February, 2003

With reports this month from Viva on a slithery situation in Costa Rica; from Tai Tam II on Bocas del Toro and Cartagena; from Adagio on a year in Tasmania and Australia; from Mamouna on Costa Rica; from Willyflippit on buying a cat in France, sailing the Med, and then crossing the Atlantic; from Roxanne in New Zealand; and Cruise Notes.

Viva - Islander 37
Bob Willmann
Costa Rican Two-Step
(San Diego)

I'd been sitting on the starboard side of the cockpit for about two hours, just reading and drinking tea and watching the sun rise over the mellow harbor at Golfito, Costa Rica. Dolphins were playing around, howler monkeys were doing their morning growling, and dozens of different kinds of birds were doing noisy bird things. You really learn to enjoy Mother Nature's creatures when you're cruising.

Glancing up from my book, I noticed what looked like a cow pie or a coil of old hemp at the foot of the port side settee about four feet from my feet. What the heck? A closer inspection revealed that my new shipmate was a snake! The thing was various shades of brown, had a triangular head, and was coiled up and seemingly asleep. Basically, I didn't believe it, didn't like it, and didn't want to be there! So I quietly put the dinghy in the water - which required playing with the davit lines, which were about a foot from my new pet - and motored over to Banana Bay Marina to get advice.

After my friend Steve from Witch of Endor got his camera and two Ticos from Banana Bay joined us, we all returned to Viva to do battle. Actually, the others thought they just were humoring me - until they saw the snake! It took my Hawaiian sling and two machetes to separate the part of the snake with the fangs from the part that tried to go everywhere but into the bucket, but we did it. We learned that it was a fer de lance snake, which is locally known as the 'two-step' - because that's as far as you can walk if one bites you. So I had been really lucky.

How did the snake get on my anchored boat? Did it climb up the anchor chain? The fer de lance is a land snake, and even though all reptiles can swim, they don't normally do it on purpose. And how did he get to my little boat in this big bay? Did a bird drop it? What kind of bird carries around deadly snakes, and what are the odds of it landing on Viva? Did some bad guy throw it aboard as a sick joke? I figure if a guy can handle venomous snakes well enough to pick them up and throw them, he could just come aboard himself. And the biggest question, what do you have to do to a 4'10" snake hide to make it into a hat band?

- bob 11/12/02

Tai Tam II - Island Packet 40
Tom & Kathy Knueppel
Cartagena, Colombia
(San Francisco)

We left the Bocas del Toro region on the northwestern part of the Caribbean side of Panama in October of 2002, and spent two weeks travelling to the San Blas Islands, which are on the southeastern part of the Caribbean side of Panama. The lovely San Blas Islands, as well as a small part of the Panama mainland, are home to the 50,000 members of the Kuna Indian nation. Only about 40 of the 365 San Blas Islands - all of which are quite small - are actually inhabited. The others, which aren't much more than islets, are used for coconut harvesting, with village families rotating as caretakers on a seven months on, five months off, basis. Trading schooners from Colombia ply the islands purchasing the coconuts and selling fuel and supplies.

In addition to the coconut trade, the Kunas make money selling molas to the very few tourists - mainly cruisers and the occasional small cruise ship - and by a limited amount of agriculture on the mainland. The Kunas essentially operate on a modified version of communism, which has prevented a division of their society into the haves and the have-nots, and keeps everyone believing they are partial owners of their wonderful country. Most islands of any size have a small village with a sahila or local chief, who along with a congreso runs the island. Many of these islands are 200 yards or less in diameter, and are tightly packed with Kuna families who travel between the mainland and these small islands via ulus - dugout canoes that are either sailed or paddled.

Navigating among the islands is a challenge, as the barrier reefs that provide such excellent protection from the strong winds and waves of the Caribbean are also severe hazards. The Zydlers' excellent cruising guide to this area is highly recommended, but cruisers still sometimes have problems. We visited the wreck of a Hallberg-Rassy 42 that had gone on a reef a few years ago and couldn't be pulled off. It was a very depressing sight. From one of our anchorages we were also able to see a large freighter on the reef about a quarter of a mile away - reminding us to be constantly vigilant and careful with our navigation. The existing charts for this area are old and not very accurate, so GPS is potentially more of a hazard than an aid. One needs to learn to navigate by sight, figuring out the depth of the water by its color. We ran aground once while entering an anchorage, but were able to get off with the help of several cruisers.

The tiny Kuna women are always dressed in their traditional garb, which is a yellow and red head scarf, wrapped skirt, and bright polyester blouses with hand stitched molas in matching patterns on either side. Their faces are painted with a thin black line down the bridge of the nose, and many wear a large gold band through their pierced nose. Strings of small glass beads wrap their arms and legs to keep them slim. Generally speaking, the women are the breadwinners, as they make and sell the molas and beaded jewelry.

An interesting aspect of the Kuna culture is that in each village one male, early in his life, has to stay back with the women to learn the art of mola making. From what we have observed, it is these men who tend to make the best molas. It is fascinating to observe these men, as they are very feminine in their mannerisms but actually live like the other men. We visited one of these 'special' men with his family, and it was an eerie sight to see this extremely feminine man, wearing nail polish and rouge, holding hands with his wife and child.

Unfortunately, the San Blas Islands are no longer unspoiled, and many of the beaches were covered in the remnants of civilization - plastic bags, bottles, shoes, and so forth. In addition, the Indians weren't as innocent as we'd expected. They are quite aggressive in peddling their wares and almost always expect gifts.

We left the San Blas Islands at the end of November, and made our way to Cartagena, which is where we've been for almost a month. We really love this historic city and her people. Despite U.S. State Department warnings about Colombia, we have never felt threatened - although we're always careful to be aware of our surroundings. It seems as though Cartagena is somewhat isolated from the rest of the country's violence, perhaps by agreement of the combatants.

Cartagena has two marinas cruisers can stay at, and it's also possible to anchor out. Both the marinas and the anchorage are off the suburb of Manga, a comfortable middle-class neighborhood.

