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January 2014

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With reports this month from Blue on getting caught in Tropical Storm Octave; from Esprit on crossing the Atlantic; from Kiapa on "tremendous, treasured Tonga"; from Brick House on an open ocean rescue in the Solomon Islands; from Sanctuary on a summer search for a swivel in the Caribbean; from the Riviera Nayarit Sailors' Splash and Blast; and Cruise Notes.

Blue — Catalina 36
Rodrigo Kozama, Nancy Truesdale
Hit by TS Octave in Mag Bay
(San Diego)

As the 525+ people were getting ready to start the 2013 Baja Ha-Ha in late October, Rodrigo, 34, and his girlfriend Nancy, 30, were already enjoying stopping at all the little villages along the Pacific Coast of Baja. They had four favorite spots: Isla Cedros, where they spent a total of 10 days at different anchorages; Ascension, which they found to be more tranquil than Turtle Bay, and where they were able to buy five gallons of diesel for a good price at the Pemex station across from the beach; Abreojos, where they enjoyed fine surfing until the south swell made the unprotected anchorage too uncomfortable; and San Hippolito, where they had "Trestles-like" waves all to themselves. Rodrigo, who probably has 1% body fat, carries three boards.

Sometimes, of course, there is a price to be paid for heading to southern Baja before the end of hurricane season. For instance, in October 2012, hurricane Paul caught the Coronado-based Sea Silk in Mag Bay with winds in excess of 100 knots. After the anchor lines got twisted, the Hylas 46 ended up on the beach with a broken rudder. She was later pulled off the beach and repaired to "better than new" in Cabo San Lucas.

Somewhat similarly, on October 20 last year Rodrigo and Nancy found themselves in Mag Bay, anchored close to the cell tower at San Carlos so they could monitor the approach of tropical storm Octave via the Internet. Rodrigo was surprised to be awoken at 4 a.m. by "howling winds". Octave had arrived a day early and stronger than forecast. Tropical disturbances do things like that.

Rodrigo telephoned the panganero who was going to guide him into the mangroves for protection that day, but was told it was already too late.

Rodrigo and Nancy would have to rely on Blue's anchor and ground tackle. Fortunately, the boat had good stuff: a hi-tech Rocna 20 (44-lb) anchor, 200 feet of 5/16-inch G-4 chain, and 250 more feet of 5/8-inch three-strand nylon line. Furthermore, Rodrigo had beefed up the bow of the 30-year-old Catalina with a G-10 backing plate and a lot of epoxy. Last but not least, the bottom was soft mud and they had 8:1 scope.

Not the most powerful tropical storm, Octave nonetheless brought maximum sustained winds of 37 knots with gusts to 43. And once the wind shifted from the southeast to the southwest, Blue had no protection from the chop created over the width of Mag Bay. "For 26 hours Blue was like a raging bull wanting to break free of her leash," remembers Rodrigo, "but she didn't drag."

The only problem was the snubber chain, which, thanks to a combination of the bow's going under and causing temporary slack in the chain, and a wave slamming against the snubber, knocked the snubber hook off. "Fortunately, I had a backup snubber attached to my stem fitting where the shackle normally attaches to the asymmetrical spionnaker," says Rodrigo, "and it held until I was able to re-attach the chain hook. To prevent the hook from coming off again, I Zip-tied the slack part of the chain around the hook and onto the loaded side of the chain."

The right equipment, proper preparation and constant vigilance meant that Blue was able to ride out the moderate blow without any problems. The couple's lives were never in danger, as the lee shore was a short dinghy ride or swim to leeward. Plus it was warm. As for the morning after the storm? "It was absolutely gorgeous, with a blue sky and no wind at all."

Rodrigo is an interesting guy. He was born and raised in Brazil, where he sailboarded and later cruised the southern coast of the country with his O'Day 22. But when he visited his brother in San Diego seven years ago, he took one look at the sailboats across from the airport at Harbor Island and fell in love.

Since Rodrigo had a degree in electrical engineering, getting a job in San Diego wasn't difficult. But his real love was sailing, so in his free time he began crewing on America, Stars 'n Stripes, Abracadabra and other boats. Before long, he had his 50-ton Coast Guard license and during his non-electrical engineering hours worked as a charter captain taking people out on sunset cruises and whale-watching trips.

It was four years ago that Rodrigo bought his Catalina 36, getting a good deal because she'd been sunk to the floorboards for a period of time. He then redid the entire boat, from the running and standing rigging to the electrical and plumbing. "It's not that hard on a Catalina," he says. To do it on a budget, he took a job at West Marine, where employees get a nice discount on purchases. "I also learned a lot about boats while working there," he says.

After Octave, Rodrigo and Nancy continued south, where they enjoyed their best fishing. "We'd gotten lots of tuna farther north, and some sea bass and halibut while at anchor," says Rodrigo. "But south of Mag Bay we got two nice mahi mahi, which was all we had room for in our freezer."

Rodrigo and Nancy's roughest weather to date wasn't Octave, but a surprise Norther that caught them on the way from the Muertos anchorage to the La Paz Channel. "It was blowing 25 and gusting to 30, the seas were short and steep, and we were taking water over the entire boat," says Rodrigo. "It was really rough."

