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January 2011

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With reports this month from Interlude on leaving Spain; from Sarah Miller on a young woman's crew experience; from Capricorn Cat on a slow trip, with stops, down the coast of Baja; from Jake, on spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez; and a hefty portion of Cruise Notes.

Interlude — Deerfoot 74
Kurt and Katie Braun
A Leisurely Cruise Around

We grew up in California, went to public schools, graduated from UC Berkeley, got married, worked for 20 years child-free, and are now retired. We started sailing around the world in the ‘02 Ha-Ha, and by the time you read this should be crossing the Atlantic toward the Caribbean. Here are some excerpts from our log about our last days in Spain.

After a fun time on Spain’s party island of Ibiza, we took off for Gibraltar in late September. On our second night out, we almost got run over by the Disney Magic cruise ship. Kurt called them to say we were wing-on-wing and thus had limited maneuverability. They made the grand gesture of a one-degree change in course. We joked that they wanted to get close enough to illuminate our boat so their guests could take photos. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they did.

We arrived at Gibraltar in calm weather motoring against as much as two knots of current and having to dodge copious ship traffic. The only place to anchor was actually just across the border in Spain at the town of La Linea. We found plenty of room in what appeared to be an all-weather anchorage behind the breakwater. La Linea is a working class town with some old buildings and shops, and is trying to attract cruise ship tourists from across the border. The Mercadona supermarket north of the town center had the best prices we’ve seen in the Med, with large quantities and a good selection.

We later took Interlude to the fuel wharf in Gib, where we took on 1,100 liters of diesel at $3.75/gallon. After re-anchoring off La Linea, we rode the dinghy back to Gib and visited some friends in Ocean Village/Marina Bay. We were allowed to visit within the marina compound, but not to go into town. To properly cross the border from Spain to Gib requires walking thru a checkpoint — and across the airport runway!

We planned to remain in the La Linea/Gib area for a few more days, but the Guardia Civil came by and told every boat in the anchorage to leave. They said it was not possible to anchor off La Linea, and that we should go into either Puerto Deportivo or Ocean Village/Marina Bay in Gib. Either marina would have charged us about $75/night. When we asked where we could anchor, we were told to call Algezeras Trafico, which told us to contact Algezeras Pilot Station, which told us to contact our agent to contact the authorities for an anchorage position. In other words, act as though we were a ship. There is no longer an authorized yacht anchorage in the entire Gib/Algezeras area, so cruisers must berth in a marina. This is becoming typical of all ports in Spain. Knowing we weren’t that welcome, we set off out the strait on the 70-mile run up to Cadiz.

The eight-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar separates Europe from Africa, and connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Due to evaporation, the Med has a constant influx of water. Tides in the Atlantic and wind direction and strength dictate the strength and direction of the surface and subsurface currents. With over four knots of current and 30 knots of wind some 300 days a year at Tarifa, these effects must be taken into account when transiting the Strait.

Our ride out the Med was smooth, with 1-2 knots of favorable countercurrent while we hugged the coast and stayed just inside the easily visible current line. As we rounded Tarifa, the NE wind piped up from 5 to 25 knots — and then died again as we approached Cape Trafalgar. The wind got up to 25 knots again from the north as we approached Cadiz.

Cadiz is an historic old Spanish town with interesting architecture, museums and churches. Columbus sailed from here on his second and fourth voyages to the New World, and in the 18th century Cadiz grew to become Spain’s richest city. We also enjoyed Puerto de Santa Maria, but did not support the impressive bull fighting arena.

One of our reasons for going to Cadiz was to obtain outward clearance from Spain. This is reportedly hard to get in the Canary Islands, and the ports in the Caribbean all require some sort of paperwork showing you're not a dirtbag and have properly cleared out of the last country you were in. After a lot of time and effort, and a good deal of luck, we finally managed to overcome the bureaucrats to get our passports stamped and obtain the paperwork needed to clear out of Spain to the future satisfaction of some official on the island where we’ll make landfall in the Caribbean.

As we write this, we are bound for Lanzarote in the Canary islands and have about 400 miles to go. The sailing has been great, with 12-18 knots on the beam, and the wind now going farther aft. We are heading offshore to catch stronger winds, and will be poling out a headsail soon for a downwind ride to the Canaries.

Our motto continues to be, 'To Go Boldly Until We Are No More'.

— kurt and katie 11-15-10

Knotta Afreighter Nothin’
Sarah Miller
Zihua To Panama

When I first wrote to Latitude last year, I mentioned that I was a young female from the East Coast looking for adventure on the sea. I got my wish on the second leg of my trip from Puerto Vallarta to the Panama Canal.

I was lucky to be crewing for Michael Foley aboard his Portland-based Beneteau 41 Shannon, as he was respectful, inspiring — and a boatload of fun! Although there were already five of us on the boat, he welcomed five more for the 140-mile trip from Zihua to Acapulco. Of the 10, seven of us were still in our 20s. We arrived in Acapulco on the Saturday night of MTV’s Spring Break in Acapulco, so you can just imagine what a night of dancing that turned out to be.

Just five of us continued on to 270-mile-distant Huatulco: Capt Mike of Clarity Central; Adam Hoffman, 21, from Minnesota; Reuben, 22, a mandolin-playing stowaway from Santa Barbara; Ron, 62, an ex-Silicon Valley executive from Sacramento, whom Mike met on the plane to Puerto Vallarta and invited to come along. I was the fifth crewmember.