Club Nautico is the marina favored by most cruisers. It offers bow or stern ties to somewhat rickety docks. Divers are on hand to secure a forward line to an underwater mooring, so anchors don't have to be used. The current slip rates are $0.25/ft/day, with $2/day for water and electricity, and discounts for longer stays. For those anchored out, all the club's amenities are available for $2/day. John, the friendly harbormaster, accepts reservations and can be reached . Club Nautico has a restaurant, bar, book exchange, laundry, showers, and phones, and serves as the cruiser hangout in Cartagena. The security is excellent, so we have no hesitation recommending Club Nautico to anyone who might want to leave their boat for an extended period. The marina staff is friendly and works hard to accommodate cruisers.

We're staying at the other marina, Club de Pesca, which is nestled amongst an old fort not far from Club Nautico. Club de Pesca is a private club and most of the slips have boats owned by Colombians - although about 10 are set aside for visitors. The docks are made of cement, and slips go for .30/ft/day, water and electricity included. In order to get a slip, you need advance notice as well as the recommendation of a member or a cruiser who is already staying there. When it comes to amenities, there is not much difference between the two marinas, and neither one has hot water showers. Club de Pesca has slightly more modern docks, but it doesn't have much atmosphere and unlike Club Nautico, not much goes on.

When cruisers in Cartagena get tired of marina and city life, it's only 20 miles out to the Rosario Islands, an excellent cruising area.

After coming through the Panama Canal from the Pacific, many cruisers look for a place to leave their boat for several months. They generally end up in the Bocas del Toro area, which is where we left our boat. Having now been there and Cartagena, we feel that Cartagena might be a better option. It's safe to leave your boat unattended in both places, but Cartagena has more to offer. For example, it has at least three major haulout facilities and every kind of service you can imagine. Bocas, on the other hand, doesn't have any place to haul out and not much in the way of services.

Prices are also lower in Cartagena. Even at the upscale Club de Pesca, a hardworking boatwasher and general handiwork man will charge $15 for a good eight hours worth of work. Cartagena is also a lovely city rich in history and with many inexpensive but wonderful restaurants in the European tradition. A typical four-course meal with unlimited wine runs about $10. A final point to consider is that Bocas, which is pleasant, is somewhat off the beaten track and is very wet much of the year. Cartagena has a two-month rainy season. As anyone who has ever gone through a major rainy season will tell you, the mildew and other moisture related problems are not to be underestimated. All in all, we'd recommend Cartagena over the Bocas for leaving a boat.

When arriving at Cartagena, you'll get a 90-day visa. This can be renewed each month for a total of six months, at which time you either have to leave or obtain a visa at a Colombian consulate or embassy outside of the country. By the way, it's about 170 miles from Colon, at the Caribbean end of the Canal, to Bocas, while it's 240 miles to Cartagena. However, if you leave from the San Blas Islands - which aren't to be missed - it's only 180 miles to Cartagena.

We're planning to stay here for a few months before making our way to the Western Caribbean.

- tom and kathy 12/15/03

Adagio - M&M 52 Cat
Steve & Dorothy Darden
Tasmania And Australia
(New Zealand / Formerly Tiburon)

This will be our first Christmas away from our daughter Kim and her family, so we are trying to keep our chins up. In November, Dorothy helped Kim and her family move from San Francisco to beautiful Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

Last year saw us having wonderful fun and meeting many new friends here in Australia. With the start of 2002, we continued to cruise the beautiful waters of Tasmania, first going up the incredibly beautiful rocky coastline of the east coast, visiting four national parks in 10 days. We continued around to the wild and wooly west coast of Tasmania in March, always being careful to avoid all bad weather.

At the end of June it was time to head north to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. On our way to the Whitsunday Islands, just inside the GBR, we beach walked and went scuba diving or snorkeling at every island we visited. We were enthralled by what we saw underwater, and the fish and coral looked to be in excellent health in most places.

When we got to Townsville, we turned back south again to avoid the summer cyclone season and to take advantage of the northerlies which provided lovely sailing down the east coast of Australia. While at Sanctuary just south of Brisbane, we enjoyed Carols by Candlelight, a rollicking collection of opera singers leading the audience in song, accompanied by big band sound, jazz singers and dancers, costumed characters, a nativity scene and heaps of good fun.

Five days ago we arose early to depart Sanctuary Cove before daylight for a pleasant eight-hour sail south to Yamba. We were allowed to tie up at the visitors dock for two nights while we explored the two sister towns that frame the entrance to the mighty Clarence River. Although the river is currently enfeebled by drought conditions, it gave us a peaceful place to keep the boat, away from the worries of ocean weather and bar crossings. We would naturally keep a wary eye for reports of heavy rains upstream and flood warnings.

The next morning we took the Clarence River Ferry across the river to Iluka. A pair of osprey watched us from their perch on the navigation light north of Dart Island, and a third soared overhead. After a 30-minute ride in the pretty little traditional wooden ferry, we arrived at Iluka where Dorothy photographed a white-winged triller bird singing happily in a beachside tree. A flock of white pelicans floated with great dignity in the little harbor, and zillions of pea-sized soldier crabs flowed over the sandy shore in waves.

Dorothy then walked to the Iluka Nature Reserve and followed the five kilometer World Heritage Rainforest Walk, a pathway through tall trees whose branches held large clumps of staghorn fern. Thick llianas, vines like those out of a Tarzan movie, hung from the treetops to the ground. The trail ended at a climb up to a whale lookout atop Iluka Bluff, which provided sweeping views of beaches to the north and south. The waves begin to break far out from shore, forming beautiful white rollers that go on for a long distance. The region is renowned for its great surfing, and we often see young people carrying surfboards through town.

The deckhand on the ferry lassoed the pilings from a fair distance using an old, floppy dockline with a loop spliced into the end. He showed me a blue swimmer crab he had taken from a crab pot he keeps near the Iluka ferry dock, and gave me instructions for catching flatheads and whitings in the Clarence River.

Yesterday morning, we phoned the Harwood Bridge operator to ask if he could open the bridge for us in the afternoon so we could make our way upriver to the 'Scottish' town of McLean. We got the operator's wife instead of the operator, and then she forgot to tell him. At 20 minutes before the appointed hour of 2 p.m., we were 20 minutes away from the bridge, when we saw it was already opening. Good, we thought. A sailboat was positioned close to the bridge, and passed under as soon as it was opened. Then - whoops - it began to close! We finally reached the bridge operator on his mobile phone and he agreed to reopen it as soon as he could. The bridge is for Route 1, the major north/south artery along the Australian east coast, so we had to wait quite a while. As we proceeded upriver, we observed several of the small commercial fishing boats set up for a night of pocket-netting for prawns. They secure the boat in a spiderweb of anchors, within whose restraint the vessel steams at night to disturb the bottom, driving prawns into a net streamed astern.