But once they reached the islands between Espritu Santo and Isla San Francisco, the cruising life became very sweet."The diving, the snorkeling, the many anchorages with no boats — it was fabulous."

While Rodrigo's long-term dream is to sail back to Brazil, he's unsure if the relatively light Catalina 36 is the right boat for such a trip. So over the next three months he and Nancy plan to sail to Costa Rica, then reassess their dreams. Getting to Panama wouldn't be a problem, but only the strong boats survive a trip across the Caribbean and against the strong currents to Brazil. The couple will also assess the size of their cruising kitty. They figured on being able to cruise on $1,000 a month. So far they've been able to do it on about $750, and during one month on the cost of Baja only spent $300.

— latitude/rs 12/04/2013

Esprit — Kelly-Peterson 46
The McWilliam Family
Atlantic Crossing
(Henderson, Nevada)

After 19 days at sea, starting from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, we arrived safe and sound, albeit tired, at Grenada in the southern part of the Eastern Caribbean. We are now berthed at Port Louis Marina, St. George’s.

We started out by heading south for the Cape Verde Islands, as it gave us the option of stopping there or, if the weather was promising, continuing on directly to Grenada. The weather looked favorable — at least in the eastern half of the Atlantic — so we didn't stop. There was a low pressure system developing in the western half of the Atlantic that would turn into tropical storm Melissa, but we figured it would move north and out of our way a week before we got to it. And it did.

We rode the winds from the Azores High as far as we could, then had to motor for about a day before getting sail power from the next weather system. Thereafter we were able to use wind from a new high-pressure system to sail all the way to Grenada, with the wind always from aft of the beam. Given these conditions, we only motored for 38 hours during our 3,000-mile passage.

Because the wind was behind us the entire way, we ran wing-and-wing most the time, and 'enjoyed' the rock 'n rolly trip. The three of us got pretty good at jibing, which was a bit complicated because we wung the genoa out on the pole.

In the Eastern Atlantic we had 20 to 30 knots of wind, while in the Western Atlantic we had mostly 10 to 20 knots. Our top speed was over nine knots, and we hit a lot of eights. We averaged 6.6 knots over the course of our 19-day passage.

Rick and Robin from Endangered Species stopped by after we arrived in Grenada and we compared passages. They were crew aboard the Oyster 65 Rocas — a luxury ride — which left Cape Verde the day after we turned right and headed west. We commiserated with each other about the rock 'n rolly conditions — although it sounds as though they had it worse than we did — while sailing wing-on-wing. Rick had also been following the fortunes of the more than 250 boats in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and ARC+ fleets, and confirmed our suspicions that they were having a very rough time. Some boats reported up to 70 knots of wind on the nose, while others reported they were running low on fuel because there hadn't been any wind. It all depended on which course the skippers had chosen. It appears that we made the right decision when picking our weather window, and leaving before the ARC fleets.

As we sailed farther west across the Atlantic, both the temperature and the squall lines increased. We were fortunate to be hit by only a few squalls, which brought strong winds and heavy rain. Until they passed, that is, when there was no wind at all. Naturally, most squalls occurred at night. In any event, it was nice to be able to put the blankets and sweatshirts away.

We listened to seven audio books, ate every meal, didn’t suffer too much from seasickness, and Katie was actually able to make crêpes and pancakes a few times. Rock 'n roll conditions are not conducive to cooking underway.

After turning right at Cape Verde, we only saw two boats — one sailboat and one fishing boat — and heard only one VHF conversation for the next 2,200 miles. We heard more VHF traffic the last 30 or so miles to Grenada, and thus felt as though we were no longer on our own private ocean.

We had flying fish of all sizes land on our deck almost nightly, had dolphins join us to play in our bow wake, and saw a sea turtle as we neared Grenada. We were visited by several types of birds, including boobies and some sort of long- tailed tropical bird.

Several nights were clear, which made for ideal star gazing. Jamie used the astronomy app on his iPad to find all the constellations ­— Orion, Taurus, Pisces, Gemini, etc. Venus lit up the sky each night, as if the night sky on the Atlantic weren't amazing enough.

Sitting here in the Caribbean, we seem to be 'boat-lagged'. It seems like only yesterday that we were in the Med, and now here we are, 3,000 miles away in the tropics. Isn't cruising great!

Our plan is to leave Esprit here until March so we can go home for Christmas. Meanwhile, we're enjoying listening to Christmas songs with a reggae beat.

— chay, katie, & jamie 12/4/2013

Kiapa — M&M 52 Cat
Lionel and Irene Bass
Treasured Tonga
(Western Australia)

Captain Cook’s moniker for Tonga, ‘The Friendly Islands’, certainly won't be disputed by us, as it seems as true today as it must have hundreds of years ago. We've just completed eight weeks in the 171-island nation, the only one in the South Pacific that was never colonized. Because of our 'Truly Tremendous and Treasured Times in Tonga', we plan to return after this Southern Hemisphere summer sojourn to New Zealand.