There wasn’t any wind, so we had to motor non-stop. When we reached the potentially dangerous Gulf of Tehuantepec, there was a 5-day weather window. After being concerned about the crossing for months, Mike told the crew, “Crazy George says we should just go for it, so let's go!" And we did, setting sail straight across the Gulf on the 905-mile leg to El Salvador. The problem turned out to be too much heat and not enough wind. The air, water and humidity were all over either 93 degrees or percent. As a result, I couldn’t find a ‘happy place’ on the boat. The only thing that brought relief was taking a cooling dip in the miles-deep, crystal clear water.

Then, while we were 30 miles off the coast of Guatemala, a huge humpback whale breached 400 feet off our port beam — and kept doing it while closing on us. At less than 100 feet, she breached for the fourth time – and stared down at us with one seemingly angry eye. We tried to motor away while gathering the ditch bag and EPIRB. The whale breached three more times before finally slowing to a floating position, during which time she slapped the water with her tail for another five minutes. Yikes, that had been close!

The shallow bar crossing at El Salvador’s Boca Cordoncillo made for another white-knuckle moment. “Mike,” I asked, “why does the depthsounder say we’re in one foot of water while we're going over waves?”

“Sarah,” he replied tersely, “this is not a teaching moment, all right?”

We made it in fine, of course, as did three other boats headed up the estuary for Bahia del Sol as part of the 1st Annual El Salvador Rally. Being young guys, Adam and Reuben hadn’t wanted to wait for slack tide outside the bar, so they had taken the kayaks in to a beachfront cabana for some drinks. Thank goodness nobody made a fuss about their entering the country illegally.

For the next five weeks, it was just Ron and I on Shannon at Bahia del Sol, as Mike returned to the States for work, and Adam and Reuben hopped on a powerboat owned by a guy Reuben knew from Vermont. I got to see first-hand what a wonderful rally Bill Yeargan and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mita Kuuluu had put together. There was lots of socializing around the pool, dinners out, a BBQ fund-raiser for a local school, and weekly tours to La Herradura by dinghy for fresh food.

Among those who ‘rocked the bar’ as part of the rally were Vicky Platt on her Seattle-based Hans Christian 38 Inspiration at Sea; Tom and Kathy Edwards of the Portland-based Pearson 424 Awahnee; Rob and Susan Jackson of the North Bend, WA-based Hood 38 Joyeux; Ahmed and Jitka Agrama of the Los Angeles-based Tradewinds 55 Om; Dennis Gade of the San Francisco-based Islander Freeport 36 Dolce Vita; Eric and Valerie Wagoner on the Seattle-based Cooper 37 Mystic Pacific (enroute back to France); Tim and Tracy Sowell with their boys, Alex, 4, and Sean, 2, on the England-based Morgan 46 Gijima; and many others. There were over $7,000 worth of prizes for all the participants, and I expect it will be an even bigger and better event this year.

When you travel to Third World countries such as El Salvador, you get some perspective on your life. For example, we visited the island across the river that is home to a village of 300 people who live without electricity, and who get around by dugout canoe. Their homes were made of sticks, and we rarely saw any items from the First World. Coca-Cola was sold in plastic bags with an ice cube and a straw for 25 cents. The modest school was especially touching. Although the 30 kids only had a deflated soccer ball to kick around, they seemed very happy. My visit to that village made me realize how fortunate I've been to have grown up in the circumstances that I did. Now when I start to open my mouth to complain, I remind myself of how little those kids have, yet how happy they are. I’m hoping to think of some way to make their lives a little better.

For contrast, and as a result of a chance meeting, I spent some time tromping around the country with the daughter of the vice president and her friends. As you might expect, all of them were children of El Salvador’s leaders and prominent business families. Hanging out with a bunch of a Third World country’s richest of the rich, after visiting the poorest of the poor, was, to say the least, illuminating.

For another adventure, I took a two-hour bus trip to San Salvador. There I was able to buy a DeWalt buffer and a 3M buffing pad at an Ace Hardware store that looked like any of countless ones in the States. When I got back to Shannon, I took layers of junk off the hull, which hadn’t been waxed in six years. So when we departed El Salvador a few days later, Shannon looked like a million bucks.

Prior to our leaving El Salvador, officials told us that we had to pay a new tax of $100/person that was being levied on all visitors. In fact, we were told that the boat wouldn’t get her zarpe to leave until we paid up. This is clearly not something that will encourage tourism, so the owner of Bahia del Sol held a televised news conference to denounce the plan. We ended up paying the stiff fee, but the new law was being hotly contested when we left in April.

[To be continued next month.]

— sarah 12/04/10

Capricorn Cat — Hughes 45
Wayne Hendryx, Carol Baggerly
Stopping Along the Coast of Baja

We love doing the Baja Ha-Ha, but because of a combination of family obligations and not getting our settee seating reconfigured in time, we sailed down the coast of Baja about two weeks after the Ha-Ha fleet. The bad news is that, unlike the Ha-Ha fleet, we had so little wind that we were only able to sail about 10% of the time. We’ve been making passages up and down the coast of Baja for 35 years, and it was the first time we weren’t able to sail most of the way.

The good news is that we had the time to stop at some interesting places, and meet some of the most kind and helpful Mexican people. You people in the States who believe all the misleading reports in the media and think all of Mexico is as dangerous as Oakland or the Bayview in San Francisco have no idea what you’re missing!

Our first stop was Ensenada, where we bought diesel for $5/gal U.S. — ouch! We also paid $95 a night for a slip at Marina Coral, where Liliana and her staff made us feel very welcome. Since Ensenada is only about 60 miles south of San Diego, many cruisers don’t stop there on their way south. Nonetheless, it’s a great stop at the end of a Bash. Marina Coral has indoor and outdoor pools and hot-tubs, where waiters are happy to serve you pitchers of margaritas and delicious snacks; great restrooms and showers; and a cool bar and a fine restaurant. It’s the perfect place for you and your crew to reflect on the great times you had in Mexico while planning your return, and to celebrate your having completed the challenge of the Bash. It's also a good sanctuary to prepare yourself for re-entry — take a deep breath! — into the ultra-fast-paced life in the United States.