By 3 p.m. we were anchored on the shore opposite the town of McLean, feasting on our summer abundance - mango, oranges, grapes, tomatoes, and roast chicken. Life is good! Showers were required before we could lay our weary heads down on our clean pillowcases for a bit of a read and a nap. We awakened to the dusk chorus of birdsong ashore, and our new friend the white-winged triller was belting out a staccato of pleasant notes. For dinner: fresh local prawns and Steve's killer red sauce with horseradish, figs, and tossed green salad.

We will cruise as far as Ulmarra tomorrow, explore Grafton by bus, then head down river and along the coast towards Tassie. Less than 'two sleeps' before Christmas, we find ourselves surrounded by sugar cane fields, mango trees, shrimp trawlers and beaches, floating on a lazy river, anchored near a Scottish town in Australia. We never would have dreamed it.

- steve & dorothy 12/22/02

Mamouna - Peterson 44
Doug & Lisa Welsch
Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica
(San Diego)

We'd like to get the word out to other cruisers about the wonderful Costa Rican anchorage at Bahia Ballena (9°42'N, 85°00'W). We like it so much that we've been here for a month. The 1.5-mile wide bay offers very good protection from most wind and the water is so clean that we take a swim every morning. When hiking along the water's edge, it's possible to see monkeys and other wildlife. It's also a great place to have friends fly in for a visit, as there are commuter flights regularly from San Jose. No wonder there's a small ex-pat community here.

During our stay we've had the opportunity to meet a lot of new non-cruising friends, such as Paul and Lynn Stokes who have a 400-acre property. They hosted a wonderful New Year's Eve party complete with panoramic views, two roasted pigs, a swimming pool, and lots of cold drinks. The Ticos and ex-pats have added so much to our experience.

We have found so much to do in this small area of Costa Rica. The Bahia Ballena YC, which is operated by Eden, the daughter of the founder to Heart Interface Inverters, offers good food, cervezas, water, Internet access and telephone service. She expects to have laundry facilities soon. Across the street is a gas and diesel tienda, a small grocery store, pay phone, and trash collection bins. Friday is a special day, because Honey Heart comes by the club with a truck full of fresh, locally grown organic vegetables and exquisite cheeses and breads. Have a desire for fish? The catch-of-the-day can be bought from the local fisherman at the dinghy dock and pier. It's a quick dinghy trip to the Tambor, where there's a grocery store, bar, and disco. The latter doesn't keep the anchorage up all night unless everyone is dancing the night away.

Tambor is also home to the lovely Tambor Tropical Resort, which is made of exotic woods, and offers a great view of the bay and fine dining. For breakfast, we often go to Dos Ligartos for great gallo pinto. There is daily bus service from Tambor to Cobano, which has a hardware store, bakery, Internet cafe, bank with ATM services, and many other grocery stores. The bus continues to a great little beach community called Montezuma, a quaint little one-street town with a 150-foot waterfall and fresh water streams. Here you can find all the goodies tourists love: bagels, espresso, cookies, ice cream, tattoos and bikinis. We loved hanging out at Iguana's, people watching. Montezuma also has a wonderful laundry service, with a washer and dryer - just like home. And Amelia will have it all done in time for you to catch the 4 pm bus back to Tambor.

If you're looking for other good anchorages, Isla Tortuga, which has excellent snorkeling and tree-lined white sand beaches, is just two hours away. And it's not far to Isla Muertos, Curu, Cedros, San Lucas, and Naranjo.

What more can we say but - pura vida, amigos!

- doug & lisa 1/10/03

Willyflippit - Switch 51
The Molitor Family
New Cat From Med To Caribbean
(Seattle, Washington)

While walking the docks at La Marina, Point-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, French West Indies, we noticed a Switch 51 catamaran with a hailing port of Shaw Island, Washington - so we decided to say 'hello'. We soon found out that the new cat was owned by the Molitor family - Scott, Stacey, Lauren (8), Clay (6), with Corsair, a now healthy cat they'd picked up as skin and bones in Croatia. Wonder of wonders, they turned out to be Latitude subscribers, so we were delighted to be able to hand them the latest issue.

Scott, a contractor, and Stacey, who used to work for Adobe Systems, began cruising around Seattle with an Island Packet 37. After enjoying a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, they decided to take the family on a cruise to Mexico in 2000. The idea was if everyone decided they liked full time cruising, they would continue on to New Zealand. By early 2001, they had concluded that full time cruising - and home schooling - suited them so much that they decided to sell their house to buy a larger boat before sailing across the Pacific. So in the spring of 2001, they had their Island Packet trucked from San Carlos back to Seattle, where she was sold.

When it came to a new boat, everyone in the family wanted it bigger, particularly the growing kids, who no longer wanted to share a bunk. In addition, Scott was looking for better performance. While in the Sea of Cortez, Scott and Stacey had spent some time visiting on the Privilege 39 Shea La Vie, and marveled at the space. In addition, the owners of the Lagoon 41 Tropic Cat described the advantages of cruising with a cat during a get together in La Paz.

It's true that when it comes to length, catamarans cost more than monohulls. But that's not the whole story. "Catamarans turned out to be no more expensive than monohulls when it came to the number of staterooms, which is what we were looking for," says Scott. So before long the family concentrated on finding the right catamaran for their purposes.

Most production catamarans are geared to the Caribbean charter trade, which means the number of berths and ensuite toilets takes precedence over things such as speed, pointing ability, and bridgedeck clearance. So the Molitors weren't interested in the models by Lagoon, Leopard, and Privilege, which have fixed keels, are comparatively heavy, and generally don't have much bridgedeck clearance. "After looking around, we pretty much settled on a Catana 431 or 471, both of which had the qualities we were looking for."