There are several obvious reasons that we treasured our time in Tonga, and that we were probably the last Pacific Puddle Jump boat to make the 1,100-mile passage to New Zealand to avoid the start of the tropical cyclone season in the South Pacific:

1) The Tongans are incredibly friendly. I have two examples. David and Hika, landowners from Vaka’eitu Island in the Vava’u group, organized a birthday meal for Ian, a friend visiting from Perth. How many of us have enjoyed a pig-on-a-spit beach BBQ as a birthday meal? Two weeks later, Lionel and I were invited as guests to a birthday dinner for Veronica, the co-owner of Treasure Island, also known as Eua’iki Island EcoResort. How often is one served freshly caught crayfish, served with chilled white wine, out on a jetty over the ocean? And all at no cost! Treasure Island for sure!

2) Tonga also presented us with an opportunity to swim with whales, the giants of the ocean. It was an experience we'll never forget.

3) Lionel and I admit to being dive snobs, as we've been fortunate enough to have dived and snorkeled in many of the world's most fabulous spots. Now that we know where to dive in Tonga, we'd rank it as a worthwhile dive destination. We saw everything from sea horses to sea snakes, from living cowrie shells to observing a triton eating a blue starfish. There are also many beautiful corals.

4 and 5) The Vava’u Regatta, as well as regular Friday afternoon beer can races, are two more reasons. What a hoot these events were! It may have had something to do with the finish line being at the bar in a nearby pub. No, just crossing the finish line on the water wasn't enough. To properly finish, a member of the crew had to swim to shore, run to the pub, and be the first one seated at the bar! The beer can races could more accurately be called the 'beer carton races', as cartons of beer seemed to be the standard prize. Thanks to our catamaran's having been designed by Morrelli & Melvin, and built light by Schooner Creek, we didn't have to buy too many cartons of beer in Tonga.

6) Lionel and I love to kiteboard, and thanks to reliable southeast trades, sandy beaches and warm water, Tonga is a kiteboarding paradise. We could kiteboard for hours on end anytime we wanted.

7) Last but not least, Tonga has so many anchorages in close proximity that we always had the choice of being sociable and anchoring with other cruising boats or finding an anchorage all for ourselves. How often do you have the option of getting a slice of heaven all alone?

If you want several good reasons that Kiapa will return to the Kingdom of Tonga next season, there you have them.

P.S. Now that we've made the passage down to New Zealand for what they call 'summer', Lionel and I have vowed never to sail outside of the 20°N, 20°S boundary. That said, it's great to finally be able to shop where there is a huge selection of products such as yogurts and cheeses. I heard a rumor that Profligate will be headed to the South Pacific in the spring of 2015. If that's true, we'll have to meet up again, as we'll still be there.

— irene 11/25/2013

Brick House — Valiant 40
Patrick and Rebecca Childress
The Motorboat from Nowhere
(Middletown, Rhode Island)

How would you react if you'd just taken down the main because of an approaching squall at 9 a.m, and suddenly realized that despite being 45 miles from the nearest land, your boat was being overtaken astern by a funky, outboard-powered 18-ft open boat with men dressed in black? It's true that we were in the southern part of the Solomon Islands rather than the waters off Somalia, but I called for Rebecca to quickly grab our stun-gun, bear spray and big spear gun just in case.

Once she'd gotten them, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the companionway as we watched them continue to overtake us. There was a dark-skinned man dressed in black on the bow getting a face full of waves, and another dark-skinned man wearing black at the back operating the outboard engine. We could see additional people hiding under a dark tarp in the middle of the boat. It was impossible not to think of yachts being hijacked in the Arabian Sea. But as they finally pulled alongside, we could see children and a woman’s face under the tarp trying to stay out of the pouring rain. "We need help!" one of the men yelled.

It was difficult to get Charles, the owner of the small boat, aboard Brick House for better communication, as the boats bumped hard against the fenders in the ocean swells. Charles explained that there were a total of 10 people aboard, and they'd left Duff Island at noon the previous day to cross 57 miles of open water to Reef Island, where they planned to get more gasoline. Once fueled up, they planned to continue another 45 open ocean miles to attend the funeral of a relative on Temotu Island. There are no towns or gas stations in any of these remote places, only villages where everyone lives in thatch huts and harvests what they can from the sea. It would be extremely difficult to obtain gasoline at any of them.

Our GPS placed our new friends about 65 miles off course. We were told that during the night they'd had the same stormy, rainy weather, with gusts to 35 knots, that we cruisers had been complaining about during our morning SSB conversations. With no compass, no observable stars, and a very confused sea, they'd become disoriented and didn't know where they were. So once they saw our sails, they headed for us.

For sustenance, they'd brought along a bucket of dried breadfruit chunks — which to Americans would taste as good as smoke-flavored dog biscuits — and two liters of fresh water.

Taking sympathy on their plight, we soon had 10 Solomon Island natives spread around our cockpit and deck, and pulled their little motorboat with a very long line. You can imagine how difficult it could be to trim sails, adjust the Monitor self-steering vane, and generally operate a sailboat with that many bodies in the way. But they were willing to learn how to put a line clockwise around the winches, and were eager to help. In a short time they took over steering Brick House, and did an excellent job of keeping on a compass course.