Our second stop — after endless motoring — was West San Benito Island, a remote and lightly-populated island a little less than halfway down the Baja Peninsula and about 12 miles to the west of much larger Isla Cedros. West Benito was quiet, as the only inhabitants are the fishermen who come over from the 45-mile distant mainland for periods of work. It was also lobster season, which isn’t as busy as abalone season, when all the hookah divers from the cooperative come over to dive for the rich bounty, most of which ends up in the stomachs of the Japanese.

Interested in the fishery, we motored 25 miles to Cedros Village on the the southwest part of Catalina-sized Isla Cedros. Most of the thousands of participants in the Ha-Ha who have sailed right past Cedros probably have no idea that Cedros Village has a population of about 4,000 and flights three times a week from Ensenada, plus two main industries. The biggest industry is Exportadora de Sal, which is a salt company owned 60% by a Mexican company and 40% by Japan’s Mitsubishi. It seems odd, but the salt is brought over to the island on barges from Guerrero Negro, then processed and stockpiled in mounds the size of a couple of city blocks, and finally shipped to Kure Island, Japan. With 500 employees, the salt company is the largest employer on the island. They provide housing for their employees and their families and schooling from kindergarten to high school, and have two company stores.

The other main industry is the fish cannery, which has modern offices on the main street in town. When we visited, the receptionist directed us to Eduardo Aguilar Martinez, who was born on Cedros, and who speaks English better than we speak Spanish. He quickly became our very, very good friend. In fact, he would shed tears when we left two days later.

Eduardo explained that there is a six-month lobster season and a six-month abalone season, and that everything gets processed in their USDA-inspected and approved facility. He noted that a soup can-sized can of their abalone retails for $30. Other seafood they send to Japan includes sea cucumbers, which many Asians believe is an aphrodisiac; top shell snails, which are similar to conch; and sea snails. The abalone shells are all sold to Korea, but nobody knows what they do with them. The cannery also processes and freezes lobster, cooked lobster, and many kinds of fish. Most of this is then transported in the co-op’s large, clean vessels to Turtle Bay, then trucked to Ensenada for final shipment to Japan. The cannery and co-op employ about 300 people, plus the divers and fishermen.

Gathering seafood has always been one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and it’s the same in Mexico. That’s why Cedros is equipped with a hyperbaric chamber, which is used to treat divers suffering from the bends. Eduardo has been the sole opeator of the device for the 21 years that it’s been there, and even gave us a tour of the inside. He estimates that he’s treated between 1,000 and 1,500 divers! In the early years, when divers were less educated about the health limitations on diving, many needed treatment. Divers are more knowledgeable these days, so Eduardo now has to treat only one a month.

After Eduardo visited us for coffee the next day, he took us on a driving tour of the island’s high points with his four-wheel drive Ford Explorer. When we visited the cannery, we had to wear hair-nets and rubber boots, but we got the grand tour. They even opened a $30 can of abalone for us. I didn’t mention it to our hosts, but canned abalone tastes a little bland compared to the fresh stuff.

After spending the better part of two days taking us around the island, Eduardo joined us for lunch on Cap Cat while I did my pre-departure inspection. But what was this?! The bolt holding the alternator in place was broken. Eduardo rushed us to two hardware stores before they closed in search of a 3” x 3/8” metric bolt, but they couldn’t help us.

Our prospects were getting as dim as the daylight when Eduardo drove us up a series of steep hills to the local junkyard. It was a one-dog, one-lightbulb, 300-wreck operation staffed by three men. After we showed them the broken bolt, one man disappeared into the dark for about 15 minutes. He returned with some car parts, and after wrenching on them for a few minutes, came up with just the bolt we needed! It was yet another Mexican miracle. What’s more, he had two spares for us.

It turned out to be a dark, windy, and because of an unusual east wind, bumpy night inside the small harbor where we were anchored. Then, at about 9 p.m., there was a loud bang all along the port side of Cap Cat. We raced on deck to discover that our cat was banging against the leeward breakwater! Without our realizing it, there had been a 90-degree windshift in the 25-knot gusts, our anchor dragged, and in what must have been a matter of just a minute or two, we’d dragged down on the breakwater. Miraculously, neither the rudder or saildrive nearest the breakwater had been damaaged.

I told Carol, whose eyes were bulging, to raise the anchor. When she got it up, she saw that there was a piece of rock between the shank and one fluke of the anchor, and that the hook was covered in seaweed. No wonder the anchor had dragged — even though it was 20% larger than the one we used in prior years. I immediately fired up the engines, then lowered the dinghy and jumped into it. Using the dinghy’s bow, I pushed the port transom away from the breakwater for all the Yamaha 15 was worth. Once the boat was at a 45-degree angle to the breakwater, I had Carol put the port engine in reverse at full throttle. I knew it meant the bow would be scraping against the breakwater, but we had no choice.

But we were lucky, lucky, lucky, as Cap Cat miraculously suffered nothing more than some scratches to the hull and two small gouges below the waterline. I filled the latter with Splashzone underwater epoxy. All in all, it was an inexpensvie lesson. After all these years of cruising, we’ve finally gotten around to being very good using the anchor watch applications on our various GPS units.

The lesson I learned at Cedros is that whenever there’s a big windshift, it’s possible for the anchor to break free. So in the future, I will, at the minimum, fire up both engines and back down until I’m sure the anchor is well-set for the new wind direction. The horrible sight of Cap Cat’s port beam pinned hard against the rocks by the wind, and visions of her being ground to bits, will be all the motivation that I'll need. Thank God there hadn’t been time for a fetch to build from the new wind direction, or there might have been much more damage.

