they went unwatched for three minutes — that anyone would leave an unlocked dinghy in the water overnight in that part of the world. The Guardia Costa believes that the dinghies are being stolen by banditos who swim out from the street between 2 and 4 a.m. Many cruisers believe that dinghy and other thefts increase in the weeks before Christmas, as the thieves need money to buy Christmas presents for loved ones. In any event, you've been warned.

"We're happy to report our recent haul-out at Rebak Marine in Langkawi, Malaysia, went well," wrote Capt. Fatty Goodlander of the Virgin Islands-based Hughes 38 Wild Card in his holiday newsletter. "It had been 2.5 years since we last hauled, so it was a big, barnacle-busting job. Rebak treated our boat like a Fabergé egg. We slapped on $1,400 worth of paint, and managed to relaunch in 14 days — despite the fact that it rained each and every day, often several times a day. Once afloat, we returned to Kuah to help Amanda, a Malay friend, get her new coffeehouse off the ground. I played guitar there almost every night for weeks. Amazingly, I was joined by Nashville songwriter Gene Nelson, the country picker who wrote 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses — and seven other million sellers! Gene is circumnavigating with his two teenage sons aboard their C&C 48 Emelia. We made dozens of local friends in the year we based out of Malaysia, and went to lots of weddings, grand openings and Muslim parties. The Malay people are lovely — very honest and generous. We also bumped into Germans Jurgen Kanter and Sabine Merz of Rockall, who had been captured by Somali pirates and held for ransom for 52 days. They were constantly threatened with death — and worse — until someone paid $2.5 million for their release. They never learned who put up the money. Rockall was completely looted — the engine, sails, boom — so nothing was left after the pirates and police got through stripping her. The thing that drove Jurgen the craziest was that the pirates were so primitive that they didn’t use the stove for cooking. Instead, they just built a fire on deck and fed it with bits of varnished mahogany that had been crow-barred from her interior. As for us, we're soon to be sailing Wild Card across the 3,000-mile wide Indian Ocean to Oman, getting ready to — pirates permitting — make a run up the Red Sea.

Fatty, an old friend who writes frequently for Cruising World magazine, has a new book out called All At Sea Yarns, which he says "contains some of the weirdest, most twisted of my bizarre writing." That's really saying something, so you you should check it out.

"As of early December, 23 boats have signed up for the first ever El Salvador Rally, which is a cruising rally from Mexico to El Salvador and 'The Forgotten Middle'," report organizers Bill Yeargan and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mita Kuuluu. "We had an informational seminar at the La Cruz Marina in early December, and will have another one on January 27 at the Vallarta YC at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta. If anyone is interested, please stop by or contact us at ."

"Like a lot of boat owners on Banderas Bay, I was about to take my boat 200 miles up to Mazatlan and the highly-regarded Total Yacht Services at the Singlar yard for a bottom job," writes Thomas Lilienthal of the La Cruz-based Oceanis 41 Dream Seeker. "But after comparing prices and talking to folks who have recently hauled at the new Nayarit Riviera Marina Ship Yard in La Cruz, I decided to give them a chance. I came away very pleased, because the haul-out was $300 less than it would have been in Mazatlan, and because the work was of high quality and done on schedule. They even did extra tasks that I wasn't charged for, things I know I would have paid dearly for back in the States. Perhaps best of all, co-owner and manager John Gerber introduced himself to me, pointed out his office, and told me that if I saw any work being done below my standards, I was to get him so he could have his workers rectify the situation. Gerber was also there when Dream Seeker was splashed, and told me that if I was unhappy with any of the work over the next few weeks, to come back and he'd see that it was taken care of. Having owned boats for over 25 years, and spent a lot of money in a lot of yards, I found it to be a unique and wonderful experience."

When the Nayarit Riviera Marina boat yard opened a little more than a year ago, there was a lot of grousing about the prices being higher ­— much higher — than in the States. Therefore, a lot of boat owners would make the 400-mile round-trip to Mazatlan, where Total Yacht Services had indeed earned an excellent reputation. But Gerber has really seemed to turn things around. Huggy, the BMW aboard Scott Piper's Miami-based J/160 Pipe Dream, hauled there last month, and told us an interesting story. "We'd gotten some chain wrapped around the keel while in Thailand, so when we hauled at Vancouver last summer, we asked for a quote to do some repairs on the leading and trailing edges. They wanted $6,000, which seemed a little too steep. Well, when we hauled at Nayarit, they happily did the work for just $200. That's a savings of $5,800!"

We want to double emphasize that we're not recommending any boatyard over any other, but are simply reporting that we can't remember ever hearing so many boat owners being so pleased with the prices and work being done on their boats. This is true not just in Mexico, but also in the United States. In fact, in some cases yards here in the States have underbid those south of the border. As a result, we recommend that everyone follow the advice of Motown singer Smokey Robinson, who sang, "You'd better shop around."

Speaking of the Vallarta YC, they held their 10th annual Chili Cook-Off on December 5th, the day after the Banderas Bay Blast, which they co-sponsor. There was a massive turnout, which is a great thing, because all but a few pesos of the money collected — $56,080 pesos — goes to the nonprofit Families of the Dump. The name might cause you to laugh, but it's no joke, as there are families — and even single kids — who are so poor they have to scrape out an existence from the Puerto Vallarta dump. FAD uses the cookoff proceeds to try to address the many physical, spiritual, medical, emotional and educational needs of the people who live in the dump. For more information, check out the Vallarta YC web site.

Speaking of charity events in Mexico, if you're anywhere near Zihua February 2-7, you don't want to miss the 9th Annual Zihua SailFest, perhaps the biggest cruiser fund-raiser of all in Mexico. Last year $640,000 pesos — about $50,000 U.S. — was raised, with $20,000 U.S. more chipped in by Rotary International. Six hundred very deserving kids in nine schools were the beneficiaries. Cruiser volunteers and participants are the life blood of this wonderful event, so please participate if you can.