These natives were not typical of the guests we'd had on our boat before. Some were picking nits from each others' head, and the lips of several were drooled red from chewing and spitting betel nuts. A couple of these poor folks had sheets of sores with scabs, and mild infections on their legs and feet. We gave them topical antibiotic ointment to help. Charles was bothered by his bad knee. A year before, his knee had been knocked complexly out of joint, so with no options, he set it with his own hands. Life in 'paradise' isn't so sweet for those who live at subsistence levels and without even basic medical care. But our guests were polite, and didn't chew betel nut while on our boat.

Knowing they had to be hungry, we offered them our bucket of yellow bananas. They were like magicians, because the bananas immediately disappeared — although there was a trail of yellow peels. Next we boiled our taro and yams, which also quickly disappeared.

There was only one woman, Samantha, in the group, and she was stoic. There were two girls and one boy between the ages of 6 and 12, and all three of them were cute and well-behaved. As the children were just learning to speak English, they communicated most effectively with their smiles.

By 10:30 p.m, we were within a quarter of a mile of the opening in the reef to Reef Island and, thanks to the lack of wind and a flat sea, it was easy for the 10 guests to get back onto their little boat. Even had there been good light, we couldn't have stopped there ourselves, as another cruising yacht had recently had to escape the island under the cover of darkness to put an end to a terrible ordeal with a corrupt local official.

Before getting off our boat, Charles carefully studied the channel into the reef on our chartplotter. Their five remaining gallons of gasoline would easily get them to shore. To help them out, we gave them new batteries for their dead flashlights, plus another of our flashlights and some batteries. We also presented Charles with the underwater compass that I'd previously worn on my wrist, hoping this would prevent him from getting so lost again. Lastly, we more than doubled their fresh water supply.

It was interesting to see that they seemed to accept the responsibility for the ordeal as a family unit, as we heard no blaming or bickering. All were polite as all the other villagers we have met. Despite their fatigue, they couldn't have been more pleasant guests.

We weren't sure how they were going to find enough gas in the village to get them the remaining 58 miles to their destination of Temotu, and then all the way back to Duff. All we know is that their ordeal would have been a lot harder — and perhaps fatal — had they not spotted our sails so far from land.

— patrick 11/15/2013

Sanctuary — Island Spirit 37 Cat
Capt Mark Denebeim
In Search of a Furling Sail Swivel
(Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica)

'Should I stay or should I go?' In addition to being one of the most famous lyrics by the 1970s punk rock band The Clash, it is a question that cruisers in the Caribbean have to ask themselves at the start of each hurricane season. For you either head south of latitude 13° north, about where Bequia is, or you run the risk of tropical storms or hurricanes from July through November. Grenada and Trinidad, the latter being even farther south and thus even safer, receive an influx of hundreds of cruising boats fleeing the hurricane zone each season. The other risk you run if you don't get south of 13° north is that it's unlikely your boat insurance will still be in effect.

But what if you live and work full time on your day charter yacht in the middle of the Eastern Caribbean, which is north of 13° north? And what if you have insurance that is good 365 days a year? Both would suggest staying. But I had mitigating circumstances — the swivel on my ProFurl M35 roller furling halyard had corroded badly and was in danger of failing. Normally I could go to a nearby chandlery and buy the part, then hire a rigger to take care of the problem. But you can't do that in the summer, as other than on St. Martin and Grenada, many yacht service providers pretty much shut down until winter.

The need for the halyard swivel forced me to abandon my post at Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, and head 210 miles south to Prickly Bay, Grenada. As it turned out, I would be gone from September 15 to October 7, during my 'vacation from my vacation'.

So after a busy summer hosting medical students and faculty, guests at Secret Bay Resort, and the local high school graduating class and their teachers aboard Sanctuary, I headed for Prickly Bay in 15 knots of easterly winds, determined to hunt down the $350 part and get it installed. And have fun while doing it.

My first stop was Roseau, the capital of Dominica, for a quick goodbye to friends. Then I was off to Martinique, where I anchored at Chaudiere, and where the snorkeling was quite good. There was no other boat in sight. While there, I began my other quest, which is to join others helping to eradicate the destructive non-native lion fish from the Caribbean. I had two kills, one almost 11 inches long. Then I watched a nice sunset.

My roller furling was getting difficult to unfurl and furl, especially by the time I arrived at Les Canaries, St. Lucia the next afternoon. Michael, a boat boy, approached on his kayak and offered to sell me some conch shells. I invited him aboard, and sent him up the mast to attach a hose clamp around the neck of the swivel. I hoped that would keep the swivel centered on the extrusion so it wouldn't bind. The fix worked for the next leg to St. Vincent, then failed again.

Some young teens paddled out to my boat and we hung out together, cleaning white urchins and looking for a used kayak to buy at the nearby Ti Bay resort. That night I enjoyed visiting Darren at The Discipline Bar, and bought some locally made jewelry and a bamboo catamaran. Oh, and I bought a conch shell from Michael after all. Lion fish kills — 0.