We continued on to Turtle Bay, where we were sobered by the sight of the still floating bows of the Privilege 49 catamaran that had burned to almost nothing following two propane explosions in November. Once again we paid $5/gal for diesel.

Part way down the ‘Middle Reach’ of Baja, we stopped at San Juanico to visit with former San Franciscan and former crewmember Christian Buhl, who has taken up residence and surfing there. We’re not experts, but San Juanico has to be one of the best longboard surfing spots anywhere, as the waves peel off perfectly for almost a mile. Buhl had plenty of surfboards, so we all went out — and even got up. After a great visit with our good friend, we motored most of the way to Cabo, where we again paid $5/gal for diesel. Is there a pattern here?

Even though there hadn’t been much wind and we weren’t able to be part of the Ha-Ha fun, we still had a great trip. We caught some tuna, traded some beer and cookies for two yellowtail, then eight lobster, then a 25-lb calico sea bass. They were all delicious.

We’d been hoping to do the Puddle Jump this spring, but were unable to complete all the necessary projects, such as painting the hulls, elevating the davits, and so forth. So we won't be crossing the Pacific until the spring of '12. That means we’ll be forced to spend our fourth winter season in good ol’ Mexico. It’s a tough life!

— wayne 12/15/10

Jake — Hunter Legend 45
Jake and Sharon Howard
Sea of Cortez Guide
(Seattle / Mexico)

Jake, a retired wholesale mortgage broker, and Sharon, a retired teacher, have been living on a series of sailboats for a long time. Long as in 27 years. They started on a U.S. 305, which was a Garden-designed, Bayliner-built 30-footer. They later moved up to a cutter-rigged Hunter 37, then in ‘89 they bought a new Hunter Legend 40, which they still own and cruise today.

“We’ve been happy with our Hunters,” says Jake. “During the most recent haul-out of our 20-year old boat, we found no blisters, and the original Yanmar diesel continues to run just fine.”

Living aboard isn’t always easy, even in temperate climates such as San Francisco Bay. But Seattle? “It’s true that when you live aboard up there you have to deal with winter, rain, and occasional snow,” admits Jake. “But Seattle is a great area. We even took an annual winter cruise — although one year we found ourselves in a blizzard.”

But the decades of rain and cold ultimately took their toll, for when the couple entered the ‘07 Ha-Ha, they had three goals: “To always have fun. To always be warm. And to always be dry.” In other words, to be somewhere where the weather is the opposite of that of Seattle. They’ve found what they’ve wanted in Mexico, where they’ve spent the last three winters on the mainland, and the last three summers in the Sea of Cortez. And they are going to follow the same program again this year.

Since the desert-like Sea of Cortez is the antithesis of green and cold Seattle, and since so few cruisers spend more than one summer there, we decided to pick Jake’s brain about the area for cruisers who might be thinking about spending the upcoming summer there.

“Some people say that the Sea of Cortez is unbearably hot in the summer, but Sharon and I really like it,” says Jake. “In fact, we’re constantly trying to convince other cruisers that if they stay the whole summer, they won’t turn into dehydrated prunes by July. Quite a few cruisers stay through July, but only the hardcore folks stay through the hottest months of August and September. In our first two years in the Sea, about 25 to 30 boats spent the entire summer in the Sea. But last summer there were more like 45 in the Bahia de Los Angeles area, which is where most hardcore cruisers migrate for August and September. Perhaps part of the reason for the increased numbers is that we and some of the other cruisers have really been talking the area up for the summer.”

Every cruiser in Mexico has heard the stories of how brutal the summer heat can be in the Sea. Jake claims that it’s simply not that bad. “By May and June, the daytime temperatures will have gotten into the upper 80s, while the humidity is about 40% — which is much lower than on the mainland. From August to the middle of September, most cruisers are in the Bahia de Los Angeles area to stay clear of hurricanes, and the temps are about 95 to 100 during the day, and 80 to 82 at night. The saving grace is that there’s almost always a 10-knot breeze, and you can always cool off by jumping into the 85-degree water.”

Many cruisers are surprised to learn how late in the year it is before the water in the Sea of Cortez warms up for comfortable swimming. “A few people start getting in the water during Loreto Fest, which is late April or early May, but it’s still cool. The water doesn’t get up to 80 degrees until about the end of June or the beginning of July — although it can be warmer in shallow places such as Conception Bay. We’ve seen the water temp reach 90 degrees there.”

What’s the very best time in the Sea of Cortez? “Sharon and I think it’s October, when the heat has broken but the water is still plenty warm. If there’s been much rain, the desert will have greened up nicely, too.”

When it comes to hurricanes, Jake feels they aren’t really a threat in the Sea of Cortez until the middle of August, by which time most cruisers have migrated north to Bahia de Los Angeles — which is 470 miles north of Cabo and only 250 miles south of the latitude of San Diego. “If you’re in the BLA area, you’re always going to have 7 to 10 days' warning of a tropical storm or hurricane. Almost all of them fizzle long before they get as far north as BLA. And even if one did come that far up, it would have to take a reverse ‘S’ course up the Pacific side, work its way northeast along the tall mountains, then curve back to the west at BLA to hit Puerto Don Juan, the preferred hurricane hole.”

Jake sees a summer in the Sea of Cortez as something best being broken down into three areas or segments. The first is getting over to the Baja Peninsula from the mainland, which he and Sharon like to do about the third week in April. “We’ll do the Loreto Fest and stay in the 140-mile-long La Paz to Loreto region until about the third week in June.