Looking a little farther down the road, the Club Cruceros' La Paz Bay Fest will be held April 8-11, Sea of Cortez Sailing Week on April 15-22, and Loreto Fest April 30-May 2. Of these, Loreto Fest is the biggest, Sea of Cortez Sailing Week has by far the most sailing, and La Paz Bay Fest is easiest to get to. All of them are fund-raisers for deserving local charities.

If you're going to be cruising or chartering in the Eastern Caribbean this winter, there is a huge slate of events from Puerto Rico down to Trinidad — although to our knowledge none of them are for charities. If we had to pick what we thought were the top events, they would be, in chronological order, the following: March 4-7, 30th Heineken Regatta in St. Martin; March 25-28, the St. Barth Bucket for boats over 100 feet; April 1-5, the Bequia Easter Regatta; April 2-5, the B.V.I. Spring Regatta; April 6-11, Les Voiles de Saint Barth; April 15-20, the Antigua Classic Regatta; April 24-May 3, Antigua Sailing Week; and May 7-9, the Anguilla Regatta. For the record, participants in Caribbean regattas drink about a case more beer or a quart more rum, per night, than do participants in sailing events in Mexico.

"On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, David David's sloop Melody went on the rocks, apparently as a result of running out of fuel while about to enter Marina Santa Rosalia," reports Patrick Martin of the Long Beach-based Crealock 34 Amy Michele. "The boat was holed above and below the waterline, with a 3-ft diameter hole beneath the waterline. I'm told that the Mexican Navy stationed guards by the boat to make sure she wasn't stripped, and that the next day workers from the marina came down to help David salvage everything that could be salvaged. They managed to get the winches, fittings, boom, sails and all his personal stuff. In fact, they got pretty much everything but the hull and mast. A very experienced sailor, David was naturally distraught due to the loss, but the last I heard, he'd taken off to Guaymas to look at boats."

"Time is a funny thing," write Wayne Meretsky and Neria Brewerton of Alameda-based S&S 47 Moonduster, currently at Nanuya Resort, Blue Lagoon, Yasawa Islands, Fiji. "When we were in Neiafu, Tonga, I asked someone the time, and he replied, "It's 2009." I thought that was clever. After all, how much precision is really required? Enroute to Fiji, we changed the clocks by one hour to adjust for the change in longitude — one hour per 15 degrees — but we haven't really been maintaining much of a schedule. We missed dessert at the resort restaurant last night. In fact, the waiter looked rather miffed at us as he informed us that the kitchen had closed at 9 p.m. It didn't make sense to us, and when we got back to Moonduster, it was our turn to be a little miffed, because the clock said 8:30 p.m. And so today we were shocked when, during our morning hike, we encountered a woman who was convinced that it was 12:15 p.m. That was clearly impossible because we'd left our boat just an hour before at 10 a.m., and Neria had a massage appointment at noon. How could this be? In a word, Daylight Saving Time. All right, that's three words, but you get the point. After reconstructing the facts, we found that we've been on the wrong time every since we arrived in Fiji 2½ weeks ago! And on reconsidering a number of things, that certainly explains why the town of Savusavu closed up so early at night and started so early in the morning. And why our guide for our cave adventure the other day seemed to be waiting so impatiently for us. In fact, all the pieces are fitting together a bit better now — except for that missing hour that we won't find for another six months or so."

"The first sail of every season is always the worst," writes Marc Hachey of the Auburn-based Peterson 44 Sea Angel, who is starting something like his sixth straight winter in the Caribbean. "Part of it is because it's a long overnighter, from Trinidad, where I keep my boat in the summer, to Grenada, where I start working my way north up the chain. I got off the dock late as I decided I would leave on — the heck with superstition — Friday morning. Then the weather forecast changed from Thursday p.m. to Friday a.m., and there was supposedly going to be a very small weather window where the wind and seas were down for a short period. Yeah, right! So I worked nonstop Friday preparing to go. And I do mean nonstop, as I ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch one bite at a time while working on other things. By the time I cleared Immigration and Customs and got back to my boat, it was 4:30 p.m. and I still had to stow my shorepower cord and hose on the dock, and various items on deck and down below. An hour later I was almost ready to depart, and already an hour behind the new schedule. Naturally a big black cloud and rain started heading my way, and at a time when the rain is usually over for the day. So I delayed my departure a few more minutes before starting the engine and asking the Russian guy next to me — who didn't understand one word of English — to move his docklines off the top of mine so I could get going. By then the sun was down and it was darker than normal because of the 99% cloud cover. My plan had been to at least get out through the Boca, a relatively narrow passage between Trinidad and an adjacent island, and out into the open ocean before dark. Well, it was already dark, and I still had stuff to do on the boat before casting off from Chaguramus Bay. I still didn't have my GPS working with my laptop software, so I had to head out in the dark, navigating by memory alone. I remembered there is a shoal sticking out from a point where the last turn is made on approach to the Boca, so I made sure that I gave it plenty of room. I had wanted to raise my mainsail in the flat and protected water of the bay, but I didn't have time because I was too busy clearing the foredeck. Well, after working hard for 36 hours, I got the hook down in the flatwater of Tyrell Bay, jumped into the refreshing sea and took a freshwater shower. After being covered in salt all night, the sweet water felt so sooooooooo good. And I'm getting free WiFi Internet access. After I catch up on my sleep and the weather clears in a few days, I'll head on up to Bequia for Christmas. Another season in the Caribbean has officially begun for me, and it feels so great to be here!"

Happy New Year to everyone! Here's hoping that 2010 is your best cruising year ever.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2010 eBook!


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