Only four miles farther south lay the Pitons, one of the magical places on the planet, and home to Ladera, consistently voted the top Caribbean resort. Two conical peaks frame a two-mile-long deep bay at the Pitons, with fantastic snorkeling and hiking. Le Grande Piton is 2,600 feet and Petit Piton is 2,450 feet. They towered over me from two sides while I enjoyed local lobster on Sanctuary's trampoline at sunset. My boat was again the only one in the bay, and there was a full moon rising over Grand Piton. Pure magic. Lion fish kills — 2.

I left for St. Vincent the next morning with a dolphin pod of 20 leading the way. Chateaubelair, about 38 miles south, was my destination and I had 15- to 20-knot easterlies and small seas on the way. I arrived mid-afternoon to a completely empty bay. Customs was closed, as was everything else, so I motored down the coast a couple of miles to Wallilalou. I was met there by Julian in his kayak, who ushered me to one of two moorings directly in front of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set. It's over 50 feet deep there, so you have to moor stern-to, your stern line to a destroyed dock. Customs was closed here, too, so I visited with some locals and endured the extremely bright 'security' light blaring from shore. I won't stay there again, but will take a mooring on the north side of the bay. Lion fish kills — 0.

Since the failing furler was making sailing less fun, I decided I'd increase my pace heading down to Grenada. But the Grenadines are wonderful, so couldn't help but stop at Bequia, where I finally cleared customs. I also had a local guy fetch 60 gallons of diesel from the service station, as all the fuel docks were closed and Dafodil, a ship-to-ship water and diesel barge, was 50% more expensive. African, a local charter skipper and I, hung out awhile, and then I had a beer and installed my eighth ring-toss game in the Caribbean, this one at Maria’s Café. Lion fish kills — 0.

When I arrived at the perfect and most picturesque crescent beach on the planet – Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau – Black Boy of Black Boy and Debbie's BBQ, hollered from shore: "Captain Mark, get yo ass off dat boat and come here, my boy!” Sanctuary and I remained at Salt Whistle for three days. I spearfished with my pal Ice for four hours, and we got 16 lobster and four lion fish, the former for Black Boy's dinner guests that night, the latter for my eternal quest. Lion Fish kills — 4.

On Union Island, where I cleared out of the Grenadines, the Happy Island bar – made from discarded conch shells – sits atop Newland's Reef. Alas, it was closed, so I went to Sun Beach Eat, my favorite BBQ spot in Chatham Bay. I spent the evening there with Secki and Vanessa, enjoying their homemade barracuda soup. We played the ring toss game I'd installed there in 2011, and Vanessa scored 15 times in a row! Lion fish kills — 0.

Forty miles later, I arrived in Prickly Bay. I arranged to buy the furling part the next day and have it installed. While waiting, I watched Oracle Team USA win the first of eight America's Cup races in a row. I really enjoyed the scenic shots of my home town of San Francisco.

Six hundred dollars later, the new swivel was in place and my roller furling was working as good as new. So I moved on to St. George's, where I celebrated my 56th with Rick from Sophisticated Lady and friends Rae and Cathy-Ann from earlier visits to the Spice Island.

I started my trip back to Dominica with an overnight stop at the world famous Tobago Cays. An algae bloom greatly reduced visibility, and helped temporarily trap me behind the reef at sunset, snorkeling solo, no other boats in sight, with only a narrow, poorly marked passage back through the reef. Luckily I made my way back to my boat.

Summer winds in this part of the Caribbean are normally out of the ESE, which makes it not too bad heading north. Alas, the wind was out of the northeast, so after a night back in Salt Whistle Bay, and some drinks at The Last Bar Before the Jungle, I motor- slopped my way up Bequia. The next day was a long 50-mile motorsail in 25+ knots of wind back to the Pitons. I skipped St. Vincent completely. No lobster this time, but one lion fish.

From there it was another 50-mile motorsail up to Martinique, this time to Grand Anse. There were 19 boats on moorings, but only one of them was occupied. The bearings on the raw water pump on my starboard engine rusted out, disabling it for the duration. It cut my speed by one-third. Everything was closed, so I had a slow 16-mile motor in no wind the next day, putting me at St. Pierre, where nearly every resident had been killed when a volcano erupted in the early 1900s. It was deep water, so I picked up the largest dive mooring in the Caribbean, and went ashore to enjoy a nice jazz band and some great food. The next day I covered the last 30 miles or so to Dominica.

Four hundred and fifty miles, 22 days, and one halyard swivel later, I was anchored back in front of the Portsmouth Beach Hotel, where I put up my 'Day Sails' sign, and resumed life building my house and doing charters in the middle of paradise. A local one-armed mechanic rebuilt my water pump for $50 — a new one is $600 — and 19 students joined me for a snorkel, sunset sail and dinner on the beach in Toucari Bay.

Some call what I do living the dream, others says I'm just lucky. All I know is that I'm doing it my way, which is what I've done for years. If anyone is interested, my book Captain Mark's Way is available at Amazon and Kindle. A lot of people say that life is short. It's actually f--king long, but I still plan on enjoying every minute of it on a sailboat in the Caribbean. What did you do today?