“The second segment is the 150-mile stretch from Loreto to Santa Rosalia, which we cover from the third week in June until the middle of August. We never miss the Fourth of July Party in Conception Bay put on by Geary, who does the weather on the Sonrisa Net. He’s got a palapa at El Burro Cove, and the cove was just big enough to hold the 31 boats that showed up last year. He provides the hot dogs, everybody else brings a plate, and we all have a great time.

“The third segment is from the middle of August, at which time we cover the 150 miles more up to Bahia de Los Angeles, where we stay until about the second week in October. There's also the option of making a crossing to Guaymas-San Carlos, another great area. It's only about 85 miles from Santa Rosalia, as the Sea is pretty narrow that far north. When the temps begin to drop again in the second week of October, we gradually make our way south again. We like to get back to the mainland by early November, because it can get really cold in the Sea. In the middle of November of last year, for instance, it got down to 49 degrees at both Mulege and San Carlos — way too cold for us!"

Some of the attractions of the Sea include unspoiled nature and fabulous anchorages. “Within 20 miles of BLA, there have to be 20 to 30 really nice anchorages. None of them are very far from Puerto Don Juan. Last summer I was more or less the entertainment director, so we had full moon parties in both August and September. We’d spend most of the day in the water, then have a potluck thing at night. The kids loved the full moon parties. Since all the boats were already in the same general area, it was easy for everyone to gather.”

Jake says that while the majority of the boats that summer over in the Sea are crewed by couples, there were several ‘kid boats’, and four or five singlehanders. “We’re almost like a big family, as we all started meeting each other months before and several hundred miles to the south at events like the Loreto Fest.”

Of almost as great a weather concern as hurricanes to cruisers who summer in the Sea are chubascos and elephantes. To Howard’s way of thinking, a chubasco is a wind, oftentimes accompanied by lightning and less often by rain, that comes over with the thunderstorms from the mainland. “They usually come at night and don’t last more than 90 minutes. Southbound Net Weather forecaster Don Anderson is good at forecasting them, and says they can bring winds of up to 60 knots. We, however, have never seen a gust over 36 knots. If a chubasco isn’t accompanied by lightning or rain, some of us have taken to calling them chubacos. In any event, they are a phenomenon that mostly occurs between the end of June and the first week of September.”

Elephantes are entirely different, as they are the hot west winds that rush down out of the tall mountains of the Baja peninsula. “They are much harder to predict than chubascos, and can blow for four to five hours. Elephantes are more likely to strike certain areas, such as where there are gaps or low spots in the mountains. As a result, it can be blowing 30 knots in one place, yet be blowing less than 10 knots just a few miles away. Because the elephantes always come out of the mountains, it’s best to avoid west-facing anchorages.

It would seem like a giant pain to take down all of a boat’s awnings and sunshades each night, but that’s exactly what Jake and Sharon do from late July to early September. “It means that if we get a wind event, which we do about every two weeks, we don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and wrestle everything down before it gets damaged.”

Since products and services become more rare north of La Paz, Jack was kind enough to run down what is available and where in the Sea.

“When it comes to provisioning, you can get what you need in each area, but the selection is more extensive the farther south you are. La Paz, of course, is the best place to provision, as it’s a big city and they have everything. Loreto and Santa Rosalia don’t have as much stuff or variety, but they aren’t bad. Once up in the BLA area, there are four tiendas in the village, and you may have to hit all four to find everything you need. But they’ve got fruits and veggies and meats and poultry. When cruisers in the BLA area want more variety, they’ll pay for gas in order to join someone who is making the two-hour drive to Guerrero Negro. The city on the Pacific Coast has bigger grocery stores, a couple of banks, a lot more restaurants, and even a hospital.”

Jake and Sharon aren’t big on fishing, but cruisers who are can reliably augment their food supply with a variety of fish. The usual favorites are sierra and dorado. Cruisers still do quite a bit of clamming at Conception Bay — and other secret spots.
Jake advises that diesel and gas can be purchased at La Paz, Loreto, Puerto Escondido, Santa Rosalia — and via jerry jugs at BLA. “Getting fuel at BLA is quite a cruiser social event. There are two Pemex stations in the village, although only one of them has diesel. But there’s a guy with a powerboat in BLA who gets on the radio and announces when he’s going to make a fuel run with his truck. Everybody shows up at Guillermo's with their jerry jugs, and hops in his truck for the ride to to the Pemex station. The Mexicans think it’s about the funniest thing they’ve ever seen.”

Those with Mexican cell phones or TelCel computer modems can get decent coverage in populated areas; there aren’t any populated areas north of Santa Rosalia, so the coverage is very limited.There are two internet cafes in BLA. Most boats have Sailmail and/or Winlink for communication.

For those who need money, there are ATM machines in La Paz, Loreto, Santa Rosalia, San Carlos ­— and San Felipe, 150 miles northwest of BLA in the tide and current-challenged northern Sea. By the way, it’s illegal for Mexican stores to take more than one $100 bill per customer. This is true even at places like Costco in Puerto Vallarta. Similarly, when buying something with a $20 bill, you’re not supposed to get more than $2 back in change. It’s all about trying to limit the repatriation of narco money.

Jake and Sharon recommend XM-Sirius radio for keeping up with the news and for entertainment. Jake notes that while the two companies have combined, they still don’t use the same satellites. Sirius is said to offer better coverage than XM in Mexico.

Many cruisers in the Sea listen to the Amigo and/or Sonrisa Nets in the morning, and the Southbound Net at night. Jake is a net controller on both the Sonrisa and Southbound nets.