Just as they were about to sign on the dotted line, however, they talked to some Catana owners who described some of the teething problems they had with their boats. Teething problems the Molitors eventually discovered are pretty common on all new boats - including theirs.

"Then we looked at the Switch 51," continues Scott, "which is built by a small and relatively new French company called Composities Sud. Designed by van Peteghem and Lauriot-Prevost - who designed the Lagoons as well as many racing cats and trimarans - she's similar in appearance to the original Lagoon 47 and Lagoon 55, but is quite a bit lighter, has higher bridgedeck clearance, and daggerboards rather than fixed keels. We liked her, so we signed up to take delivery of hull #6 in France in early 2002."

At the time they bought their Switch 51, the price was in the range of $600,000, a little less than a comparable sized Catana model. She was well equipped for cruising, however, including a washing machine that uses 13 gallons a load but works well, a Fisher-Panda 4.5 gen set that's been reliable, refrigeration, a full complement of electronics, a Spectra watermaker, twin furling headsails, and much more. In a somewhat unusual move, Scott opted to have the boat outfitted with 40-hp Yanmars rather than the standard 56-hp models. He explains that he'd kept a full complement of spares from the Yanmar 40 on their Island Packet. Even with the smaller diesels, Willyflippit motors at 9.3 knots in flat water. Like many catamarans, the Molitors' has a heavy duty bimini that covers the massive cockpit area. "The kids love to play on top of it," says Stacey - who went on to admit that it's one of her favorite places to sleep!

"Our boat was supposed to be ready on February 15 of last year, but it wasn't ready for us to actually take off on until the middle of May," Stacey continues. "We're not complaining about the delay, however, as the company bent over backwards to help us. Furthermore, they didn't nickel and dime us to death over minor changes and additions, and haven't even billed us for some bigger things."

The Molitors obviously have a sense of humor, for in addition to having a catamaran named Willyflippit, they have a dinghy named Betty Wont. Funny names and all, in mid-May they started their Med adventure by sailing to Marseille and then the Poquerolle Islands in the South of France. "Two of the drawbacks of having a catamaran in the crowded Med are finding berthing in small harbors and the cost of that berthing," says Scott. "At one marina in the Poquerolles, they were asking $90/night. We were going to leave because we can't afford prices like that. The only reason we stayed is because my dad absolutely insisted on picking up the tab. It would be the most we would ever pay for a berth."

After the South of France, the family continued on to Corsica, and the Ionian Sea area of Greece for a month, followed by six weeks in Croatia. "Despite the crowds we really loved Croatia," say the couple. "One of the nice things about Croatia is that other than the first two days at Dubrovnik, we were able to anchor out the entire time."

With the passing of summer, it became time for the Molitors to start heading east. On their way, they made a number of stops in southern Italy, the impoverished part of that country. "We didn't care for it at all, as there is lots of crime and we got the feeling everybody was trying to rip us off. So after two weeks we moved on to the big Italian island of Sardinia. It was wonderful!"

The family's next stops were the fabled island of Capri and the beautiful Bay of Naples. "We were able to anchor off Capri, which was nice, but getting a berth anywhere else was difficult. As we and a buddyboating monohull neared one marina, a guy came out and told us it would be $150/night - not counting water or electricity! Even though it was getting late, paying that much was out of the question for us. We ended up in a very small marina near Naples that's barely mentioned in the cruising guide, where the owners had to rearrange a bunch of smaller boats so we could fit in. It was still $80/night, but there was 24-hour security and the owners were very considerate. Folks thinking about cruising in the Med need to realize that there are some places where it's easy to anchor for free, but there are other places where you almost always have to go into a marina."

After the stop near Naples, the Molitors headed back to the Switch factory on the France's southwest coast of the Med to have some minor problems tended to. It was October 1 when they resumed cruising, heading to Mahon on Spain's Balearic Island of Menorca. It was during this passage that Willyflippit got her first taste of rough weather. "We got caught in an autumn gale with 45 knots of wind from aft," remembers Scott, "but Willyflippit passed the heavy weather test with flying colors. We hit up to 13 knots flying only the triple-reefed main, but the whole family felt safe and secure."

Upon arrival in Gibraltar, they got a terrific shock as young Lauren was diagnosed as having juvenile diabetes. "The doctor saved my life," says the eight-year-old. Lauren ultimately spent a week in a small hospital where she says she was "waited on hand and foot." The second big shock in Gibraltar came when Scott went to pay the bill. After a week in the hospital with attentive care and getting a couple of month's worth of medicine, the total charge came to just $24! "We couldn't believe it," says Scott, "but they explained that since she was diagnosed with the problem while in Gibraltar, their health care system would pick up almost the entire tab."

Having concluded their time in the Med, the Molitors had mixed feelings about cruising there. Stacey liked the Med, and was surprised that things - other than berthing - weren't more expensive. Scott, who had to worry about anchoring and finding marinas, didn't care for the Med as much. "He's not the most social guy in the world," says Stacey, "so it really wasn't his kind of place." They both report, however, that there were no problems with port captains or other officials, not even in Greece. They say that the port captains in Croatia displayed senses of humor, something most port captains don't admit to having. They also say that they felt so safe in Greece and Croatia that they didn't even bother to lock their dinghy.

Stacey and the kids passed on the Atlantic crossing, so on November 28 Scott and two friends departed the Canaries on the 2,800 miles crossing to Guadeloupe. "We had a mixed bag of weather coming across," says Scott. "It was pretty rough in the beginning, with 30 to 35 knots of wind, big seas, and the occasional big cross sea. It's never going to be comfortable on a boat in such conditions, but Willyflippit handled it just fine. During the middle of the crossing we hardly had any wind at all. For the last third or so we had 15 knots or less. We completed the passage in 16 days. I was a little disappointed, as I'd hoped for more wind and a faster crossing, but we still averaged more than seven knots on the rhumbline distance."

One of the reasons the Molitors had sailed to Guadeloupe is because Switch has a repair facility there, and they still needed work on the steering. Nonetheless, the family did manage to enjoy Christmas and New Years at Les Saintes, the lovely islands just off the tip of Guadeloupe. Future plans call for them to sail to Trinidad before returning to the Northwest for awhile. Then they will sail the coast of South America, transit the Canal next Christmas, and head up to Costa Rica before continuing on to the Galapagos and the rest of the way across the Pacific. Scott would love to return to the Sea of Cortez on their cat, but thinks it's probably a little too far out of the way.