— capt mark 11/15/2013

Riviera Nayarit Sailor's Splash
Riviera Nayarit Sailor's Blast
(Banderas Bay, Mexico)

On Friday, December 13, the folks from Riviera Nayarit Tourism, Riviera Nayarit Marina (in La Cruz), Paradise Marina (in Nuevo Vallarta), and Latitude 38 threw a party to welcome this year's class of cruisers to Banderas Bay. It wasn't a bad party, as it was free for everyone, and included free sailing shirts and hats, free tacos and Revenge brand tequila, and great free music. And unlike the San Francisco Bay Area, there was no ice on the ground. Indeed, the evening temperatures were in the mid-70s, just perfect after hours of swimming pool volleyball. It was a sweet way to cap off a day that started with catamaran voyages to Paradise Marina for a tour of the facilities and the Vallarta YC — where we learned there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch.

After a much-needed lay day, Sunday was the start of the 12th Annual Riviera Nayarit Sailors Blast, including the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. While the sailing event was free, it was also a charity event, and the crews of the 23 participating boats, and friends, contributed nearly $2,836 dollars. The biggest contributor? The Ha-Ha Class of 2013. Well done!

The 23 Blast boats included mono-hulls between 30 and 51 feet, and seven catamarans between 38 and 63 feet. And all the crews had the Ha-Ha racing spirit, which meant most took a pretty casual approach to hitting the starting line on time.

To say that the sailing conditions were idyllic for the three races — 14 miles to Nuevo Vallarta and back to La Cruz; eight miles from La Cruz to Punta Mita; and 12 miles from Punta Mita to Nuevo Vallarta — would be an understatement. The skies were sunny and blue, the wind blew between seven and 18 knots, the air and water temps were about 80°, and the whales put on a show that would make Sea World officials weep with jealousy. Did we mention that it was all flat-water sailing, even in 18 knots near the end of the Mita Race? True pleasure sailing.

The vibe was mellow, too. Everybody tried to sail as fast as they could, of course, but it was all about having fun with friends, not beating them. We hadn't seen so much group love since San Francisco in 1967, when everybody was wearing flowers in their hair. To help keep boats a safe distance from each other, and to encourage passing, all the races featured pursuit starts.

Everybody was a winner in the RNB, but two newer boats that looked particularly good were Rob and Nancy Novak's San Francisco-based Oyster 485 Shindig and Dorr Anderson's Vallarta-based Jeanneau 40 Bright Star. Two of the older boats that looked good were Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly's Brisbane-based Hughes 46 Capricorn Cat, and Craig Shaw and Jane Roy's Portland-based Columbia 43 Adios. Mind you, Craig and Jane's boat is 44 years old and loaded down, and most of their sails are from the 1990s. Still fast.

Speaking of Jane, she was installed as the new commodore of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club, and was thus charged with initiating new members — $1 for lifetime membership, renewable every year — with a whack on the ass with a carbon fiber SUP paddle. No one expected the enthusiasm with which she fulfilled her responsibilities. Her one-liners and facial expressions were the toast of the evening.

Why 100 more boats don't do this event is one of the mysteries of the sailing universe. And why West Coast sailors who can't take off for two weeks to do a Ha-Ha don't take off a weekend plus a couple of days to do the Splash and Blast in the tropics is even more curious.

— latitude/rs 10/18

Cruise Notes:

There was an unusual record set in this year's 28th Annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. Thanks to fickle weather on the first half of the 2,750-mile course, followed by strong squalls and relentless tradewinds near the end, the boats, gear and crews were pushed to the limit. So there was a record three weeks between the first finisher, Max Klink’s Knierim 65 Caro, and the last group in the 250+ boat fleet. It is true, however, that Caro set an all-time ARC record of 10 days, 21 hours, beating the old record by eight hours despite sailing nearly 3,000 miles. It's also true that she's not your typical cruising boat. There was an unusual amount of damage to boats and gear this year. The Swan 51 Northern Child, for example, had her boom break — just a mile from the finish! Others broke booms, gear and sails nearly 2,000 miles from the finish, but soldiered on.

Next up for World Cruising Ltd is the 26,000-mile World ARC 2014 that starts this month in St. Lucia and features 10 American entries. Among them are Charlie and Cathy Simon aboard their Taswell 58 Celebrate. The Simons have lots of friends on the West Coast and in the Puerto Vallarta area, all of whom wish them a happy and safe circumnavigation.

We don't know how anyone can be in favor of waste over thrift, but a couple of readers always get angry when we note how economically some people cruise. So we suppose they won't like it when we report that Lewis Allen and Alyssa Alexopolous of the Redwood City-based Tartan 37 Eleutheria, who are featured in this month's Sightings, say their budget is $1,000 a month. And that they have been able to cruise happily in Mexico on just $750 a month.