If someone needs to leave their boat for a period of time, the best places are La Paz, Puerto Escondido, Santa Rosalia — or across the Sea at San Carlos-Guaymas. “The Singlar Marina at Santa Rosalia has an interesting program,” says Jake, “where you can buy a month’s worth of marina time, but not have to use it all at once. For example, if you leave for a week, it’s not counted against you, and you can use it some other month. For us, it came out to be about $17 a night, which isn’t bad. They have a great and helpful staff, too.” Jake recommends against people leaving unattended boats on the hook for long.

Boats can be stored on the hard at any number of locations in La Paz and across the Sea at San Carlos-Guaymas. The Singlar haulout and storage facility in Puerto Escondido has become a big hit, and was filled to capacity last summer. Jake hauled Jake there for a bottom job, and was pleased with the price and the work. The Singlar facilities at Puerto Escondido and Santa Rosalia both have swimming pools, which are much appreciated in the summer.

[Part II will be published in the February issue.]

— latitude/rs

Cruise Notes:

As we reported in 'Lectronic Latitude, 55-year-old Canadian cruiser Milan Egrmajer was shot and killed on the evening of December 3 aboard his Ericson 35 Adena while she lay to her anchor at remote Laguna Diamente on the north coast of Honduras. The veteran of two years of cruising the Caribbean had been sailing from Guatemala’s Rio Dulce to the Bay Islands to Panama with his 24-year-old daughter Myda, when they elected to anchor in the isolated cove to take refuge from rough weather. Myda reports that four unsavory men in a panga had come around and asked for a screwdriver, then a knife, allegedly to fix their engine. Her father was at least somewhat suspicious, for when he brought out the knife, he secretly brought out a flare gun, too. Myda says there was some fumbling as the knife was transferred, so her father reached over toward the men in the panga to help. Apparently one of the men took the motion as a threat, and fired four bullets into the retired engineer’s chest. Myda, who initially didn’t think her father had been fatally wounded, grabbed the flare gun and shouted at the men. They retreated. Myda was rescued 17 hours later by Australian cruisers and taken to Belize. Her father’s body was later recovered.

A little more than a week before, French couple Jean-Louis and Cathy, last names unknown, had their catamaran Maroine boarded in the middle of the night at nearby Puerto Escondido, Honduras, by six men armed with guns and machetes. The couple, who speak some Spanish, tried to keep the attackers calm, and let them steal their dinghy and motor, computers, camera, telephone and other valuables.

It’s rare, but not unknown, for cruisers to be murdered on their boats in Central America. The most recent incident before Milan's occurred in August of ‘08, when 62-year-old Daniel Dryden of the Anchorage-based Southern Cross 39 Sunday’s Child was killed while his boat was anchored alone in the Rio Dulce. According to Dryden’s wife Nancy, who was on the boat with him, Dryden resisted the four men who came out in a panga. It’s not clear if he resisted to try to protect her, or if he was primarily trying to protect their possessions.

By the time you read this, Christmas and New Year's will have passed, but the cruising season got off to a festive start all over Mexico with Thanksgiving get-togethers. Up in Guaymas, the crew of the B.C.-based Ceilydh explained that, despite the challenge of obtaining turkey and ham, they shared in a huge potluck feast at Marina Guaymas with 50 other sailors. Unlike some long-anticipated cruiser events, this one was essentially spontaneous, with the effort spearheaded by Phil Perkins of the San Diego-based Mannasea and Sharon of Castaway. In addition to inviting all cruisers, they also invited the entire staff at Fonatur’s Marina Guaymas. "As cruisers, we clearly have a lot to be thankful for," say Diane Selkirk and Evan Gatehouse of Ceilydh.

To the southwest in La Paz, Patsy Verhoeven of the Portland-based Gulfstar 50 Talion reports they had a dockside gathering at her Marina de La Paz home base. Folks from Eros, Yellowstar, Sorceress, Adios, Star, Aunt Sur, and Maria showed up to share all they had to be thankful for. "The great food, music and stories were topped off by a fabulous sunset," says Patsy.

At Punta Mita on the northwest tip of Banderas Bay, John and Gilly Foy of the Alameda and La Cruz-based Catalina 42 Destiny had 23 cruisers over to their condo for dinner, 14 of whom had done the '07 Ha-Ha. We don't want to jump to any wild conclusions, but it seems to suggest those folks feel pretty safe in Mexico.

As for Mazatlan, the big deal wasn't Thanksgiving, but rather the Sixth Annual Tuna BBQ & Free Beer Fest on December 4. "Held at Marina Mazatlan, it was the doing of Rick Cummings of Cape Star, who hosted 160 new, old, hungry, and thirsty sailors," reports Mike Latta of the Mazatlan-based Falmouth cutter Narwhal. "Cummings BBQ'd 150 lbs. of delicious marinated tuna and dealt out cold Pacificos as if they were playing cards, while the cruisers brought a wide array of dishes."

“We have to agree that a shower of any kind is a special event while cruising,” writes Emmy Newbould, who has been cruising with hubby Eric Willbur aboard their Brickyard Cove-based Dutchman 37 Nataraja since April ‘09. They are currently in New Zealand. “Our boat only holds 40 gallons of water in her tanks, plus we carry four jerry cans. We don’t have a watermaker, so fresh water is precious to us. The shampoo, soap and sponge have a special place in the cockpit so as to be at hand when the squalls come. But the real treat is a bath — and pure decadence is a bubble bath. Some of our favorite bath spots are: Comptrollers Bay in Nuka Hiva — the river has a wonderful spot where you can sit, relax and enjoy Jacuzzi-like jet action; Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska — you can either hike up to the natural hot springs and enjoy them while a massive waterfall tumbles down behind you, or you can enjoy a proper bath in the bath house on the wharf, where you will find tub-sized cattle water troughs plumbed with the hot springs water; and Smoke House Bay on Great Barrier Island in New Zealand — a very special spot with not one, but two bathtubs with showers. One is sitting above the beach, the other is inside the bath house and is plumbed with hot water that is heated by the fire in the wood-burning stove. But my number one all-time favorite spot is the bath tub on Palmyra Atoll. This one sits on the beach backed by the lush jungle. Pure, pure decadence is a bubble bath on the beach while sipping champagne!”