The Molitors report that they are delighted with their choice of boats, feeling that Willyflippit is the right combination of space, performance, ease of handling, and price for their situation.

While catamarans are still a small minority in the world of cruising, their numbers are growing. The Molitors told us that we'd just missed seeing the Cunard family aboard the Seattle-based Catana 47 Simpatica. Bruce, Allison, Sam (10), Kari (9), and Holly (4) had taken delivery of their cat new in France 18 months before, and in November had been the top multihull in the Caribbean 1500 from Virginia to the British Virgins.

- latitude 38 1/12/03

Roxanne - Wylie 60
Tom, Lynn, Jack And Tristan Petty
After Two Years
(San Francisco)

After sailing to New Zealand at the end of the year to avoid the South Pacific tropical cyclone season, we put Roxanne inside a marina facing the picturesque panorama of downtown Auckland. After two years of the barefoot life on tropical beaches, being in New Zealand feels enormously civilized, and we are enjoying some of the finer aspects of urban living. For instance, we have five two-liter buckets of ice cream in our freezer, each a different flavor. Tom's rationalization is that the containers are great for mixing epoxy. We've also become regular viewers of television - at least when the Louis Vuitton racing is aired. We're enjoying riding bikes on flat pavement as opposed to the rutted out dirt roads of the islands. Finally, we look forward to the hot, pressurized showers ashore - even though they are timed.

Living in an urban area again, we've made some urban acquisitions. We carry a cell phone which signals calls by playing Jingle Bells, and have purchased a purple station wagon that is so ugly we've named it the 'Buttmobile'. New wardrobes also became a necessity, as the cool of New Zealand's southern latitudes created goosebumps on our bodies, which had become so acclimated to the tropics. Three of us wear fleece almost every day. The exception is Tristan, who still wears swim trunks, T-shirts, and sandals.

Since leaving San Francisco two years ago, we spent a year cruising in Mexico before taking off across the Pacific to New Zealand. Here's a quick review of our travels: After sailing up and down the coast of Mexico, we provisioned like mad in Acapulco before taking off from Zihua. After a visit to Huatulco, which was very windy, we continued down to El Salvador. Because of a long civil war, poor economy, and the earthquakes, Salvadorans aren't the most trusting folks. I'm glad we visited, but it's a destination I wouldn't particularly recommend to others. Costa Rica, where we enjoyed soaking in the naturally heated pools on the sides of a volcano, was better. Our last stop in that country was remote and nearly uninhabited Cocos Island, home to countless hammerhead sharks.

We then sailed south across the equator to the Galapagos, where we spent three weeks. It was great to see the fearless animals such as giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, lava-lizards, and the ubiquitous blue-footed boobies. The boys in particular were delighted to swim with the marine critters. The Galapagos Islands are truly a world unto their own.

We made our long Eastern Pacific crossing - 14 days - to the Gambiers, which are way down at 20° south. It was so chilly for the Tuamotus that we began having hot soup for many of our meals. Before continuing on to breathtakingly beautiful Moorea, and then Tahiti, we stopped at several other atolls in the Tuamotus. For us, the Tuamotus are unforgettable, and represent nearly everyone's fantasy view of the South Pacific. They are palm lined atolls brushed by light breezes and surrounded by brilliant turquoise water. They have abundant sealife, too, so Tom was able to gather lots of grouper and rock scallops. Since little grows on the coral atolls but coconuts and shrubs, we missed the fresh veggies and fruit, but had plenty of high protein fare.

After urbanized Tahiti, we continued on to Huahine, which had some of the clearest water we've ever seen. We encountered 25-knot winds at the sister atolls of Raiatea and Tahaa, then made the short hop over to Bora Bora where we dropped the hook for several weeks. Although Bora Bora is postcard pretty, it had tacky shops and was crawling with tourists. Since it's remote and in French Polynesia, you pay through the nose for everything. It was a relief to finally move on to gorgeous but lightly populated Maupiti, just 30 miles away, our last stop in French Polynesia.

Continuing on the Coconut Milk Run, our next stop was Suwarrow in the Cook Islands. The local caretaker showed us how to harvest coconut crabs and make lures from oyster shells. Suwarrow was so wonderful that we could hardly tear ourselves away for the trip to Samoa. Once we got to Samoa, we met the friendliest locals of the trip at volcanic Savaii, an island covered in wild flowers. We also stopped at neighboring Western Samoa, which is more densely populated.

Our last tropical landfall was Tonga, a fascinating place where the coral groves are so colorful that you can't help but touch them.

Having visited so many different places, we're frequently asked which was our favorite. The men on the boat agree that it was Suwarrow. As for myself, I couldn't begin to chose. Each stop was priceless in its own way. All in all it's been a great adventure that's presented us with more experiences and given us more knowledge than we'd have gotten in 50 normal lifetimes.

- lynn 12/15/03

Cruise Notes:

"The cruising fleet in Costa Rica's Gulf of Nicoya celebrated Christmas Day at the Hotel Oasis del Pacifico, Playa Naranjo," reports John Kelly of the Seattle-based Hawkeye. "This beautifully landscaped - but under-utilized - hotel was the perfect location, as it has two swimming pools, a large palapa, along with laundry facilities - meaning a sink with running fresh water. For cruisers who haven't been able to do laundry for a month or more, having unlimited fresh water - and a view of the gulf - almost made the task of doing laundry by hand a pleasure. People who participated in the potluck and small gift exchange were Susan and Brad of the Seattle-based Akauhela; Bruce, April, Kendall, and Quincy of the Bay Area-based Crowther catamaran Chewbacca; Peter and Jennifer of the Manistique, Michigan-based Dreamwalker; John, Vickie, and Dylan of the St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.-based Firebird; John and Linda of the Seattle-based Hawkeye; Rickie, Heather, Oden and Kayla of the Gefle, Sweden-based La Escargot; Bill and Doreen of the Dalles, Oregon-based Lanaki; Doug and Lisa of the San Diego-based Mamouna; John, Amy, Jordan, Kendal, and Allison of the Greenwich, Connecticut-based Nyapa; and Utta and Fergie of the Yuma, Arizona-based Pipedream. The Northerlies held off until after the festivities were over, at which time most of the fleet left the shallow lee shore of Playa Naranjo for the protection of Isla San Lucas three miles away.