Is there a benefit to cruising across the Pacific when you, like Lewis and Alyssa, are under 30? There is, at least according to Chris Jahn and Lila Shaked of the Hans Christian 33 Privateer, who recently completed a 16,000-mile trip from California to Hawaii to New Zealand and back to Hawaii. "It's easy to get jobs in various places and work for six months, then cruise for six months. You can start with the hospitality industry in Hawaii, then Samoa, which is an American Territory, and because you're under 30, both New Zealand and Australia are happy to have you stay and work. But if you're over 30, neither the Kiwis or the Aussies are so welcoming." More from the couple in a Latitude Interview in February.

With the Ha-Ha long over, the waters having gotten too cold for swimming in La Paz, and the Splash and Blast over in Banderas Bay, a lot of cruisers are working their way south to the Gold Coast cruiser gathering spots of Tenacatita Bay, Barra de Navidad, and ultimately Zihuatanejo. If you're part of this group, you want to make sure you're in Zihua Feb. 4 - 9 for SailFest 2014, which to our knowledge is the biggest cruiser charity event in the world. Not only is it a good cause, it's good sailing and socializing. For those heading farther south, don't forget the El Salvador Rally, March 15 - April 12. This rally is a little different, because you work down the coast at your own pace, making sure to arrive by March 15 for the start of all the activities.

If you're going across the Pacific, you'll want to sign up (for free) for the Pacific Puddle Jump. Among other benefits, doing so makes you eligible for a special bond exemption deal which can save you a huge hassle. So far 98 boats have signed up, but Latitude's Andy 'Mr. Puddle Jump' Turpin predicts there will be 200 boats registered by the end of March. He'll host PPJ Sendoff Parties: March 1 at the Balboa YC in Panama, and March 7 at the Vallarta YC in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. And he'll be in Tahiti in July to greet everyone, at the start of the annual Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous (July 4-6).

What to do in late spring and summer in Mexico? If you're Jake and Sharon Howard of the Seattle-based Hunter Legend 45 Jake, it's simple, you spend that part of the year up in the Sea of Cortez. Heat or no heat, they've done the last six summers in the Sea, and will be doing it again this summer. And no, their skin doesn't look like leather.

Are you like us and fear retirement? "There's nothing to fear," say Nigel Dickens, who retired five years ago from the Marin Water District, and his sweetheart Juanita White, who retired more recently. "We sold everything and are down here in Mexico for good with our Yankee 30 White Cloud. Well, except for summers, when we'll split time between Port Townsend and Maine." We suspect they've been able to arrange a good life gig like that because they've been . . . thrifty.

Mike and Robin Stout of the Redondo Beach-based Aleutian 51 Mermaid have finally made it out of the notorious Banderas Bay Vortex — the second most powerful one in Mexico after the La Paz Vortex — that they entered 18 months ago. "We love the Puerto Vallarta area, but it was time to go. The last hang-up was having to buy a new genset and have it shipped down from the States. We had a good sail south around Cabo Corrientes, but didn't move as fast as we thought we should. Then we realized that we'd been in the marina for five weeks without having the bottom cleaned. That's tomorrow's job, now that we've made it down to the clear waters of Tenacatita Bay." The Stouts, who have already cruised the South Pacific, are headed toward Panama and then into the Caribbean. But they aren't in a rush.

Dave and Kim Wegesend of the Catana 42 Maluhia did the Ha-Ha in 1997, cruised Mexico for a few years, then got caught in the same Banderas Bay Vortex as the Stouts. As a result, they've spent the last 10 years or so at Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. They say they are finally heading south, a story we've heard from them many times. "No really," they insist," we're even all provisioned." We'll believe they're gone when we see it, but if they really do go, they'll be missed.

Having come west across the Caribbean and then north from Panama to Banderas Bay, John and Debbie Rodgers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 2-62 Moonshadow ­— which George Backhus of Sausalito sailed around the world in just 16 years — recently arrived at Banderas Bay. "We got here too late to do the Sailors' Splash and Blast, as we had to rush home to see the kids — the same ones who kept us from staying at St. Barth for more than one day. Anyway, we've decided to stay on the West Coast in 2014 and not do the Puddle Jump until 2015. In addition to a lot of cruising in Mexico, Deb wants to spend the summer in San Diego, which means we'll be doing the Ha-Ha in the fall."

What's one cool — literally and figuratively — new cruising toy this year? The little LED digital projectors as made by 3M, Dell and many others. These mighty midgets cost the same as just the bulbs did for the big, hot, clumsy digital projectors of old, and the LED bulbs run cool and, unlike the old bulbs, last forever. LED projectors are ideal for playing slideshows or videos on your boat or in yacht clubs and restaurants. In many cases you can just slip a memory card into the projector and you're good to go without a computer.

There is no doubt that the 5,390-mile slog across the Indian Ocean from Bali to South Africa is a hard one. But that's what occasional Latitude contributor Kirk McGeorge had to do, with crew Drew Lucas, to deliver the family's Hylas 49 Gallivanter from their previous home in Bribane, Australia, to their new home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. McGeorge reports it took them 22 "sail tattering days" just to make it from Bali to Rodrigues. But that still left nearly 2,000 more miles to Richard's Bay, South Africa, via Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar. "The last 10 days, from rounding the southern tip of Madagascar to crossing the Mozambique Channel, was the worst. We had nine gales and/or storms, plus big seas. "But," notes the always optimistic McGeorge, "now it's downwind all the way home to my family in the Virgins." Well, first they have to get a couple of hundred miles away from South Africa, then it's all downwind in what is often the most pleasant long sail in the world.