As was reported last month, singlehander Mike Rafferty’s San Diego-based Freeport 36 Aquila sank 80 miles to the west of Noumea, New Caledonia, on November 12. He sent us a full report of the incident, but subsquently asked us not to publish it because of potential legal ramifications. So we’ll stick to what is considered to be common knowledge.

Rafferty, a Ha-Ha vet who had started the Puddle Jump on April 4 from Puerto Vallarta, cruised throughout the islands of the South Pacific, and then on November 12, set sail for Australia at the same time as a number of other cruising boats. All were hoping to take advantage of a weather window to reach Brisbane or other Australian ports. According to Kirk McGeorge of the St. Thomas, USVI-based Hylas 47 Gallivanter, who had helped Rafferty cast off from Noumea, the singlehander put out a mayday at about 8:30 p.m. Several boats, including Gallivanter, rushed toward Rafferty’s last reported position. Fortunately, Claude and Normande Gosselin's French-Canadian sloop Azzar arrived in just 30 minutes. Aquila slipped below the waves as Rafferty was being transferred to the other boat. Azzar would take him the rest of the way to Australia.

Rafferty told many cruisers that he first became aware there was a problem when he heard floating floorboards banging around in the salon. He turned on the main bilge pump, but it didn't work. He turned on the secondary pump, but it couldn’t keep up with the inflow of water. He then put his head underwater to reach the prop shaft and stuffing box, and found that only one of the four hose clamps was still in place! Having shut all the thru hulls, he’s convinced that’s where all the water was coming in.

What makes the loss of Aquila controversial is that less than a month before, Rafferty had had his boat hauled at Baobab Marine at Pt. Vuda, Fiji, where her shaft was pulled and other work done on that area of the boat. In fact, Aquila had to be hauled a second time because she was taking on so much water. Was the sinking in any way related to the work the boatyard had done or not done a month before? We’ll never know.

One thing we do know from decades of covering sailing, is that if you’ve had work done on your prop shaft — or any other part of your boat — it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it for awhile. In the recesses of our memory, we can recall that Dick Mitchell, an ex-fighter pilot and pioneering Northern California singlehander, was doing a Singlehanded Farallones Race aboard his Pearson 36 — the name of which we can’t remember — when she started taking on water fast. Mitchell confirmed that there weren’t thru hull problems, but just before stepping into his liferaft, remembered that he’d just had work done on the stuffing box / prop shaft. Rushing to that area, he discovered that, sure enough, that’s where the water was pouring in. He was able to stem the flow, pump the water out, and make it back to the boatyard safely.

As for the above-mentioned Gallivanter, McGeorge writes, “Greetings from Bundaberg! We arrived three days ago, and are now comfortably anchored 10 miles up the river within sight of what may be the biggest rum distillery in the Southern Hemisphere. Catherine is ecstatic about being back in her homeland, and Australian officials have granted us a year — extendable up to three years — without our needing to import Gallivanter!”

Armed with muscular Australian dollars, those darn Aussies keep buying California boats! While having breakfast at Sayulita, Mexico in early December, we bumped into former crew Lauren Goche of Santa Cruz, Portland, Sayulita, "and in the summer, commercial fishing boats that spend a month or more at a time 1,100 miles off the coast of Oregon." She told us she was crewing for delivery skipper Robin Jeffers, taking the Santa Cruz 52 Isis that used to belong to Brendan Busch of La Honda — to Costa Rica, where she would be put on a ship for delivery to to her new owner in, yes, Australia! We hate to see Isis go, as she is a vet of the '04 and '07 Ha-Ha's, as well as a Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. But talk about good luck, Leslie Nordella, Goche's Portland friend, was lucky enough for her first sail ever to be a long downwind passage on an SC 52.

As you may remember, there were at least two boats from California in the last Ha-Ha that had been purchased by Aussie owners. There were Patrick Bloomer's Farrier 44 cat Tiger, heading to Western Australia, and Jack and Leanne Hembrow's Moody 54 Red Sky, heading to Brisbane. But wait, as they say on television, that's not all! As went to press, we heard that Scott Case, formerly of Arizona, has sold his La Cruz-based Fountain-Pajot 40 catamaran Twins to an Aussie. It's a little surprising to us, as during last year's Pirates for Pupils Regatta, Case told us he'd had to wait a full year to take delivery of the cat at the factory in France.

It turns out that trimarans can sink — if one of the amas gets torn off in stormy conditions. Canadians John Davidson, 65, and Jud Baker, 47, used their EPIRB to barely cheat death off the coast of Central America early in December during what was to be a voyage from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. Davidson's 42-ft tri Trinity — type, builder, and age unknown — sank in rough weather just five miles off the coast of Costa Rica after an ama was torn off and the mast came down. According to an interview with Davidson's son, the pair had just enough time to grab an EPIRB and scramble into the boat's 8-ft inflatable dinghy before Trinity went under. They immediately began paddling toward shore, but heavy conditions blew the hard-to-row inflatable farther offshore. It flipped once, but they were able to right it.