"Some of us reconvened a few days later for a bon voyage party for La Escargot," continues Kelly. "The family is currently on their way to San Francisco, where jobs await Rickie, a shipwright, and Heather, an accountant. Oden, 5, and Kayla, 2, will soon have to wear more than a pair of shorts - or their 'birthday suits' - for the first time in their lives, as both children were born and have been raised on the family boat in the tropics. The family is taking the 'clipper route' to San Francisco, so the only place they can stop during their 5,000-mile trip - which they estimate will take two months on their gaff-rigged topsail Colin Archer designed ketch - is remote Clipperton Island. Rickie built the boat himself 30 years ago."

"My name is Darci, I'm a 14-year-old cruiser aboard StarShip. We've been out for two years now, and are currently at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club in Panama, heading for the Caribbean. I read the January Changes from 13-year-old Sara Nutt, who is cruising with her family aboard the 60-ft ketch Danza in the South Pacific. I think she and I might have a lot in common, so I wonder if you could send me her email address?"

Normally we don't do that kind of thing Darci, but we know that cruising is sometimes tough for young girls, so we'll make an exception for you. Try Sara . In return, we'd like you to send us a paragraph or two telling us what kind of boat you're on, who is in your family, and where you're from.

Don Thomas of the Peterson 44 Tamure had his boat robbed while sleeping aboard. Here's his report: "Thursday night I experienced the fourth attempted theft since leaving Mexico a couple of years ago. Tamure and I are at the Banana Bay Marina, which is still probably one of the most secure marinas I've ever been in. Around midnight, I got up from the aft cabin, took a pee, and thought I'd look outside. Gazing into the center cockpit, I saw that a few things had been rearranged and there was a small canvas bag near the cockpit exit. 'What's this?' I thought. Going into the salon, I found the cabinet doors were open and a few items laying about, but up in the V-berth both briefcases that held manuals and important papers were open and the contents strewn about. By then I was fully awake and realized what had happened. A ladron (thief) had walked down the small beach at low tide, entered the water, swam to the stern of Tamure, and boarded. I think he was in the process of ripping my boat off when he heard me peeing, and bailed. I know he'd been in the water, because the cushions and the salon deck were wet. I was lucky in several respects. First, all he got was my backpack, an older pair of binoculars (the new ones were in an unopened cabinet), and my electric razor. The razor brings up the second lucky aspect. It was located on top of a cabinet right next to my bunk, and right below it was a heavy club-like metal piece that I keep elsewhere. The thief was obviously ready to strike me with it if I awoke. Needless to say, I'm just a touch rattled! I guess there's some other lucky aspects, such as the things the thief didn't get: my computer, the money in a bowl next to it, the watch next to the razor, the other good watch above my head, and finally the $1,000 Interphase Probe depthsounder he had removed and set aside to grab on his way off Tamure. The latter was still sitting in the cockpit. He didn't take my passport either, which was sitting out on top of a briefcase. Last but not least, I think I'm lucky I didn't wake up!

"Like I say," Thomas continues, "this was the fourth theft attempt since leaving Mexico. The first was a mugger I fought off in Guatemala City; the second one cut my dinghy painter in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica (the stainless steel cable saved it); the third was in San Jose, Costa Rica, where my backpack with my computer was stolen; and finally this. So far the score is Thieves: 2. Me: 2. For all of us out cruising - or at least for me - theft and boat security is our major concern. Banana Bay and the place next door both have security in inflatables patrolling the anchorage area, and Banana Bay has a guard on the dock all night long. Nonetheless, I've ordered four small motion detectors from Radio Shack, which I should have had all along. But I pays my money, takes my chances, and hopes for the best - just like everybody else. It's either that or give cruising up - and I'm not ready to do that yet."

"You asked for info on what's up in Mexico besides at Paradise Marina, so we're responding," report Jim and Kate Bondoux of the Northern California-based motoryacht Lionesse in Tenacatita Bay. "We arrived from Puerto Vallarta and Chamela yesterday, and were finally able to enjoy the lunch that had been interrupted three years ago when Liberté, our Cheoy Lee 66 motoryacht, caught fire and sank. We're really happy to be back at Tenacatita, and expect to dive on the remains of our old boat one of these days. Right now we count 19 sailboats and six powerboats in the anchorage, which is a few more than in January of 2000, but less than half of what was here last year. Our guess is that early last year saw a lot of Puddle Jumpers who had postponed departures because of 9/11 still here, and that this year's numbers are closer to normal. A partial list of sailboats would include, Chaika, Comanche, Content, Corazon de Acero, Delfin Salar, Dulcinea, Frances V, Gemini, Jake, Lady Home, Lucida, Mrs. Harrigan, Nakiska, Patches, Penn Station, Pericles, Shadow Dancer, Star Song, and Tyee. The palapa is open for business with cervezas at 10 pesos, and is reportedly serving delicious food. Alas, the French restaurant that was so popular at the old movie set for a couple of years has not reopened, but the veggie truck shows up on Fridays at the outer cluster of beach palapas. We miss Don and Leena Hossack of the Truckee-based Islander 36 Windward Luv, who were the Mayor and Queen of Tenacatita Bay for so long, but they have decided to stay around Mazatlan this season. There are plenty of activities around the bay this year; we missed the Hearts tournament, but will be around for the bocce ball game later today, and the sunset cocktail dinghy raftup this weekend."

"We're on our way back to Puerto Vallarta from Isla Socorro, one of the remote Revillagigedos Islands that are located about 350 miles southwest of Puerto Vallarta," reports Pete Boyce of the Manteca-based Sabre 402 Edelweiss II. "We left on January 7, took just under three days to get there, and should arrive back in Puerto Vallarta on January 21. Socorro is a volcanic island with lots of low green plants, including grasses, cactus, and shrubs. There are no trees or beaches. However, the water was outstandingly clear, with some coral, lots of colorful fish - including sharks - and lobster. We caught a 50-lb yellowfin tuna on the way out to the island, and Blue Chablis caught and - brought us - a 40-lb wahoo. What delicious eating! They also gave us a bon voyage present of four lobster, which we ate tonight. Outstanding! The Mexican navy has a base at Socorro."