There goes the neighborhood! We've been saying that the last few years have been the Golden Age of Punta Mita, the anchorage just inside the northwest tip of Banderas Bay. The beauty of the place has been that mass tourism, with all the downsides, hadn't caught on yet so it's been muy tranquilo. But developments, if you'll excuse the pun, are threatening to disturb the tranquility. First, there's a 480-room Iberostar Playa Mita Resort that just opened about three miles from Anclote, the little village on Mita's shore. Second, construction is said to begin in February on a Ritz-Carlton hotel and villa complex on the last sizeable stretch of undeveloped land to the east of the Anclote. Yet perhaps the biggest threat is the announcement that Cascade Investments — the private investment arm of Bill Gates and Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal ­— has plunked down $200 million in cash to buy the Punta Mita Four Seasons and 48 acres of adjacent developable property. Lastly, rumor has it that big Silicon Valley money is being pooled to create a tech crucible at — no kidding — Punta Mita. Oh boy. While there is room for hundreds of boats in the shallow anchorage where the afternoon wind always blows offshore, the remote and tranquil vibe in the surf and the sand may not last forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Stefan Ries is a German sailor who enjoyed the Punta Mita area waves for years, until things started getting a little too crowded for him. So he took off in his $5,000 Triton 29 Mintaka, and has been budget cruising the islands on the Pacific Coast of Panama. "We got to Santa Catalina Island last weekend and the surfing situation is much improved. For one thing, I now have a neighbor, Jeff on the catamaran Lily, who has a dinghy and outboard to get to the surf. Plus, the surf has been pretty good. I also met Christian, a Spanish sailor from the Canary Islands, and we had a good time sailing 90 miles together. If anyone wants to get a good idea of budget cruising here in Panama, I've got a seven minute video that I put up on YouTube at youtube/BHzZ1U1BNp8."

In the December issue, the Grand Poobah reported that just prior to the Ha-Ha, he started on the Baja Ha-Ha Diet, which is really just a plant based diet recommended by Kaiser and other health experts. In two weeks we lost 15 pounds, and now, two months later, we're still down 15. But the really good news has been the blood test results, as blood pressure, blood glucose and triglycerides have all plunged in just that short time. Our point is not to boast, but rather to encourage you to try it if you need to get some numbers down, as you'll very likely have similar results. What are we having to deny ourselves? Nothing, because we rather quickly lost cravings for chocolate, sugar, baked goods, rice and all that crapola. Healthy food, jacked up with spices or salsa, is pretty darn tasty once you get your taste buds readjusted to natural tastes.

"With the 2013-2014 Mexico cruising season underway, we would like to share our 'commuter cruiser' experiences from last season, as my two daughters, girlfriend and I commuted between my boat in various ports in Mexico and the Tijuana Airport, which is just across the border from our home," write Don Laverty and girlfriend Valorie McClelland of the San Diego-based Olson 911S Distraction. "In 2012 and 2013, our circle made a total of 22 one-way trips on Volaris: from Tijuana to La Paz, to Mazatlan, to Puerto Vallarta, and to Hermosillo, which is near Guaymas/San Carlos, and back to Tijuana. The only time I flew on a U.S.-based carrier was when I flew home from Manzanillo in February to see my tax advisor. I paid top dollar for that ticket! Volaris now flies to Manzanillo. Tijuana Airport is a hub for Volaris, the young Mexican airline with newer Airbus A319s and A320s. The planes are clean, the flight crews young, energetic and attractive — much like the Southwest crews in the early years — and alcohol is free. All 22 flights were uneventful, with a few minor delays, as you'd expect with any other carrier.This was our first time cruising Mexico and we weren't ready to cut all ties with home, so we 'commuter cruised'. At the end of the season, Distraction was lifted out at the San Carlos Marina, packed up at the Marina Seca dry storage yard, and trucked back to San Diego. My favorite places during our trip: Anchorage: Punta Mita. Remote anchorage: Bahia de los Muertos. Beach: Bonanza, on Isla del Espiritu Santo. City: La Paz. Historical City: San Blas. Small town: Barra Navidad. Small town with adjacent marina: La Cruz. Marina/Hotel: the El Cid in Mazatlan. We spent Christmas Day in their hot tub."

Volaris is very popular with cruisers. It takes a little effort to cross the border, but there are good options.

We are aware that Aduana (Customs) in Mexico was, at the end of December, acting strange, and thanks to some inexplicable and heavy-handed tactics, risking severely damaging nautical tourism to Mexico. The situation is complicated and fluid, so please follow it in 'Lectronic Latitude — and keep fingers crosssed.

As always, we love to hear from those of you out cruising. A short paragraph and photo or two are great.

Missing the pictures? See the January 2014 eBook!


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