"The two spent three days drifting farther out to sea, with no food, water or shelter from the elements. They began to wonder if the EPIRB was even working. Fortunately, it was. After receiving the EPIRB signal, the Coast Guard arranged to have a Navy P-3 Orion fly over the area, but it was too dark and the dinghy couldn't be spotted. It took two more days of searching before a Coast Guard C-130 finally pinpointed the signal. The plane's crew reported that they could see two people in the dinghy, but neither was moving. On the second pass, the now-delirious castaways realized the noise they heard was a plane, and started waving their paddles. The 695-ft car carrier Sunbelt Spirit, one of the largest ever built, had already changed course toward the area, and arrived about 30 minutes after the dinghy was spotted. The ship's crew helped Davidson and Baker aboard, where they were treated for dehydration, sunburn, and severely blistered hands from countless hours of rowing. Baker was able to fly home almost immediately because he'd been able to grab his passport, while Davidson was stuck waiting for a replacement. Nonetheless, we suspect it will be an unusually memorable holiday season for both of them and their families. EPIRBs — they do save lives.

A 'well done' to George Backhus and Merima Jaferi of the Sausalito and Auckland-based Deerfoot 2-62 Moonshadow for their fine performance in December's Atlantic Rally for Cruisers from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia.

"After over 2,700 miles, we could see the glow of lights to the south from Barbados," remembers Backhus. "We gybed onto starboard and decided to go to white sails as the wind and sea were building as we approached the Lesser Antilles chain. By late morning we had gusts up to 35 knots and the seas were tossing us about like dice in a cup. "Land Ho!" was just before 11 a.m.

"The long reach up the coast of St. Lucia in rough seas seemed like the longest stretch of the passage for us. Having made landfall, we just couldn't wait to get to the finish line. As we rounded Pigeon Island into Rodney Bay on the leeward side of the island, the seas calmed, but we were hard on 20+ knot winds. Moonshadow heeled right over as we sheeted the sails in and bore down on the finish line. We finally crossed after 18 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes. It wasn't a fast passage because of unusually light winds, but we were later told that we were the 19th of some 235 boats to finish. We arrived at our berth in the Rodney Bay Marina to the sound of a steel drum band, big welcomes and piña coladas, along with a basket of fresh fruit and a bottle of St. Lucian rum."

You know how Costa Rica has a reputation for being such an ecologically progressive country? Maybe it’s not deserved. Check out the photo of the mob of men, women and children raiding turtle nests for eggs — right in front of the turtles. How rude! And how foolishly shortsighted.

It's not as if the problem is limited to Costa Rica. There have been tremendous turtle conservation successes in Mexico, including those based out of Nuevo Vallarta. But not everyone is with the program. According to one woman who doesn’t want her identity revealed, “While walking on the beach in Nuevo Vallarta this morning, I witnessed two municipal police officers, with a backpack, searching for turtle nests to collect the eggs. This is a felony, as not even the the police are allowed to touch the eggs. I went to the turtle consevation camp to report the incident, but nobody was there. So I called the police station to report this felony, and the woman on the other end of the line simply could not stop laughing.“

"The week after I left Peru — which I found to be one of the most wonderful countries in the world ­— I was reminded that this wonderful cruising life isn't all wine and roses," reports Pamela Bendell of the Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46 Precious Metal. "After many tears of farewell with friends, yacht club staff, water taxi drivers, and local merchants, Precious Metal set sail from Lima at noon November 17. Six weeks of maintenance and installation of new equipment had her ship-shape and ready — or so I thought — to begin her next season of the Galapagos, Central America, Mexico, and the South Pacific.

"Things started to go south just four hours into the passage, when I noticed that my newly re-built alternator ($$) wasn't charging the batteries. Returning to Lima was a distant option because clearing in and out again would be expensive and time-consuming. So we began to shut things down: the watermaker, most of the refrigeration, the lights, the music, the radar and running lights unless necessary, and the biggest sacrifice of all, the autopilot. It soon became clear that we had to abandon our plans for the Galpagos and put into port. After many satphone calls and relays, I was able to arrange a 'forced entry' into Ecuador, whereby I could bypass normal entrance formalities. This sounded appealing, but in corrupt developing countries, it comes with a cost.

"As we approached Puerto Lucia, Ecuador, we were still in positive spirits despite the fact that the Heart Interface battery monitor indicated minus 411 amp hours! But our dock, mechanic and ship's agent were all waiting. Things progressed nicely, as all the amenities came alive as soon as we were plugged into shorepower. The mechanic quickly discovered that the alternator had just come off its mount. Overhanging all of these positives was my pending meeting with officials to process my entry into Ecuador. Soon five men in uniform — Port Captain, Immigration, Customs, Health Inspector, and my agent — presented themselves. They sat around the salon table while all but Mr. Immigration drank all our Coke. He drank our scotch. Everything was going well as the piles of documents were thrown in front of me for signature. Suddenly, the Mr. Immigration/Scotch discovered that my passport hadn't gotten a departure stamp from the Galapagos seven months before. Mind you, I'd already cleared into and out of Peru, so he was obviously just looking for a bribe. During two hours of ridiculous conversation, Mr. Immigration/Scotch threatened to make me go all the way to Guayaquil to meet other Immigration officials. I finally asked for immediate exit papers from Ecuador. The result was that I was basically allowed to stay, but not legally, so my name didn't appear on the crew list and I wasn't allowed to leave the marina. They finally relented when I told them I had no food, and said I could take a taxi to and from the store — but I couldn't walk! Barry, one of my crew, jokingly gave me a piggy-back ride to the theatre so I wouldn't being breaking the rules. As the officials departed, they asked for — a bottle of scotch. I gave them a bottle of pisco. As soon as they got to their car, they began drinking it. I hope it gave them all headaches the next day. It's such a shame that the wonderful Ecuadorian people are represented by these horrible men with so much power."

Out cruising? We'd love to hear from you. Send emails and high res photo to . Gracias.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2011 eBook!


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