We're curious if you got a permit to go to Socorro, or did you have to stop there for 'emergency repairs'? If you got a permit, how and where did you get it, and how much did it cost?

Congratulations are due Bruce and Alison Cunard - and children Sam, 10, Kari, 9, and Holly, 4 - of the Seattle-based Catana 47 Simpatica for winning the multihull division in last December's West Marine Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgin Islands. They finished the approximately 1,500-mile course in 187 hours, 50 of which were spent motoring. The Cunards - and their crew Eric Newburger and Megan Alt - also won the Tempest Trophy, the event's most prestigious award, which is "emblematic of the spirit of the event." According to Rally Director Steve Black, "The Cunards and crew were sufficiently well prepared that they were able to spend time helping others both before and during the passage, including a mid-ocean fuel drop to another boat." The Cunards reportedly took delivery of the boat in Europe about 18 months ago.

The only other West Coast entry in the Caribbean 1500 was Quietly, Dalton Williams' Mason 43 from Friday Harbor, Washington. She - like three other entries - was 'delayed', although it wasn't explained what this means.

"We were very surprised to hear about the loss of the Ericson 39 Pneuma on South Minerva Reef between Tonga and New Zealand," writes Anne Kilkenny, "because my husband Jon Naviaux and I cruised on her - then named Folle Independance - across the South Pacific to Australia from '88 and '91. We'd like to extend our condolences to owners Guy and Melissa Stevens, whom we met briefly in Astoria in the fall of '99 as they were heading south and we were returning from our maiden voyage to Alaska aboard our new boat Ted K. The loss of our old boat feels like the loss of a dear old friend."

Here's a continuing sweet story. Bill and Sam Fleetwood met through a Latitude 38 Crew List Party, got married, did the '97 Ha-Ha aboard their Monterey-based Gulfstar 50 Blue Banana, and then cruised across the Pacific a few years ago. And they are still together and still happily cruising. In fact, they just sent us an email from Mooloolaba, Australia, and asked if we wanted a story about Dennis Conner and John Bertrand racing in an Etchells Worlds nearby. We told them we weren't particularly interested in Dennis or John, but would very much like to hear more details of their cruising adventures. They've promised to get back to us on it.

"We just completed a wonderful trip down the coast of Mexico, delivering a Swan 44 from San Diego to Mazatlan," reports Capt. Sherwin Harris, who didn't identify the boat. "We averaged over seven knots and only had to motor about half a day. We feasted on mahi mahi, and enjoyed all the comforts of a well-appointed vessel - which included hot showers enroute. We arrived at Marina Mazatlan at 0200, but were nonetheless greeted by the local security force, which couldn't have been more courteous or helpful - as were all the other locals. We stayed for the breakfast buffet at El Cid, and caught a return flight to San Diego within eight hours of arriving. What followed couldn't have been more disappointing, however. Upon our return, we discovered that the credit card we used to pay for breakfast had been duplicated, and charges totalling almost $1,000 had been run up before the credit card company got wise. The thieves probably assumed that we were cruisers in transit, and therefore wouldn't find out what was going on until it was too late. Our advice is to never allow your credit cards to get out of your sight. By the way, it still may be possible to fake your way in and out of Mexico with a certified copy of your birth certificate, but get a passport so you'll know there won't be any problems."

While having a quick drink in the far corner of Le Repaire restaurant in St. Barthelemy waiting for friends to arrive on a ferry, the Wanderer unknowingly had his wallet fall to the ground. After two days of fruitlessly searching for the darn thing, he gave up and got on the phone to cancel the credit cards and block the checking accounts. Only the Citibank MasterCard was a problem, as their phone tree proved to be impenetrable when accessed from the French West Indies. Here's the irony. Two hours after getting all the cards cancelled, the Wanderer walked into the Le Repaire very late at night for a coffee - primarily so Doña de Mallorca could use the ladies' room. How fortuitous it was that she had to go, for the owner of the restaurant walked over to the Wanderer and said, "I have something for you." It was the Wanderer's wallet, with all the credit cards and cash.

This month's photo of Cherie Sogsti, cruising with her boyfriend Greg Retkowski of the San Francisco-based Morgan Out-Island 41 Scirocco, finds her at a turtle farm in the Cayman Islands. "They've released over 30,000 young turtles into the wild since opening," reports Cherie. Releasing 30,000 sounds terrific, but in reality nearly 98% die in the first year. The cute little buggers are like snacks for a host of predators. In any event, Cherie and Greg have since continued on to Cuba. We'll have full reports on their adventures in Panama and the Caribbean in upcoming issues.

"You asked for reports from other places in Mexico besides Paradise Marina, so we're writing about the outstanding staff at Marina Palmira in La Paz," advise Don and Mary Lou Oliver of the San Ramon-based Ericson 38 Cappuccino, who are currently at - where else? - Marina Paradise. "While anchored at Isla San Francisco about 50 miles north of La Paz waiting out another of the nasty Northers that plagued the Sea of Cortez late last year, Dennis and Lisa from Lady Galadriel asked us if we'd care to join them and some friends for a Thanksgiving potluck at Marina Palmira. The idea snowballed, and before Lisa and the other organizers knew it, 50 people wanted in. Since that would be a little much for a typical dock party, the marina staff not only let us use their patio but provided the tables and chairs. And when it looked like rain, Manuel arranged for a huge tent. It was a little hard to find turkeys, then we discovered that boat ovens aren't big enough to handle whole ones. So we needed to - and this isn't very traditional - cut the frozen turkeys in half. This was no easy task, and a multitude of instruments proved to be not up to the job. Then somebody brought a Makita Sawsall! It took three batteries, but it did the job. Dinner was incredible, as everyone brought a traditional family dish. Thanks to those on Lady Galadriel, Magic, Mikelele, In The Mood, El Regalo, Kwilima, and all the others, we'll always remember it as a special Thanksgiving. 'Thanks' to Manuel and the rest of the staff at Marina Palmira.

"The year 2002 was a very busy year for us," report Andy and Jill Rothman of the Tiburon-based J/40 First Light, "as we visited 10 countries while sailing 7,000 miles between Thailand and the Med." We'll have a full report on their trip in the March issue.

Don and Lynne Sanders, who took off from Benicia many years ago aboard their Skookum 53 Eilean, report they went around the world last year. On a 747. They left their ketch at Mooloolaba on Australia's Sunshine Coast, where she's been based for several years now, and hopped the plane. Their last flight back to the boat was from Sacramento, where it was 110°, to Sydney, where it was 45° and everybody had the flu. Naturally, they caught it, too. All was well by Christmas, however, it was 80° in Mooloolaba with a lovely sailing breeze out of the southeast.

"We've been meaning to write because we've had some major changes in our cruising plans," advise Derek and Emily Fisher of the Sausalito-based Columbia 31 Tango. "The day we dropped anchor at Punta de Mita on mainland Mexico in mid-November, we found out that I was pregnant! This was a surprise, as we weren't planning on starting a family for a couple of years. After staying in Puerto Vallarta for a few days, we decided to head back to the States due to my increasing discomfort - major nausea - and not knowing much about being pregnant. We had a great sail back up to Mazatlan, a nasty sail across the Sea of Cortez, and a thoroughly miserable bash up the Baja coast. We stayed in Turtle Bay for several days waiting for the systems hitting California to die down, which they never really did, so we continued north anyway. We arrived in San Diego three days before Christmas. All in all, we sailed 3,000 miles at an average of 4 knots, and were extremely pleased that our 38-year-old boat performed so well and without any problems. The only casualty was a torn spinnaker. Miraculously, we managed to sell Tango in San Diego in less than a week! We are now fast forwarding to our post-cruising plans a year or so earlier than expected, and will try living in the Midwest in a home without a diesel engine for a change. With the baby coming in July no matter if we're ready or not, it's the end of an era for us."

With all the talk about clearing fees and procedures in Mexico, it's worth checking what it costs to clear and cruise in other places. In the British Virgin Islands, checking in - you only have to do it once - costs $20 U.S., plus $6.50 if it's the first time you're checking in that year. If you're staying longer than 30 days, visas must be renewed at $25 a person, and the boat must be temporarily imported for an additional $200. Checking out at Virgin Gorda is $5 person, while at Jose van Dyke it's only $1.

In Puerto Rico, which is more or less the good old U.S. of A., it's $25 for U.S. boats to check in, but you only have to pay it once a year. It's $37 for foreign boats, and that includes a one-year cruising permit. Foreigners aren't charged for visas. When it comes to clearing fees and procedures, is the U.S. the most hospitable or what?

In order to promote marine tourism in Venezuela, back in November of '91, the legislature made amendments to Article 38, which deals with foreign vessels checking in and out of that country. The changes meant that once a foreign vessel less than 40 tons had checked into the country and paid a fee of 300 Bolivars, it could move about the country without having to check in with other port captains. At least this is how the Chamber of Commerce for the state of Sucre interprets the law. Since many port captains in Venezuela aren't up to speed on the law, the C of C suggests that cruisers carry a copy of Article 38 around with them. It can be downloaded from their Web site. Of course, given the upheaval in Venezuela these days, it might be best to avoid that area for awhile.

"After a fine trip from Annapolis to the British Virgins in November of last year with my friend Stu Wallace," writes Marc Hachey of the Auburn-based Peterson 44 Sea Angel, "I had a singlehander who noticed my hailing port drop by with the latest Latitude, my favorite rag. I had a good chuckle over the comments made about the girl's bikini on the August cover. I thought it was a great photo, but it did get me to thinking about the 'BUMper sticker' photo of me that had appeared in Latitude. Perhaps I was exploited? That I had taken a step backwards for the respect of my fellow man? There were no letters of complaint, so I began to wonder if nobody cared about me and my feelings. Seriously, if the people who complained kept their bodies in better shape, they would have a better appreciation of well-toned bodies, and they'd show more respect for those of us who aren't ashamed of how we look. So keep publishing the great photos, as there's nothing wrong with a little 'eye-candy' for both sexes.

"By the way, last summer my cousin Wayne Hachey sailed from Cape Cod to Annapolis with me via Long Island Sound, New York City, the New Jersey coast, the Delaware River, and up through the C&D Canal and into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a great trip with some fine sailing. During my two-week stay in Annapolis, I got to spend some time with Bill and Lisa of Vite, who I'd met on the 'left coast' of Panama. I also got to talk over the VHF with old cruising friends John and Barbara from Dream Weaver, who I expect to bump into down here in the Virgins. It's just so great to reconnect with cruising friends after being off the water for a few months. I then returned to the Corrotoman River, off the Rappahanock, where friends Ray and Elizabeth Berube, whom I'd first met on my trip north in June, invited me to tie to the pier where they keep their Sabre 32. With water and power, it was a real treat to not have to worry about charging the batteries to keep the refrig running. There were a few frosts while I was there, so I cannot begin to put a value on the electric heater that kept the main salon of Sea Angel comfortable. Ray and Elizabeth were wonderful to me as they invited me to join them for several meals, offered me the use of their washer and dryer, allowed me to take hot showers, drove me all around to get boat parts and provisions, and introduced me to several great people while I was there. The only negative was that Ray kicked my butt in cribbage 85% of the time."

For the past several months, we've been listing the big events coming up in Mexico. Here, for a change, are the big upcoming events in the Caribbean: Heineken Regatta, St. Maarten, March 7-9. This is serious fun no matter if you race your cruising boat, race on someone else's boat, or just like to drink and dance the night away. B.V.I. Spring Regatta, April 4-6. Great fun in the British Virgins, which because of consistent trades and flat water, were made for pleasure sailing. Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, April 17-22. This side of the Med, there's nothing that can touch this assemblage of classic yachts, and the Med can't match the sailing conditions. Bequia Easter Regatta, April 17-21. Bequia is a great little island, and the racing and partying are a little less intense. Antigua Sailing Week, April 27-May 3. Although we're told this event isn't quite as wild and crazy as it once was, it's still at the upper limits. But it's at least worth checking out for a race or two.

But no matter where you sail, make 2003 your best cruising year ever!

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